Rubber Bullet Plinkin'

Discreet primer-powered practice for backyard fun

Dave’s Uberti SAA clones get a workout. The boys favor the El Patron
(right) while the girls like the Bird’s Head model.

Some out-of-town visitors told me how much fun they had shooting cowboy guns at a local dude ranch. Knowing the dude ranch was within the city limits, I asked if there was a shooting range on the property. “Oh, no,” was the answer. “We were using rubber bullets.”

“Rubber Bullets?!?”

One of the guys in the group explained; “It was primers only. It’s not very loud, and the bullets don’t go very far, but we were shooting tin cans and it was a lot of fun.”

Backyard match setup: Rubber bullets, cases, primers, a priming and depriming tool.

Primer Plinkin’

Immediately I thought of my grandchildren. I’d never heard of — or thought about — plinking with primers only and rubber bullets. I wondered if it was something we could do in my yard. If so, it would be an opportunity to let my grandkids know a little of what they’re missing by not growing up country!

Before investing time into the project, I figured I’d better check on the legality. Would the cops consider shooting primer-only rounds in my backyard within the city limits a violation of some ordinance? I live in Texas, and it turns out in my city if I can ensure a projectile fired on my property won’t cross property lines and won’t come within 150 feet of one of my neighbor’s buildings, I’m good to go. I’ve got a big backyard with empty lots behind and beside me, so it works for me but you should check the laws in your own location.

But I’ll tell you this: It’s not very loud and the rubber bullets don’t travel very far, so it’s not likely to attract attention unless you have very close neighbors. Once I learned how to do it, I even took my stuff to work one day and we shot tin cans in the parking lot of our small office complex.

Rubber bullets are plenty accurate enough at short ranges while
Shoot-N-C targets give instant visual feedback.

Watch the Bounce!

In my search for rubber bullets I discovered there are some designed for less-lethal defensive use and there are lightweight ones designed for target practice. Meister Bullet and Ammunition Company of Ozark, Missouri, makes a line of X-Ring bullets which are lightweight, hollow rubber projectiles in .38/9mm, .40, .44 and .45 calibers.

I also obtained rubber bullets made by Concepts in Ammunition in Garden City, Michigan. These bullets are solid and can be used with gunpowder for defensive use where less-lethal capabilities are desired but they also work with primers only. You just need to be careful when using them because they bounce off solid objects with a lot of momentum. Although rubber bullets are available in several calibers, I elected to experiment first with .45 Colt because it’s the most common caliber of my Cowboy Action guns.

Bullets are easily loaded into the prepared shell casings by hand and can be reused.

Cases must have the flash hole enlarged. Put the empty in a 13mm socket on
a piece of scrap lumber and drill it larger using a 1/8" drill bit.

Ammo Prepping

Having a complete setup, which would allow us to keep shooting without multiple trips to the reloading bench, was desirable. If you’re using previously fired brass, it has to be deprimed and even if you start with new brass, you’re going to want to reuse it, so a method of quickly removing primers on site is handy. I ordered a Harvey De-priming Tool, an easy-to-use handheld device that works with all popular rifle and handgun calibers.

For on-site primer loading, try Hornady’s Hand Priming Tool.

Primer Setback

Before you start loading your first rounds, a little extra preparation of the brass is required to keep your revolver from locking up after each shot because of primer setback. The reason for this annoyance is somewhat complex but fortunately, simply drilling out the flash hole eliminates the problem altogether.

To enlarge the flash hole sufficiently to avoid setback, drill it out using a 1/8″ drill bit. I found placing a 13mm socket on a board (facing up) and inserting the empty case in the socket holds it perfectly, making drilling out the flash holes a breeze.

One caveat: Make sure you keep the drilled-out brass separate from any brass you may use for reloading standard rounds.

A solid rubber bullet by Concepts in Ammunition (above) and a Meister X-Ring Rubber Bullet (below).

Primed and Ready

My .45 Colt cartridges work well with CCI’s Magnum Large Pistol Primers. To load them I use a Hornady Hand Priming Tool I also found at MidwayUSA. You’re going to need a caliber-specific shell holder for use with the Hand Primer. I wasn’t able to find a .45 Colt holder made by Hornady but MidwayUSA had an RCBS #20 shell holder that works perfectly with the Hornady tool.

Once you’ve primed the brass, loading the rubber bullets is done by hand. With either type of bullet, hollow or solid, it is simply a matter of inserting the rubber bullet in the case far enough to secure it. The X-Ring bullets typically wind up with the head of the bullet even with the case mouth. With the solid RN Concepts in Ammunition bullets, I simply push them in until the edge of the brass aligns with the first of several rings on the bullet.

Recycling Too!

When we’re shooting, the kids recover a large number of the bullets. They are recovered essentially undamaged, even the ones that have punctured an aluminum drink can. We use them over and over.

To keep the kids shooting, I take a fired shell casing, pop out the primer with the Harvey Deprimer, insert a new primer with the Hornady priming tool, push in a rubber bullet and have a loaded cartridge ready to go again. You can reuse the brass, you can reuse the bullets but of course the primers work only once — make sure to have enough on hand to keep your shooters happy whenever you ask, “Who wants to shoot the cowboy guns?”

Primers create smoke, sometimes fire — and very dirty guns so be sure to
clean them afterward. Better yet, teach the kids to clean them!

Safety Notes

Hearing protection isn’t really necessary if you’re shooting outdoors but you do want your shooters (and anyone near the firing line) to have eye protection. Depending upon your backstop, those rubber bullets can bounce back with a lot of momentum.

Take all the precautions as you would with standard ammunition and have fun. The bullets will knock down tin cans and send them spinning with subsequent shots. They make a good mark on a Birchwood Casey Shoot-N-C or similar “splash” target. They may or may not spin a steel target, depending on how far away you are, but in general they work quite well for just plinking. Accuracy is pretty decent at close range.

My grandkids, boys and girls alike, enjoy this type of shooting, as do their parents, and we can pretty much do it on the spur of the moment. I have my supplies packed into a plastic container so it’s easy to transport the reloading supplies to the shooting line.

Our favorite guns for this are Uberti 1873 SAA clones. The guys favor the 1873 Cattleman El Patrón and the girls like the Birds Head model. When we have a bunch of shooters we also use an Uberti Hombre and a Beretta Stampede. Keeping those guns in ammo keeps me pretty busy, so I only get to shoot when the others are done.

You’re probably wondering if these loads would work in your semi-auto. They will, but you’ll have to cycle the slide after each shot. Naturally, the primer doesn’t generate enough pressure to cycle the slide on any 9mm or .45 ACP.

I’ve seen recommendations to avoid shooting primer-only rubber bullets in rifles. I have two .45 Colt rifles — a lever-action with a 22″ barrel and a pump with a 26″ barrel. The bullets do exit the barrel with either one of these and are pretty accurate up to about 20 feet. When shooting them, we’re always listening and watching to ensure each bullet exits but so far all of our bullets — hollow or solid — have.

With this type of shooting, you get smoke and you get fire, but no recoil. You also get very dirty guns, so be sure to clean them after each session.
Teach your kids to shoot and have fun doing it — try the rubber route!

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