I will never forget the first shotgun I ever fired. It was a Beretta Companion, a single shot 20 gauge that folded entirely in half and weighed next to nothing. It was a full-size gun; no recoil pad. That gun kicked like a mule. To solve some of my pain problem, my father put a slip on recoil pad over the hard butt stock. Now, in addition to kicking hard and bucking up in the air, it also fit me poorly! My “hit” ratio dropped immediately. Back in those days, there was no such thing as a “youth” shotgun. If you wanted a shotgun designed to fit a child or a smaller framed shooter, you bought a full-sized gun and cut an inch or two off of the stock. Unfortunately that usually required a gunsmith, which required even more out-of-pocket cost for a gun that might not even be used after the first couple of times.
You can see the dilemma here. Fortunately, such is not the case anymore. Just about every manufacturer makes a shotgun specifically fit to youth or smaller stature shooters. Because of the recent surge in women participating in shooting and hunting, there has been a large increase in the number and different models available.
That’s great news. It’s hard enough today to get kids away from the Xbox, the iPad, the computer, or even the lowly television set. The last thing you want to do is to discourage them further by making their shooting or hunting an unpleasant experience. I am fortunate in that I have a large number of friends and acquaintances whose children also shoot.
Many gun clubs, conservation organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, and youth organizations also have a number of youth size guns for kids to try. I am blessed to be the father of two sons and two daughters. When it came time for my sons to shoot, I had them try several different guns and settled on a Mossberg 500 Bantam youth 20 gauge.
The gun is practically bulletproof—which also means it is relatively child mess-up proof—and has served us well over the past 12 years. My younger son not only shoots it, but he shoots it very well.
My older daughter expressed a great deal of interest in coming to the clays course with us. We had let her fire a couple of rounds with the Mossberg, but there were two problems with it. It was too heavy for her, and the forend was too far forward for her to comfortably shoot with it.
Fortunately, we attended a youth shooting event that had several different types of guns available to try. Two of them were youth semi-automatic 20 gauges from Tri-Star. The same model is “re-labeled” and sold by both Mossberg as the “SA-20” and Weatherby as the “SA-08.” Once my daughter wrapped her hands around one of those shotguns, I knew I was in trouble. They are well-balanced for a small shooter, and the gas operated action soaks up the majority of the recoil. I took one apart and noticed a configuration that was very familiar. It was similar to a Remington 1100, but with additional gas ports and a similar spring, valve, and exhaust porting system.
For the past year, my daughter has eagerly fired that gun at targets and birds at a minimum of a few times per month. Her enthusiasm grows with each successive league, broken clay or harvested bird. It was certainly different from my early experience—and that’s a good thing! By the time I was seven years old, I already enjoyed a love for going into the woods and on the marsh with my dad. So much that nothing was going to stop me from doing so, especially not something as trivial as a little recoil. Most kids aren’t that lucky.
What can you do to ensure that your son or daughter has not only a positive experience, but really enjoys shooting and hunting?
- Be careful with his or her first exposure to firearms. I started each of my kids with an air rifle, and then moved them up to a .22 LR. They were already familiar with how a gun worked before ever touching a shotgun.
- Shop, travel, sign them up for youth events, and attend dealer shows that will allow them to try numerous different firearms. I can’t tell you how many people I have talked out of buying their 60-pound daughter a single-barrel 20 gauge with an exposed hammer and no recoil pad. It is always better to wait and save a little bit more money, then to have a less expensive gun that only sits in the gun cabinet because your new shooter doesn’t want to shoot it.
- Spend the extra dollar (per box) for “managed recoil” loads for at least the first several trips to the range. That may be the best six or seven dollars you ever spend on introducing your partner to the shooting sports.