I am not going to go into what specific age is the best one one for your child to be when he or she learns to shoot. You have to make up your own mind about that. What I will say is that the child should have the motor skills and strength to, with absolutely physical assistance, handle the firearm he or she is about to start shooting; the child also needs the mental capability to know right from wrong and to be able to follow instructions and to retain information that you impart to him. That leaves out any child under three years old. It also should leave out 99.9% of children (if not 100 percent of them) who are 3 or 4. I figure 5 is about the youngest age to start a child off shooting, but think 7 or 8 is a better age. At all of those ages, at any age for that matter, a new shooter needs to be supervised with hands on supervision. Then as the person acting as the firearms instructor believes that the shooter has progressed enough it can be within hands reach supervision. Children shooters under the age of about 14 should, in my opinion, never be more a step or two away from an instructor and the ratio of children shooters to instructors should never be more than one on one in the early stages and never more than 2 (shooters) to 1 instructor in the intermediate stages. Enough about that, because as a parent/instructor you are going to do it your way regardless of what I type here. You may choose to do things as I say but it is you who have to make the choice - so it is done your way. Remember that - you are the boss - don't let the child shooter make it his or her way. Let them make suggestions and such but always adhere to firearms safety rules like your and your child's life depended on it.
The point of this post is not so much when or how to instruct your child to shoot but rather to give you a nudge toward with what type of rifle to start. Hmm, did I just say with what type of rifle. I sure did - didn't I! Take it for granted, a rifle is absolutely the best firearm with which to get a child on target in the shooting sports. It does not matter if you want your child to later become the best clay pigeon shooter in the world, or if you want her to become a quick draw specialist, or if you want him to become a tactical pistol instructor somewhere down the road. In my old and grizzled opinion, the best firearm you can use to teach a child to shoot is a rifle. There is no doubt in my mind about it.
Now that I got that out of the way maybe I should say something about what type of rifle is best. Here I go again - I am about to make another one of those statements of my opinion about which I have absolutely no doubt. The best type of rifle that you can use to introduce a child to shooting is, again in my old grizzled opinion, a bolt action repeating rifle in .22LR that uses a detachable box magazine. There is more to this but not so much of what makes a rifle best but rather what attributes should be found in the best type of rifle for a child. One important thing is that the chosen rifle fits the child. Another couple of things are that it is appropriate for the handedness and eye dominance of the child. With all that said - let me say this too - it should be a quality firearm not a piece of junk. It does not have to be something that cost a thousand dollars, not even a gun that cost a few to several hundred dollars. What it has to be is one that, even if bought for $150, is safe and reliable, is simple and easy to operate and is inherently accurate enough to keep the youngster enthused. So does such a rifle exist?
There are some affordable bolt action rifles that are right on target in those regards but before I get into the actual rifles themselves, allow me to explain my choice of a bolt action rifle and the above attributes that I feel it should have to make it the right choice for your child.
A bolt action rifle is inherently safer than a semi-automatic rifle. Now you may say here that a single shot rifle with a break open action is even safer and I will grant you are probably right but it is not the best choice with which to train a new young shooter unless you have a bolt action to move up to after only the first few lessons. You see, chances are that if you go with a break open action single shot rifle you and the child will soon wind up bored with the tedious process of reloading. There is a way to make a bolt action repeating rifle almost as inherently safe as the other type just described. You only allow the child to load a single round at a time and do so not from the magazine but by placing it partially into the chamber then closing the bolt when ready. When firing like this make sure the magazine is inserted into the rifle; of course, follow manufacturer's directions regarding safe firing and if they say this cannot or should not be done with their rifle - then do not do it. I have had new shooters, adults and children alike, load like this many times with quite a few different bolt action repeating rifles. with no problems. If a manufacturer indicates it would be a problem, then load from the magazine. It is a very safe way to load - that is loading one round at a time. This way you as the instructor knows that once a single round has been fired the rifle is empty. Of course that is no reason not to handle the rifle as it was not loaded because we all know, or should know, that unloaded guns kill or injure all to often. You never know when junior may slip an extra round in the mag while you are momentarily distracted - so pay attention to the rules of firearms safety and keep it safe.
