Columns,  Shooting,  Waterfowl

An Incomplete Guide to Youth Shotguns

Can I tell you how many youth shotgun guides I see on the regular?

A lot.

It’s like outdoors industry search engine optimization 101 – “write an article about youth shotguns” . . .

Most of them are good.  Recently, the good folks at Project Upland released this one, and I think it’s the be all, end all for youth shotgun articles – it’s written by a former gun shop employee, it takes into account almost all the things you want to take into account, and it has the most comprehensive chart I’ve ever seen of youth shotguns.  I used to have a chart, but now I’m embarrassed to show it to you because the Project Upland chart is so complete.

The only thing is, they’re missing a handful of key things.  Let’s call these the “addendums” to that article, and, if you take their data, and combine it with the things I’m about to share, you WILL make the right choice.

Addendum #1 – Length of Pull (LOP)

Folks, this is the whole ballgame.  It’s huge.  And it is the most overlooked aspect in every write up and facebook thread and blog and podcast . . . take your son or daughter or nephew or whoever you’re getting the youth gun for to your local gun shop and ask them to measure the length of pull.

Explained poorly, by me, this is the distance from the shoulder to the trigger, and should align with the distance of a forearm bent up.  Imagine doing a curl in front of you, except with no weights; a gunsmith can measure your LOP quickly and easily.  This is the key data point that should be added to every chart of youth shotguns ever created.  When my son was first starting to shoot, I searched through all the youth guns and was ready to settle on one based on reviews – the Remington 1187 youth model.  Then I had his LOP measured at 10 ½ inches.  The Remington would’ve been a huge frustration to him, despite it being a fine gun.

Adjustable Length of Pulls are awesome, too, if you have a very slight shooter, as it’ll allow the gun to grow with them over several years.

Edited to add: Our good friend Bill Cooksey of Vanishing Paradise pointed out, and it’s worth mentioning, that you can also look at used guns and get stock work done that can accommodate any shooter . . . the cost used, even with the improvements, will usually be less or comparable to a new gun, and this is absolutely an avenue worth exploring!

Addendum #2 – Weight

This is a trickier number, because there’s a tipping point (weight jokes for days, y’all) . . . Can the kid handle a front heavy gun?  I see a ton of kids every year on my boat and have a number of 6 lb and sub 6 lb youth options for them to shoot . . . some have plenty of upper body strength for a 26” barrel.  Others struggle mightily with a 22” barrel.

The flip side of this, however, is more weight equals less recoil.  Throw some #2 steel into a 4 lb Rossi .410 and let me know how your shoulder feels after a couple rounds . . . the answer is “not awesome.”

So the request is – One, let’s add weights to the chart, and two, let’s use that weight to determine the heaviest gun your youngster (what am I, 75 years old?) can handle comfortably.  And by comfortably I mean isn’t hefting it to shoulder, but is able to control it all the way through, from lift to swing.

Addendum 3 – Readiness

This is subjective.  It’s unpopular.  But that doesn’t make it any less accurate (shooting pun.  Nailed it.).

The first question I ask every dad or mom that calls me about their kid hunting is: Do THEY want to shoot?

This is a tough, personal honesty question.  As hunters, we all want our kids to love the things we love.  I’m the same way as a baseball fan, as a fisherman, and as a consumer of fried foods.  But, simply put, every person is different – my daughter was raring to shoot ducks at an early age, while my son, pushed too soon, was put off by the recoil and noise.  He’s come around to it in recent years, but there’s a crucial takeaway . . . there is no formula for when a kid is ready to hunt.

Some kids struggle with the emotion.  Some struggle with fear – of gunfire, loud noises, injury.  Some struggle with weight, and it gives them a feeling of being unsafe. None of this is bad, and it’s a natural progression, and it doesn’t mean the child will never hunt.  It should, however, give us pause to help navigate those turns and see if we can’t alleviate the fears, educate on the emotion, and allow them to come to the hunt to some degree, of their own volition.

That’s not to say I give my kids a choice on sleeping in – if they didn’t want to shoot, they were still able to set decoys and eat snacks and watch the sunrise and learn the experience without the shots.

This is the thing I see people struggling with the most.  Weight and Length of Pull are very measurable things.  Readiness is different in each and every kid on the planet, and this is important to remember. We all want to share our experiences on the Facebook thread, the “my daughter was shooting a 30” full choke A5 when she was 3 years old” and whatnot.  And part of that is parental pride.  We just have to make sure we don’t get caught up in the competition trap, for the best outcome for you and your kids is for them to come to hunting eagerly! If your 5 year old is begging to shoot, measure him up and encourage it.  If your 9 year old is unsure, teach her how to eat sunflower seeds and blow a duck call.

That’s it – take these three things, add them into the chart available at Project Upland, and ignore the 50,000 Facebook responses full of well intentioned but usually not fully informed hunters . . .

This isn’t earth shattering, but we just felt it was worth sharing.  Now click on over to Project Upland and choose your next shotgun!


  • Jon

    Readiness – Turned my younger brother into a non-hunter because I made him clean a squirrel he shot on his first hunting trip, even though he begged me to do it for him. A lesson learned, and an action that I still regret 55 years later.

  • Dan Daniels

    Love it Travis, you ready? This was well done! Seems simple when you put it down like that but these are often overlooked points.

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