The Youth Shotgun

youth wearing orange safety vest and shotgun

As the dog days of summer wind down, most of us who venture afield in search of game and fowl can’t help but look forward several weeks to what has become, in many places, a national holiday—the opening of bird season. Most seasons open with dove and some early goose season.

In many households across the country, there will be a new hunter this season. As a youth mentor who has instructed and introduced thousands of kids to hunting and shooting, I am often asked my opinion about how to choose a first shotgun for little Johnny or Susie.

The most important thing that must be considered when choosing to use a firearm is to ensure the shotgun is properly fit to the shooter. A poorly-fit shotgun will equal less than desirable results and, quite often, a poor experience due to the recoil.

Speaking of recoil, I advocate and recommend a semiautomatic 20 gauge shotgun for new shooters. The gas operation of a semiauto will soak up a fair amount of the recoil. Many modern semiautos also have recoil-eliminating technologies built into the stock to further provide a pleasant shooting experience. The lower recoil also serves to lessen the probability that your new shooter will develop a flinch that will cause accuracy issues with each shot. Should this happen, or if it has already happened, it needs to be corrected. Look for a qualified youth instructor to help them work through the issue.

Forget the .410

I know, many old-timers talk about their days afield with the single-shot .410. They only had three shells to use while walking in the snow, uphill, both ways to get to and from school and their daddy would tan their hide if they did not bring back at least four rabbits… That being said, they are wrong in this case.

The .410 is a skilled shooter’s gun. It has a small pattern, and is generally best suited for an experienced shooter looking for a challenge.

Picking a Gun

I realize, some folks will not be able to swing the extra money for a new youth gun instead of a hand-me-down, and there are children who can easily tolerate the additional recoil based on size, stature, or even attitude. As a result, I have also included several pump shotguns in this mix.

I do not recommend a single-barrel shotgun as a youth’s first bird gun. Single-barrel shotguns are often very lightweight and kick like a mule. I have a single barrel Beretta companion that I shot as a youngster. It fit me poorly and had no recoil pad. If not for my extreme desire to hunt and shoot, I certainly would not have developed into the hunter I am today.

TriStar Viper G2 Youth Two Stock Combo

There are a number of reasons the Viper G2 is a top choice. As I stated in the introduction, I’m a big fan of semiautomatics—especially for kids. I have a great deal of experience with this gun, and I love the fact that it comes with an additional stock and shims to achieve, if not a perfect fit, as close as you can get with a rapidly-growing child.

Tristar Viper G2 shotgun right profile black
The Tristar Viper Youth shotgun is the author’s top pick for youths and small-framed shooters.

Chambered in 3-inch 20 gauge, the Viper G2 will be a menace to doves, upland game, rabbits, squirrels, and—as my own children can attest—to hundreds of ducks and geese with many years of service.

I have three of these that are used in our youth shooting events. They have performed for thousands of kids with nary a hiccup, so I can recommend the Viper G2 based on dozens of experiences.

The Viper G2 Youth Two Stock Combo comes with a synthetic stock and a parkerized finish for low maintenance. It has a 24-inch barrel, screw-in chokes, which share the same thread and pattern as Beretta/Benelli shotguns, and can be found at a real-world price around $400 – $450.

Remington 870 Express Compact

Remington 870 Express Compact with pink Mossy Oak camo
Remington 870 Express Compact

Finished with a hardwood stock and a Parkerized, flat-black metal finish, this scaled-down version of the #1 selling shotgun of all time is about as bulletproof as they come. The 870 Express Compact is equipped with Remington’s soft rubber recoil pad to soak up vibration. Remington’s 870 Express Compact features a pump-action design has proven reliable for nearly six decades. The street price should be around $300.

Mossberg 500 Youth

The Mossberg 500 pump is probably the second-best-selling shotgun of all time. The Mossberg 500 is the choice of the American military and Special Forces when they need a workhorse, room-clearing weapon.

