Most gun enthusiasts are men. Many of them would like their spouses and children to learn firearms. Teaching the family to shoot is sometimes a more difficult task than expected, not for lack of interest but because many mainstream defensive arms are simply too big and heavy for the new shooters. Certainly, some teenagers are taller than their parents, and some women are stronger than their husbands, but they are the exceptions. A 5’2″ female trying to master an AR15A2 or another full-sized firearm would find it as difficult as you’d find dancing in shoes three sizes too big. It can be done, but introduces a needless complication into the process. The same is true when a new shooter is instructed with a hard-kicking hunting bolt action.
A small woman can certainly handle a long, heavy rifle the same way that a soldier handles a Barrett M82, by firing from a bipod or a supported position. Firing off-hand becomes a chore, as the forward balance combines with excessive length of pull (distance from the buttplate to the trigger) to make aiming and recoil control difficult. A shooter with small hands can fire a double-stack autoloader or a revolver with a long trigger reach using a two-handed grip. The same person would be hard-pressed to get a good one-handed grip on the weapon in a rapid response situation.
Traditionally, the most expensive custom firearms were fitted to individual shooters. Few of us can afford that, but fortunately the modularity of modern rifles allows extensive customization without great expense. The three rifles shown below are but a few of the many suitable for smaller shooter: they are provided as case studies. Many other caliber and type options exists, but these three are relatively inexpensive, reliable and effective. All three of these have been found comfortable by shooters who weigh under 60 pounds. Much lighter options are available in .22LR, but who would want to saddle his spouse or teenage child with a marginal stopper in case of an emergency.
The first rifle is a custom build by Doublestar. It uses a short fixed stock (a collapsible stock would have also worked), a lightweight barrel, small circumference handgrip and forend. Folding rear sight allows for a clear sight picture with an optic, while fixed front provided full-time emergency sighting should an optional optic fail. The main advantage of this option is the commonality of parts and training with other AR15s, by far the most common defensive rifle in the US. On the right, a slightly difference rifle from the same maker is shown in the hands of an eleven year old boy: light weight and oversized controls made the rifle very easy for him to control.
The middle rifle is the classic M1 carbine. Simple is design and operation, it was the originally designed specifically for the support personnel. That it trickled down to the front lines of World War Two and Korea just proves the worth of the design for short range self-protection. For those who prefer the versatility of an optic to the traditional look, both Auto Ordnance and Ultimak make replacement handguards with rails. While debate rages about the suitability of the .30 Carbine ball cartridge for stopping aggressive foes, soft point and hollow point ammunition such as the Federal 110-grain load have excellent performance.
Below is the Keltec SU16. The length of pull on the standard SU16 is quite long, but swapping the fixed stock for the “E” pistol grip and telestock kit takes only a minute. SU16 is a reliable piston design with a polymer receiver. The standard forend is very light and unfolds into a bipod. The Red Lion Precision forend shown in the photo adds no extra weight, provides better ventilation and allows mounting of additional accessories. The Magpul AFG grip can be used as design or in conjunction with the magwell hold — the center of balance on this rifle is at that exact point. Low-mounted Aimpoint Micro H1 and Viridian C5L light/laser allow rapid identification and engagement of of targets.
While the light weight of these guns increases the recoil slightly, much better fit allows to control that recoil much better. The only real performance sacrifices are in the long-range accuracy and the capability for sustained fire. The thin .223 barrels are good for about 100 rounds before heat becomes an issue. Neither consideration is of much importance in defensive or sport shooting for which these carbines would likely be used. While meant for the smaller shooters, these guns are fun for the grown men too. Even the short fixed stock can be easily used by very tall shooters — they just fire from a less bladed stance and get to use their binocular vision better.
Just like shoes, guns have to fit. It is no fun to shoot a weapon that is too big, too heavy or otherwise unsuitable for the budding marksman. It is no wonder that new shooters often recoil at the prospect of more range time with guns they cannot physically control. If giving a gun as a gift, get the recipient’s input on the type and configuration, even is that means forgoing the Birthday or Christmas surprise for the recipient. The smiles — and the improved results — of a shooters whose gun fits perfectly will be well worth your effort.