Teaching Children to Shoot

 

Apple Fragments fly as a six-year-old launches a bullet from a Savage Cub .22 rifle. Targets that react to a hit keep shooting fun for children.

Apple fragments fly through the air when a five-year-old launches a bullet from a Savage Cub .22 rifle. Targets that react to a hit keep shooting fun for children.

More and more I am hearing comments like these:

“My dad had a lot of guns and always went shooting and hunting, but he didn’t want us kids around them, so I never learned to shoot.”

“My brothers went hunting with my father and uncles, but my sisters and I were not allowed to go. I would like to learn how to hunt now. What kind of rifle should I get?”

“Don’t say anything about this rifle in front of my wife. She hates guns because she has never been around them.”

Parents who enjoy hunting and shooting are failing to include their children in these activities. I don’t think this a problem with this specific activity. Parents in general, especially fathers, are tending to include their children less in their hobbies and activities. I learned to shoot from my father, who learned from his father. My father still talks about his grandfather’s firearms. My father allowed me to be involved in everything he did. I learned from him when he built buildings, cut firewood, restored wooden fishing vessels, and rebuilt engines. Growing up in a remote village in Alaska, we hunted, fished, grew large gardens, raised chickens, gathered berries, and canned food to live. I did all of these things with my father as he taught me not only how to do these things, but how to live a moral, honest life. He taught me by example that it is possible to react to any situation with intelligence and restraint. Had he not included me in his life, I would have failed to learn these things.

As I grew older, I began to notice a shift. Children did not participate in activities with their parents. Many children no longer even did chores. They began to come home from school to sit down in front of a TV or play video games all evening. Those children are now adults who come home from work and sit down and play video games all evening, ignoring their families.

Now we hear the complaints: “Kids these days don’t want to do anything but play video games.” Sure, it’s easy to blame the children. How many children bury themselves in video games day after day to hide from the disappointment that stems from a lack if interaction with their parents? Here is the secret: children want to learn from their parents. They want to do what their parents do. They want to be like mommy or like daddy. Get your kids out and spend time with them doing things that interest both of you and your children.

Teaching children to shoot  

A two-year old pays enough attention when watching her father to correctly place parts in a Cavalry Arms lower when given the opportunity.

This two-year old paid enough attention when watching her father to correctly place parts in a Cavalry Arms lower when given the opportunity.

 

This is not a politically correct subject. Every time one of our children goes to the doctor we are given a pamphlet filled with stern warnings about firearms. According to the pamphlet, children should never live in a house where firearms are present. If you own firearms, store them away from home. If you insist on being so irresponsible as to own a firearm, it must be stored disassembled and locked up with all ammunition removed from the house. One would think that firearms were the major factor in child deaths. Far more children are killed by drowning than by firearm negligence, yet we receive no pamphlet about supervising baths and keeping toddlers away from full buckets and toilets. We don’t get lectures about car restraints for children. Clearly the issue of children and firearms is a highly emotionalized political issue. No matter what side of the issue you are on, your children need to be trained in firearm safety from an early age. Even if you do not keep firearms in your home, there is a chance that at some point in your child’s life he or she will come into contact with a firearm. Your child needs to be able to recognize an unsafe situation and respond appropriately. The following example illustrates the importance of this:

I was with my family in a somewhat public area. There was a group of pre-school and grade school age children playing in a field and on some playground equipment. Some young adults and teenagers arrived to play airsoft in the nearby woods. I approached them and warned them to stay well away from the children with the airsoft guns, since the children did not have eye protection. As they were getting ready to head into the woods, I realized that one of the young adults was carrying a real pistol along with his airsoft pistol and airsoft rifle. His airsoft pistol was a replica of the real pistol that he was carrying. I immediately told them that they needed to lock any real firearms in their vehicle when playing airsoft. He explained that he was carrying a real pistol for bear protection. I insisted that the danger of being mauled was minimal compared to the danger of negligently firing the wrong pistol at one of his buddies and he locked his pistol in his car. Some time later some of the parents of the other children and I were a couple hundred meters from the area where the children were playing when one of the boys ran up to me and told me that an airsoft player had left a loaded revolver on the playground equipment before leaving the area to play airsoft. I looked toward the area and saw one girl standing by a large tire that was half-buried upright in the ground. The other children were standing quietly in a group a distance away. As I ran toward the children to secure the pistol, the owner emerged from the woods, took the pistol, and locked it in his car. His negligence was dealt with.

