Guns > Shotguns

Choosing Your Child's First Gun

Your child's first gun can influence whether he becomes a lifelong hunter or walks away altogether.

It’s a big decision and an exciting one, for both you and your child, as you ponder that first gun. No doubt the passion for the outdoors has been lit from shared days afield and maybe even at the range, but now it’s time to extend the ultimate in trust and responsibility by purchasing a gun and giving it to your child as his or her designated gun to take afield with them.

I still remember my first gun, a used Remington Sportsman 58 that my dad gave me when I was 11 and that I used to down untold bushy tails with 2 ¾-inch loads of No. 6s—as well as my first whitetail, firing No. 1 buckshot, a year later. I grew up hunting deer in an area where shotguns—mostly buckshot—are still the firearm of choice, so when I received a brand new Remington 1100 for my 16th birthday, opening the box is a moment I will never forget. For a young, avid hunter, it would become one of my most prized possessions, alongside my first car and first home. The car and home are little more than good memories now. I still own, and use, that 1100.

So what are the critical considerations in buying that first gun for your son or daughter? There are several that are key as you want the gun to become an enjoyable tool to help them not only become better marksmen, but to maintain the enthusiasm for shooting and hunting for many years to come.

What Caliber?
Maybe you’re an avid waterfowler and you want a shotgun for your young one so he or she can join you in the marsh. Or maybe you’re a whitetail hunter and want something for your kid that will deliver a knockout blow.

“The first thing you want to avoid is to not overgun your kid,” said Virginia Beach, Va., gunsmith Kurt Derwort. “You try to give an 8-year-old kid a .308 or some blowaway magnum and it’s going to be too much. It will just make the child recoil shy and that’s the worst thing you can do to a kid.”

Not only will it hamper their ability to become accurate, but it may chase them away from the sport before they’ve even really had the chance to get into it, according to many experts.

“Every time they shoot, they’ll be thinking, ‘this gun is going to kick the heck out of me,’ and if that thought is on their mind, they’ll never be able to shoot accurately.”

Like any other recoil-shy shooter, a kid will raise his head as he squeezes the trigger or begin moving it away from his shoulder the second he shoots in order to escape the anticipated pain. It’s human nature.

Developing good shooting form and marksmanship should be the ultimate goal for any new shooter/parent team, and with that in mind, Derwort says the only way to go is with a .22.

“Starting with a .22 is the best way to teach a person marksmanship,” said the former U.S. Navy armorer. “I can work with them to teach them trigger control and the basics of shooting without recoil being a factor. As soon as they can hit a target reliably at 50 yards, they will have no trouble hitting deer-sized vitals at 100 yards.”

From there, shooters can move into calibers or gauges better suited for the game they will most often be pursuing.

If your young shooter has received more than ample range time behind a rimfire and is ready to graduate to something more suited for game larger than squirrels and rabbits, just be sure the gun is still light recoiling. A good first deer rifle will be chambered in .243 and an ideal first shotgun for any purpose is a 20 gauge.

Why not the .410, a common choice for young shooters just a generation or two ago?

“It only has three pellets of buckshot or one small slug with weak energy,” said Derwort. Even if shooting small game loads, the payload is limited and stacked, leading to poor shot strings and limited patterning.

Loaded with reduced recoil or low-brass loads, a 20-gauge delivers better performance across the board and allows hunters to grow into it and make use of it for a much longer period of time.

Action Considerations
As a first gun, many parents automatically choose a single shot—sometimes because it is more affordable, but also because it is perceived as safer. There is only one shot loaded at a time, so there’s no chance for an accidental follow-up shot by a still-learning shooter. But single shots also tend to deliver more recoil than semi-autos and limit the shooter from that sometimes-necessary follow-up shot when hunting.

“Where shotguns are concerned, I fall between the semi-auto camp and those people who prefer a single shot,” said Derwort.

A pump, he explains, still requires manual action to bring the gun back to battery, but allows for needed follow-up shots. On the rifle-side, the beloved bolt-action serves the equivalent balance of manual loading and secondary shots as a pump in the shotgun world.

As ARs become more popular, a growing number of shooters are suggesting them as a great first or youth gun because six-position stocks can be adjusted to fit a shooter on the spot, the semi-auto action minimizes recoil and the typical .223 chambering is a light enough load for most young shooters to handle (yet is still illegal for deer in many areas).

