A few weeks back, I had the privilege of introducing my nephew to shooting. It was quite an honor that my sister, who doesn’t share my view on guns, trusted me and allowed me to teach her kid, my nephew, to firearms. The whole experience got me thinking about how I went about it and what I learned.
Mind you my nephew isn’t the first youngster I’ve introduce to firearms, the first youngsters I introduced to firearms would have been my kids. But this was the first time, I introduced someone else’s kid to firearms and I wanted it to be a fun, memorable, and bonding experience.
So what went well and what could have gone better? I’ll go into those details next. If you are looking for a quick list, just read over the headings below.
Obtaining Parental Consent
First off, let’s talk about getting the parents permission. Seems to me like it’s a no brainer to realize that it would be inappropriate to introduce any youngster without parental consent. No consent. No introduction. It’s really that simple. But, it’s important to be mindful of the parents position on guns and approach it accordingly.
In this case, I was well aware that my sister and I didn’t see eye to eye on the topic of guns. As such, I approached the discussion with an emphasis on the gun safety education aspects with the additional of a potential uncle-nephew bonding experience. I disclosed in detail the plan to discuss the aspects of gun safety prior to driving to the shooting range, demonstrating safe operation of the firearms before use, and careful supervision of gun use to ensure safe operation while reenforcing safe gun handling practices.
We agreed to let my nephew decide whether or not he would be interested in learning about and shooting a firearm – which I believe is critical for a good experience.
There is no reason that I can see to force a youngster to learn to shoot a gun. If the kid has no interest and desire to learn to shoot, then the kid isn’t ready. Attempting to force a reluctant child to do anything they don’t want to do or learn is a battle that is sometimes worth fighting when it’s an essential life skill – like teaching them how to brush their teeth or how to swim. I suppose some parents may disagree with swimming, but it’s up to each parent to decide what are essential skills and which aren’t.
From my point of view, learning to shoot isn’t an essential life skill. I think it’s an important one, but it’s not essential. I do consider gun safety essential, but again that’s up to the individual parent to decide for their kids.
My nephew showed interest and with parental consent we began with talking about gun safety – which is the next part of the evaluation. From my point of view if the youngster can’t remember or demonstrate comprehension of basic gun safety from a discussion, then they probably aren’t ready to shoot.
In my discussion with my nephew, we covered the four (4) steps to take when encountering an unsupervised from the Eddie Eagle program:
- don’t touch it,
- leave the area,
- and tell an adult.
We also covered the basic gun safety rules:
- Treat every firearm like it is loaded
- Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction
- Only place your finger on the trigger when you are ready to shoot
- Be sure of your target and what lies beyond it
The final evaluation is another judgement call. Does the youngster comprehend the potential danger posed by a firearm if it’s operated in an unsafe manner? If the answer is no, then the kid isn’t ready.
After my sister and I were confident my nephew was ready, we headed out for the range.
Providing Essential Gear
It’s important that all safety equipment is available for the new shooter. This includes the following:
- Ear protection (preferably electronic to aid ability to hear instruction)
- Eye protection
- Sun block (may not be necessary)
- Warm or cool clothing for comfort, but also to protect from the elements
- Brimmed hat to protect from hot brass (and the sun)
- Suitable closed toe shoes
- Water to prevent dehydration and to quench thirst
- First aid kit
It should be obvious that safety is a primary concern, but comfort is important too as it will help create a memorable and fun experience.
Select a Suitable Venue
Guns are loud and instruction is difficult in loud environments. I tend to find environments with less noise to be more conducive to both learning and enjoyment. As such, I will list the possible shooting environments from best to worst in my opinion:
- Private outdoor range
- Public outdoor range
- Private indoor range
- Public indoor range
Honestly, I would recommend avoiding public indoor ranges like the plague. They are by far the loudest which will make instruction very difficult. Not to mention, the level of noise can be down right scary to younger kid – making the experience bad enough for a kid to lose all interest in shooting. But I understand this may be the only option for some people. If a public indoor range is your only option, I recommend selecting a single firearm and review operation (loading and unloading) without live ammunition (snap caps are great for this) prior to going to range.
