The Best .22 for Teaching Kids to Shoot Safely
Last weekend, I spent a full day on the range overseeing 20 kids between the ages of 10 and 13. Some had already been hunting and killed ducks and whitetails. Others had never fired a gun before. I’d brought several rifles with me, all chambered in .22LR, and we blew through more than 2,000 rounds.
As this was a gathering of friends, some brought their own rifles. One was an ancient Marlin. This gun was prewar, and had been refinished. It was a tube-fed bolt gun with its rear sight soldered in place. While it was a good talking point, it wasn’t a practical rifle for teaching accuracy and it weighed more than some of the kids.
There were others that we used to demonstrate mechanics and actions. One was a more contemporary Winchester lever action. That one rocked. Keeping track of how many rounds had been fired from its tube magazine, though, was difficult.
Another was a heavy barreled Colt AR conversion. It functioned well, but was too big for many of the smaller kids to handle.It did, however, allow us to talk about the way ARs function.
There are other options. The Cricketts are great for small shooters, and they’re single shot guns–which is an advantage. Henry makes good options. Browning’s new Buckmark rifles could be superb, but we didn’t have one to try.
The two that made the final cut were a Savage Model 64 and a Ruger 10/22.
Savage Model 64
There’s nothing wrong with a good Savage rifle. The Model 64 has its fans, mostly becasue it is a functional rifle that often sells for $100. As the day wore on and the round count increased, I fell out of love with the 64. The magazine has some edges that are rough on thumbs. The spring pressure in the magazine also makes it harder for small hands to load.
The optimist in me would say this; the 64 will teach you the virtues of keeping a gun clean.
I had a can of Hoppes on hand, and we dumped most of it into the Model 64 to keep it running. We’d hose it down, and then oil it up, but it needed to be deep-cleaned. We had some predictable failures. The first was that the second round in every magazine would fail to feed. Round one went in fine. The last eight would feed with no difficulty. Number two, though, would hang up in the chamber.
The problem was solved by only loading nine. After the 64 fired close to 1,000 rounds, even that fix wouldn’t keep it running. It had to be broken down and cleaned.
The good news is that it always fired and the kids had little difficulty hitting their marks at 50 feet. We had topped it with a 3-9×40, and the Savage performed perfectly (after a round was in the chamber).
The Ruger 10/22
The Ruger 10/22 was even better (not the accuracy, exactly, but the performance). There’s a reason why there are 5 million of these out in the wild. They work. We had two 10/22s, and both chugged along perfectly.
The 10/22 has numerous mag options. Some hold 25. My favorite magazine for teaching purposes only holds one round. This allows the new shooters to get the motions of loading and dropping mags down without dealing with a gun that needs to be cleared.
There are 10 round flush-fit mags and 15 round mags, too, all of which have their place in teaching new shooters how to shoot prone or from a rest. We had one 10/22 with a short barrel and fiber optic sights. That was harder to dial in than the other, which we’d topped with a 1-4×24.
As the day wore on, some of the kids moved to 100 yard targets. We put a single 1/2″ dot on a 8.5×11 sheet of paper at 100 yards, and gave them four shots (each narrated by an adult spotter). Considering the conditions (temperature in the low 30s and stiff winds), I’d consider this a challenge for anyone shooting a 10/22. Kids who had never fired a gun before, though, were putting rounds on target, some within an inch of that 1/2″ circle.
The best part is this: the Rugers never had a hiccup. Even with the filth and grime from these dirty little rimfire rounds, and even with one of the 10/22s being suppressed for the whole shoot, there was not one failure.
Comparing the 10/22 to the Model 64 isn’t really fair. One is a budget-conscious plinker. The other is just slightly more expensive, but it runs from what is, in my humble opinion, the best rimfire magazine ever made.
And this means there are options. Ruger makes accessories and mags, but they’re not the only one. 10/22 mags are easy to find. Check out this package from Champion. It has two mags, both 25 rounders, a simple rimfire spinning target, and an Outers cleaning kit. This is an ideal combination for the 10/22, and a steal–the whole package is on sale now for $29.99.
David Higginbotham is a writer and editor who specializes in everyday carry. He was a college professor for 20 years before leaving behind the academy for a more practical profession in the firearms industry.