An avid tactical gun shooter, Derwort doesn’t completely agree with this line of thought.

“The AR is a great platform to start a kid out, but not for a first gun,” he said. “I would hesitate to give an AR to an 8- or 10-year-old kid. Kids should learn to shoot and make each shot count first before squeezing off multiple rounds, which is the tendency with an AR.”

Once a young shooter has mastered the basics however, Kurt does like some of the versatility an AR can deliver including .22 rimfire conversion kits that allow a kid to use one for affordable plinking before moving up to .223 to learn better muzzle control and recoil management. After that, the upper can be swapped out to .300 Blackout for .30-30 like ballistics out to 200 yards or even 6.5 SPC, which makes it a legitimate deer gun.

Pick a Gun That Fits
As vital as selecting the right gauge or caliber is ensuring the gun properly fits your young shooter. Adult-sized guns often have a length of pull at around 14 to 14 ½ inches, approximately 2 inches too much for smaller stature shooters. Fortunately, there is a large selection of specially made youth-sized firearms that shave that length down to roughly 12 inches. When a gun fits a shooter better, he or she can better develop shooting form. Shotguns such as the Remington Model 11-87 Youth Compact or Mossberg’s 500 Super Bantam allow for stocks to be adjusted to fit, even as your small shooter grows. These guns offer some of the best value since a new gun doesn’t have to be purchased within a few years. Where suitable youth models don’t exist, alternate-sized stocks can usually be purchased and easily swapped out.

Keep these key considerations in mind when looking for that important first gun for your son and daughter, and you can bet that you’ll be sending them properly down the path of a lifetime of shooting and hunting fun.


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20 Responses to Choosing Your Child's First Gun

Chris wrote:
July 18, 2014

Mine was a T/C Contender pistol with a 10'.22LR barrel. Still have it. Still shoot it. And still love it!

chuck wrote:
July 18, 2014

22 Mossberg, target rifle

Jonathan wrote:
January 26, 2013

My first gun, Mossberg 385T Bolt action 20 gauge. Saved up the money when I was young and my dad and I were in the firearms section and that is when I saw it. Harvested my first deer with and I still hunt with it for pheasants.

Reed Shick wrote:
January 26, 2013

I started my daughter with a Charles Daily youth 20. As a semi auto I thought the kick would be light but it was still uncomforable. I picked up a case of managed recoil Remington shells and that did the trick. After this second case she transitioned to regular 20 guage shells and did great ever since.

Glenn wrote:
January 24, 2013

Purchased my 8 year old son a Crickett .22 single shot bolt action. It was hard to find but I insisted on a wood stock and blued barrel. I want him to readily distinguish it from his toy guns.

Jef Zvara wrote:
January 23, 2013

I have 2 boys, oldest is 5 planning on starting with .22. After looking long and hard a many .22's I am ready to purchase a Henry Mini-Bolt. It's a bolt action single shot .22, has no magazine for extra rounds. Synthetic stock and all stainless. It's a bit expensive but I really like all the features. Anyone have any feedback about it

Dale wrote:
November 28, 2012

Started witha Daisy lever action BB gun. Used Dad's .22's until I bought a Ruger 10/22. Bought a used bolt action .20ga Mossberg and then a Winchester pre 64 30-30. A single shot .22 or one that can be loaded singlely is the best teacher.

Eric wrote:
November 26, 2012

I just picked up a Rossi MP youth combo gun for my 6 yr old. It's a single shot, break action and comes with the .22 cal barrel and the .410 barrel. I think after rebates and a $20 discount it ended up costing me $89.99. THAT is the way to go! Plenty of gun to learn and improve on their marksmanship with and not too much of a whack to scare them out of interest. Once I see he's good enough with it he'll be able to hit the woods with me during youth weekend and I can't WAIT for the day he drops his first deer!! Just my $0.02

NRA Outdoors wrote:
November 26, 2012

Great article Doug!Our kids all started with .22 and iron sights and then graduate from there as their safety and shooting skills increase. We shared on our page as well.

