Updated: May 4, 2021
Thoughts from Experience on the Best Choices for New Kids to 4-H Shooting Sports and other Youth Competitions...
If you have read any of my earlier posts, you will see that I am a fan of Semi-Auto Shotguns for new shooters. I have heard arguments against them from "don't want my kid to be able to load that many shells" to "I started with a single shot and my Daddy started with a...", to "they're too expensive". So here are my thoughts... I started with a single barrel break action shotgun myself, but I wasn't in Shooting Sports. I was hunting squirrels and going rabbit hunting with my family, and it was 1971. As far as "what my Daddy started me with"...If we use that argument and keep working back, it wasn't too many generations ago when we would have said..."well I started out with a flintlock and it was good enough for me...". As far as the number of shells loaded, not an issue with Youth Shooting Sports. We are going to load the number of shells needed for a station, either one or two. There will be adults observing and correcting the child if they load more than needed and if you are a responsible gun owner, then you have control of that firearm while it's not being used at a club meeting or competition and at all other times.
So with all of that said, in 4-H, most of our competitions will only require a single shot per turn. We Shoot ATA style Trap at our Regional and State Competitions, always a single target, even if there is a "shoot-off". In that case the participants shoot from increasing distances until someone misses, so having a gun that will hold and shoot two consecutive shells is not an issue. However, our Hunting Skills Tournament shoots 5-Stand and many of our kids also shoot SCTP which includes Skeet, Sporting Clays and 5-Stand, which does require two shots. NC Hunter Ed Tournaments break their ties with a doubles shootoff. So the ability to load more than one shell is necessary for those games. But my rationale for the SA Shotgun is really not about the ability to shoot doubles, it's about "felt" recoil. The way that semi-autos operate helps absorbs some of the recoil from the round fired so that it is not absorbed into the shoulder of the kid. SAs also tend to be a little heavier than the break actions and pump actions which also reduces "felt" recoil. That is my rationale for the Semi-Auto shotgun and young shooters. As far as the cost, well at TCYSS, we can provide the shotguns for our kids if they need them. We don't have anything fancy or very expensive, but we do have a selection of youth and adult guns set up for young shooters. Many of our kids either start with our guns until their parents are sure they are going to stick to shooting or even switch to our guns if they have something that is beating them severely when they shoot. Some use ours until they age out, we don't mind one bit, however, if the kid is serious then having their "own" is an advantage because the gun can be "fitted" and set up specifically for them, which any experienced shotgunner will tell you is a great advantage.
Again, if you read my earlier posts on shotguns, I suggest that younger, smaller kids wait until they are physically able to handle a Semi-Auto Shotgun effectively. Start with a 20 gauge with light loads and work up from there. As they mature and grow, then they can move up to a 12 gauge shotgun and to a different action gun. I personally shoot an Over/Under and have been a fan of O/Us since my 20s. I bought a Finnish made Valmet 12 Gauge when I got my first permanent job in 1985 and fell in love! Unfortunately a Burglar took possession of that gun and I lost it forever. Since I have been through a succession of various action guns.
Another thing to consider is weight. In most cases for most things, Lighter is better, that holds true for sports cars, tennis shoes, hunting boots, backpacks and Field Shotguns, but not necessarily for gold, jewelry and Sporting Shotguns. Here is the way I have heard this explained. A good field gun is made to be "carried a lot and shot a little" used for hunting and walking fields and woods. A good sporting gun is made to be "carried a little and shot a lot". Unless you are walking a sporting clays course, most shotgun sports don't require that you carry your gun a great deal. When I walk a sporting clays course I use a cart made from an old jogging stroller, really don't want to carry 100+ shells around in my vest or anything else for that matter. On a trap field it's only 9 feet to the next station, weight is not a huge issue except for the handling. Obviously, a kid doesn't want a gun too heavy to handle, but we have already covered that topic.
