When I think of plinking, I'm thinking about shooting tin cans with my dad when I was a kid, or blasting some steel targets at close ranges. Maybe it's just taking pot-shots at some rock on a faraway bluff just to see if I can hit it. Plinking, to me, means having fun. I don't need hunting ammo that can put down a target, or match ammo to print very tiny groups. I just want some cheap ammunition so I can enjoy pulling a trigger.
And, of course, that trigger time is instrumental in building confidence and consistency in your shooting, but as we all know; ammo isn’t exactly cheap these days. I remember when a brick of .22 LR was just a few bucks, and these days 500 rounds will cost you a hard earned Hamilton. Unfortunately, the high prices of ammo tends to keep people from hitting the range as often as they’d like to. This problem is partly due to people shooting expensive ammo that is made for precision, instead of some run of the mill reloads or bottom shelf ammo. I think people are quick to fall into the trap of buying nicer ammo just because they know it's more precise, but they haven't yet asked themselves if they are even capable of shooting as well as the ammo is. Or, if they even need ammo that precise for their application.
Unless you’re shooting for groups, don’t feel bad about running purchased reloads or cheap ammo through your guns. There are tons of websites that ship directly to your door (depending on your state) with more than competitive pricing. One of my favorites is www.ammoseek.com, which pulls up every website on the internet that sells your caliber of choice, and ranks them in order of cheapest to most expensive. You can filter by an parameter you like, whether it's bullet weight, case material, manufacturer, or type of bullet. They have an app now too, so you can find great deals on the go.
Casing material is actually a somewhat important topic when speaking about range ammo. Many people stay away from steel, as they are tougher on your guns extractor and moving parts. What's more, is steel cased ammo typically have a bi-metal jacket bullet as well, that is much harder on your barrels rifling. What this means, is that your rifling will wear out much faster than typical, and the capabilities of the rifle will diminish. However, with steel case ammo running 40% cheaper than typical brass, you can save enough money that you can replace barrels and still come out ahead by the time you actually do burn one out. Some guns won’t cycle these cheaper casings as well, but the fact is: I’d rather go and shoot cheap ammo that may or may not minutely effect my firearm; than not get out and shoot at all.
Wolf Gold is typically the cheapest brass cased 5.56mm on the market
A few of the cheaper ammo brands that I shoot at the range regularly are Wolf Gold, Blazer Brass, and Aguila. All of these are reliable ammunition choices that go bang every time I pull the trigger. And when I'm just blasting away, reliability is the number one factor. When I'm out at the farm with my buddies, or with my family, I just want to shoot, and I want to shoot a lot, and I want to do it for cheap. These give me the best options to do that, and enjoy my time with my loved ones.
Many things are like riding a bike: you never forget. Shooting guns (effectively) is not one of those things. Muscle memory, strength, and predictability all go into making good consistent shots; and these characteristics can become weak with lack of practice. I suffer with the expense of shooting regularly like anybody else, but don’t let cheap ammo scare you away from getting out and doing what you enjoy.