Thoughts on starting kids out shooting shotgun, what to avoid... what to encourage...
Having been involved in Youth Shooting Sports for many years now I have seen a whole lot of kids shoot shotguns that were not a good fit for them. The result is usually not a good one. Often the kid is taking a beating from the recoil and is frustrated because they aren't hitting anything! The result, a young person that develops bad habits that will be difficult to overcome, and worse, often the young man or woman doesn't want to shoot shotgun anymore.
Kids will show up often with a Single Shot, break-action .410 Shotgun. It was purchased because the parent or grandparent thought it would be best and the price was good. I'll not mention any brand names but there are inexpensive combinations that convert from .410 shotguns to .22 Rifles. Seems like a good value, they are small and light weight and seem to be a perfect solution for a kid that wants to learn to shoot and/or hunt. The problem is...the .410 is a terrible gun for a kid learning to shoot moving targets!!! If you are an experienced clay sports shooter the .410 is a great challenge, but not for learning to shoot. Why? Simple...first of all the amount of shot in a .410 shell is minimal and makes hitting a moving target very difficult. The shot string produced is tiny relative to a 20 gauge. Second...the felt recoil on those light guns is still pretty stout for a young shooter...basic law a physics...the lighter the gun the greater the felt recoil.
So what is the solution? A couple of things. First, if the young person is young and small, wait a little while before introducing them to Shotgun Sports. There are other Shooting Sports to start with if they are not ready. Smallbore Rifle is great for learning firearms safety and basics of shooting. Keep it simple and active and give them some time. Archery is another good starting point. One of the worst things I've seen and I must admit I have been guilty of this in the past is to have a young, small kid shoot a shotgun, be surprised and shocked by the recoil and then laugh about it...not the most encouraging of adult behaviors. Let them stick to rifle for a while then when they are ready move on to shotgun. Often there is a huge difference in a child's physical features and ability between the ages of 8 and 10 and every kid is different.
If the young person is ready Physically and Mentally or insistent on shooting shotgun, the best place to start in my opinion is the 20 gauge semi-automatic shotgun in a youth size and "light" shell loads. The two possible problems may be the weight of the gun and cycling of the shells with the semi-auto and the light loads. The way to over
come both is to take breaks between shots and to single load with a coach standing by to help with ejections problems. We usually shoot clay targets with 5-8 Kids on the line. This way there is a built in break between shots and kids who are more advanced can shoot doubles while those who are not ready can shoot singles. We often set up 2-5 automatic throwers with the different skill levels of our shooters in mind. Simple trajectories for our newbies to build confidence and challenging targets for our more advanced. Nothing is more encouraging to a young shooter than hitting targets. It's amazing how the recoil is less noticeable when you are breaking clays. The other thing is not to push them! If they are tired and want to leave the line, so be it. We ask often and encourage them to take breaks if we see that they are looking like they are struggling. Our goal is simple, we want to give this kid something they can enjoy for the rest of their lives! If they happen to become a Champion Shotgunner, hey that's great too, but everyone has to find their own way.