Okay - so the way I just described it you are still letting your little princess load only one round at a time. Won't it get boring just as I said would a single shot. Sure it will but the upside is that when it does you can move up to two rounds, both in the magazine. Now not only have you increased the round count when the child is ready to advance but you have allowed for advancement using the same rifle. You do not need to change and therefore have to teach the child all about a new rifle. What you will need to teach the child about is a new loading method all the while reminding them there will not be two live rounds in the gun. Not only does this advance the shooting lessons, it advances the confidence the young shooter has in herself because you just trusted her with more ammunition and more responsibility. Let the shooter know that, don't pass up the chance to boost the shooter's ego at least a little by telling her she has improved enough to move to this next step wherein more responsibility is required of her.
As the young shooter progresses you can continue to allow the round count to progress to the maximum that the standard magazine for the rifle will hold. Yes I said the standard magazine for that rifle. That will probably be 5 to 7 rounds in the magazine. You really do not need to utilize a high capacity magazine for teaching a child to shoot. First of all, a high cap mag is one usually made for semi-autos and it is probably best reserved for when the child is at least at an intermediate shooting level or as a now and again fun reward once the child has mastered all of the basics including shooting, loading, making the firearm safe, following the firearms safety rules, following range instructions, and exhibiting a good attention span, responsibility and good manners while at the range.
Besides the progressive aspects of using a bolt action repeating rifle fed from a box magazine, there are a few other things relative to this type of rifle that lend to safety. First of all a bolt action rifle, fed as a single shot, makes the child concentrate on operating the firearm. making the child concentrate on the operation of the gun will lend itself to making the child concentrate on doing so safely if you are instructing properly. With a semi-automatic rifle the child can get lost in the almost mindlessness of simply pulling the trigger to operate the firearm. Operating a bolt action, as either a single shot or repeater, makes the child take pause between each shot and gives him time to think - 'am I doing this right'. It also gives you, the instructor, great benefit because it gives you the time to look over every action in much slower motion that a semi being fired. In addition it gives you the opportunity to critique the young shooter between rounds being fired, and not while he is firing repeated rounds from a semi. Sure you can always tell a child to fire a shot, take finger off trigger, and pause when firing a semi but the temptation and opportunity is there to keep firing and the chances of an unintentional discharge go up greatly right along with the increase in lack of taking time to think as the child would have done as the bolt was being operated with the trigger finger hand. Ah - there it is - the biggest thing about safety when shooting a bolt action - or at least one of the really big safety advantages. The trigger finger hand comes off of the rifle stock and thus the finger out of the trigger guard and thus off the trigger in order to unload the spent casing and reload the next casing. That little
Okay - you are you sighted in yet that a bolt action rifle may really be a good choice as a first rifle for your youngster. If not, I suppose I will never convince you but if you think a boltie is a good idea - let's move along to some choices of actual rifles that will help turn a potential shooter into a fine marksman. I'll cover a few with which I have had experience and maybe a couple of others too.
Armscor 14Y - A very good choice for a youth shooter of smaller stature. This small rifle could probably fit a child as young as 6 or 7 years old, and almost definitely will be a good choice for a youngster in the 8 to 12 year old range. It is a bolt action repeater, loading from a removable box magazine. It blued steel construction with a wood stock. The front sight is hooded and the sights consist of a front post and rear notch adjustable for elevation. The magazine catch is mounted in the front of the trigger guard. There is a positive click safety on the right side back of the receiver. This rifle is made in the Philippines but is of excellent quality as far as I can tell. I, or should I say we since I bought it as Brendan's first rifle, have owned one for quite a few years now. Even though it is a small sized youth model I can still shoot it comfortably. Brendan shot it regularly up through the age or 14 or 15 even though he was well accomplished at shooting regular sized rifles by then. I do not know if these are available other than used. Currently, the Armscor sight shows a model with a similar model number, the 1400Y. It looks much the same from what I can see. One that may be closer to the 14Y is the 14P and that one is still offered by Armscor. For some reason they show only the left side of the rifle thus leaving out the safety and bolt from view. For more info on Armscor bolt action rifles click here. As for price, I cannot tell you with any certainty what the current models go for but my guess would be at or just under $200. Ours was only about $125 when we got it.
