Top 5 Rifles for Kids: Growing Up Guns

Once your son or daughter has learned the basics of safe firearms handling, it’s time to consider branching out with more guns (of course). Rifles are a fantastic place to start, and choosing one doesn’t need to be a daunting task.

child aiming a rifle
Do you know what rifle is best for your child? We have a few ideas. (Photo credit: Dallas Morning News)

For the purposes of this list, we’re assuming your kids have a foundation of basic skills in place. Check out our top 5 list of rifles to consider for your child’s next—or first—long gun. From bolt-actions to ARs, there’s something for all skill levels and sizes.

Marlin Model 60

Marlin Model 60
The Marlin Model 60 is chambered in 22LR and fed by a tube magazine. 22LR is a legit cartridge for kids to learn with, and the Model 60 is a nice gun for it. (Photo credit: Wide Open Spaces)

The Marlin Model 60 is a classic, and when it comes to kids, it’s even more of one. This is a 22LR rifle with a tube magazine that’s perfect for the early stages of rifle work. Because it’s a 22LR, it’s not just soft recoiling, there’s really no felt recoil at all. The tube magazine is fun to load and also teaches kids how to operate a platform not everyone is familiar with. Diversity in firearms skills is a good thing, and it’s a great idea to start young.

Now, the downside to this particular model is that Marlin doesn’t currently have it in production. Fortunately, there are a lot of Model 60s available secondhand, so finding one is usually just as easy as hitting a gun store or pawn shop. The trigger on this model is decent right out of the box and has a positive reset; tiny fingers won’t struggle to operate it. It’s a nice first rifle and one that remains fun to run for years to come.

2. Smith & Wesson M&P 15 XV Pro

Smith & Wesson's M&P 15 Volunteer XV Pro
Smith & Wesson’s M&P 15 Volunteer XV Pro is a nice first AR for kids. Features include an optimized forend to accommodate MLOK accessories. Heightened ergonomics with the B5 SOPMOD stock, and upright B5 grip  (Photo credit: Smith & Wesson)

The AR-15 is an easy-to-use platform that’s a logical choice for kids working on growing their gun skills. And in addition to how simple they are to operate, these guns are highly customizable, so you’ll be able to adjust the stock for length of pull, put whatever optics or lights on it that you want, and more. The Smith & Wesson M&P 15 XV Pro is a good, reliable entry-level AR that’s made with attention to detail and quality control that will perform and last for a very long time. It’s chambered in 223 Rem/5.56 NATO, meaning you can run either cartridge through it safely, and ships with a 30-round magazine. There are plenty of smaller-capacity mags on the market if you’d like to customize things a bit.

This model has a stock that’s adjustable for length, so you can get the best possible fit for your child. It has a mid-length gas system, 15-inch M-LOK compatible handguard, and B5 Systems P-Grip 23 pistol grip. The charging handle is designed for ambidextrous use and the gun does have a forward assist. Thanks to its full-length Picatinny rail, there’s plenty of real estate for aftermarket accessories, too. Consider running the gun with 223 Remington at first for slightly less felt recoil and easier accuracy before moving on to 5.56 NATO. Remember, there is felt recoil to an AR-15, despite what some people might say. This is an excellent platform for kids, and the M&P 15 XV Pro is well worth a closer look for your child’s first AR.

3. Savage Axis XP Compact Camo

Savage bolt compact rifle in camo and pink camo
The Savage Axis XP Compact is a lightweight rifle featuring a synthetic stock tailored to smaller-framed individuals. For those that like pink, there’s also a version available with a Muddy Girl camo finish. (Photo credit: Savage)

The name of Savage is practically synonymous with bolt-action rifles. Their Axis XP Compact is a solid choice both for teaching kids to run bolts and for long-term use. It has a compact synthetic stock so it better fits smaller-framed shooters and a 12.75-inch length of pull. This rifle fits right into the middle ground for kids that aren’t tiny but still have small builds. This particular model is chambered in 223 Remington, which is a decently soft-recoiling cartridge that is also useful in the bolt-action platform. That means whether your child is interested in target shooting or hunting, this gun can do it.

