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A sharpshooting woman named Plinky, accidental litterbugs and a British lord with bloodlust

  • Author: Steve Meyer
    | Alaska guns & hunting
  • Updated: June 27
  • Published June 27

It took 61 years, but Steve Meyer now recognizes litter. (Photo by Steve Meyer)

Plinking. Most folks who shoot for recreation probably had their introduction via plinking. Fun afternoons with family and friends filled with informal shooting of tin cans or other objects that don’t make much of a mess and whose resale value is nil at best.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, shooting provided as much entertainment for folks as about anything you could name at the time. Newspapers published stories of shooting matches and in general, celebrated the activity.

The popularity grew exhibition shooters, the most famous in modern times being Annie Oakley. These folks traveled around the country delighting audiences with their skills.

Among them was Adolph “Ad” Topperwein, who was sponsored by Winchester for most of his career. A young Elizabeth Servaty worked for Winchester, and through that association, the two met. Evidently, Ms. Servaty thought he was OK, as she became Elizabeth Topperwein not long after. She had never shot a firearm.

So, the story goes, Mrs. Topperwein showed great interest in her husband’s shooting and wanted to give it a try. He taught her the basics and she displayed a natural ability right from the start. She had a .22 rimfire rifle, and one day while out shooting at a tin can, Ad came outside and asked her what she did to that can, and she replied, “I plinked it.”

The term stuck. Elizabeth went on to become a terrific shooter, and she and Ad went on the road together. She set all sorts of records, most from behind a shotgun, during their tenure.

Before the mid-1960s, shotshells had paper hulls and paper wads. (Photo by Steve Meyer)

After the tin-can incident, Ad started calling her “Plinky,” which grew into a nickname used by those close to her. Who would have thought a woman in the early 1900s coined the term plinking?

It isn’t a secret that litter enrages me, more so when it comes from hunters and shooters. Empty shotshell on the side of an otherwise pristine mountain is among the most offensive examples.

Growing up, I was taught to recover spent shotshells. Early on, collecting the hulls from my single-shot 20 gauge was easy. When I graduated to a pump 16 gauge, I learned to pay attention to where the ejected shells went, so I could find them in the cover of a pheasant field.

This is one reason I favor double shotguns. When opening a double gun without auto-ejectors, you simply pluck the spent hull from the chamber. If the gun has auto-ejectors, you catch them with your other hand. For most doubles, disconnecting the ejectors isn’t terribly difficult, and worth the effort.

Most of my hunting friends shoot autoloaders, particularly for waterfowl, and it always makes me cringe a bit to see hulls ejected into the water, to drift away or sink.

All these years, I’ve been critical of those who leave hulls behind. I was a bit self-righteous and proud of myself until a couple of years ago, when a British shooting and hunting publication pointed out that the typical 12-gauge shotshell wad contains roughly the same amount of plastic as two plastic grocery bags.

When a modern shotshell is fired, the plastic wad inside travels down the barrel holding the shot charge, while helping to protect the pellets from pattern-blowing deformation. The wad stays with the shot charge for some distance before peeling away. Different designs carry for different ranges, but they don’t drop to the earth or water for some distance.

Mortification swept over me with the realization that I, too, was a litterbug and, how in the hell after years of range clean-up days, raking shotshell wads into enormous piles, had that never occurred to me?

I don’t shoot as many game birds as I use to, but I started attempting to find wads after shooting. I’ve found some, but nowhere near all. When hunting waterfowl over water, it is virtually impossible to recover them.

In the big scheme of things, this isn’t save-the-world stuff. For me, it is more a matter of being guilty of something I had so adamantly opposed. I don’t want my shotgun wads to be part of the plastic “blobs” that litter the oceans.

The upside is there are some ammunition companies developing biodegradable wads that perform much as the plastic ones do. They are not yet readily available, and of course they’ll be a bit more expensive, but at least it seems possible at some point to remove myself from the litterbug rolls.

Frederick Oliver Robinson, a Brit otherwise known as Lord Ripon — a title he inherited from his father, who was the Viceroy of India — killed 556,000 odd head of game in his 71-year lifetime.

Ordinarily one would question the veracity of such a claim. But the Lord kept meticulous records of his kills, and those who served him, or shot with him, attest that the bloodthirsty little snot did as he claimed.

Never mind that some of his bag consisted of butterflies and bumblebees. He was so driven to kill that on game drives where his beaters failed to produce game, he had shotshells made for his three Purdey side-by-side shotguns, loaded with “dust” shot, which he used to shoot butterflies and, at least momentarily, satisfy his bloodlust.

I don’t know what lords do, but it can’t be much. Even if he started shooting at age 10, he would have averaged 25 kills per day to reach that astonishing number. Seems like he wouldn’t have much time for lording.

The disturbing part, beyond the obvious butchery, is its association with hunting. When you show up to pull the trigger on whatever your servants can put in front of you, that ain’t hunting. Little is mentioned in these exploits as to what was done with all of these dead animals. It seems safe to assume these folks didn’t have an upbringing that demanded they ate what they killed.

The wish of most is to be doing what they love best when they die. There seems little doubt that killing would have been first on the lord’s list. On a late September day in 1923, at age 71, he and two cronies had a day of driven grouse shooting planned on Ripon’s 22,000-acre estate. There would be seven drives. After the sixth drive, Lord Ripon, upset with dogs that could not find two birds he had shot, dropped dead. His total kill for the day: 177 grouse.

On the other hand, shotshells of the day used biodegradable paper wads (though I doubt “biodegradable” was a term in use back then). At least the lord wasn’t a litterbug.

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