The owner of the revolver, after finding that it was uncomfortable to carry in his pocket while playing airsoft, had exited the woods and placed the revolver on the playground equipment. He then returned to the woods to continue playing. One of the smallest children noticed the revolver and immediately told one of the girls. The girl knew enough about firearms to determine that the revolver was loaded without touching it. She and and one of the boys got the attention of the other children and made them stand away from the weapon. She then guarded the weapon while the boy ran to find me. This potentially deadly situation was handled responsibly by very young children because they had been trained by their parents in firearm safety. Most of these children had been trained to handle firearms and to shoot, including my pre-school age children, but they had been taught to do so only under the direct supervision of their parents. Their reaction to a firearm in the absence of supervision was to stay away, secure the area, and get an adult. These children were not in greater danger because they were familiar with firearms; they were safer as a result. Imagine how this might have turned out if this had been the children’s first exposure to a firearm?

We cannot always control how and when our children are exposed to firearms, but we can train them to handle the exposure in a safe and responsible way. If you do not feel comfortable training your children yourself, many states offer good hunter safety training, and organizations such as the NRA and various shooting organizations offer training and resources to both schools and individual families that are appropriate for teaching children firearm safety.

Safety

All firearms training must start with safety training. A shooting range is not the place to start training safety. Safe handling practices must be firmly established before any person touches a loaded firearm. Firearms safety must become second nature.

We would think that safe handling of firearms would be instinctive but this is not the case. Like any other equipment, from farm equipment to hand tools, an unsafe condition is created when untrained individuals handle the equipment. I have worked around both farm and construction equipment extensively and it has become very clear to me that people will not consider safety without training. I have watched engineers in the military commit safety violations that no good civilian construction company would ever dream of allowing. The difference is the emphasis on safety in training.

Firearms safety training starts with drilling several basic rules until they become instinct.

Always treat every firearm as if it was loaded.

Never let any firearm point in an unsafe direction. An unsafe direction is any direction in which a person, animal, or valuable property could be struck if the firearm was discharged.

Keep the trigger off the trigger and outside the trigger guard until sights are aligned on target and a decision has been made to shoot.

Be sure of what your bullet will hit before you make a decision to shoot.

Always treat every firearm as if it were loaded.

Many negligent discharges take place when a shooter assumes a firearm is unloaded and relaxes his vigilance. Since the firearm is unloaded, the shooter feels it is not important to follow the second and third rules. The results can be deadly. 

Teach children to always check every firearm to make sure it is clear upon taking possession of it. Once the child has verified that the firearm is unloaded, he or she must still assume that it could be loaded and treat it accordingly. This rule must be enforced at all times. 

I have a friend who was visiting in his friend’s apartment along with several other people. His friend showed him a new pump shotgun and he immediately checked to be sure it was clear and then looked at it for a few minutes. He placed it on the couch and left the room momentarily. When he returned, he picked the shotgun up from where he had left it and handled it for a few minutes before turning to return it to the owner. At this point he lost control of the weapon and dropped it. He instinctively caught it with his other hand as it fell and a finger entered the trigger guard, striking the trigger. The shotgun fired past his face, through the ceiling, and into the bottom of the dining room table in the apartment above, destroying the table.

What caused this negligent discharge? While my friend was in the bathroom, another person had picked up the shotgun. He should not have been allowed to handle the shotgun because he was not trained in firearm safety and was unfamiliar with the weapon. There were some shotshells present, and he decided to figure out how to load it. He loaded a couple of shells into the magazine, and then could not figure out how to unload them. In trying to unload them, he worked the action and chambered a shell. At this point the action was locked and he did not know how to unlock it, so he simply put it back down on the couch and left the room. When my friend returned he did not clear the weapon, even though it had been out of his possession. Teach your children to clear a weapon every time they take possession of it.

Never let any firearm point in an unsafe direction.

An unsafe direction is any direction in which a fired projectile could strike a person (this includes the shooter’s body parts), animal (if not hunting), or valuable property. Children should be taught that this applies to objects that cannot be seen – on the other side of a wall, for example. This also means constantly watching to be sure that no one moves in front of the muzzle.

Keep the finger off the trigger and outside the trigger guard until sights are aligned on target and a decision has been made to shoot.  

