Shooting practice with a wiffle baseball

Here is an easy and inexpensive way to make a very effective target for shooting practice.

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My shooting pit (4)

My hobby is experimenting with designs for shooting pits.

Here is my fourth design. Like my second design it copies the layout of a horseshoe pit. Like my first design, the back-stops are V-shaped, which makes the boules easy to gather.

The backstop is constructed out of lightweight hollow-core plastic boards designed for fence construction (see detail photo, below.) (I got them cheap, at a recycled building-materials yard.) It is 2.5 feet high, although two feet would probably have been enough.

Click on any of the photos to see a larger view.





The backstop is constructed out of lightweight hollow-core plastic boards designed for fence construction.

My shooting pit (3)

My hobby is experimenting with designs for shooting pits.

Here is my third design. I’m quite happy with it. It will probably be my last design.

This is the most light-weight of all my designs. It consists of three sawhorses made with 2x4s arranged in a U shape. The head is covered by a sheet of white Plas-Tek and a couple of carpet scraps. They protect the ground from being pulverized into dust, and keep the boules dirt-free so that I don’t have to be cleaning them all the time.


From the sawhorses I have hung a 10’x16′ baseball net (from Networld Sports, on sale for about $60, including shipping). It is folded in half length-wise, so its dimensions are 5′ high by 16′ long. The upper edge is hung from the sawhorses. The lower edges are held close to the ground by cords threaded through the spaces in the net and nailed to the ground.


As a boule-return device, there is a pipe made of three 10′ PVC pipes. The pipe leads from the head back to the throwing area.

The center sawhorse is set at an acute angle with the left sawhorse. The result is that they form a rounded V shape where the boules tend to gather. (In the photo below you get a better view of the cords that hold the net down at the point where the net touches the ground. )


To return the boules, I walk to the head and put the boules in one end of the pipe. That takes only about one second per boule. Then I walk back to the head, where the pipe has deposited the boules in a bucket.


I lift the bucket onto a platform, so that I can easily grab the boules as I throw.

I throw about 20 boules at a time. That is as many as I can lift in the bucket.

Here is another picture. You can read about the frame with the colored ribbons HERE.


My shooting pit (2)

My hobby is experimenting with designs for shooting pits.

Here is my second design. It is two shooting pits, facing each other. As in horseshoes, you stand at one end and throw into the opposite pit. Then you walk to the opposite pit, pick up your boules, and throw them back toward the other pit.

Here is a closer view of one of the shooting pits.

I built it out of scrap 2x4s but I think one-inch thick boards would work perfectly well. The white sheets on the ground are a plastic material called Plas-Tek. They are sold as construction material to line showers and should be available at your local Home Depot or Lowe’s. They come in 4’x8′ sheets, about 1/8″ thick, and cost about $20 each.

The pit is out-of-doors, so I raised the sideboards about an inch off the ground. That allows rain to drain off, and allows me to sweep dust and fallen leaves under the sideboards and off of the court.

When I pick up the boules I put them in a white plastic bucket on brick “towers” where they will be easy to reach as I throw.

Automatic boule return machines

I love weird and/or ingenious devices that are designed to help you practice petanque. In this post, I gather together a few pictures of the most interesting kind of device, the automatic boule return (ABR) machine. ABR machines fall into four basic categories, based (a) on whether the target boule is fixed in place or can be shot away, and (b) whether the machine uses gravity or an electrice motor to return boules to the player.

Fixed-target gravity-powered machines

The most basic design for an ABR machine uses a fixed target and gravity to return thrown boules to the player.

In 2007, the Midwest Petanque Alliance had a post about this machine, which was for sale on eBay France.

Description: Very nice machine for a Petanque club which returns shot boules. A target boule is attached by a cable to the center of the shooting piste. The machine takes note of the force of the shots, and displays them on a screen (1,2 or 3) while returning the shooting boule to the player.

