Parents and grandparents treasure those periods in their children’s and grandchildren’s lives when they can spend time together sharing experiences and introducing them to their hobbies. This time is short and precious, as children grow up quickly and all too soon are off to college or work.
If shooting is the hobby and passion you wish to share, it is one that can be introduced at a fairly young age. The friends to be made and adventures to be enjoyed in the shooting sports are special and memorable—a real gift to any child or grandchild.
I work with a large number of young shooters and scholastic-shooting-team members, and in the beginning there are several points to be considered:
- Shooting a shotgun is an acquired skill, no different from other sports; however, the most important rule is “safety is always first.” A new shooter must have the maturity to respect that a shotgun is a lethal weapon and must learn the rules of safety and safe gun handling.
- Mastering any sport requires time, good instruction and the right equipment for the job.
- As for what age is best to start instruction, it is not the child’s age that is the determining factor but whether he or she has sufficient strength to control, mount and swing a shotgun and the maturity to understand instruction and the safety rules.
Learning shooting skills at a young age will ensure that a child has ample time to master the fundamentals of safe shooting. When the fundamentals have been drilled and well practiced, the next step is to acquire the appropriate shotgun.
Choosing the correct shotgun is essential, as it must match the strength and build of the shooter so that it can be controlled and shot correctly and safely.
I often am asked what is the best shotgun for a young beginner. There is very little difference in weight between a .410, a 28-gauge and a 20-gauge gun, but my personal preference for young shooters is a 28 or a 20. Weight and gauge go hand in hand. Too little weight can result in excessive recoil; too much can affect the ease of mounting and swinging the gun. As a young shooter grows and gains strength and experience, a 12-gauge should be considered—especially if he or she becomes interested in competitive shooting.
The size of the stock and forend needs the same attention as the gauge and weight, as the majority of shotguns are designed for grownup hands. Often they will be too large for small hands, and young shooters will struggle to get the correct grip to control recoil and muzzle flip.
That said, the weight of a gun and its type of action have the most impact on recoil. The balance to look for is sufficient weight in combination with light loads to control recoil.
I always have preferred a break-action for a youth’s first shotgun, as when it’s open, it’s easy to see it is unloaded and safe. But in many ways a semi-auto is a good first gun, with the autoloading action absorbing a good deal of the recoil. But autoloaders require instruction in both handling and loading, with particular attention paid to unloading, especially when hunting in the field. If your preference is a pump or semi-auto, I recommend using a chamber flag, which shows from a distance that the gun is unloaded and safe.
When it comes to gun fit with a beginner, near enough is good enough; but it’s best to find a gun that is a reasonable fit for a youngster’s age and size. There is nothing worse than seeing a young person struggling to shoot a shotgun with a stock that was made for an adult.
Once a shotgun is found, it’s a good idea to get a provisional gun fit in case the stock needs to be shortened. And keep in mind that children do have growth spurts, so gun fit will need to be checked periodically.
To say that young shooters are a growing market (no pun intended) would be a gross understatement. This past March, the Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP) College National Championship, in Marengo, Ohio, had more than 2,600 participants! This and other youth competitions in every region have caught the attention of today’s gunmakers.
Once the choice of shotgun is made, the fun begins.
Gunmakers have started producing shotguns with shorter stocks and smaller grips and forends. Often referred to as “youth models,” these shotguns are designed in size and weight for the beginning shooter. Gone are the days of trying to find a lightweight shotgun and shortening the stock. These days the choices for young shooters are many compared to what was available just a decade ago.
Here are some excellent options:
I have shot Beretta semi-autos for decades, so I may be biased, but the A400 is at the top of my list. All of Beretta’s semi-autos have been time-tested and are very reliable. The A400 Lite Compact comes in 20 gauge with a 26", 28" or 30" barrel. It also comes with stock spacers, so that length of pull can be increased as the shooter grows. This is a great beginner shotgun.
A good entry-level shotgun, Browning’s Silver Field Micro Midas is a lightweight semi-auto that comes in 12 and 20 gauge with a 24" or 26" barrel and a shorter length of pull. This is an ideal gun for young shooters and ladies, as its compact dimensions and lighter weight make it very easy to handle.
Mossberg makes an excellent entry-level shotgun for young and smaller shooters. The 500 Youth Bantam pump is available in 20 gauge with a 22" barrel and an adjustable length of pull. For a beginner, this shotgun is also a great “value for money.”
Remington’s V3 Compact semi-auto is a coaching favorite and a good choice for beginners. Its V3 VersaPort gas system is extremely reliable and softens recoil, making this a 12-gauge that works for ladies and younger shooters. The V3 is a good choice for use in the field and on the clays ground.
The Stoeger Condor Youth is a great example of a youth-model over/under, with dimensions appropriate for young people. This shotgun is available in 20 gauge and .410 with 22" barrels and is an excellent choice for those who prefer an O/U for clay shooting or in the field. Stoeger also makes the Uplander Youth side-by-side in 20 gauge and .410 with a 13" length of pull.
Once the choice of shotgun is made, the fun begins. Practice, instruction, practice, instruction and more practice—all the while sharing the sport with the parents and grandparents who have spent a lifetime enjoying shooting and now get to spend their time with the next generation of shooting enthusiasts!
Chris Batha’s most recent book, The Instinctive Shot, can be ordered by visiting chrisbatha.com, which includes schedules of shoots and clinics with the author.