For simplicity’s sake, the Savage Axis XP Compact ships from the factory with a 3-9x40mm Weaver scope mounted and bore-sighted. If you prefer a different optic, swapping it out is a straightforward process once you have a replacement in hand. This rifle has a 20-inch carbon steel barrel with a 1 in 9 twist rate and 4-round capacity. It’s fed by a box magazine which can be pretty handy as well. Savage offers it in both a standard camo and Muddy Girl camo finish. And if you’d rather get a caliber other than 223 Remington, alternate options include 243 Winchester, 6.5 Creedmoor, and 7mm-08 Remington. If you want a good bolt-action, this is a smart choice.

4. Henry Lever Action 22 Youth

 Henry USA Lever Action 22 Youth
The Henry USA Lever Action 22 Youth is a wonderful gun for introducing kids to levers. (Photo credit: Henry USA)

It’s not a good gun list without including a lever-action rifle, and the Henry Lever Action 22 Youth is made with kids in mind. This rifle is compact, lightweight, and easily portable if your child wants to take it hunting small pests and varmints. In fact, it makes a great squirrel or rabbit gun. The Henry Lever Action 22 Youth has an overall length of 33.0 inches, length of pull of 13.0 inches, and an overall weight of 4.5 pounds. It’s chambered in 22 LR, so consider it an ideal way to get your young shooter accustomed to lever actions.

In addition to the classic model, there’s the Rabbit Tracker. The rifle is the result of a collaboration among Henry, Big Woods Bucks, and Skinner Sights, and the results are undeniably good. Although the Rabbit Tracker is a Henry Lever Action 22 Youth, it’s been customized for even greater performance. Among the changes are Skinner Sights mounted to the gun and a Big Woods Bucks logo on the receiver. You’ll find Skinner Sights work incredibly well and are a good way to teach your child to shoot using an aperture sight instead of always relying on optics. This is a nice gun for everything from plinking cans to punching holes in paper to hunting rabbits.

5. Aero Precision M5E1 Complete Rifle

Aero Precision M5E1 Complete Rifle
The Aero Precision M5E1 Complete Rifle is an AR-10 platform rifle chambered in 308 Win. (Photo credit: Aero Precision)

It might come as a surprise, but Aero Precision does manufacture complete rifles. You might also be a bit startled to see an AR-10 on a list of rifles for kids, but the truth is that a lot of kids are more than capable of handling one. I can attest to the fact that my daughter was running a 308 Win in grade school, and she did quite well with it.

The Aero Precision M5E1 Complete Rifle is an AR-10 platform rifle chambered in 308 Winchester. It has a 16-inch barrel, making it carbine length and also providing a shorter gun that’s easier for young shooters to maneuver. The gas system is mid-length and the barrel has a 1-in-10 twist rate. As for the barrel, it’s made from 4150 Chrome Moly Vanadium and is QPQ Corrosion Resistant. Yes, this is a quality rifle.

The rifle ships with a 20-round PMAG but if you’d like a smaller or larger capacity for your child, there are plenty available as aftermarket options. Aero offers the rifle in Anodized Black or Magpul FDE Cerakote. It has a full-length Picatinny rail, making it easy to mount whatever optics or accessories you want to the gun, and the handguard is M-LOK compatible. This is a larger, heavier rifle than an AR-15 platform, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good fit for kids. In fact, the heft of the platform helps mitigate felt recoil. If your child is ready to level up to a bigger caliber, the M5E1 Complete Rifle is a stellar choice.

What was your favorite rifle when you were a kid? Tell us in the comments section.

Kat Ainsworth Stevens is a long-time outdoor writer, official OGC (Original Gun Cognoscenti), and author of Handgun Hunting: a Comprehensive Guide to Choosing and Using the Right Firearms for Big and Small Game. Der Teufel Katze has written for a number of industry publications (print and online) and edited some of the others, so chances are you've seen or read her work before, somewhere. A woman of eclectic background and habits, Kat has been carrying concealed for over two decades, used to be a farrier, and worked for a long time in emergency veterinary medicine. She prefers big bores, enjoys K9 Search & Rescue, and has a Master's Degree in Pitiless Snarkastic Delivery.

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