Mossberg 500 Youth Bantam
The reliability of the Mossberg 500 Youth make is the number one choice for today’s military, so it should handle birds just fine.

The Mossberg 500 Youth is available in a package with several different stock shims and an additional barrel, so the gun can grow with your child, which I love, and still comes in under $400. I like this gun for it’s amazing reliability to function even when neglected for quite some time. I know this, because I have one and wanted to see how long we could use it without cleaning. The answer is a very, very long time.

I eventually took it apart and cleaned it, because it just didn’t feel right to shoot it for so long and use it so hard without any maintenance Disassembly and cleaning brings with it some challenges when trying to put the action back together. However, if your child is a tinker and loves parts and pieces, they will love this gun. Real-world pricing puts this gun around $300, but for the budget-conscious, there are many used models available in the low $200s.

Benelli Montefeltro Compact 20 Gauge Combo

If budget is not an issue, this is the gun for your child. It comes with two stocks—a compact and full-size. The Montefeltro will be one gun you can count on your youth keeping and shooting through their adult years.


Montefeltro shotgun with wood stock right profile
While the Montefeltro may not be budget-friendly, you’ll know this is a shotgun your young shooter will use and cherish for a lifetime.

The Benelli inertia action is renowned for its simplicity and reliability—consisting of only five parts—that can easily be field stripped without tools.

I own several Benelli’s. My original Super Black Eagle has more than 25,000 rounds through it, many of those being heavy 3-inch and 3 ½-inch magnum waterfowl loads. Today, my Super Black Eagle is often my “go-to” gun.

Benelli combines lightweight, ultra-reliability, and a rather nice looking gun in this youth package. The real-world price for the combo is around $1,300.

Which shotgun would you recommend for young shooters? Which guns have you had good luck with when introducing a new shooter to hunting or the shooting sports? Share your answers in the comment section.

Ace Luciano is a businessman, an entrepreneur, consultant, bestselling author, seminar speaker, and consummate outdoorsman for over 30 years. He has traveled the globe in pursuit of both game, fish and fowl. Ace is also the Author of ”Guns The Right Way – Introducing Kids to Firearm Safety and Shooting,” which is the only book of its kind. The book goes beyond gun safety and speaks to when to introduce kids, how to do it, and what to say and do regarding many of the challenges that come not just from kids and guns, but adults, teachers, and peers.

Purchase “Guns the Right Way” here.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (3)

  1. .410 shotguns are a must in teaching gun handling & shooting. If you give your 12 gauge to a 98 pound skinny & lengky kid, you will develope a flinch. 6-7 year olds can handle .410 comfortably and hitting the target isnÔÇÖt as critical at that age as gun handling. Work your way up to bigger guns. Hand me down guns also create length of pull issues – short dad gives tall kid his favorite 12 gauge with 13ÔÇØ LOP and the the kid is 5ÔÇÖ11ÔÇØ needing a 14.5ÔÇØ reach, heÔÇÖll shoot high and dad will yell at him for wasting ammo. 28ga.& 20ga. are fine guns for hitting game birds. One problem IÔÇÖve seen with kids getting into guns is, parents expect somebody else to teach it on one Saturday for 1 hour class while they go off, as usual, doing their own thing. They buy one box of ammo and focus on the target. Start when theyÔÇÖre younger, gauges and calibers for their height and weight, shoot 1000 rounds in the afternoon and focus on THEM! Cultivate the earth replenishing it with lead & aiming will develop naturally when they want to hit it.

  2. I was enjoying reading about youth shotguns. I have a 5 year old grandson. But I hate to tell ya, that’s not a Mossberg 500 you pictured. It bugs me to know end that sites who want come across as experts let something like this happen. It cheapens your site and makes it hard to think of it as a good source for info. Just my thoughts, Brad

    1. Brad, it appears that they uploaded the wrong photo. That’s not only not a Mossberg 500, it’s not a Mossberg or a PUMP!
      Even the best editors make an error now and then.

      I can assure you- even the editor of this publication… though he might disagree 🙂

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