A six-year old immediately after firing a shot from a Savage Cub Rifle. Notice that as soon as the shot was fired the trigger finger has been moved out of the trigger guard and is placed along the stock above the trigger.

A six-year old holds his Savage Cub rifle immediately after firing. Notice that as soon as the shot was fired the trigger finger was moved out of the trigger guard and is placed along the stock above the trigger.

 

 

This vital rule of firearm safety is seldom taught even by those who are careful to teach the other three rules. I watch people handle weapons all the time, and the majority will put a finger on the trigger as soon as they pick up a firearm. To me this is one of the biggest indicators of whether or not someone is competent in the handling of firearms. 

Most modern firearms are designed so that it is almost impossible for them to fire unless the trigger is squeezed. If the trigger remains untouched, the firearm should not fire. Thus, the proper place for the trigger finger is alongside the stock, frame, or receiver above the trigger at all times except when the trigger is being squeezed. The trigger finger should never leave this position until a decision has been made to shoot, the sights are on target, and the safety selector has been moved from safe to fire. As soon as the shot or string of shots has been fired, the finger moves back to the stock or frame above the trigger and the safety is applied. This needs to be drilled until it is instinctive.
Carrying or holding the weapon; finger is outside and above the trigger guard.
Decision is made to shoot. Weapon comes up and a sight picture is obtained.
Safety selector from safe to fire.

Finger to the trigger, trigger squeeze, and the shots are fired.
Finger returns to its place outside the trigger guard.
Weapon is placed on safe.

Many people teach this rule as, “Don’t put you finger on the trigger until ready to shoot.” The problem with teaching it this way this is that many people take this to mean that it is acceptable to put the finger on the trigger any time they want to be ready to shoot. The movement in the bushes is might be a moose, and I want to be ready to shoot if it is. Should my finger be on the trigger while I investigate? This rule should be taught very specifically. Your child should know very specifically when it is appropriate to move the finger to the trigger.

Be sure of what your bullet will hit before you make a decision to shoot.

Here is what I teach: You own your bullet until it stops. That bullet may stop at your target, or it may go much farther. If the target is too hard, the bullet or fragments may go in an unexpected direction. Before making a decision to shoot, your child should be trained to pause and evaluate the situation. What is behind the target? What is the chance of a riccochette? Is there a suitable backstop? Can we be sure that there is no one downrange? This concept must be drilled into a child until the child always considers what is behind the target before shooting. Since children should always be supervised when shooting, the supervising adult bears the final responsible for determining the safety of a shot.

Safety can be taught at the earliest age that a child begins to understand. Always remember that children understand more than we give them credit for. Early safety training should take place whenever you handle a firearm in front of your children. Remember that your children watch you carefully and try to emulate your actions. If you handle a firearm in an unsafe manner, your children will do what they watch you doing no matter what you tell them. Every time you handle a firearm, do it safely. When your child is present, talk through what you are doing, even when they seem to young to understand. Explain the actions you are taking to be safe. This will have a huge impact on how your child views firearm safety. I can still remember watching my father return from hunting and explain to me what he was doing to ensure safety as he unloaded his rifle then entered the house and cleaned it before putting it away. I was two or three years old.

I tried to prevent my children from playing with toy firearms before they learned how to shoot. My reasoning was that it would prevent them from developing bad habits that would later need to be trained out of them. Unfortunately, they wanted toy firearms very badly, and grandparents being what they are . . . . I used the toy firearms to teach firearm safety. If you saw my children with toy firearms (long before they were ever allowed to touch a real firearm) they carried them pointed in a safe direction with fingers off the trigger. They shot imaginary moose and caribou and bears (and less politically correct animals like killer whales and sea otters and bald eagles), but never people.

My children were also taught never to touch a firearm. They learned this so well that at one point my oldest boy was visiting me when I was with my unit preparing to deploy. There was an m240 machine gun on its bipod on the floor, and other soldiers wanted a photo of him behind it. I told him it was OK and they all tried to get him to touch it, but he flatly refused. Nothing would persuade him to touch that machine gun. He was 18 months old. Some people are afraid that this will teach their children to be afraid of firearms, but when they are old enough to start shooting, they will also be old enough to understand why they were not allowed to touch firearms before but are allowed to now, with limitations. Now that they are older, my oldest have their own firearms, but they are allowed to touch them only with permission and close supervision. They have no fear of firearms, but have a respect for them and a knowledge of what can result from misuse. My children have seen dead animals, which helps them to understand death even at a young age. They have seen some photos of gunshot wounds with an explanation of what specific negligence cause the injury. Every time they have heard someone talk about a firearm related injury or death due to negligence, I have taken the time to explain what should have been done to prevent it. I often recommend shooting a watermelon with a .22 LR hollowpoint as a demonstration to new shooters. The insides of the watermelon tend to be blown out and the rind collapses. Results are even more dramatic with larger calibers.

