Young Guns

Teaching Kids To Shoot

With proper supervision and the right training, shooting is a healthy activity for kids.
Even if they use evil, black rifles like these.

When I was growing up cartoons only came on TV on Saturday morning. There were no video games and fun was mostly found playing football, Cowboys & Indians or army. Everyone in my family was a hunter and guns were a part of our life and my childhood. I killed a lot of small game and a few deer before I ever kissed a girl. Times have indeed changed.

In most families both parents work. Many kids spend many hours a week at daycare. Evenings are cluttered with homework, television, sports and other extra curricular activities. Weekends are filled with soccer, football, baseball and similar pursuits. As parents make an effort to find a moment of sanity or catch up on chores, kids often end up watching episode after episode of Sponge Bob.

The vividly exciting and interactive video gaming opportunities, along with 327 channels, often make it difficult for parents to capture a kid’s imagination with a trip to the shooting range. In this electronic world, we can’t deprive the future generation’s exposure to these things and probably shouldn’t. But, there’s a way to get youngsters interested in the shooting sports. It just takes common sense and dedication.

Whether you are teaching your children, grandchildren or someone else’s children to shoot, having the right gun and the right attitude are what’s important.

teaching shooting

Having Fun

You may be so old you don’t remember, but kids are all about having fun. They don’t really care how they have it as long as they do. If you don’t believe me, give a kid an appliance box and they’ll play with it for hours. Kids like to share their fun with their parents too.

I have four kids. One’s now an adult, the others all pre-teen. They’ve been exposed to guns their entire lives. The youngest three enjoy shooting or being around guns. The oldest could care less. I’m responsible for both the gun interest in the youngest and the could care less about guns attitude of the oldest. Let me explain.

When my oldest was 5, I started taking him to the range with me. He was excited about the adventures — I thought because he liked guns. In reality, his enthusiasm came from the opportunity of doing something with dad. I assumed his gun interest was similar to mine at his age. He learned to shoot rather well, but I noticed he quit having fun. I realized I’d made a serious mistake.

When my next oldest son, Bat, was 4, I got him a BB gun and we cut photos of animals from hunting magazines and taped them to cardboard boxes. We went on hunts in the yard, and it wasn’t long until he had killed all sorts of paper animals. At 5, he progressed to a .22 rifle; a Henry Mini-Bolt that was light enough for him to shoot off-hand with an excellent trigger.

After a few shots on paper, so he could see he was hitting what he aimed at, we graduated to fun targets. With mom at work, we’d raid the fridge and steal vegetables. We took crackers out of the cabinet, bought some balloons and lollipops. I even ordered some swinging steel plates. Why, when he shot these targets there was a reaction; sometimes an explosive one. He found this exciting but also demonstrated to him the destructive power of a firearm.

If you hunt, the temptation to take your kids along is strong. However, remember it
must remain fun for them or they will lose interest quick.

Kids think military-style rifles are cool. The difference is the rifles have changed
and are now much more suitable to younger shooters.

Richard’s son Bat took his first deer at age 6. By starting him out with appropriate
firearms and targets, Bat has remained interested in the shooting sports.

kids hunting

Hunting Time

When he turned 6 a friend who builds custom rifles loaned me one he’d put tougher for a small kid. It was too heavy for Bat to shoot off-hand but the stock fit him, the trigger was crisp and it was chambered in a cartridge that didn’t kick him so hard boogers fell out his nose. I let Bat shoot a few shots at a deer target and three weeks later he killed a spike buck. It was a heart shot at 60 yards that he still brags about.

Over the last four years, Bat’s interest in guns has become more professional. He’s more eager to learn how they work and anytime he has a chance to shoot a gun, like he uses when he plays his Modern Warfare game, he’s excited. Still, I make sure that whenever we shoot it’s fun. I try to end each shooting session with a game or challenge.

This has had a cascading affect on the other, younger kids. Bat runs in the house to tell mom about the cool things we did or how well he shot. Our two younger girls want to be part of that excitement. Both are still just a bit small for shooting, but they associate shooting with fun. It’s my job to make sure when they do start shooting, that association does not change.

This has even had an affect on my wife. She was not a shooter when we met, but she was not afraid of, nor did she have any aversion, to guns. Over the last few years, Bat’s enthusiasm over shooting has spread to her. We will both be attending a handgun course at Gunsite this year.

Even when kids are too young to accurately shoot a firearm you can let them pull
a trigger and hear a bang. Kids like to be a part of the action.


Safety is also a concern. You need to ingrain firearm safety into your kids. When I was in Junior High School, we were all given the hunter’s safety course. Get this; we even loaded shotgun shells in the gym and shot clays on the baseball field. That won’t be happening anymore but the Hunter’s Safety Course is a great safety education experience for a youngster.

With Bat I make sure he understands gun safety and I never refuse to let him see or handle a gun as long as he exercises proper safety protocol. I also encourage him to call me out anytime he sees anything he thinks unsafe. When he does, I listen. If he’s wrong I explain why and if he’s right, I admit my mistake.

Getting kids interested in shooting is really very simple but you have to understand their interest in shooting is driven by different things than yours. A half-inch group will mean little to a 7 year old but an exploding tomato will mean the world. Here’s a simple test. If you’re out shooting with your kids and they’re not smiling, you are doing something wrong.

Handguns Too

Kids need to learn to shoot handguns too, but you won’t find any designed just for kids. My first pick is another Ruger, the Bearcat. This little single-action revolver is a minute rendition of Ruger’s famous Single Six, which isn’t a bad option either. At 1.5 lbs any kid old enough to shoot should be able to handle a Bearcat. It’s also a great first handgun for kids because it’s a single action. You should be able to find one less than $500.

