When I decided to try shotgun shooting, I thought it would be fun to include my kids. That meant buying them equipment to fit their needs. Because I was new to shotguns, I decided to seek advice from more experienced friends. I found their insight extremely helpful, and you might too.
Fit is probably the most important part to finding a good shotgun for a youth. All of the experienced shotgunners I talked to agreed. The barrel can't be too long, and neither can the stock. The gun must be balanced, the weight must be manageable, and the gauge can't be “too much” for them to handle. If you have an eight-year-old who weighs around 60 pounds like I do, proper fit cannot be stressed enough, not just for safety but also for enjoyment. As Gunsite instructor, Il Ling New told me, if you see your child struggling, scale down accordingly. There are many options to choose from that offer shorter barrel lengths and adjustable stocks. You might even find one that will work for the long term because of all of the changeable parts available.
Gauge is part of the fitting process too, but in my opinion, it's secondary to how the shotgun fits the shooter. Kids don't like to get hurt, it makes them cry and turns them off from whatever they were doing when they got hurt. Recoil hurts and can bruise. I know, I have worn the mark of recoil for a few weeks. Make sure to prepare your kids for shotgun recoil. I started my kids off with 20-gauge shotguns with low-recoil shells. My son loves to shoot shotguns, both for hunting and for sport shooting. He can manage a 12-gauge now, but still shoots a 20-gauge too.
Training is also important. I'm not suggesting you send your child off to “Shotgun Boot camp” for a month this summer, but I am suggesting that you not send them off to shoot without some education. In terms of gun safety and general handling and technique, educating your kids is the right thing to do. For example, proper stance will help them in multiple ways. One, it will help them manage the shotgun better, line up their target better, and assist with managing recoil better. Don't even consider handing your kids a shotgun, saying “Lean into it” and hope for the best.
Shotgun sport shooting is a great way to get kids who want to shoot, but don't want to hunt, involved. They can experience the thrill of breaking apart clay targets, or carry home a paper target full of holes to show mom or dad. Choosing the proper shotgun can help ensure they will get maximum enjoyment from this new, fun, and hopefully lasting, hobby. With the summer months upon us and kids getting out of school, it's a good time to find shotgun sport shooting activities or clubs. Check NRA Sports, 4-H Shooting Sports, Scholastic Clay Target Program, and other organizations for some ideas.
When choosing your child's first shotgun, take full advantage of all the information you can gather, whether from manufacturer websites, catalogs, or your local gun store. Mossberg offers a separate catalog just for young shooters and their 505 All Purpose would make a great starter shotgun; it's even available in .410. Many manufacturers offer customers the means to contact them by e-mail to ask questions. Do what I did and ask for help. When you see the excitement in their eyes when your child breaks their first clay, you'll be glad you did!