Author’s note: Here’s some irony for you. As I’m writing this article about teaching kids to shoot, I’m texting my son’s primary care physician. He may well have a broken clavicle. We’re discussing where we need to go for an x-ray.
How did we get here? A 3-inch 12-gauge shell in an ancient break-action shotgun (one with a hard rubber butt-pad). My son—a 15-year-old that shoots like a house on fire—is still learning his way around scatter guns. The thrower spat out a clay, he wasn’t 100% set—but he pulled the trigger anyhow. He missed the clay, but the butt of that gun kicked into him. Hard.
He’s afraid of nothing—so he threw in another shell, shouldered the gun, and yelled “pull.” The look on his face from the second shot let me know the first one had done the damage. Game over.
There’s the rub. When teaching kids to shoot, anyone for that matter, safety comes first—and it isn’t always the obvious safety issues that will get you.
But—and this is a big but—think about the unexpected elements that can shut down a new shooter. Fear of guns? Loud noises? Recoil? Any of these elements may be enough to convince someone that they don’t like shooting sports. Be diligent.
Firearms Training for Kids
For someone who isn’t a professional trainer, I do more than my fair share of working with new shooters. Some of those are kids. Here are some time-tested tips for helping kids develop a safe and healthy relationship with shooting sports.
Where to Start? The Basics
Let’s assume, for a moment, that the “kids” we’re talking about here are small. Little kids. Maybe less-than-mature teenagers ever. Safety—no matter what age of student—is first and foremost. See my note above.
Start with the rules of safe gun handling. Move to the rules of the range. Even if you’re working with BB or pellet guns, establish an authority in the conversation that allows no room for horseplay or rule-breaking—and stick with it. I do a fair amount of talking, explaining processes, and demonstrating techniques with Nerf guns well before I ever more to anything with a metallic projectile.
While there’s no reason to scare kids, there is reason to discuss consequences. This is your first real chance to vet your students and not all of them will be ready for live fire on the range. Don’t hesitate to make that informed call.
BB Guns and Pellet Guns
For truly novice shooters and those who are easily distracted, I like to work up to live fire. Nothing beats an old Daisy Red Ryder. Past the age of six or seven, I tend to rely on Umarex pellet guns. While your typical BB gun won’t make much noise, a single-shot .22 air rifle makes a decent clack that provides some auditory feedback for new shooters—more on that to come.
Once they’re ready for something a bit more involved, I like rimfire. Savage makes some fantastic micro .22 LR rifles—the Rascal line. The 10/22 is a great option from Ruger, though it is larger. Either way, the long gun will offer more control and a much safer learning platform
Begin with a gun that is easy to operate, easy to keep on target, and one that’s accurate—you aren’t going to win any kids over if you haul out your grandfather’s rusted J.C. Higgins bolt-action.
Whatever you choose, consider how to top the gun. While learning to use iron sights is important, it is also very frustrating for some shooters. If you are going to use irons, I like the illustration cards that show sight alignment. Or I draw up diagrams on the whiteboard.
Really young shooters, though, aren’t going to get it. No worries. They can grow into irons and ghost rings, windage, and pumpkin-on-a-post.
I prefer to start off brand-new shooters with a red dot. I keep an Aimpoint up on my 10/22 and it provides solid results.
Scopes work well, too, though they often have their own learning curve. Be wary of older kids—or advanced younger kids—getting too close to the scope. Scope-bite sucks. It will turn a new shooter off to shooting really fast.
Silence is Golden
The noise of a gun is often terrifying to someone who has only ever heard a gun on TV or COD. This past weekend, one of my younger shooters (a 10-year-old) almost fell over when someone shooting close to us pulled the trigger on a 12 gauge. I’d told him it would be loud, but he still convulsed like he’d been electrocuted for a moment. He had on ears, but it was the concussive boom that got him.
After, every time he approached the bench to shoot, he’d ask “Is this one loud?”.
“No,” I’d say. And his weren’t. I had him on a suppressed 10/22. When I moved him up to a .223, I had it suppressed, too. Taking the edge off a bullet’s sonic crack will make all the difference.
When we were working with an older teen with a .243, I moved my sound-sensitive kid way back behind the firing line and out from under the cover (something that often traps and amplifies a muzzle report.)
As with noise, recoil sucks. Muzzle-flip, too. Many people find it amusing to set up new shooters with something that will kick like a mule. Why? What’s the point? Viral video fodder?
Start with small calibers and progress upward. I almost always start with .22 LR but have gone down to .22 short. I stick with rifles for a few sessions, or .410 shot shells, and slowly move up to tame short-action centerfire rounds and 20 gauge shells. Sometimes I’ll even run in a PCC if I have one handy.
When teaching handgun fundamentals, I prefer to begin with a .22LR single-action wheel gun. The single action is very safe, as it requires the additional step of cocking the hammer between each shot. I’ve seen students with full mags in semi-autos get frightened by the noise and kick, and completely drop the firearm.
After, follow a logical progression—.22 semi-autos (again, suppressed). And then I like the really heavy .380s. A Walther PPK is a great option for transitioning into other calibers (like 9mm and .45 ACP). But don’t overlook the low-recoil .38s, either.
With these guns, longer and heavier is better. It will allow you as an instructor more room on the gun to move up and grab it, if necessary. Grips are often somewhat larger, but there’s also more to hold onto.
Avoid EDC guns with short grips and short barrels. Work into that. If you were going to keep it in the Glock family, for instance, I’d take a G17 over a G19 and work your way down to a G48, then the G43.
However you do it, keep the round count low. Load one round in the mag at a time for the first few shots. Then two or three. Then more.
It is all about building confidence, building skills, and building up.
Watch for the Cocky Ones
Watch out for the wing nuts. I can’t tell you how many teenagers and young adults I’ve worked with who can’t stop pointing loaded guns at their feet. That’s what they see on the big screen, so that’s what they do. Getting them to grasp the concept that the muzzle stays pointed in a safe direction can take a tremendous effort.
And some of these kids will show up thinking that they know everything. These are the most dangerous to themselves and others. These new shooters often have the worst habits, worst grips, and the least attention to detail.
Yet even the ones that do pay attention often don’t understand reflexive muscle movements. Hammer them on trigger finger discipline. Watch how they flinch if they pull the trigger on an empty chamber. Show them their mistakes.
If you are new to teaching, watch for swinging barrels. It happens every time. New shooters, excited by what’s happening downrange (or what’s not happening on the firing line, sometimes) will turn to you to ask a question or point something out. That barrel is going to sweep right on around, too.
Start with man-on-man defense. As experience grows, you may be able to move to a well-orchestrated zone.
No matter how you approach it, we are responsible for passing on our knowledge. It isn’t as complicated as it might seem at first and is well worth the effort.