In the past couple years I’ve introduced thousands of kids to shooting pellet rifles and archery through our summer camp and scores to rimfire rifles in our hands on marksmanship camps. Here are several tips to help you teach your youngster to safely shoot straight:
Take it slow, take it safe. First step is always gun safety:
1) Keep it pointed in a safe direction.
2) Keep your finger off the trigger.
3) Treat it like it’s loaded.
4) Keep it unloaded.
And I always add on the Eddie Eagle saying that if you find a gun, even if you think it’s an airsoft/toy: “Stop. Don’t touch. Leave the area. Find a responsible adult.”
Kids are never too young to learn gun safety. I quiz my 2 year old all the time: “What do you do with daddy’s guns?” Answer: “Don’t touch!”
As a parent it is your responsibility to deciding when your child it mature enough to start shooting firearms. Everyone matures at a different pace. This is why it’s great to start small with toy guns, airsoft, and air guns to make sure they can properly demonstrate safe gun handling before going to the firearms range.
Working your way through the baby steps, you should discover if your child is cross eye dominant. It’s not a big deal, but you need to know so you can raise them shooting correctly. A simple test having them look through their hands at a target while keeping both eyes open, then bringing their hands into their eye will show you which eye they use. If you discover they are left dominant while right handed, congratulations! You have a left handed shooter. From now on all actions need to be done off of the left shoulder because you can train your hands, but you cannot train your eye. Failure to recognize this early will be very frustrating with their improper form and completely missing targets due to the dominant eye not looking through the rear sight.
Find a rifle that fits the child. It is much easier for a large person to use a smaller rifle than a small child to use a larger rifle. Stock length is most important in this case. The best way to measure is to have the potential marksman bend his arm at the elbow, then place the butt of the stock in the crook of his arm. If he can easily reach the stock grip and trigger it’s a good fit. Remember to remind them about trigger discipline while measuring.
Measuring campers for the proper rifle fit.
Once you are setup for range day, it’s time to remember one important thing: This isn’t dad’s range day, it’s for the kids. You attention needs to be fully on them, helping them stay safe and enjoy shooting. While it’s so tempting to just pick up the rifle and blast away with them they need your attention and patience.
Start close with large targets that offer feedback. Ten to thirty feet may look way to close to you, but this will instill confidence in their ability and allow you to diagnose any issues on startup. Reactive targets are also a great idea.
Along with patience comes a filter to limit yourself on critiquing their form. Proper instruction is necessary, but put safety and comfort ahead of nagging your child about form. Sometimes good form is impossible because the kids aren’t big or strong enough to handle the firearm comfortably. This is why you see lots of new shooters leaning back while they shoot, they aren’t comfortable enough due to recoil or they aren’t strong enough to support the rifle in that position.
Proper form will come later on when they are more comfortable and experienced
Iron sights first and foremost. Don’t introduce beginners to magnified optics. Scopes are difficult to use. Eye relief, stock fit, and parallax all make scoped rifles quite difficult for beginner shooters. Besides, kids have great eyesight. Let them wow you when they can hit the 100 yard golf ball that you can’t even see.
Red dot optics are easy to use and lots of fun. But again, remember to give them a solid foundation of iron sight training or they will be handicapped later on.
The short muzzle and lack of stock on a handgun it a high risk for unexperienced shooters. I usually don’t allow anyone under 14 years old to shoot a handgun with me, and then, once again, it’s baby steps. NLT SIRT trainer, BB pistol, single shot six shooter rimfire and working up from there.
Hopefully this gives a few tips to start your young marksman off right! If I missed anything please leave it in the comment section below!
Story by Dustin Ellermann