If you are preparing to teach your child to shoot, you had better make sure you know and follow all firearm safety rules. No matter what you tell your children, they will learn and do what they see you do.

Don’t let you children shoot with others until you make sure that the other people are also safe shooters. Don’t be pressured into it, and teach your children that no amount of peer pressure is worth the risk. Many times as a teenager, when shooting with friends or neighbors, I simply turned, walked to my three-wheeler, and rode away when the situation became unsafe. Let other shooters know what they are doing wrong and why you are leaving, but do leave. Feelings may be hurt, but hurt feelings can be repaired. Dead family members cannot.

Clear weapons correctly.

I don’t know why people have so much trouble grasping the concept of properly clearing a weapon. Clearing a firearm is not cycling the action and putting it away. Clearing procedure is different for different weapons but the basic concept is as follows: 

Be sure to follow the rules of firearm safety throughout the clearing procedure.
Remove detachable magazine or remove ammunition from non-detachable magazine
Open the action and keep it open.
Visually check the magazine (fixed magazine) to be sure the follower is visible and no cartridges are lodged in the magazine. (Check magazine well if magazine is detachable and removed)
Visually check chamber to ensure that no cartridge is present. This means look into the chamber. Never assume the chamber is empty just because the action has been opened.
One big mistake that leads to many negligent discharges is a failure to remove or empty the magazine before “clearing” the cartridge from the chamber by cycling the weapon. 

Firearms for teaching children

A five-year-old boy getting into a position to fire his Savage Cub T. This well-designed .22 rifle, with Savage's AccuTrigger, is ideal for training children.

A five-year-old boy getting into a position to fire his Savage Cub T. This well-designed .22 rifle, with Savage's AccuTrigger, is ideal for training children.

It is best to start children on a rifle. I recommend a .22 caliber rifle – absolutely nothing larger. With the child’s first rifle, we want to train the basics as easily and naturally as possible. Recoil, muzzle flash, and report are all detrimental to teaching a new shooter, especially a child. I often hear men talk of making their children shoot hard-recoiling rifles in order to “toughen them up,” or “get them used to the kick.” This is absolute stupidity. All they are doing is training their children to develop flinch. Use nothing larger than a .22 until the child reaches an age, size, and skill level that will allow her to comfortably shoot a larger caliber.

Several companies build small .22 caliber youth model rifles. These are mostly single shot or magazine-fed bolt-actions, although Henry makes a youth-sized lever-action. After looking at the available options, I chose Savage’s Cub Mini and Cub T rifles for my children. In my opinion these are possibly the best rifles currently available for teaching young children to shoot. They have a combination of  features that I found better than most other rifles of this type.

The Savage Cub rifles are single-shot bolt action rifles available in two basic variations, the Cub Mini and the Cub T. The difference between the two models is in the style of the laminate stock. The Cub Mini has a more traditional style stock, while the Cub T features a thumbhole style stock. Both stock styles are available in either brown or pink laminate. The Savage Cub rifles have 16″ barrels and an overall length of 33 inches for the Cub Mini and 36″ for the Cub T. Weight is 3.3 to 3.5 pounds depending on the model. The top of the receiver is grooved for a scope mount and they feature excellent aperture sights  on the rear of the receiver. The sights are much nicer than those found on most similar rifles and excellent for teaching young shooters.

The best thing Savage did with the Cub rifles is include the excellent AccuTrigger. The advantage is a very light, clean, match-type trigger that is very safe. One thing I noticed with most other youth-type rifles was very horrible triggers. Some have triggers in the 9 to 12 pound range. Some people apparently think that a heavy trigger is a safety feature. I think it is a stupid feature. I cannot shoot well if I am yarding on a trigger with all my strength. How can I teach a small child to shoot with a trigger that, to him, feels like a 20 pound trigger would feel to me? With Savage’s AccuTrigger I can easily teach proper trigger manipulation to the smallest shooters.