CLICK to see larger image.bar_france_ebay_2007

Here is another machine of the same type. In the lower right-hand corner of the photo, you can see the entrance to the gravity-feed boule-return tube. Perhaps this was built as a promotional tool for KTK. CLICK to see larger image.

I built my own gravity-powered ABR machine. The boule backstop was a heavy old carpet. I would throw as hard as I could and the carpet absorbed it easily, so I would practice throwing as hard as I could.

The most ingenious design for a gravity-powered ABR that I know of, is Jeff Brown’s Boule-O-Matic 3000.

Fixed-target electricity-powered machines

Here is a video of an ABR machine (which calls itself a BAR machine, for “boule automatic return”) in Wateringen, the Netherlands. This device uses an electric motor to lift the thrown boules and return them, like the ball return machines in American bowling alleys. The target boule is fixed in place. If you are a Facebook member, click on the picture and you can watch a short video of the machine in action.

Movable-target gravity-powered machines

This is a picture taken, I believe, at the Marathon booth at the SEA games in Thailand. Marathon is a Thai manufacturer of sports and fitness equipment, including petanque boules. Most ABR machines have a target boule that is fixed in place. This machine, however, allows you to knock the target boule out of position. When you do, both the thrown boule and the target boule are returned via the yellow tube on the right. To replace the target boule that has been displaced, the player takes one of the boules that has been returned to him and feeds it back toward the head via the yellow tube on the left, which neatly rolls the boule into position to become a new target. There is no machinery involved in the process; gravity does all of the work. CLICK to see larger image.bar_thailand

Movable-target electricity-powered machines

There is a similar machine called the Petanque Shooting Trainer, or PST. Unlike the previous machine (but like the ABR in the Netherlands) the PST uses powered machinery to return boules to the player. The PST returns both thrown boules and displaced target boules along a track (the upper track). To replace the target boule, a player takes one of the returned boules and sends it back to the machine via the lower track. The machine then feeds the boule up through the floor of the device, putting it into place as a new target boule.

The PST was developed by an Australian player named Martial Leconte, who built the first prototype in his back yard in 2007. Later he and another Australian player built a second prototype and took it on an exhibition tour of pétanque events in Europe.[1] In the summer of 2016 the device was exhibited in several events in France, and tested by a number of well-known shooters— videos are available on Youtube and on the PST Facebook page. PST has announced that a new model will be presented on tour in the summer of 2018, and that the Rocher family website may become distributors of the device in France.

So that’s my collection of ABR machines. If you have photos or information about other automatic boule return machines, please leave a comment.

My shooting pit (1)

I’m new to petanque. I need to practice so I can hold up my end of the game. To help with practice, I have set up a sort of shooting pit in my back yard.

I laid down a big piece of scrap carpet on the ground. (This keeps the ground from being pulverized into dust, and traps the dust.) On top of the carpet are two 2x4s, each about six feet long, in a V shape. This keeps (most of) the boules from scattering all over the back yard.

The 2x4s are secured with big nails driven into the ground.

Later I moved the carpet forward a bit. The depression behind the carpet traps the boules, so they can be gathered up more easily.


In the throwing area (below) you can see a white plastic paint bucket. It can hold 20 leisure boules, so I can throw 20 boules before having to make a retrieval expedition up to the head.  Beneath the white bucket are two larger grey paint buckets, bolted together. They make a platform that is portable and a convenient height.

See my other experiments with designs for shooting pits.

Strange petanque training devices

I like toys. I’m fascinated by ideas for devices to help with petanque practice.

Let’s start with a a photo taken at a petanque tournament in 2015 at Ville de Romans-sur-Isère. I assumed that it must be some kind of petanque practice device, but I couldn’t tell how it worked.
pointing_training_deviceNow, however, I’m pretty sure that it is a variant of a traditional French game called boule à la pente (ball up the slope). It looks like a precursor of pinball: the goal is apparently to get balls into the holes in the board.

