Young Shotgunners : Teaching Kids for Turkey
We’ve all been there – the days when we were knee high to a grasshopper and just terrified to pick up a shotgun and pull the trigger. Thankfully, those days are well past most of us – and now we’re on to teaching our own kids – so let’s make learning to shoot a bit more fun than it might have been when we first learned to shoot!
If you’ve ever spent much time around your kids, or any kids really, when firearms are involved you’ve probably heard this question a million times – “Dad, how bad does it kick?” or “Is it going to hurt when I shoot?” or the countless other ways the little tyker can come up with to phrase the same question. The reality is, for a youngster, learning to shoot a shotgun can be a scary thing. The gun itself can seem huge and it can make one hell of a loud noise! It’s completely normal for kids to show hesitation when learning to shoot for the first time. It’s our job as parents and responsible gun owners to educate our kids first and foremost – on every part of the process – to ensure the safety of everyone. Secondly, we should only introduce kids to pulling the trigger when we are 100% confident that they are knowledgeable enough to understand what they are doing and the proper way to do it. Follow these simple steps and you’ll have your little one shooting in no time!
Safety 1st, 2nd, 3rd and Always:
I cannot stress this enough. Safety is the single most important element of firearm introduction. Teaching the proper safety protocols lays the foundation for a lifetime of respect for firearms and the operation of firearms. Here’s The Fundamental NRA rules for safe gun handling:
- ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction
- ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot
- ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until you’re ready to use it
But, there’s much more to firearm safety than just those 3 things. As a teacher, you yourself should know how to use the gun you’re teaching others to shoot safely. Before handling the gun, learn how it operates. Know its basic parts and how to safely open and close the action. Know how to remove any ammunition from the gun or the magazine. Be sure the gun is safe to operate before ever putting a round in the chamber and only use the correct ammunition for your gun. Always wear eye and ear protection. Never use alcohol, OTC drugs or prescription drugs before or while shooting. Keep TABS on your target – TABS stands for To, At and Beyond. Be absolutely sure you have identified to your target, at your target and beyond your target with zero doubt and never fire in a direction where there are people or any other potential opportunities for a mishap. Think first and shoot second. Visit https://gunsafetyrules.nra.org/ to learn more.
In the shotgun world, that means .410 or even 28-gauge. These guns are smaller in stature and weight, lighter in recoil and easier on the ears. I strongly recommend starting here if you have the option available. I didn’t have this luxury when I introduced my kids – so the old 20-gauge it was, the same way I learned – but with a twist of my own.
Early in the spring a few years ago, the oldest of my 2 boys was finally chomping at the bit to go turkey hunting – he was 7. Realizing that I was going to have to teach him to shoot using the same 20 ga. Winchester Model 1300 that I had learned with made me think – how can I do this so it’s a bit easier than it was when I learned? My first instinct was to look at adding a recoil reducing pad, or as I’ve heard a thousand times over, a balled up t-shirt, or an old pair of rolled up jeans – something to swallow up the recoil. All of these things seemed unsatisfactory to me and kind of self defeating, and I generally don’t agree with homemade hacks or concoctions, especially when firearms are involved. I wanted to take the recoil out of the equation as much as possible, but I wanted to teach him the proper way to shoulder and hold the gun – something I felt would be skewed if he had a big old balled up t-shirt between his shoulder and the gun, or anything else for that matter. So I turned to the shell itself – and I decided to have him shoot the lightest possible shell I had on hand – Winchester Super X, 2 ¾ inch, ⅞ oz. #8’s. Turns out it was the perfect load to get him started on. The gun went boom, the pellets peppered the turkey target at 10 yards and the smile that ensued was something I’ll never forget. In fact, it was the next 30 minutes that I’ll remember forever – It went something like this…”Dad, can I shoot again?”… “Dad, let me smell the spent shell”… “Dad, take a video and send it to pap”… “Dad, count the pellets in the kill zone”…and then finally the kicker “Dad, will that kill a turkey?”
The last question is something I’d been thinking about quite a bit. I wanted him to shoot the lightest load on hand so that he could gain confidence behind the gun – but there was no way I was going to let him pull the trigger on a big old tom with a load that light – could it work, I suppose – but was I willing to risk wounding a bird? Well, no. So I decided right then and there, on the spot to tell him a little father-son fib…the kind of white lie that can get you through in a pinch. If you’re a dad, you’ve been there…and if you haven’t, you will be. “Sure it will buddy, as long as you aim steady and squeeze the trigger, don’t jerk the trigger”. Fast-forward to the hunt and 2 big toms pitched out right in front of us then double-gobbled their way to 15 yards. The gun went boom, the bird went flop and the boy went through the roof with excitement – so much excitement that he had absolutely no idea that I’d switched shells on him for the moment of truth. The shell that did the trick was a Winchester Double X, 3 inch, 1 5/16 oz. #4 – obviously a heavier load than what we’d practiced with on the range – and a load built for turkey hunting.
When I chose to get my son on the range that first time all I cared about was confidence behind the gun and making it enjoyable for him – even though in his mind he was learning what he had to do in order to fill a turkey tag. All I wanted was for him to shoot – and to shoot as many shells as he could handle – so lightening the load was the right call. It eliminated any uncertainty about the gun, it removed any doubt he may have had about his ability to do it and each pull of the trigger buried any ounce of intimidation he may have felt. Did I want him to know I was going to put a heavier load in when we actually went hunting? Sure I did – but I was afraid of what it might do to his confidence behind the gun, so I never mentioned it. I knew 100% that he was capable of handling the shot, and I had absolute confidence in his shooting ability and the little man proved me right. He’s now 10 and well aware that I put a heavier shell in the gun that day…and as a matter of fact, he can’t wait for me to do the same thing with his younger brother who’s about ready to pull the trigger for the first time any day now.