The safety on the savage rifles is in a traditional location on the right side of the receiver where it can be manipulated with the firing thumb. Moving it back puts the rifle on safe and pushing it forward places the rifle on fire. The safety selector moves easily back into the safe position, but is very stiff when pushed forward to fire. Most smaller children are not strong enough to place the rifle on fire. For those who prefer to teach safety manipulation, it can easily be smoothed and lightened a bit.

These rifles also include sling swivels, and I strongly recommend a Harris bipod mounted on the front swivel. I will explain why later.

I like the single-shot rifles for initial training of children as opposed to a lever-action or semi-auto because the inability to quickly cycle another round allows the child to concentrate on follow through.

With its perfect blend of balance, size, and simplicity, the Ruger Bearcat .22 LR revolver is an ideal first pistol for a child. The bear and puma rollmark on the cylinder is popular with children.

With its perfect blend of balance, size, and simplicity, the Ruger Bearcat .22 LR revolver is an ideal first pistol for a child. The bear and puma rollmark on the cylinder is popular with children.

 

My children were promised a rifle when they turned five. My boys had both developed strong preferences about rifle stocks by the time they turned five, resulting in a purchase of the Cub Mini for one and the Cub T for the other a year later. One of my boys prefers blue and the other green, so both rifles were finished according to their preferences. I can also see the purchase of a pink-stocked Savage Cub rifle in my future.

When your child is ready to move on to a pistol, I don’t think you can beat Ruger’s New Bearcat. It is light, well-balanced, and sized perfectly for small hands. The trigger is great right out of the box and it is quite accurate. As a single-action revolver, the Ruger Bearcat is simple to operate. It must be manually cocked before it can be fired and it features a transfer bar safety mechanism which allows the revolver to be safely carried hammer-down over a loaded chamber (Ruger still advises carrying an empty chamber under the hammer). The Bearcat’s combination of size, balance and simplicity make it the ideal choice for young shooters. It is available blued or in stainless steel and has a rollmark with images of a bear and a mountain lion on the unfluted cylinder.

Teaching the Basics

There are several basic fundamentals that must be taught correctly to ensure the development of proper shooting habits. Among the most important are sight picture, breathing, trigger squeeze, and follow through. Once these basics have been learned and become second nature, more advanced training in such things as shooting positions, shooting with a sling, and shooting with scopes can take place. In the beginning, however, make everything as comfortable and easy as possible and concentrate on the basic fundamentals. Allow your child to shoot from a bipod sitting or prone. The more comfortable your child is the better. Comfort leads to motivation.

Sight Picture

Teach the proper sight picture. If the rifle has notch rear sights, teach your child to align the front sight in the rear notch and with the target. The focus should be on the front sight and the target and rear sight should be slightly blurry (out of focus). If the rifle has a receiver (aperture or peep) rear sight, teach the child to look through the rear aperture, focus on the front sight and align the front sight with the target. The eye will automatically align the front sight with the center of the aperture, so no concentration needs to be spent on aligning front and rear sights. Sight alignment can and should be taught with pictures. You can also cut large front and rear sights out of black paper and have the child practice aligning them with a target picture.

Teach proper cheek weld and teach your child to place the cheek in the same place on the stock each time. A pad can be used to help the child index the same position on the stock each time. You may also need to use a pad to put the head in the right position to comfortably align with the sights.

Breathing 

Breathing technique is something that is often misunderstood. The advent of first person shooter video games has made it even harder to teach proper technique. It does not mean snapping quick shots when your breathing wobbles the sights somewhere near the target. It means that you stop breathing, squeeze the trigger, follow through with your sight picture back on target, and then begin breathing again. Most people prefer to either breath out all the way and then pause, or breath out halfway and pause. However you prefer, teach you child to stop breathing prior to squeezing the trigger. If the trigger squeeze is taking too long, teach him to pause in the trigger squeeze, take a couple of breaths, and then stop breathing again for the trigger squeeze. The more relaxed the child is the easier it will be for him to control his breathing.

