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May 12, 2008

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Bourjaily on Starter Guns

I found this clip under “Hilarious Turkey Hunt” on YouTube. Maybe I’m stuffy, but I’d have called it: “How Not to Start Kids Shooting.”

Fortunately this kid kills the turkey with the shot that rolls him over backward, so he has a positive, if painful, hunting experience. Never mind that he’s wearing pants the color of a turkey’s head, or that he picks up the flopping bird while pointing his gun at his Dad, who wisely runs out of the frame.

Obviously, the boy has been given way  too much gun and he may be on his way to developing a lifelong flinch. Other kids get .410s, which very frustrating guns to hit anything with. My own first gun was a 12 gauge A-5, but then I didn’t hunt until I was 21 years old, so I was too big for it to knock me over..

I started my own kids with 20 gauge 1100 Youth Models when they were 11 or 12.  The 20 gauge 1100s are very soft shooters and great guns for kids to learn with. When target shooting and hunting we used only light loads and were very careful always to wear hearing protection. Even so my older son started closing both eyes when he pulled the trigger in anticipation of the muzzle blast and recoil after a while.

We had to take a break from shooting, then start back up with air rifles and .22s before he could keep his eyes open. He and his brother are both happy shooters today. If I had it to do again, though, I might go with cheaper, lighter youth pump guns and shoot slow, 3/ 4 ounce reloads to keep recoil down.

I’m curious to know how all of you started. Since you grew up to read a blog called “the Gun Nut” it’s fair to assume that your fathers did something right when they taught you to shoot.


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I started with an awful (I know now) single-shot open-bore 20ga my Dad had because it was the only gun we owned. I started my own kids with 20ga pump youth models and all has worked out fine.

SD Bob

My father didn't teach me to shoot. While he was in college, he and some friends were hunting deer when a bullet hit a tree nearby and he gave up hunting/shooting altogether untill after I picked it up from some friends. The first non air rifle I ever shot was a 20 ga single shot. My first gun was an FIE single shot 12 ga. Seeings as I sell guns for a living I am constantly talking people down in power except with .410's. I do my best to steer people away from this gun as a starter. If you can't hit squat, it's no fun. If it's no fun you won't continue. I constantly hear "that's what my father started me on" in resistance but when I proclaim a .410 to be an experts gun they usually remember years of frustration! I don't tell my customers this but my dad used to let me drink a bit of beer with him while we were eating popcorn watching football. That wasn't necessarily right either but it's what we did!


My Dad taught me to shoot under close supervision with a variety of pistols, plus a Ruger Mini-14 he kept on fishing boat (offshore fishing, never know what pirates you may run into). His intention was to demonstrate the damage a firearm could do. When it came time to hunt he had me use a Browning 16ga.


My dad's winchester model 37 single shot in 20 gauge. I was old enough recoil wasn't an issue though, I was in high school.


My first gun was a single shot .410. We didn't bird hunt but it was great for squirrels as it had a groove in the receiver that acted as a rear sight. It was a family gun so my first gun that was my own was an 870 in 12 gauge. My next was a 7400 in 30/06.


I started with a borrowed, break-open .410. I killed exactly one squirrel with it, putting exactly one shot pellet in his head. That lucky pellet was the beginning of my lifelong hunting career. We soon learned that the pattern on that particular gun was marginal at best, scattering lead from here to Christmas with each shot. As a squirrel gun it left much to be desired.

Dad then graduated me up to an Ithaca 37 in 20 gauge, on permanent loan from my uncle. With its full choke, I soon learned that one DID have to aim with a shotgun, and many squirrels met their fate off the end of that barrel.

As I grew comfortable with it, I unconsciously began to cycle the action faster and faster, until I developed the regrettable habit of occasionally firing a second shot by closing the action while the trigger was still depressed (this gun had no trigger disconnect). I worked through that, and then developed the opposite (and equally regrettable) habit of ejecting the fired shell, but not closing the action afterwards.

In summary, I learned a great deal from that old Ithaca 20 gauge, and I look forward to passing those lessons on to my son when he is of appropriate age and stature.

My dad taught me to shoot with a Marlin M60 .22lr. The first shotgun I used extensively was a Harrington & Richardson 12 ga single shot that I would borrow from my Grandpa. The first center fire was a Marlin M366 .30-30.


I started my kids, girlfriends, and SO’s on light .22’s at targets.

Shotgunning was started with a 28-ga 1100 skeet gun at skeet station #1 and #7. If the new shooters are concentrating on a moving clay target, they don’t notice recoil. However, the main problem with a shotgun is the weight vs. strength of a woman and/or young boy. The shotgun weight has these poor folks leaning backwards to support the gun. Managing the recoil in this situation is like leaning I into a left hook with a good counter puncher.

I found shooting targets is quickly addicting even if a person has no interest in hunting.


The shotgun I started with was an old H&R single shot with a big recoil bad and light loads.

I was 11 or 12 but really small. The recoil wasnt bad.
I never got a turkey with it but it did bag one grouse and many squirrels.

