Options for Choosing Your First Gun

News & Tips: Options for Choosing Your First Gun

The evolution of my gun collecting has gone something like this: As a child, my first gun was a BB gun, but I soon graduated to a pellet rifle. As an adolescent, my grandfather bought me a brand new Browning Auto 5 20-gauge shotgun, which I used to harvest my first grouse and whitetail deer. Eventually I got more serious about big game hunting and he bought me a Ruger Model 77 in .30/06. Over time, my collection has grown, but I haven't forgotten how it all started, and I think it was a good foundation for any young person to get starting in shooting and hunting. Whether you have a youngster at home, or even if you're an adult looking to take up the sport, this is for you.

ChoosingYourFirstGun blog
An air rifle is a perfect way to teach a child the fundamentals of gun safety and shooting. Photo courtesy of Luigi De Rose

Although I think an air rifle is a perfect way to teach a child the fundamentals of gun safety and shooting, for purposes of this discussion we will just look at firearms that shoot metallic rifle or shotgun cartridges.

It is undeniable that countless young shooters got their start with a simple .22 long rifle (LR), and I don't think there's a better choice. These guns are generally inexpensive, and ammo is particularly so, which encourages lots of practicing. They also have next-to no recoil, so there's no fear of developing a flinch. The choice of single shot, bolt action, pump or semi-auto is up to you, but there is something to be said for the safety and simplicity of a single shot. Having just one opportunity to make your shot count also tends to force shooters, young or old, to really focus and concentrate on their aim.

I'd also recommend a good quality low-power scope, whether fixed or variable power, to adorn the rifle. Although a young shooter's eyes are generally sharp, they will likely eventually graduate to a scope anyway, so you might as well get them used to it early.

A .22 rimfire rifle is great for target shooting and plinking, as well as for hunting small game such as squirrels, rabbits, varmints and birds on the ground, but it isn't great for hunting turkeys or flying birds and waterfowl. In fact, they are not permitted for hunting turkeys or waterfowl in many jurisdictions. For this reason, I think the ideal way to get a new hunter off to a good start is with a battery that includes both a .22 rimfire rifle and a shotgun.

Some people might recommend a .410 as being the ideal first shotgun, but I feel that a 20 gauge is the better choice. A .410 shoots such a small cartridge which provides very little margin for error in terms of hitting a moving target that it is actually more of an advanced/specialist tool rather than one for beginners. A 20 gauge offers a much more serious payload, but is still pleasant and economical to shoot. Again, choice of action style is a matter of preference, but my comment about the merits of a single shot rifle also applies to shotguns. Some manufacturers even offer down-sized versions of their most popular models designed specifically for smaller-framed shooters.

If you know someone looking to embark on a lifelong enjoyment of shooting and hunting, get them started on the right foot.

Good hunting.