By STEVEN HAUSLER

shausler@dailynews.net

I have always loved plinking.

It is habit-forming, like my yearly couch-claiming ritual on Christmas.

My family understands my annual habit, a necessity really, to deliberately claim the couch for two hours on Christmas Day to watch a movie I have seen dozens and dozens of times.

It is understood!

So much so, that my daughter even bought me a leg lamp key chain as a stocking stuffer this year.

The 1983 comedy, "A Christmas Story," which runs continuously for 24 hours on Christmas Day, is based on a compilation of short stories and books by author Jean Shepherd.

The premise of the movie details the how the character Ralph "Ralphie" Parker ends up getting the Christmas gift he wants most -- a Red Ryder, carbine-action, 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time.

I don't recall ever seeing such a gun with these features except in the movie, but I remember owning a Daisy Red Ryder in my youth.

I am not sure what happened to that gun, but I am certain I wore it out, shooting lineups of plastic Army men and other targets in my imagination. I don't remember killing much with it other than static targets and crickets, but I am sure I probably did.

BB gun plinking was a source of entertainment and much more for me. I wore out several models at a young age.

I remember my first hunting adventure with my dad, a quail hunt, where I was allowed to carry my BB gun under his supervision. It was my first real exposure to the sport of hunting. Plinking came on my own time, and I was able to enjoy hours upon hours of practice.

Recently, our family gathered for a traditional birthday party for my niece. My daughter brought her new BB gun pistol, and I brought along my trusty Red Ryder.

Now, you are not allowed to ask what was going through our minds to bring guns to a party. We are just a typical, rural Kansas family who knows how to have fun together.

The unusually warm, winter day drew us all outdoors for an afternoon of good, old-fashioned cheap entertainment -- plinking cans and various targets with our BB guns; which included three Red Ryders, one Crossman pump and two different air pistols.

All 10 of us, from our elders to our children and a family friend, took part in the activity, safely propelling hundreds and hundreds of steel BB's downrange at pop cans, mannequin heads, feathers, and traditional ringed targets.

During a flurry of shooting, a cottontail rabbit darted across the field near our targets. Everyone laughed and wondered why that rabbit felt safe enough to do that.

Had we all been loaded and ready to fire on an open range, who knows what might have taken place.

I think it was God's way of showing us that we needed quite a bit more practice at those cans before attempting to try a moving target.

Steven Hausler is photo editor at The Hays Daily News.