Trigger Squeeze

The pad of the trigger finger should be placed on the trigger and the trigger should be squeezed straight back. The trigger squeeze should be a steady pressure and when the trigger breaks, it should be a surprise. The idea is that the child is applying steady pressure and waiting to see when the rifle fires. If she “makes” the rifle fire, it is because she jerked the trigger. The trigger should be held back until the follow through is complete. If the trigger is pulled or pushed to one side or the other, the shot will be pulled. The thing to remember is that it must be a steady, even, pressure. The shot should come as a surprise. (Once a shooter has some experience, the point at which the trigger breaks will no longer be a surprise with a firearm that has a good trigger. The concept is still the same: steady pressure straight back until the trigger breaks. The difference is that the more experienced shooter will know exactly when a familiar trigger will break.)

Follow Through

This is something that children really struggle with. I remember my father continually telling me, “You’re lifting your head to see where you hit before the rifle even fires.” There is an impulsive desire to pull away from the rifle as soon as the trigger breaks to observe the impact of the projectile. The problem with this is that the bullet is in the bore for a surprisingly long time. Without a proper follow through, the rifle will be moved while the bullet is traveling through the bore.

You must teach your child to keep the sights on target before and after the shot. The sequence should be: sight picture – weapon on fire – finger on trigger – squeeze – (bang) – sight picture again for a couple seconds – relax. If the follow through is done correctly, your child won’t be moving or relaxing before the bullet leaves the rifle. This will also help overcome some children’s tendency to close their eyes before firing.

Once these fundamentals have been well trained, you can move on to teaching other things. Don’t spend too little time training these basic concepts though. It doesn’t hurt to spend a couple years just focusing on these things. Shooting is a skill that needs to be trained, reinforced, and practiced. During range time remember to continue to stress the safety rules as well.

Make Shooting Enjoyable.

One mistake I think that the army has made in training people to shoot is that shooting in the army is done under stress. Trainees learn to shoot in basic training under pressure from drill sergeants. On qualification ranges there is a push for speed. If a soldier is having difficulty shooting, he is put under more stress from his leadership. While I believe that a soldier needs to be trained to shoot and hit under great stress, we can’t teach this until he has been trained to shoot and hit correctly. He needs the basic shooting skills to be instinctive so that when he is stressed things like sight alignment and trigger manipulation happen without requiring concentration. These basic skills cannot be taught when a drill sergeant is standing over a trainee, banging his helmet with a clearing rod and yelling every time he misses.

A young soldier in my company was attempting to qualify on a a paper target qualification course in Iraq. He was firing the course again and again with scores as low as 9 hits out of 40. A squad leader was standing over him, berating him and yelling at him to shoot faster, even though he was firing all shots within the time allowed. His scores were continually dropping. I received permission from his platoon sergeant to work with him for the rest of that day and allow him to qualify with another platoon the next day. The next day he fired a score of 36. What made the difference? I allowed him to fire without any pressure to qualify, beat time limits, etc. I simply identified the habits that were causing him to miss, told him how to correct them, and let him practice until the proper techniques became habit. Once these habits were formed he had the confidence of knowing how to hit what he aimed at and he was ready to qualify.

Children should shoot paper targets so you and they can see how well they are shooting. With paper targets, it is easy to identify what mistakes a new shooter is making. Paper targets also quickly become boring to children. To keep your child’s interest, mix paper targets with targets that react. Before your son looses interest, switch from a paper target to some coke cans that he can knock over, or a fruit that can be shattered. Hang some clay pigeons up for him to shoot. This will keep shooting fun for him and motivation will remain high.

Don’t make shooting hard. Enough work is required just to learn the correct techniques. Don’t make your daughter try to learn these techniques while trying to shoot a long rifle offhand. Use a rest or a bipod and make things as easy as possible to begin with. Training also means that your child is shooting and you are instructing. She cannot learn without instruction and she needs your supervision to maintain safety. Close supervision will make learning much easier and allow you to stop mistakes before they become habit.

Older Children   

 

A young friend helps us evaluate an American Tactical Imports GSG-5, a .22 caliber MP-5 clone. The conclusion? The GSG-5 lays down a seriously high volume of fun.

A young friend helps us evaluate an American Tactical Imports GSG-5, a .22 caliber MP-5 clone. The conclusion? The GSG-5 lays down a seriously high volume of fun.

