At what age is a youth ready to shoot a rifle?
Now that’s a tricky question.
There is no hard and fast answer as you have probably guessed—each youth is different. Maturity, not age, is the biggest factor. And even if a youth is mature, he or she may not be ready to start shooting when you’re ready to teach.
Youth will show an interest and want to start when they’re ready. Don’t force it. Too much pressure to start shooting can quickly shut them down. The end goal is for youth to comfortably and confidently move forward at their own pace.
The fundamentals of firearm safety are everything. It’s not until that is understood that anyone, adult or youth, can start shooting. Young shooters must fully comprehend the potential danger of firearms. Ask yourself if the youth is mature enough to take on this huge responsibility. Teaching the basics and safety of proper shooting and handling of firearms also requires the utmost confidence in your own skills.
Are both you and your shooter’s safety up to snuff? Are you absolutely positive?! Then let’s ease in!
Back in the day, most young people had some sort of encounter with BB or pellet guns. What’s great is that the manual operation of most helps youth focus on shooting mechanics and safety protocol. Starting with a BB gun, pellet gun or airsoft rifle helps gain confidence, since it’s quiet with no recoil. One of the most common mistakes is starting with a firearm that is too powerful. The recoil or loud bang is intimidating, and can result in the youth flinching in anticipation when firing a gun. It’s an awful habit that’s hard to break.
Once the youth is very comfortable, has mastered a BB or pellet gun, and is eager to shoot a real gun, a .22 rifle is a great start. Anything more and once again that recoil can be too hard to control. We don’t want to scare them just as they’re making their transition into a larger firearm.
Ensure the rifle for your new shooter is the right fit. Feeling comfortable while shooting makes the entire learning experience much safer, and the shooting more on target. If you have a smaller shooter, go for a lighter, shorter rifle. Plastic stocks are usually lighter and more durable than wood stocks. Be aware of the length of pull (the distance between the trigger and the end of the buttstock). A youth with short arms requires that shorter length of pull to be comfortable.
Make it fun! Firing round after round at a single target can become tedious for anyone. Change it up with metal dingers or different targets that imitate game animals. Most of all, don’t rush the process of getting comfortable with shooting.
If you don’t think being the teacher is the best idea, there are many other options for teaching youth how to shoot a rifle. After all, an experienced instructor is trained to recognize mistakes in form quickly, and will get students to progress properly and efficiently. The Alberta Hunter Education Instructors’ Association (AHEIA) is a great place to start, and offers Youth Hunter Education camps in the summer months. There are also many Alberta Fish and Game Association clubs and gun ranges across the province with plenty of expertise in teaching youth.
Remember, you have one chance to introduce a rifle. Gun safety is paramount, but so is creating that positive first experience.