You can get a gun with lower recoil and lighter weight too, but be prepared to pay for it! Benelli, Browning, Beretta and others make some awesome lightweight SAs, but they are not cheap. (remember...used is good too!)
Based on what our kids shoot and what we used, here are some suggestions. Unfortunately neither TCYSS or I are sponsored by any gun manufacturer so no dog in the fight. I know folks have their favorites, and I am not going to get into which is better... Benelli or Beretta or Remington or Winchester. Not talking about Kriegoffs and Blasers either...What I am writing about are "entry level" guns for Newer Shooters and from what I've seen that works well with our kids.
Turkish Shotguns: Okay, Turkey may have it's own issues, but in my opinion they make some really good shotguns. They don't have some regulations that other countries that manufacture shotguns do and have an awesome supply of Walnut??? Not that Walnut is a topic here. Tristar Shotguns are manufactured in Turkey and are a great "Lower End" Shotgun. We have several Youth Model 20 gauges guns that have now had thousands of rounds put through them without so much as a hiccup when shooting singles. They don't cycle low power shells very well, but again, for our purposes, we are shooting singles with them most of the time. We have a 12 gauge Youth Tristar that has been an absolute gem and has been the transition gun for several of our kids from 20 to 12 gauge without any cycling issues. Tristar also uses Beretta compatible chokes which makes finding various chokes pretty easy. Weatherby known for rifles, has Turkish made shotguns that do pretty well. We got one as part of an NRA Grant way back that the butt stock will work loose from time to time, but the action has never let us down. It has now fired several dozen thousand rounds without a glitch. Stoeger SA shotguns are built on the Benelli Inertia System and pretty good guns. Going up the scale a little bit, the CZs seem to be pretty good. We don't have any club CZ shotguns, but some of our kids shoot them without any issues to date. There are some nice Turkish O/Us out there too. I have a 20 gauge ATI Cavalry O/U that has been a decent gun. Had some issues when it was new, but great customer service. Most of these guns are less than $500.00. I found the 3 Tristar 20 gauge guns on a special for clubs for less than $200.00 each. Not bad for lasting 8 years and going with a youth club.
Tristar also makes a really nice "Sporting" SA with a 30 inch Barrel and set up for Shotgun Sports with multiple chokes for about $600.00. I haven't used one to date, but have read great reviews on it.
Moving up a bit to the Remingtons and Winchesters (now a Browning Company). The Remington 1100 is a classic. You can usually find a used field gun for not too much. (Though, more than the Turkish guns new) Great guns that really have a soft recoil. Their newer sporting versions are quite a bit more expensive, about $1100.00, but really good guns. Remington 1187s tend to be heavier, not a bad thing for a Sporting Shotgun and really fine guns. A real good gun for both sporting and hunting is either an 1100 or 1187 with a 28 inch barrel. For trap and sporting clays, a 30 inch+ barrel is preferable, but can be tough to handle for smaller kids.
Going up another notch and getting into the $1000s+, are the higher end Winchesters like the Winchester SX3. Made just for sporting seems to be a good gun, We saw a few at the National 4-H Tournament and liked the looks of them. The Benellis and Berettas and Browning SAs new will push to and over $2k, but a really fine gun. My father was an avid Duck Hunter and would have rather lost me than his Benelli. We have had a young lady in our club that has won 3- 4-H Shotgun State HOAs, two with a Benelli Super Sport. She won her first as a junior with a Remington 1187. She was on the NC 4-H National Shotgun Team and shot in College. We currently have another young man who is going to shoot in college in the fall. He shoots both an SA, (Beretta A400 Sporting) and a Browning O/U. In their cases it was definitely worth the investment.
Since this Blog is about choosing a gun for beginning shotgunners, we won't get into the mid to high end O/Us...I can dream about Kriegoffs...that's about it. However, recently at a State Trap Shoot, I overheard a young lady who will be shooting this fall in College on a Scholarship tell someone that her new Krieghoff was her "College Fund". Her parents gave it to her when she was given the scholarship...In that case it might be cheaper than the tuition.