As your child becomes more advanced, he or she will probably be looking for more variety. Now is a good time to get a larger .22 rifle – maybe a lever-action or semi-auto. Most shooting should still be done with .22 caliber firearms because of the minimal recoil and inexpensive ammunition. As you introduce centerfire rifles, make sure they do not have a heavy recoil. My first centerfire rifle was a beautiful Winchester Model 70 featherweight mini-carbine in .243 Winchester. It was short, light, and beautifully balanced. Then I fired it and thought I had been hit by a truck. I fired it a couple times and then put it away and shot my father’s .308. That .243 is still a beautiful little carbine that feels just perfect for a child. It also still has the most uncomfortable recoil I have experienced. Though I have always loved that rifle, I did not like to fire it as a child. 

I think it is worth the time and money to find a rifle that shoots well with minimal recoil. Get a 7mm-08 or a .308 instead of a 7mm magnum or .300 Winchester magnum. Your new hunter will not be taking 800 meter shots at animals so the extra velocity is totally unnecessary. The .260 Remington is a great cartridge, as is the .243 Winchester. Both calibers are accurate, flat-shooting, and resist the wind very well. Both can be used for animals from varmint size up to moose, depending on the bullet used. For hunting smaller animals, .223 is a good beginning centerfire cartridge. A light lever-action carbine in a pistol caliber is also an excellent choice. A Winchester M92 clone in .357 Mag., 45 Colt, .44 Magnum, or .454 Casull is a potent little hunting rifle. Firing pistol cartridges from a carbine drastically increases their range and effectiveness. Recoil from these pistol caliber lever rifles is negligible. My wife has a 16″ Puma M92 carbine chambered in .454 Casull. With .45 Colt loads recoil is nonexistent, and .454 Casull loads are still very comfortable, and beat the factory .45-70 level of performance.

If your child is sensitive to recoil, a muzzle break is not a bad idea. Remember that avoiding the development of a flinch is very important. If a muzzle break is used, I recommend two levels of hearing protection (earmuffs over earplugs). I wear earplugs when hunting too, even without a muzzle break.

For a youth-sized centerfire bolt-action rifle I like the Howa Youth 2•N•1 model from Legacy Sports. The Howa rifles are very well built and are among the most accurate of production bolt-actions. They are priced very economically. The Howa 1500 Youth rifles ship from the factory with two Hogue overmolded stocks; a youth sized stock with a 12.5″ length of pull and an adult sized stock. This provides children with rifles that can grow with them and may one day be used to train their own children. While slightly more expensive , the Howa Axiom rifle has a recoil-reducing stock with an adjustable length of pull.

In a lever-action rifle I like the Winchester Model 92 or one of the many clones. These rifle are very strong and are capable of handling hot loads in .357 magnum, .45 Colt, or .44 Magnum. Rossi’s Model 92 is also available in .454 Casull and .480 Ruger. These carbines have very light recoil. They are short, light and easy to carry. Model 92 carbines are available from Charles Daly, Cimmarron Arms, Legacy Sports, Rossi, Winchester, and many others.

If you wish to do tactical-type shooting with your child, there are some great .22 LR tactical carbine clones and conversions available these days. Go take a tactical carbine course so that you can learn and teach the proper techniques, most importantly safety selector and trigger manipulation and follow through. AR-15 .22 conversions (such as CMMG’s drop-in conversions) and dedicated uppers (Spike’s Tactical’s .22 upper is a great example) are good choices, especially if you already own an AR-15 carbine. The GSG-5 is a fun little .22 caliber clone of the MP-5 and works well for tactical carbine training for children. Of course, the well-loved Ruger 10/22 with all of the aftermarket options for magazines and shorter stocks can be used as well. All of the above carbines can have collapsible stocks installed to better fit all sizes of children and adults.

Whatever carbine you choose, be sure to use one that is fairly modern in the layout of the controls. I would not recommend an AK 47 clone, since the safety is more difficult to manipulate. The Ruger 10/22 is good with the M14-style safety, but an AR-15 conversion or GSG-5 may be a better choice.

Legal Issues

Keep in mind that there may be certain legal issues involved with teaching your children to shoot, depending on what your state and local laws are. There are places in the United States where it is illegal to allow a child to shoot a firearm except under very specific conditions. There are also locations in which the type or caliber of firearm that children may use, either for training or for hunting, is restricted. My youngest brother now lives in a state where the type of firearm he is allowed to use is restricted to shotguns and slugs, which are much more difficult for a small child to use than an ideal rifle, and are actually proven more dangerous than rifle bullets in how far the projectile will travel after a miss.

