The Targeteer Target Launcher ($67.50 on GunAuction.com)
Everything you ever wanted to know about Arthur M. Johnson’s beer-can “Targeteer Target Launcher”…
Shooting at tin cans is a packaging reuse that we’ve covered before. (See: Target Packaging)
Johnson’s device aimed to make the activity less like “plinking” and more like skeet shooting. Beer cans on a fence are just sitting ducks. The Targeteer makes them act more like flying ducks.
Arthur Johnson’s target thrower
One autumn when he was hunting wild turkey in Pennsylvania, Arthur M. Johnson, a retired Naval officer, stopped to do a little target practice. Both he and the friend who was with him strained their arms tossing aloft the empty beer cans they used for targets. “There must be an easier way to do this,” Johnson opined, as his muscles began to ache. He went home and fashioned his Targeteer, a gun that throws a beer can by the propulsive force of a blank cartridge. Johnson knew he had a good invention because he is an expert marksman himself and has many sportsmen friends. In fact, his first move after he had made up his first two Targeteers was to lend them to friends, one of whom was Pete Brown, the gun editor of Sports Afield. Brown tried the device out on his Arizona ranch, approved it, wrote an article about it in his magazine. It was also publicized and recommended in John Stuart Martin’s authoritative book, Learning to Gun. On the strength of his standing in the field, and this send-off for his invention, Johnson could readily have found a company that would purchase rights to making it.
Instead, he decided that, with sales channels open and the production problems simple, he could make far more money by manufacturing it himself, selling by mail and in major sporting goods stores. His judgment was confirmed by first year sales of 20,000 units, largely mail orders.
Kenneth O. Kessler, Norman V. Carlisle
The Successful Inventor’s Guide:
How to Develop, Protect and Sell Your Invention Profitably
Unfortunately for Johnson, the evolution from flat top steel beer cans in the 1960s to the light weight aluminum cans in use today, makes the Targeteer beer can launcher less useful nowadays. The beer cans that today’s alcohol & firearms enthusiasts would have on hand are more likely to be crushed by the propulsive force of the Targeteer’s .22 caliber blank cartridge. And the cans are too light and flimsy to have much momentum in the air, anyway.
One interesting regulatory hurdle for this product was whether or not it should be considered a firearm. In the description above it’s described as “a gun that throws a beer can,” but the catalog ad below insists that it’s “Not a firearm.”
From a 1964 Sunset House mail order catalog (via: And Everything Else Too)
Because it was mainly a mail order product, the packaging for the Targeteer brand target launcher was designed to be a more of a shipping carton than a retail package.
(A video, the original patent and early press coverage, after the fold…)
According to the 1961 NY Times article above, in the U.S., the beer can launcher was deemed not to be a firearm since “it cannot shoot bullets.”
When the product was imported into Australia, however, the police there conducted ballistic tests and concluded that the Targeteer could be used to shoot bullets…
The Age (Melbourne) February 11, 1965
See also: Beer Can Mortars and Can Cannon
And a similar device is used today to train retrievers. Basically, a Targeteer with a stubby barrel firing padded canvas dummies with a steel tub in the tail as if they were rifle grenades. Also considered “not a firearm”.
Randy Ludacer says
Hi Geodykt, thanks for commenting. I did see one patent for a “retriever training gun” that cites the A.M. Johnson “target launcher” patent..
(I wonder if this is the one that’s in use today.)
harold Coppernoll says
I own one of these and would like to know what it might be worth?
maurice kahan says
I helped assemble the targeteer in my teens at Mr. Johnson’s home in Maryland.
Have always wondered when he passed and where he might be buried
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