Purchase the right model the first time and it will last forever
I have the very first gun I got when I was 11 years old. It is a lever action .22 rifle made by Browning. It looks brand new and I would never consider selling it. My dad gave it to me.
Firearms are truly family heirlooms. I would never consider selling any gun I got from my dad. Buying a young hunter or shooter their very first gun is a once-in-a-lifetime event. It is one you should do well the first time. Unfortunately, I see lots of first gun purchases for youth that I think are really bad choices.
In the world of shotguns the most common first gun purchased is a single shot break open shotgun in a variety of sizes. This gun breaks open on a hinge and allows for the insertion of only one round. This is a strong point of this kind of gun. The youth needs to concentrate on one shot and only one shot. This makes it easier to produce and develop proper gun safety.
There are two drawbacks to this kind of gun. One, there is no dedicated safety mechanism. When the hammer is in the down position, it is considered in the safe position. The second drawback to this kind of firearm is that in order to discharge the gun you need to manually pull the hammer back with your thumb. When you pull the trigger, the hammer falls and the shell is fired. But what happens when you pull the hammer back and then the duck or other game does not come close enough to shoot? Now the operator has to put their thumb back on the hammer and actually pull the trigger and then slowly lower the hammer back into the safe position.
This is not hard for an experienced hunter but is much harder for a youth or any new hunter for that matter. Add to this equation cold hands, thick gloves, inclement weather and other factors and it makes lowering the hammer safely more difficult. If you fail in the attempt, the gun will discharge.
A better option for kids is a pump action shotgun. It comes in all gauges and both youth and adult sizes. A pump action shotgun can hold between three and five rounds, but you don’t have to fill it to capacity. A youth can load one shell only and still operate the gun like a single shot. There is no hammer to pull and these guns have a mechanical safety. If a duck looks to be coming your way, you can click off the safety and be ready to shoot. If the duck passes by with no shot, you can simply click the safety back on.
The additional benefit of buying your youth a pump action shot gun is they can use this same gun for their entire lives if you purchased an adult-sized gun. If you bought the youth model, which has a shorter barrel and stock, then the child will outgrow it and need an adult-sized gun later. I have loaned out my youth shotgun to at least six other kids. It looks the same, functions the same and has helped lots of new hunters enter the sport.
One other mistake I see parents make is to purchase their child a top-shelf semi-automatic shotgun as their first gun. This is a firearm that shoots one round for every time you pull the trigger and can cycle four shots in about three seconds. This is too much gun for a new hunter in my opinion. You could load it one round at a time but it would take lots of practice before I would trust a youth to be competent with an adult action firearm.
Spending an afternoon social distancing with your family shooting clay pigeons on a warm spring afternoon is a great pastime. Shooting for recreation or hunting is still one of the safest things a young person can do. Check the stats. There are hundreds if not thousands more kids hurt playing round ball sports than are ever injured in the realm of recreational shooting or hunting.
Get your youth the right first gun and enjoy a lifetime of memories together.
Scott Rall, Worthington, is a habitat conservationist, avid hunting and fishing enthusiast and is president of Nobles County Pheasants Forever. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. or on Twitter @habitat champion.