Continuing the Hunting Tradition: Things to Consider for Your Kid's First Firearm

Hunting fathers, such as myself, chomp at the bits for the moment when they can buy their child their first firearm or bow. It is a point of pride for hunters to bestow upon their children, hopefully, the start of a lifetime passion. Knowing when your child is ready for such a serious responsibility is difficult. Each child is different. Not to mention, both parents have to be on board with the decision. There are some families that take their children hunting as soon as they can walk and start buying them actual firearms before they get into kindergarten. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are families that never buy their child a gun or bow. Again, it is a family choice and should stay that way. If you are interested though, here are my thoughts on when and how you should begin introducing children to firearms and hunting implements.

I have two boys that I desperately want to introduce to hunting. However, as hard as it is for me to accept, they are simply too young. They have no interest in hunting and are still too careless to give them any kind of gun. Anyone who has met my youngest would cringe at the idea of him holding anything that fires something harder than a foam dart. It is a tough pill to swallow but it is the truth. If you have a child in this category, don't worry. You can still talk to them about hunting and use toy guns to start teaching them safety in small increments. Take them on scouting trips and begin building up their strength and wilderness knowledge. Use it as an incentive an work toward the goal of owning their own firearm. Children need to be mentally developed and capable enough to understand the seriousness of handling a firearm.

Usually the first “guns” a child will get are powerless BB guns. These cheap weapons are not useful for hunting but they serve a very important purpose. These beginner hunting implements should be used to learn the various parts of a firearm and how they function. Knowing the parts of a gun and how they work together is crucial (and this isn’t just for children. I know some adults that could use this information.) Show them how ammunition is loaded into the firearm and how the round is ignited by the action of the trigger and firing pin. Explain to them that the round exits the end of the barrel because of the expanding gases from the fired cartridge. Make a list of the parts of the gun and have your child point them out. This information should be memorized because if you do not know the most basic parts of your gun and how they function the likelihood of an accident in the field increases significantly.

Also, starting small will prevent your child from being afraid of guns. Big shotguns are loud and kick really hard. If a young child fires one of these without proper strength and preparation they will end up getting knocked on their butt and have a fear of guns. Consider a low caliber rifle like a .22 LR. These guns are inexpensive to purchase, ammo is (usually) cheap and easy to find. You can shoot these guns all day without bruising your shoulder. This will also help your child develop a proper trigger pull without flinching or anticipating recoil. Once they develop and gain confidence, consider a .410 or 20 gauge single shot shotgun and then graduate them to higher caliber rifles, pump/semi-automatic firearms when they are ready.

The next, and equally important, step in preparing your child for a firearm is safe handling. Proper handling and safety is crucial. There is nothing more terrifying than watching a careless person swing a firearm around in every direction regardless of who is around. One of the first thing that Pappaw taught me was to always, ALWAYS, make sure the firearm is not loaded whenever it is not in use. A simple check of the breech by pulling back the bolt or, in the case of the break barrel gun, breaking the barrel and checking there. Once you have confirmed the firearm is unloaded, then you can go through the parts checklist and review how your firearm functions. All of this can happen on the couch. You do not need to go hunting to teach safety. Being in the comfort of your home is the best and safest environment to begin safety training.

Once your child knows how guns function and can name all of the parts it is probably time to start taking them into the field. Here is where they can further their safety knowledge. Teach your child how to hold a firearm so they are always pointing it in a safe direction away from people. There are a couple of basic holds that are useful and everyone should know. They need to know a firearm only gets pointed at something they intend to kill. Make sure they know to make 100% certain they know what they are looking at before pointing their firearm. Something that is overlooked is also knowing what is beyond your target. In the age of more powerful and efficient cartridges, knowing what is beyond your target is critical.

Pappaw taught me one other thing that I feel is forgotten in today’s times. He taught me that a firearm is under no circumstances a toy. A firearm is a tool that has a very specific purpose, to kill animals you intend to eat. When used properly, a firearm is completely safe. We kept our guns in a safe until it was time to use them. However, he would never say no if I asked to look at them and talk about them. We would get out one gun at a time and talk about them. He would let me hold them, operate them, take them apart, clean them and put them back together. By the time I was 10, I knew everything about our shotguns. There was no mystery surrounding them and I respected what they were for and the damage they could do if handled improperly. Firearms have been maligned and stigmatized but they shouldn’t be. Making them untouchable and scary just increases the chances your child will be careless once they touch a gun.

I was fortunate enough to have an outstanding teacher and hunting mentor. Pappaw was taught the importance and reverence for firearms young. When he was 12 he carried a Sear’s catalog around and dreamed of getting a bicycle like all the other boys. When he asked his dad for a bike, he was told “I’m not getting you a bike. Those things will kill you.” So, at 13, he was given a 12 gauge shotgun instead. Different times, what can I say. If you want your child to hunt with you, start them young. Teach them safety and the basics at home. Those things should be like muscle memory before they hit the field. It may take longer for each individual child and that’s okay. Something as serious as handling a firearm should not be rushed. In addition, make sure you take them to a hunter safety education course. A lot of states require it now, but even if they didn’t, it is still a good idea. Furthermore, if your child doesn’t show any interest in hunting don’t be discouraged. There are a multitude of outdoor activities you can get them involved in. Maybe they will develop that desire later in life and that’s fine. The important thing is spend time with your children doing outdoor activities together. Those moments are priceless and will be cherished for a lifetime.

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