Savage MK II-GY - Now I cannot say I have any direct experience with this particular model but I do have quite a bit of experience with it in the adult sized version. We owned one of them prior to getting the Armscor rifle. If I recall right, I sold the Savage MK II-G in order to purchase the Armscor rifle. Silly me! Not that the Armscor was not worth buying but that I sold one good rifle to buy another. The basic MK II-G is a fine rifle in my esteem. Its youth model counterpart fits the bill as the type of a bolt action rifle I described above. The youth model at 5 lbs. is about 1/2 pound lighter and at 37.25" is 1.75" shorter than the regular sized version. It feeds from a 10 round box magazine. It has a post front sight and notch rear. There are a couple of additional features that make this rifle special, even in the youth models. First of all they now come with Savage's legendary Accu-Trigger which is an adjustable trigger. Secondly they not only come in right handed adult and youth models but also come in left handed versions of both. MSRP is about $250.
CZ 452 - is another rifle available in a youth model that meets my criteria. I have never owned one of these and have zero experience with them. It is a nice looking rifle, get the specs and see one here. It weighs in at about 4 pounds, It comes in a blue finish with wood stock, had a hooded front sight and notch rear sight and has a magazine capacity of one round when using a magazine adapter to change it to a single shot. It also uses 5 and 10 round magazines. In addition it has an adjustable trigger. MSRP is about $315. Note: I only linked to wood stocked versions of this rifle. It is also available with a synthetic stock that is bright pink in color. To me at least, the pink version looks like a toy. I know it is not. With that said, let me also just say that when teaching children how to shoot, I am not one to confuse them by handing them something that looks so much like a toy that it may even confuse an adult into believing such.
Remington Model Five Youth - is another one with which I have no experience. I do have lots of experience with Remington firearms though. When I first learned to shoot at summer camp - many moons ago - I learned suing Remington and Winchester rifles. The Remingtons back then weighed a ton but were my favorites and I earned several marksmanship awards firing them.. I currently own both a Remington 870 pump shotgun and a 513 Matchmaster rifle. The Matchmaster is a 22 as is the newest model of 22 bolt action rifle in Remington's lineup - the Model Five Youth. The Model Five Youth at 35 1/4" is a full 5.5" shorter than the regular Model Five and it must weigh in at considerably less than the regular model but Remington did not have the weight shown in the specs they provided for it here. The rifle is made of blued steel and the rifle comes with a wood stock. It fires from a 5 round magazine. The front sight is hooded and the rear is a notch variety. The sights are adjustable rifle sights. The MSRP is about $240.
Well my friends, I think that gives you a good idea of what I expect in a 22 training rifle for young shooters. Of course, if you start a child off at an older age, say in there young to mid-teens you may want to look to an adult version of any one of the above choices depending on the size of the teenager. It is a good bet though that one of the youth models will still fit but truth be told it will be outgrown possibly over the course of a summer once a youngster has hit the mid teens.
One last thing. You may think that buying a rifle a child will grow into is the better investment than a smaller model that any child is bound to outgrow. I think not. I think the better investment is the one by which you get the child the correct rifle for his or her size, eye dominance and handedness. This way the child does not have to struggle with it and take a poor stance or grip while trying to shoulder it well enough to see the sights. In other words you will have gotten the right tool for the right job and made it all that much more enjoyable for the young shooter. As a graduation present you can move up to a new adult sized rifle and that is another thing to consider because it sets a goal for the child to line up in his or her sights.
All the best,
PS: Hat tip to Mel over at TheGunCounter.com for giving me the idea to write this one. It was unintentional but I'll takeinspiration where I can find it.