For the more advanced young gun, I’ll offer two options. Both are Kimbers. If you own a 1911, I would suggest the Kimber Rimfire Conversion Kit. I’ve tried most of these conversion kits and like the Kimber best. It sells for about $300. Install one on a steel-framed 1911 and it should drop the pistol’s weight to about 32 ounces. Kimber also offers a complete 1911 styled rimfire pistol built on an alloy frame. Total weight is only 23 ounces and price will run from $800 to $1,100 depending on the model.

If you don’t have a 1911, consider the Kimber Crimson Carry. This is an alloy-framed 1911 that comes with Crimson Trace Laser Grips. It weighs only 31 ounces and makes a great carry/self-defense gun. Pick up the Kimber Rimfire Conversion Kit and the kids can shoot it too. As a side note, the laser will help you teach kids to shoot better and they’ll think it’s cool too. The Kimber Crimson Carry has an MSRP of $ 1,156.

Finally, kids can struggle when learning to use open sights. Trying to line up the front sight, rear sight and the target, while also trying to maintain position and control the trigger is a lot to ask a kid to do. I’ve found red dot sights like the Zeiss Compact Point are great starter sights. It will add very little weight to the firearm, eye relief is not an issue and goes a long way toward helping them develop the sight alignment and trigger control skills they’ll need.

As kids progress in shooting skill, let them experience more modern or adult-like firearms.
Remember, for a kid “new” equals excitement.


When I talk about kids I’m referring to those in their pre-teen years. Yes, older kids need to learn about guns too, but by the time they’re 13 or so, there are a lot more guns they can effectively work with. With a few exceptions, none of the so-called youth guns are suitable for kids.

There are several mini-sized bolt-action, single-shot rifles on the market. I’ve tried most of them and while a few are short and light enough for kids, most have terrible triggers. Experienced shooters can sometimes manage a bad trigger, new shooters can’t. The Henry Mini-Bolt is only 30″ long, has an 11.5″ length of pull and weighs only 3.25 lbs. Every sample I’ve tried had a good trigger breaking in the 2-lb range. My son Bat learned to shoot with this rifle and both of his sisters will too. With an MSRP of $249, street price should be closer to $200.

A brand new kid’s gun from Thompson Center should be available by the time you read this. It’s called the Hot Shot and is a miniature version of the Encore rifle. It has a short length of pull and a good trigger. Overall length is 30″ and it weighs an incredibly light 3 lbs. Like the Henry Mini-Bolt, you should be able to pick one up for around $200.

At 10 years old, Bat is tall but skinny as a rail; a 5-lb gun is about all he can manage off-hand. Bat deer hunts with an AR. Even though the adjustable stock and light recoil make it a great choice for him, he still has to use a rest for accurate shooting. He really likes modern, military-style weapons and S&W’s new M&P 15-22 is his favorite fun gun. At 5.5 lbs he can manage it from field shooting positions, the stock is adjustable for length of pull and the top rail lets us swap different optics for him to experiment with. Now he can rapid fire steel plates or blast vegetables he liberates from the fridge. It is a great understudy/training rifle for him to learn with. With an MSRP of $569 this gun is a bit more expensive, but I promise you will enjoy it as much as a new pair of Tony Lamas.

Ruger makes an excellent semiauto .22 rifle for youngsters and you may already have one. It’s the 10-22. The Compact model is probably the best option for kids. It’s 34″ long, has a 12.75″ length of pull and weighs only 4.5 lbs. There are tons of aftermarket accessories for the 10-22 but the best might be the Timney 10-22 Trigger. This will correct the sometimes creepy and heavy factory trigger and make the 10-22 much more, new-shooter friendly. You can pick up a Ruger 10-22 Compact for less than $300.

kids hunting

Samantha Mann is Richard’s sister and a practicing physiologist. She has been hunting
and shooting all her life and frequently works with troubled youth

A Physiologist’s Opinion On Kids And Guns

Parents employ methods of discipline loosely based on scientific principles of a behavior modification theory called operant conditioning. Any reward, or more specifically a positive reinforcer, is defined as any event following a behavior that increases the frequency of that behavior. Therefore, if you are trying to increase the amount of time your child is shooting, what happens immediately after the trigger is pulled must influence them to do it or want to do it again. The positive reinforcer they experience can come from you such as a pat on the back or from the target such as a dynamic reaction.

Any parent who has given the horsey ride and heard the squeals and the “do it again!” understands this.

Guns unfortunately create a loud noise and sometimes kick. Both can lead to a certain amount of anxiety. This relates to a behavior modification theory called classical conditioning. Many children are afraid of guns for that very reason. Introduction in gradual increments is the best approach and be smart; start with a .22 LR. Remington’s CB loads are a low-noise option. When the child asks if the gun will kick or be loud, be truthful; help them prepare for what’s coming. It only takes a single bad experience to instill fear in a child. If the fear is strong enough, one instance can create a lifelong phobia.

If done intelligently, shooting and hunting are excellent activities to share with children. They will learn much more than just how to shoot or how to hunt. They will develop good self-esteem, coping skills, relationships, self-reliance and independence while experiencing healthy recreation and an overall philosophy of life and death. This will reduce their risk for delinquent behavior, substance abuse, depression, anxiety and even giving in to peer pressure.

For more info:

Champion Target
(800) 635-7656

Henry Repeating Arms
(201) 858-4400

Hunter Education Courses

(800) 880-2418

Sturm, Ruger & Co.
(928) 778-6555

Smith & Wesson
(800) 331-0852

Thompson Center Arms
(866) 730-1614

Timney Triggers
(602) 274-2999

Zeiss Optics
(800) 441-3005

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