Updated: May 4, 2021
Thoughts on choosing a Good Shotgun for the Beginning Shotgunner...
Okay...let me say there are those that are not going to agree with me, but I speak from experience. I've been working exclusively with kids ages 8-18 over the past 9 years. At TCYSS we have introduced hundreds of young people to the awesome world of shotgun sports!
My own experience is not what I would suggest. I was given a .410 for my 8th Christmas. It was an adult size gun from my Grandfather's Hardware Store that weighed roughly a ton. Dad and my Uncle cut the stock down the day after Christmas to fit me better and that was that. Later on that same day, we went out squirrel hunting and I got my first of many squirrels. A nice Alabama bushy tail, couldn't be prouder. That experience was great....however a few days later, back home in North Carolina, we went on an amazing New Year's Day Dove Hunt. To this day, I don't think I have seen that many dove in one day. I think I shot 2 or 3 boxes of shells...all I had...and did not knock even so much as a feather out of a single bird. In fact, it would be on my third or fourth dove hunt the following fall before I actually downed a dove. Reason? I could have just been a terrible shot, don't think so because just a couple of years later I was shooting a 12 gauge and had no trouble keeping pace with more experienced shooters. I know now the reason was that the amount of shot and the shot string from a .410 is so narrow and minuscule compared to a 20 or a 12 gauge. The .410 was fine for squirrels and sitting rabbits, not a good bird gun for a beginning shooter.(However, I wish I still had that gun for sentimental reasons!)
On to the present...My suggestion for a young new shotgun shooter is a youth model semi-auto 20 gauge. There are many models to choose from out there and some have features that allow the young shooter to adjust the Length of pull (LOP) to properly fit his or her arm length. Many have shims to adjust drop and cast as well, even less expensive guns come with these features. Many have inserts so as the kid grows the LOP can be adjusted for their new growth. I'll go into what all of these things mean in a later blog.
The biggest problem with a semi-auto for smaller kids is the weight. It is difficult for some to take a proper stance due to the weight, however the weight also reduces the "felt" recoil of the gun. Use low recoil shells and recoil becomes a minor issue if an issue at all. I see a lot of kids use lighter pump guns or breach loaders, Over/Under or single barrel guns. The issue with them is they generally have brutal recoil, even with light shell loads relative to the SA guns. If the child can handle the weight of the semi-auto with proper form for even a few shots at a time, then we prefer it to the lighter guns. We find that the lighter guns develop "flinch reflex" and other bad habits. Kids will try to adapt to the recoil by changing their stance and mount. We would rather they take frequent breaks and learn proper mount and stance than create a bad flinch reflex. We have a selection of youth model shotguns, mostly SAs for this reason. We almost always start our kids with the 20 gauge, but encourage them to move to a 12 gauge as soon as they are able and confident to do so. As they mature, they may try a number of different actions, we have some O/Us and pumps for them to try if they like. Parents, before you go out and purchase a gun, if possible try some different guns first. An organization like TCYSS will allow you the opportunity to do so. Most 4-H, Boy Scouts, Hunter Education and similar organizations that have shooting sports will afford that opportunity. Our Parents not only are willing to allow our new kids to try the shotguns their kids are using, but actually encourage it if the child is a similar size to their own. We're all there for the same outcome. Some shooting clubs also have various guns that can be rented, our local sporting clays venue has a nice selection of shotguns that can be rented to shoot their courses. Try before you buy if you can!
Just my thoughts on the subject, nothing new or earth shattering here, just common sense and experience.
(PS...I know that $100.00 Break Action with the .410/.22 rifle combo looks like a really good deal...in the long run...it'll be a waste of money...trust me!)