On a YouTube video of Festival de Pétanque Düsseldorf 2010 I saw this thing (it appears very briefly at about 4:30). I assumed that it was some kind of device for practicing pointing.
Now, however, I think that it must be a version of a game called trou madame which dates at least to the 17th century. It was played with balls or rolling disks, either on the ground or as a table-top game. You can see a similar device for playing trou madame at the left in the photo of boule à la pente (above).boule_trou_madame

It was reasonable to mistake trou madame for a pointing practice device. Here is such a home-made device from the web site of the Midwest Petanque Alliance.

And here is a similar device. It is designed to help you practice pointing. As you can see, it is very sturdy. You can buy it from a German company for only 400 euros.

The same Germany company also offers shooting training devices that automatically pull a shot boule back into place, allowing you immediately to shoot at it again. In this particular device, the target boule is suspended from a cross-bar.

This device allows you to attach 1, 2, or 3 target boules to it via springs. It might be for use in Shooting a Back Boule competitions (see below).

I don’t understand why these devices cost hundreds of Euros when you can easily build something similar for a few dollars. It is hard to drill a hole in an old metal boule, of course, but you can easily drill a hole through an old baseball. Easier still— I simply tied a whiffle ball to a length of bungee cord. It does the job quite nicely and it cost me about $5. You can read about it HERE.

shooting_a_back_bouleA post at the Brighton Petanque Club website describes this interesting device. “The club at Istrès held an informal Shooting a Back Boule competition one afternoon. Shooting a Back Boule at 10m is one of the great traditions at French clubs. Shooting is, of course, a key part of the game and shooting a back boule at 10m is one of the hardest tests shooters have to face. You can just place two boules on the terrain but often you’ll see a special area set aside for such practice – usually either an old tire with two boules bolted on or a piece of rubber, which is what we have at Brighton and what they used at Istrès.”


Two of the strangest devices I’ve seen are these. In this 2009 video their inventor, Louis Amour, shows them in action. They are actually rather neat devices for drawing the target circle (cible) and positioning the target balls for a precision-shooting contest.
louis_amor_device_ecole louis_amor_device_perso

Here are pictures of a couple of similar devices that appeared in 2007 on the blog of the Midwest Petanque Alliance. They look like they might be early prototypes made by Louis Amour.

An elegant device of this type is available for 59€ from the Rocher Family website.Outil_de_placement_boules_tir_de_precision-2[1]
Here is a Youtube video demonstrating a similar tool. Skip to about 2:20 to see the actual demonstration.


On the Facebook page of the Zanesfield Petanque Club Bo Johns provided a picture of his “indoor shooting pit”.zanesfield_petanque_indoor_shooting_pit

 HOW TO BUILD AN INDOOR PIT (AKA Giant litter-box)
1) Disassemble your large-breed's dog cage
2) Steal the bottom section of the cage
3) Steal the dog's mattress to use as landing pad
4) Snatch 4 short posts from the neighbor's fence to use as stoppers
5) Use large plastic strap to hold fence posts
6) You're all set for winter practices.

Here is a newer version of the same idea.


Is that home plate?  Or a shooting pit?

Is that home plate? Or a shooting pit?

Here’s a tip from Joe Acchiardi, of La Boule Joyeuse in Maryland— use old baseballs as practice targets. A baseball is about the right size and shape, and it doesn’t bounce as much as a tennis ball. Your practice boules won’t get as banged up as they would if you were using real boules. And if you succeed with a nice tir au baseball you don’t get the loud THWOK that you’d get with a boule. That means that you can practice quietly in your own back yard without irritating the neighbors with the noise.


A simple wooden bench placed near to the jack can be a useful device for training in lobbing. The red arrow in this photo of a Japanese training session points to the thrown boule, which is dropping nearly vertically onto the target. When Marco Foyot runs training classes he uses frames and crossbars made of PVC pipe— the same basic idea.