Idadho wrote:
November 25, 2012

My dad started us all out with a Sheridan Pump pellet gun in 5 mm. It was heavy enough for us to learn proper handling as we followed him deer hunting in the California Sierra's at 6 years old. Then, 22 bolt actions like Remingtons. Our first shot guns were Topper/Harrington and Richardson single shots. We practiced quick reloads so we could take a second shot. We also carried a rifled slug when hunting deer with buck shot in congested softwoods in New Hampshire bear country. NRA hunter safety with a single shot is good training. I started my kids with 22 Remingtons. My favorite now is a Savage over-under multi-caliber/gauge. I would have loved a 22 or 22wmr over 410 or 20 gauge. The Savage models are a bit hard to find but well worth the effort. Cut the stock so you can add it back in 2 increments. The barrel extra weight makes the grip stronger and the recoil less. Great guns and accurate as can be. Save the new gun for their second gun.

Jim62 wrote:
November 22, 2012

Your right Doug. When I was 9yrs old I wanted a shootgun like my dad's 12GA so he said shoot this 410 first then shoot the 12GA and decide which one you want. Needless to say I went with 410. That 12GA kicked my butt..

Blaine Johnson wrote:
November 21, 2012

“It only has three pellets of buckshot or one small slug with weak energy,” said Derwort. Even if shooting small game loads, the payload is limited and stacked, leading to poor shot strings and limited patterning." Really? Maybe not for big game as your statement suggests, but just teach a kid to aim like it was a single slug every time instead of a 'scatter gun'. I have used a single shot .410 for 33 yrs now and rarely fail to put meat in the freezer, and often bring home more birds than the guys with autos. I do like my Wingmaster, but I LOVE my old. Winchester 410 Youth.

Rob wrote:
November 21, 2012

I can remember shooting .22s since I was 5 or 6 years old. When I was 12 my dad gave me a old 6mm Remington and a 12-guage pump. Work them up as they grow. Start with a .22, maybe a .410, and keep on going up the list until when they're 12 or 13 and will be able to use a .30-06 even.

Frank Cumnock wrote:
November 21, 2012

I got my grandson a .410 like I started with, then almost had a stroke when I had to pay $11.00 a box for shells. I got him a Mossburg Bantam and its been great. About 1' shims for the stock as the child grows makes this a light 20 gauge the kids can grow in to.

shane wrote:
November 21, 2012

Picked up a Marlin XY-22YR for my boy for Christmas... he has a hard time shooting my Marlin and my Cooey.

Kyle Hinkle wrote:
November 21, 2012

My daughter's first gun was the Henry lever action youth model .22. She bought it with her Christmas money when she was 7. Her first shotgun was the Remington youth 20 guage. She is 17 now, is an avid hunter and shoots Trap and Skeet competitively.

Tom Petrik wrote:
November 21, 2012

This s ood. I'd loved see it reprinted for all the boy souts doing the merit badge.

Phill Reynolds wrote:
November 21, 2012

If you teach your child proper firearm basics an AR is the perfect way to go. I built my six year old son one and he loves it.

Orville Asman wrote:
November 21, 2012

I started out shooting a single shot benjamin air rifle. Then a Winchester Model 1902 single shot .22. I was the first 'lefty' in a long line of 'righties' so for deer Dad always stuck me with the .308 Savage featherweight. When I was old enough to purchase my first rifle, I bought the Winchester .30-30. Now for deer/pigs I use a Springfield A3-03 chambered in .30-06. I agree with the .22 to learn how to shoot accurately before moving up. Recently I took some newbies shooting. One of the boys father had bought him a mini 14. Nice gun with light recoil, but he was more interested in rapid firing than he was with hitting the target, much less working on creating a small pattern on the target. As for the shotgun opinion I have to dissagree. I still own my old single shot .410 and love that highly accurate small bore shotgun. My friends that shoot it, all ask if they still make them because most articles, like this one, promote the 20 gauges for ladies and youth. I have shot a friends 20 gauge and I would rather shoot my old single shot .410. Of course, when hunting quail, ducks, etc. I go with my Model 870 Wing Master. Until about the 3rd day of lugging that heavy sucker around, then I go back to my beloved .410.

Michael Lawrence wrote:
November 21, 2012

I learned to shoot both a .22 rifle and a 20 gauge shotgun @ Boy Scout Camp when i was 12 years old. I plan on teaching my kids to shoot around the same age with the same calibers.