When I was waist-high to a normal human, my father gave me a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. His motivation wasn’t inspired by A Christmas Story—he was more of a The Longest Day kind of guy—but rather it was a calculated tool to train his son in safe gun handling and shooting technique...skills I’d use the rest of my life.
You see, the beauty of a Red Ryder that it has a cross-bolt safety—just like that of a regular shotgun or rifle—yet its 5-grain, .177-caliber projectile travels less than 300 feet per second and is very unlikely to seriously injure anyone if the young protégé has a transgression (assuming eye protection is worn). Fact is, the vast majority of shooters go their whole lives without a single safety transgression that results in injury. But like automobile driving, if it’s going to happen, it usually happens when the shooter is young and inexperienced. The Red Ryder is not to be confused with a toy and your child should be made to understand this fact—but asa BB gun it offers more of a safety net than a .22 rifle if an accident occurs. It’s also quick and easy to cock and reload, so it is superior for youngsters over adult-style air guns. At $24 right now at Walmart.com, it's also much less than a silly hoverboard that’s almost guaranteed to break an arm.
One of the tough things to do as a mentor is to spot safety violations while your protégé follows you in the field. But the Red Ryder, with its mass reservoir-style magazine, lets everyone know if the barrel is moved from the up/safe position or down/safe position by the telltale sound of the rolling bb’s in the magazine. Occasionally I transgressed. When I did, my father would turn around and immediately inquire exactly what in the heck I was doing back there.
Another no-no was carrying my firearm over my shoulders, behind my neck with my arms dangling over its stock and barrel. This “carry technique” at first appears to be fine and dandy if the shooter is by himself or his hunting partners are forward or behind, but it’s a terrible habit to begin. Invariably the person will be surprised by something and turn to look, causing the gun to point directly at their buddy’s head. The Red Ryder alarmed my father to this terrible style of carry.
While commonly not thought of as such, quail hunting is actually fairly dangerous compared to other shooting sports. Of course, it’s safer than golf, ping-pong and all contact sports, but even experienced hunters occasionally make a mistake during the heat of a covey rise when dogs and birds are flying and running everywhere and people are shooting. When a hunter picks out a randomly moving bird, locks onto it and starts swinging the gun, it can be difficult to remain aware of where the other hunters are.
Armed with my Red Ryder with its cut-down stock, however, Dad let me wade into the dogs, help kick up the covey and shoot at a bird just like he did. While I didn’t drop any birds with a BB, Dad could tell if I was being safe enough to soon hunt with a shotgun. He praised me if I swung with a bird while keeping dogs and other hunters in mind, while correcting me if at any time I was unsafe. This hastened my training time and certainly made my father’s hunting buddies less nervous during my formative years.
The Red Ryder is also a master at teaching skills other than shooting fundamentals and safety, and that is wingshooting. You see, wingshooters should not aim a shotgun, but rather point it. For this, remove the front sight from the Red Ryder (and the back sight if you don’t mind destroying the rear sight permanently) and instruct your student to keep both eyes open, focus on a target (a pop can works great), and practice intuitively pointing and shooting at that object many times over. After a brief amount of time, you’ll be amazed how consistently he or she can hit the target without using sights. After that, switch to dragonflies over a pond. This is how instinctive wing shooters are forged—and forged without breaking the bank.
So this Christmas, consider a Red Ryder BB gun as a gift if you think your child is interested in shooting and responsible enough to receive it. Use it not as a toy, but as a tool for teaching gun safety and shooting skills. And ask Santa to place a pair of certified shooting glasses like these in his or her stocking—and also buy yourself a pair. That way it will be impossible for her or him to "shoot an eye out."
At just over $25 dollars for the Red Ryder and safety glasses, I guarantee that this will be the best Christmas ever!