With the holidays here and record gun sales, there will undoubtedly be a lot of new guns under the tree on Christmas morning, and lots of happy people. But will they stay happy after shooting their new gun? Whether the first gun purchase is for your child, loved one or special friend, your choice or your influence can make or break their interest in shooting, hunting or owning a firearm. Choose carefully! There are some things to consider before “pulling the trigger” on buying a firearm for someone else.
Does the firearm fit them? If the gun is too long, or bulky, or they cannot reach the pump action adequately, or the stock does not allow them to see the sights well, they won’t like the gun. Just as importantly, they won’t be able to accurately fire the gun ,which means it will not be a pleasure to shoot. What about handguns? If the handgun is too big or too small, the person receiving it as a gift will find it very difficult to shoot accurately and hence, not enjoy it.
If a gun is not a good fit for the owner they will find the recoil unpleasant and (as you can now predict), they won’t like the gun. Some people simply cannot handle much recoil—this is particularly true of new shooters—so if this is a gun for an inexperienced person you should keep an eye on the caliber or gauge. Over time, your newbie will learn that focusing on the target, proper stance and hold will reduce recoil. But for now, go with small-gauge shotguns and small-caliber handguns and rifles.
Muzzle blast—also known as “report”—is much like recoil. Some people simply do not like it and it scares them. The loud explosion of a .357 Magnum revolver or big bore rifle or shotgun will often turn off new shooters. Standing to the side of someone shooting one a larger bore gun is quite different than sitting or standing behind the gun. If their first experience is up close and to the side, it may intimidate them. Keep this in mind when getting a firearm for a gift and taking them shooting. There are also aftermarket muzzle devices that can reduce this effect.
I tried to get my mother a compact 20-gauge pump gun to reduce the felt recoil from a standard 12 gauge, as well as give my mother a gun she could easily handle. My hopes were dashed when the first thing she said was, “Wow, this gun is heavy!”
The same thing can be said for handguns too. Some handguns are heavy when the user has to hold them up to practice aiming and steady the sights. Arm fatigue quickly takes a toll. It is true that with a little bit of practice and exercise some of that can be rectified, but sometimes a gun still may be too heavy or the new firearm owner will be discouraged.
The gun’s action
When I purchased my wife her first shotgun, we did not have much money. Instead of rushing the purchase, I should have waited and saved my money. Instead I purchased her a break-action single-shot 20 gauge. She struggled with that gun in so many ways. Because she was not as familiar with guns as I was, she was challenged to open the action with the lever at the rear of the receiver.
Once she was able to break the gun open and load it, she started shooting it at jackrabbits and doves. Because there was one lonely bead at the end of an ill-fitting gun that she struggled to work the action on, the fact that she could not hit much with the gun just broke her drive to hunt or shoot with me.
Many semi-auto pistols have a stiff spring which makes racking the slide back very tough for anyone lacking hand strength. As experienced handgunners know, it is not all strength that works the slide. Sometimes a method of quickly pushing or pulling on the slide makes the job so much easier. If your loved one has strength issues or arthritis, getting them a handgun they can easily work can make all the difference.
After thinking through the mistakes that I made trying to get a gun for my wife and my mom, and hearing stories of fellow gun owners going through the same experiences, I realized that there was a much better way to “give” someone their first firearm.
Consider giving them a shopping spree, in which you are offering to pay up to a certain amount (or the whole amount) towards a gun that fits them and that they can work properly and comfortably. Add to the gift by promising to take them to the range where they can try a few similar guns like the one you think might be a good fit for them before you go to the gun shop. This cuts down on the choices and the challenge of choosing the “right” gun.
Some gun shops have a range where some guns can be test fired. Consider such a place for your loved one choosing a firearm. Don’t rush your gift giving, do your homework, and make this the best holiday ever!
Editor's note: If you do choose to give the gift of a gun, don't forget the "batteries"--e.g., the safety gear and training they may need if they're new to gun ownership. Look for our handy list of can't-miss gift accessories soon!