A few weeks ago, I had a friend ask me for a recommendation on what to purchase for his son’s first shotgun.
It took me down memory lane when I was making that decision for the first time with my oldest many years ago. I can remember that time being a long awaited day for Dad and I spent months trying to decide what to buy for his first gun. I was probably as excited about giving it to him as he was getting it.
Deciding that he was ready for a shotgun was the most important decision. A decision that we didn’t take likely. Handling any gun on your own is an important responsibility and knowing when a youngster is old enough depends on the maturity of the child not the age. There is no right age that is ideal for a kid to get their first gun as it really depends on both the mental and physical development of each individual. My son had been around guns all his life and was given a pellet gun for his sixth birthday. He spent a couple of years learning how to shoot and handle his pellet gun under my supervision and I felt that he understood the responsibility of handling a gun enough to be ready for his first shotgun.
Selecting the right gun to be his first was not an easy choice. Most of his hunting would be waterfowling and I wanted a gun that offered enough power to knock down a duck but yet did not kick enough to hurt him when he shot it. I have heard too many stories of kids being turned off from shooting because their first experience of pulling the trigger came with a mule kick to the shoulder. Shooting isn’t any fun if it hurts and I certainly didn’t want to turn him off right from the start. The challenge is finding a gun that is light enough for a youngster to handle but doesn’t deliver that nasty kick. Typically the lighter the gun the harder the kick so finding that acceptable middle ground can be tricky.
So, after much thought, I narrowed the choice down to a 20 gauge shotgun. A 12 gauge has too much kick for a youngster and a .410 doesn’t offer enough power to consistently knock down ducks and geese. I know for many of you, a .410 shotgun was your first gun but it is my belief that a .410 in a youngster’s hands puts them at a disadvantage right from the start. The .410 offers the least amount of shot per shell of any shotgun which makes it much more difficult to hit and knock down your target. They really are designed more for an experience shooter, not a newbie.
After selecting a 20 gauge, the next decision was to choose between a single action, pump action, or semi-automatic. I immediately eliminated the single action despite it being my first gun (which I still have). I didn’t want to pass on my single action to Zach for several reasons. First, those short barreled single actions actually kick worse than most 12 gauge pumps. Secondly, I don’t like the hammer that needs to be pulled back to shoot it as they are difficult for small fingers to handle and releasing the hammer without firing it in a no shot situation can be a dangerous chore. Thirdly, even though he would only get one shell at a time his first year no matter what gun he got, the single action would limit his shot availability in the future. So that narrowed it down to either a semi-auto or a pump.
Without a doubt, I would highly recommend a semi-automatic as they kick the least due to the gun utilizing some of the “kicking” energy to cycle the shells. There are several good youth model semi-autos out on the market. Both the Beretta 390 Youth model and the Remington 11-87 Youth model are highly recommended. However, the biggest draw back of a semi-auto is the cost. You can expect to pay about twice as much for a semi-auto than you would for a pump. After much thought, I opted to go with a pump shotgun for several reasons.
Consistently killing geese and ducks with a 20 gauge can be a challenge just because the knock down power is so limited. So, as soon as he was physically able to handle it, I knew he would be moving up to a 12 gauge. It also helped that his little brother was only two years behind him and would be ready to inherit his gun about the time he was ready for a 12 gauge. So I felt it would be a waste of money to spend on a gun that won’t be used for more than a couple of seasons. Add into the equation the significant cost difference between a pump and semi-auto, the pump won out.
When I started looking at 20 gauge pumps, three guns stood out: the Mossberg Super Bantam 500, the Remington 870 Express Youth model, and the Winchester 1300 Ranger Youth model. All three are capable of handling three inch shells which was important for waterfowl hunting. I liked the reputation of both the Remington and Winchester guns as the Remington 870 Express is the most popular pump shotgun sold in America and I own an adult Winchester Ranger that I used successfully for many years when I was much younger.
However, I chose the Mossberg for several reasons: 1) The safety switch is on top of the forearm making it easy for a small hand to find and it also allows both left and right handed shooters to use it, 2) It comes with an adjustable butt plate so that you increase or decrease the length of the gun to better match your little shooter, 3) Mossberg gives you a fifty percent off certificate to buy an adult sized butt plate for the gun if you choose to do so when the little guy grows up, 4) it is cheaper than the other models 5) and most importantly, after letting him try out a few of the guns, it seemed to fit him the best.
Looking back on that purchase decision, I had no regrets with the decision. We actually ended up buying two of the Mossbergs, as my oldest wasn’t physically ready for an adult semi auto when son number two was ready to start gunning. Both boys harvested several turkeys, ducks, and geese with those youth models as well as a lot of clay targets. Both have long since graduated on to adult guns. We ended up selling one of the youth models to another first timer some time along the way and the other one sits in the gun safe waiting to be used again some day when Grandpa can get it out for a future grandson or granddaughter.
Get that right gun picked out for your youngster and get them out shooting now so they are ready to go hunting this fall. Until next time, Good Hunting and Good Fishing!
Ken Parrott is an Agricultural Science teacher with Northmor High School.