How do we get the next generation to enjoy America’s first pastime, the shooting sports? With so much technology in video games, phones, I-pads and devices, how do you pull kids away to teach them how to safely use firearms and to enjoy it? Even though our country has been plagued with mass shootings headlining the news and with the stigma forming around firearms, there are still youth programs surrounding firearms, and youth shootings sports continue to grow across the country. If you have a child that wants to get into shooting sports, there are plenty of opportunities: 4-H, Eddie Eagle, American Legion Junior Shooting Sports, Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation, Midway USA Foundation and more. The most important questions and ones I get asked almost daily are these two: “At what age should I introduce my kids to firearms and shooting and what should I start them out on?”
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These are tough questions without easy answers; however, it is never too early to start talking to your kids about gun safety and what to do if they find a firearm. Eddie Eagle has some great resources for this purpose. Teaching your kids a healthy respect for firearms and that they aren’t toys is the first step.
Is My Child Mature Enough?
Next, you need to make an honest assessment of children’s maturity levels and if they are mature enough to listen to the safety rules and follow them without hesitation. If they aren’t ready, it’s not a big deal, they can still watch and learn from the parents (you) abiding by the firearms safety rules correctly. Then when children are ready, they can put what they learned by watching into safely handling firearms.
How to Get Started on the Range
When you determine that your child is ready to safely handle firearms, you can always start them out dryfiring or with airsoft to get them used to holding guns, pointing them in a safe direction and engaging the triggers when the sights are properly lined up. Airsoft is a great starting point and Umarex has a lot of options – from rifles to handguns and everything in-between.
Another great place to start is with a .22 caliber firearm. These guns don’t kick, but the noise will help remind kids they mean business (of course, always use hearing and eye protection, for you and your child). Never start your kids with high caliber rifles, handguns or shotguns to see if they can “handle it.” The quickest way to turn kids off to something that should be fun and exciting is to increase fears and anxiety by making them shoot something that is too big and too loud for them. Take baby steps to make it a great and memorable experience.
Start with a Rifle
Starting with a rifle is best in my opinion, because the supervising adult can more easily control the muzzle direction and ensure it is always pointed in a safe direction. They can also be less intimidating than a handgun because of the minimized recoil you feel with a rifle. There are a lot of options now for smaller .22s that will help them to learn proper techniques. Also .22 caliber ammo can be easier to find and cheaper than most centerfire. In fact, Fiocchi makes some great ammunition for plinking competition and hunting. You can buy it in bulk to get more bang for your buck to keep your kids hitting that bullseye and having fun.
Teaching a kid to shoot and seeing the excitement they have and progress they make can be really rewarding. Make sure you go their pace and not yours. Remember you have a ton of experience to pull from, but they do not, so make sure you go at a slow easy pace to ensure they are grasping the concepts and making safety a habit.
There are a lot of ways to keep things fun while making sure they repeat the rules and technique as much as possible. Don’t forget, it takes 300 times to make something a habit and if you don’t keep it fun and exciting, you might lose them to video games and cell phones. Yes, shooting on paper and learning how to hit the bullseye is important, as well as grasping the techniques, but using targets that give immediate feedback can also keep your kids excited and coming back for more. When you find yourself asking the question about whether your child is ready to start learning to shoot a firearm, take some time to plan out a progression of safety, technique and fun and it will be a great start to a lifetime of enjoyment.
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