How Not to Introduce Your Kids To Guns

How Not to Introduce Your Kids To Guns

As soon as I saw my daughter lift her face up from the shotgun and look at the trigger, I knew what was going to happen. There are just some moments as a parent where you instantly know you’ve made a mistake.

Before I could say anything, she pulled the trigger on her little youth 20-gauge and bloodied her lip. In a split second, the house of cards we had built by shooting airguns and .22s collapsed. Getting walloped in the mouth cured her of wanting to shoot any gun with real power, and the hopes of her first turkey blew away on the breeze.

And it was all my fault.

Recoil Realities

The recipe for my screwup started with a few common ingredients. Like a fool, I had bought my twin daughters a youth shotgun. I’m not saying all youth firearms are bad, but the little 20-gauge I bought them weighs next to nothing, and while it fit them well, it kicks like one of Clay Newcomb’s flashy mules. This was true with the lightest trap loads I could find and far worse with a real turkey load.

If that wasn’t dumb enough, I’d set up our intro shooting session with a simple tripod. The kind that doesn’t lock the gun in place, but instead simply allows you to rest the forearm on it. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

The recoil in that situation would have been rough if my daughter had done everything correctly. It was exponentially worse with bad form. Her gun-shyness showed up with a fat lip and a core memory. I knew it would be like untangling a mental backlash, so I started from scratch.

Gun Progression

A few decades ago, most young hunters started on rabbits and squirrels before moving to bigger game. I feel like firearm introductions should follow a similar path. My girls started with some backyard BB gun sessions before graduating to a pellet gun. They shot first with open sights and then with a scoped airgun.

When we moved up to a .22, it was all smooth sailing. Rimfires are great for bridging the gap between air power and firepower, but eventually, they need to go bigger. The going bigger part is dangerous territory and is an easy one to screw up. This is the stage that left me scrambling until I remembered a gun that I actually forgot I even owned.

Back in high school, as a small game hunting nut, I bought an over/under with both a .22 barrel and a .410 shotgun barrel. I thought it would be the ultimate squirrel and rabbit gun, but I never really liked it, so I put it in the gun safe. Twenty-five years later, I realized it might be the cure for my daughter’s gun-shyness.

It took some bribery of both cash and Twinkies to get her to shoot it. I also had to lock it into a Bog Pod Death Grip tripod, which I should have done from the start. The amount of recoil that tripod soaks up is amazing. I have no association with the company, but I’ll say this—if you’re thinking about getting your kids into any kind of gun hunting or crossbow hunting, it would be hard to spend your money on a better product.

Eventually, my daughter got comfortable with shooting the .22 on that old small game gun, so I bribed her (and her twin sister) a little more, and she shot a trap load out of the .410 barrel.

The recoil was almost nonexistent, and since we used some turkey targets that change color with every BB hit, she was instantly successful. Youngsters want to see their positive results. Those hi-vis targets are ideal for developing confidence, which is really the root of the issue.

Incremental Steps

I’m living proof that you can follow most of the steps of proper gunfire introduction and still make a huge mistake. I can’t stress how important it is to follow a slow process of building up with firearms that allows them to incrementally become more comfortable shooting.

It goes without saying, but I will anyway, that proper eye and hearing protection is a must. One loud gunshot without protection can take your potential hunting buddy into fear territory real fast.

Going from a BB gun to a 12-gauge loaded with 3.5-inch magnums will do it, too. Explain to them how the guns function in relation to the task at hand (like getting ready for turkey or deer season), and then work them through the lightest options possible.

This is what I had to do with my girls, and since then, they’ve killed turkeys with .410s, 20 gauges, and as of the last season, 12 gauges. As they’ve grown and become more comfortable, they’ve learned to trust me with the process. They’re also competitive as hell. Shooting a 12-gauge with a couple hundred more gobbler-whacking BBs than their .410 loads is an obvious choice once they are comfortable with both.

The biggest thing about introducing kids to firearms, besides being obsessive over safety, is to try to imagine what can go wrong. What would it take to scare your son or daughter off of shooting? Anticipate as much as you can on that front, and work to get ahead of those issues.

Then, be patient. It might seem trivial to you, but if it takes a dozen sessions at the range where they only shoot a couple of times, that’s just how it is. Eventually, they’ll be confident and ready to go. Just remember that if you don’t let them get there on their own time and at their own pace, you’re in trouble.

For more info on guns and beginning hunters, check these articles out: The 6 Best Youth Deer Hunting Rifles, 5 Best Rifle Calibers For Youth Hunters, and 4 Best Turkey Shotguns For Beginners.

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