The ATFE recommends that in order to comply with federal law, any time a child is in possession of a firearm for a legitimate sporting purpose (always under adult supervision, of course) the child should have in his or her possession a written waiver from a parent granting the child permission to possess the firearm for that purpose. This precaution should be taken even when the child is supervised by his or her own parent.


6 Responses to “Teaching Children to Shoot”

  1. Thank you for the lesson. As a 46 year old father of three I appreciate your words of wisdom. Growing up I never had someone teach me the safety precautions (respect) nor how to shoot and as a result I have grown up affraid of guns.

    Recently my middle child, age 14, was at his friends house and noticed that his friends family were about to go out back and engage in some target shooting. This was a normal thing in the part of the country where we now live. My son texted me “Dad can I go with and shoot?”……after a long pause I responded back “is there any alchol???”. He replied “no”. After several follow up texts between my son, my wife and the father of my son’s friend I allowed him to participate in the day of shooting. It was a decision that layed very heavy on my mind for many of the reasons mentioned in your article. Several hours had passed and I had not heard back from him. Yes, I was starting to get a little concerned but I was also curious as to wether my son would even enjoy shooting. I finally recieve a text from my son “Dad this was the most awesome thing I ever did”….additional text from him read “Dad you have to take me shooting, after all its a required father son thing”. Seriously, my own son taught me something my absentee father never had and that was certain things are american institutions and one of them happens to be showing your kids how to shoot (girls and boys).

    I wish my dad would have shown me how to shoot. Why? Not so much because I missed out as a child but because I waited so long to see my own children enjoy it.

    Your right about the couch potato / video game thing. However it was me on the couch. Last weekend three of our family members spent all day at a turkey shoot. All had a great time! We now go shooting once a month and my family can’t wait. Wish I started this sooner :)

  2. Great info. I also found myself helping fellow soldiers in Iraq to stay qualified.. my biggest complaint about the Army shooting policy was.. they wanted you to be able to shoot the minimums at any given time, but we would only get range time twice a year. I got my son a savage 22 and my daughter a cricket 22.. we will be shooting targets every two weeks from now on. They both want scopes. I told them they’d get them once the could use their iron sights proficiently.. due to them both wearing glasseswe may have to go to scopes sooner. Thanks for the great article.

  3. Great article! After talking in length with my father–who taught me to shoot and about weapon safety–I relaxed my views on toy guns. I also used that opportunity to teach safety and my co-workers laugh when they see my kids safely handling their toy guns. On top of that I make sure they know the difference between the toys and the real weapons. One of the benefits of homeschooling is being allowed to teach our curriculum.

    Regarding the Cub, I like the ability to mount an optic. It is good to teach iron sights, but the versatility to mount an optic is nice. Thanks.

  4. I originally intended on just quickly skipping through this article, Just to see what you had to say. I then found myself reading the entire thing. I couldn’t agree with you more. I even had the same issue with the grandparents thing. This is what America needs to make guns safer, not more ban this tax that laws. If everyone who owned a gun got the type of training your children are getting, Gun control wouldn’t even be an issue. If parents would just spend more time with their children, instilling good morals and a sense of ethics that we seem to lack in America today. And combine that with good firearms safety training. The rate of accidents and crimes related to guns would plummet. I think they need to mandate this kind of training for everyone who owns or wants to own a gun and teach the rest at least the basics of firearms safety. They teach drivers Ed, home Ec, and wood shop in school. Why not add firearm safety.

    • Glad you enjoyed the article. While I don’t agree with mandated training (Our Constitution protects our preexisting fundamental right to arm ourselves for the purpose of self-defense, and most state constitutions do as well), I think you are right on track with parents spending time with children. The US Department of Justice conducted a study that proved that children who legally used firearms had lower delinquency rates than those who had never used a firearm, and much lower rates than those who had been exposed to firearms illegally.
      Parents in our country have stopped being parents and instead have become adult-aged children who are inconvenienced by their own children.
      The first formal firearms safety training I received was in a public school. While I had a good background already, thanks to my father, the class provided excellent reinforcement, and there were less-trained students who greatly benefitted from the instruction.

      • I wish the public school around here today would offer something like that in there courses. It seems like today all you have to do is say the word gun anywhere near a school child and someone wants to have you arrested.

        I guess the mandated training is boarder-line unconstitutional. After all the right to bear arms shall not be infringed. But I guess it just seemed easier than trying to mandate good parenting skills. All though that would be so much better in the end :)

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