The Joy of Shooting Pumpkins

Not that long ago, I was driving my family home when I noticed a flash of orange from the ditch on opposite side of Highway 282, just a few miles from our home. I knew immediately what that flash meant, so I whipped into the first turn-around spot I reached, and headed back to where I had seen that magical color. “What are you doing?” my wife asked. I smiled and said one word back her, “Pumpkins.”

I slowed down and edged off the pavement. Sure enough, there were two lovely pumpkins resting in the ditch, next to some beer cans and a plastic grocery bag. Clearly someone had unceremoniously tossed the two magical gourds out of a car, but we were more than happy to scoop them up, take them home, and give them a ballistically-charged, merciful end to their neglected sufferings.

Some people chunk pumpkins out of big guns and whirling machines. But at our house, we use big guns to turn pumpkins into chunks.

Over the years, we have shot many pumpkins, along with cabbages, spoiled cantaloupes,  zucchini and an entire case of Coca-Cola left over from a local blues festival and way past its expiration date. Over the winters we’ve spent on our 30-acre rural compound…no, not compound, homestead! Homestead! IT’S A HOMESTEAD, NOT A COMPOUND….where was I? Oh yeah, winter. During the winters, we have built and blasted several snowmen, finding that shotguns with bird shot produce the most satisfying blizzards of snowy destruction, especially at close range.

We’ve also discovered that plastic bottles full of water with a little acrylic paint tossed inside them create the most interesting abstract and impressionist splashes of color in freshly-fallen snow. During the summer, we expand the palette to include generic 2-liter sodas, especially the orange, red, and purple fruit-flavored varieties. After we shake them up a bit, they splatter with brilliant splashes of color–daytime fireworks accompanied by satisfying bangs and booms.

One Valentine’s Day, part of my wife’s gift was a batch of pressurized targets: a can of air freshener, another of spray starch, some cheap sodas. But the all-time show-stopper was the can of silly string. I  volunteered to watch after our toddler son, while she vented some frustrations on the range.

Let me be perfectly clear. For me, nothing says “romance” quite like watching my wife whack a can of silly string with an AR-15. We recorded the destruction on video, and keep a DVD of it to this day. I still get a charge every time I watch that video, and hear Kim’s genuine, knee-slapping laughter as the punctured can somersaults, spewing silly string everywhere.

No, sorry guys. I’m not putting that particular video on Youtube. Much too personal.

There have been old music CDs and old cans of clogged spray paint, old cell phones, cinder blocks, and all manner of things that go pop, boom, and bang when perforated by high velocity projectiles. Shortly after the attacks of 9-11, friends gave me an ancient Tandy laptop. When I flipped it open, I found a photo of Osama bin Laden with lecturing finger pointed right at me glued to the screen of that old computer. I shot it  with a .58 caliber Mini-ball out of an 1853 Enfield replica.

No matter how much fun we have with unorthodox targets, we always find ourselves coming back to fruits and vegetables, especially the pumpkins.

Pumpkins require a little preparation to become really dynamic, dramatic targets. The best way is to slice the top off them, exactly like you were going to carve a jack-o-lantern. Then, fill the inside of the pumpkin with water, and replace the fleshy little scalp of a lid. I’ve tried duct-taping the lid down to provide more resistance for the water to push against, but have found that so long as I use something of a .40 caliber or higher, it just really doesn’t matter.

If you don’t fill pumpkins with water before shooting, they just sort of flinch a bit, and lose a few chunks of orange flesh out the back. It takes water–that almost incompressible liquid– reacting to a high-speed projectile to make pumpkins dance.

One year, we had a whole crop of volunteer pumpkins spring up where I usually plant our tomato patch. I think I tossed the insides of the previous fall’s jack-o-lantern there as fertilizer, and the seeds must have made it into the ground. We made pumpkin pie out of a few, and then pied the rest with shotguns and rifles.

Another year, a friend of mine who works at a local historic home and museum gave me 10 or 12 pumpkins that had been used as fall decorations. We invited several people over, grilled out, and held the Inaugural BBQ and Great Pumpkin Shoot.  More than once, I’ve found pumpkins that people have thrown out after Halloween and Thanksgiving, and brought them home to become the stars of high impact backyard comedies.

So we brought home the two pumpkins we had found along the highway. We ate lunch, and once we got our son down for a nap, I took the pumpkins out to the backyard range and prepped them for lift off.

My wife took up a lever-action Marlin in .44 magnum loaded with 240 grain JHPs, and I grabbed my Remington 870 stoked with a single slug. Her pumpkin was the first to erupt in an orange gusher. She laughed, and smiled at me as she said “That was excellent.”

Then it was my turn. When you watch the video, look for the lid of the pumpkin. It flew at least 25 feet straight up. It had a hang time like an NFL punt. Its launch makes my wife cackle so hard that she has difficulty keeping the camera still.

And as for my reaction? Well….I’m not acting. Not one bit.


  1. avatar David says:

    My family loves to shoot produce, too. It does provide a lot of laughs, and my daughter says it smells good afterward.

  2. avatar Sundog says:

    I frown on shooting to destroy food, rather than acquire it… but that’s an excellent post on a key aspect of the joy of shooting and a great video! Cheers for the tips on painting snow, silly string and filling the pumpkin with water. BTW in Western Pennsylvania, where I grew up, shotgun slugs are more commonly known as “punk’un balls.” I wonder if your video demonstrates why this is so.

  3. avatar TTACer says:

    Best, most educational, article on TTAG to date.

  4. avatar Ralph says:

    But the glory of the pumpkin is the pie!

    1. avatar Robert Farago says:

      Love it! Send the YouTube embed code to [email protected] and I’ll post it, linking back.

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