If you are limited to public ranges, I suggest going during non-peak hours if possible. I also recommend using a bay furthest on the left.
I ended up taking my nephew to a public outdoor range first thing on Sunday morning. It ended up getting pretty busy. This lead to quite a bit of hot brass flying towards my nephew from the bay next to us. I placed myself between my nephew and the bay to act as additional hot brass shield so he could focus on shooting rather than dealing with hot brass.
Select Suitable Firearms
As a rule of thumb, I like to introduce new shooters to firearms with as little recoil as possible and are easy to operate.
As someone who enjoys shooting, I think recoil can be fun and exciting. But I also know that I have to fight off my instinct to flinch with some guns and cartridges. This is because recoil is also scary and can be painful. A scary or painful experience is something that may cause a new shooter to lose all interest in shooting at worst or develop a bad flinch at best. Either way, it defeats the purpose of introducing somebody to shooting. For these reasons, I think the best cartridge to start some one new on is the .22 Long Rifle (.22 LR) . Don’t forget to consider firearm rentals in .22 LR either.
Now I’m not saying, one shouldn’t introduce a youngster to shooting with other cartridges. However, I do suggest that more attention is paid firearm selection in preference of firearms that tame recoil better.
In terms of both recoil management and ease of use, I tend to think rifles are better options than handguns. I also think manual-action rifles are preferable to semi-automatic rifles and revolvers are preferable to semi-automatic pistols.
I started out my nephew on a Keystone Sporting Arms Crickett chambered in .22LR with the pink synthetic stock. This is the rifle that I used to introduce my kids to shooting. It’s a youth sized single shot bolt-action rifle that is super easy to use. All one has to do is load, aim, shoot, unload, and repeat. Its ease of use combined with virtually no recoil is ideal for a new shooter as the instruction can remain focus on reenforcing safe gun operation. This rifle really deserves it’s own review that I will get around to someday.
After building some confidence, I introduced my nephew to a Ruger LCRx revolver also chambered in .22 LR. This was actually a bad choice on my part and wasn’t a suitable firearm for him as he didn’t have the hand strength to operate the heavier double action trigger or cock the hammer by himself. I did assist him with cocking the hammer one time to give him the opportunity to shoot a single shot and then we moved on.
The next gun I introduced my nephew to was a Browning 1911-22 Black Label (as you may have guessed it’s also chambered in .22 LR). The operation is a little more complex than the previous firearms as the shooter now has to load a magazine, insert the magazine into the pistol, manipulate the slide, shoot, and eject the empty magazine. He was able to do this, but the instruction required more emphasis on the pistols operation rather than the application of the gun safety rules (which he continued to practice on his own). After a couple of magazines, my nephew wanted to go back to the Crickett. I’m not sure if the added operational complexity or the additional recoil management played a role in his desire to go back to the Crickett, but that’s what we did.
After some more time on the Crickett, I introduced my nephew to a Ruger 10-22 Carbine. The Ruger 10-22 is a semi-automatic rifle which similar in operation complexity as the semi-automatic pistol. It’s also a little larger and heavier than the Crickett. Similarly to the pistol, my nephew requested to shoot the Crickett again after a few magazines through the Ruger 10-22.
Make it Special
The entire ordeal should be a safe and hopefully fun experience. I would consider the day (or part thereof) a great success if the new shooter expresses interest in shooting again, which was the case with my nephew. Even if there is no expressed interest, there is something to be said about the youthful person having gained some knowledge of gun safety and a foundation on which to make a decision in regards to future participation. All of those are wins in my book.
I suggest ending the shooting event with something to commemorate it. Perhaps a memento, a treat, or a meal. In my nephew’s case, we went out to lunch where we had to opportunity to debrief, review the lessons learned, and talk about what he liked or didn’t like about the experience. I also let him keep one of my range hats which I lent him at the shooting range.
Remember this experience is about the new shooter so make it special for them.