Fall is almost upon us, and for some, it’s their favorite time of year for upland birds and big game before winter transitions into water fowl hunting.

For many, hunting is a family affair that allows them to escape from the city and technology, get back to nature, and reconnect as a family.

In Oregon, youth as young as 9 to 15 participate in the Mentored Youth Hunting Program where it is a requirement for youth under 17 to wear blaze-orange clothing while in the field.

It is important to remember safety comes first. Next, great care should be used in determining the right size and type of firearm for a youth hunter.

4 basic safety rules to be followed when handling firearms:

  1. Treat every gun as if it is loaded.
  2. Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction (up or down).
  3. Keep your finger straight and off the trigger until sights are on the target.
  4. Make sure of your target and what is beyond.

Kids S.A.F.E. Foundation is focused on providing quality “Safety Around Firearms Education” for children and their families. Since the beginning of 2018, the foundation has reached over 5,300 children in Oregon, Washington and California, teaching them the four basic safety rules the non-profit promotes for when an adult is not around.

The Foundation recommends its firearm and safety education courses for children ages 5 and up. Depending on maturity level, range courses are for ages 7 or 8 and up.

For those concerned about children and gun safety, Kids S.A.F.E. Foundation emphasizes that their non-political courses are intended for everyone— households that have, don’t have, or don’t intend to have firearms.

Materials focus on differentiating real-life from toy firearms, video games, television, even Nerf guns and Airsoft. The foundation values the importance of taking the novelty away and providing instruction for children on what they should do if they ever encounter an unsecured firearm.

In the foundation’s Live Fire classes, targets are placed downrange in front of a safe backstop. Through the tangible experience of aiming and firing real .22 lever-action rifles at their intended targets (instead of aiming toys at screens, animals or each other), children learn to differentiate reality from fantasy about what firearms can really do from their own misconceptions.

When purchasing firearms, keep these in mind:

  1. Protective hearing and eyewear are important pieces of equipment for those beginning shooting sports or hunting. For hunting, blaze-orange clothing is typically required by state law for all firearms hunters.
  2. Proper storage and security tools such as trigger locks and safes to store firearms with separate storage for ammunition.

Derek LeBlanc, the Foundation’s lead firearms instructor, offers suggestions for those purchasing firearms for boys and girls this upcoming hunting season.

“Like kids’ clothing, you’re better off getting something they can grow into and continue to use as they get older,” LeBlanc said. Making the right purchase the first time so they don’t outgrow it in their first year is key. He also stresses that “the child’s size is as relevant as age when it comes to gifting the right firearm,” further explaining if bigger 8 to 11-year-old can use a slightly larger rifle, they can get more use out of it in the long run.

Great First Youth Guns

The versatile utility of a shotgun is a great place to start. LeBlanc suggests a 28-gauge as an ideal youth starter gun for upland game birds and shooting sports. For instance, his Stevens Model 555 over & under is a lightweight, stylish rifle that comes complete with five interchangeable choke tubes, which adds some versatility.

However, there are more choices if a 20-gauge is preferred. A longtime best seller, the Remington Model 870 Express Compact series, is specifically designed for small-framed or young shooters.

The Mossberg Model 500 Bantam Youth series includes a very practical feature—an adjustable stock that can grow with young shooters. The Field/Deer Combo includes a 22-inch vent rib barrel with dual bead sights and interchangeable chokes, as well as a fully rifled slug barrel with adjustable sights.

For budget conscious or those who prefer a single-shot model, the CVA Compact Hunter Single Shot is available in a 20-gauge model, as well as a .410—both with an adjustable stock. Its ambidextrous design is a nice feature and the automatic hammer blocking safety feature prevents the firearm from discharging before the trigger is pulled. It also comes with a fixed full choke and a manufacturer’s lifetime warranty.

Youth hunters going for Blacktail or other big game typically begin with a 243 Winchester or the Savage Axis Youth Compact, an inexpensive, lightweight bolt-action rifle in a recoil-friendly caliber.

The 22LR is probably the most popular youth starter gun, and LeBlanc suggests either a Savage Arms Mark II or the Ruger American Rimfire, both bolt-action rifles. One advantage to the Ruger American (which he uses during range courses) is that it will fit the same magazines for a Ruger 10/22.

Being able to participate in shooting sports and hunting helps young people not only build confidence, but also a healthy discipline and foundation for proper gun-handling safety procedures.

For the reasons detailed above, buying a youngster’s first firearm is an important decision. If you’re not sure exactly what to purchase, it’s a good idea to visit a local gun dealer such as Cabela’s and ask the experts.

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This is a great way to teach children from an early age, that firearms can be handled safely and properly - and can prevent future accidents.

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