By Josh Boyd
Nearly everyone can recall in vivid detail, the day in which they fired their first shots from a large caliber rifle or big bore shotgun. Much of what made this moment particularly memorable for most, especially if at a tender age, was a sense of reluctance, or even an outright fear of what would ensue at the shot.
It is only natural to fear the unknown. This rings true for many children as they shoulder a large caliber firearm for the first time. Thoughts run rampant as a youngster attempts to rationalize the process in relation to the recoil that they are about to incur. The feeling of intimidation becomes a legitimate factor that must be overcome in such a situation.
The saying “perception is reality” fits aptly in such circumstances, as a child only knows that this firearm sends a larger payload downrange than the .22 rifle or .410 shotgun that they might have already become accustomed to shooting. Therefore they perceive both the recoil and sound of percussion to be of a substantial nature.
For this reason, when introducing a child to a larger subset of firearms, it would be advisable to take certain precautions in an attempt at avoiding any unnecessary fear, and to make the experience as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. The following are five tips for fostering a positive experience for your child when attempting to introduce them to larger caliber or gauge firearms.
Work Up Gradually
It is undeniable that small caliber, rimfire cartridges such as .22 long rifle impart far less recoil than a standard deer cartridge. If your child is used to shooting a .22, it is advisable to let them slowly graduate to a higher caliber rifle in small intervals as their size and tolerance for recoil allows.
A sure-fire way to do more harm than good to a young shooter’s future outlook, is to put a child behind a .30-06, that has only previously become accustomed to the shooting characteristics of a .22. Instead, gradually step your child up from a .22 to smaller centerfire cartridges such as a .223, followed by a .243 or another caliber of similar nature. This serves to ease their transition.
The same applies to shotguns. It is not advisable to transition a child from a .410 directly to a 12 gauge, as this is likely to yield less than desirable results. Once a .410 shotgun can be adequately handled, present your child with the opportunity to fire and become familiar with a 20 gauge. Your child can then graduate to the use of a 12 gauge at a later date when conditions allow.
Target Shoot With Light Loads
Without a doubt, one of the quickest ways to spoil a youth’s shooting experience is to have them fire numerous higher payload-hunting rounds downrange during their first outing. This is especially true when introducing a child to shotgun marksmanship. In many cases, there is a vast difference in recoil and percussion between a typical small shot size offering, and a more powerful shell of a larger shot size that most go afield with.
When a young shooter is beginning to familiarize themselves with a shotgun, it is advisable to have them shoot low brass, small shot size target loads, as this will minimize the recoil that is imparted upon them.
When going afield, you can load their shotgun with standard size hunting ammunition, as little recoil will be felt by a child as they are overcome with the adrenaline that is yielded in a hunting scenario.
Avoid Lightweight Firearm Offerings
Although a single-shot rifle or shotgun of the desired caliber or gauge often comes with a wallet-friendly price tag, they often feature characteristics that are somewhat detrimental to a young shooter.
Many single-shot firearms, by design, are lightweight. This leads to an increase in “kick” felt by a shooter, as there is little bulk to counteract or slow the firearm’s recoil. This must be taken into consideration when choosing a child’s firearm.
If you do choose to purchase a single-shot rifle or shotgun for your child, it is of value to consult factory firearm specifications of different market offerings. This will provide you with the needed information to compare one firearm to the next, in relation to weight. It is advisable to choose a slightly heavier option, as this will lead to increased shooter comfort in the recoil department.
Use A Bench, Rest, Or Shooting Sticks
The use of a bench, rest, or shooting sticks that cradle a firearm is multifaceted in its benefit for youth hunters. Not only do they increase accuracy, but a rest will also reduce the recoil that is felt by your child as well. No matter the type of rest, the rearward motion of a firearm during the shot will be slowed due to the gunstock’s surface friction with the components that it is rested upon.
Rests can come in many forms, and not all are pricey as is often the case with prebuilt “sled type” devices. A couple of durable shooting bags located on top of a portable workbench can be all that is needed to provide comfortable shooting for your child, all at a minimal cost.
Ample Hearing Protection Is A Must
When it comes to hearing protection at the range, too much is never enough. Not only will the adequate use of hearing protection serve to preserve your child’s hearing for later stages of life, but it will also help to alleviate issues with flinching and apprehension during the shooting process as well.
Much of a child’s reluctance toward shooting larger caliber or gauge firearms stems from the perceived recoil that is imparted by the extensive muzzle blast emitted during a shot. A child recognizes the substantial sound as intimidating and learns to associate this with possible negative ramifications of shooting that particular firearm.
In many instances, multiple layers of hearing protection can work well to quell the hesitance of a child toward the muzzle blast of a larger firearm. By using both earplugs and shooting muffs, the noise that is emitted during a shot is cut to an absolute bare minimum.
While introducing a child to larger caliber or gauge firearms can have its own distinct set of challenges, the look of jovial surprise on a young shooter’s face when they realize that the experience was “not that bad” makes all the effort worthwhile. By keeping these considerations in mind, you will have your child making the most of their shooting experience in short order.