I had been shooting .22s and a .38 special rifle for years before that though.


My dad started teaching me with a Daisy air rifle, and then moved up to his first gun, a single shot .22. He's always been an enterprising guy, wanting to teach people stuff (he's a college professor), so he actually organized an airgun camp that drew about 100 kids over a week for 2-3 summers. In high school I shot 4-position small-bore, where I really learned to shot well. Dad coached the last year. My first gun is a lever-action .22. First time fired a shotgun was a 12-gauge after completing hunter's safety trainin at 10 years old. I wouldn't touch another shotgun until my granddad died an left me his single shot 16 ga. when I was 13.


"...where I really learned to shot well"

Apparently, I can shoot well, but I can't spell for crap. Math also alludes me. LOL

Mike Diehl

My dad started me with a Savage Model 24 in .22WMR over .410. It was dandy for snowshoe hare and ruffed grouse.


I started, at age 12, with a bolt action Stevens 410. When I was sixteen, I bought a Remington 1100 20 gauge. I've never been able to wingshoot as well with the Remington as I can with that 410. I'd love to know why! I believe that the Rem 1100 kicks less than the 410.


Dad started me with a single shot break action .410 which was always good for a coup d'grace on a flopping around pheasant, not much else. Fortunately there was only one .410 in the family gun closet and my brother needed it a year after I did so I hunted with a 20 gauge pump from the time I was 12 to 14 when my brother graduated to that gun and I went to a 12 gauge and never looked back.
I burned most of my allowance at scout camp shooting .22s on the rifle range.

NH Philosopher

My father started me with a Red Ryder BB gun - lever action of course. I loved that little air rifle - that my dog and my wagon were my entertainment.

I then moved up to a Ruger 10-22 at 10. Using both at different times was a wonderful way to learn the variance between the two weapons.

At 13 I got a winchester model 94 30-30. I killed more deer with that weapon than I can count. By far the most practical rifle for the White Mountains. After that - I got a Remington 870 Wingmaster and a whole mess of other weapons for hunting.

But at the end of the day - I attribute my shooting skill (or lack thereof) to my Red Ryder and Winchester levers.

jim in nc

My upbringing was inauspicious, gunwise. Dad was a non-outdoorsman professor and Mom had a lifelong phobia about guns. Somehow I latched onto "The Rod and Gun Club of the Air" on radio in the late 1940s (anybody out there remember it?), and subscribed to Field and Stream for a vivid fantasy life, but not much else. Dad died; 5 years later Mom remarried, to a guy who had grown up hunting and fishing in Michigan, but was now a NY lawyer who worked so damn hard to raise us kids that his hunting went out the door. However, he still had his guns; my first from him was a Stevens Armory Model falling-block .22 from the late 19th century. What a tack-driver. Then I got his .35 Remington pump, his Model 94 30-30, and his Model 12 shotgun (damn right this guy knew a good gun when he saw it). All pre-1950, all working just fine, thank you. My own progress was fitful, and mostly self-taught, and I'm still not much of a woodsman, but I can pretty much hit whatever I can see. And I still rely on F&S for tips and for my fantasy life. Many thanks.

Aaron Pape

I started with a marlin bolt action .22 and a 20 gauge mossberg 500, both of which were my dad's first guns. I still have them and shoot them regularly.


A Marlin model 99 M1. I still have it.


My grandfather started me with a Remington 513-T .22. A great way to begin to understand the concepts of trigger control and breathing and all that fun stuff. The first centerfire rifle I ever shot was a .25-06.

Jim in Mo.

My first gun was a Stevens single shot 20, nice and light for a kid. Also in my youth, my first gun I learned to stay away from was a shotgun my uncle didn't want anymore (smart man). He gave my dad a 12ga bolt action JC Higgins. Ugly as sin and it literally knocked the snot out of me. With a high brass loads I'd lay money it kicked harder than any 338 or better. Don't know what happened to that gun and don't care, I'm sure it didn't get stolen the theives would have brought it back.

Dr. Ralph

Guns and little boys... one of the miracles of nature that lets me realize that we are genetically programmed differently from women in each and every aspect of our psyches. If I didn't have a cap gun I was running around yelling bang with my index finger as the barrel and my thumb the hammer. Stole once in my life and it was a roll of caps (five pack actually in the blue box) when I was five or six and my sis ratted me out and mom whupped that butt all the way back into the store and made me apologize while crying my poor little eyes out. Store Manager said it was okay they were only a Nickle but NOOOOOO!!! I thought my mom was going to beat him too.

About eight I got a Daisy BB rifle that looked an awful lot like a Winchester 94. Lever action, plastic stock just an upgrade over the Red Ryder as it was a little more powerful. It pretty much bounced off birds from more than twenty feet and was basically worthless. I wanted a pump up but was denied...

Finally when I was nine or ten I got to carry this 20 ga. H&R single barrel quail and rabbit hunting but no shells just to teach me hunter safety, and let me tell you it's a vast improvement over what they do today. Next year I got shells but had to keep them in my pocket. If a covey rose I would load up and pray for a singleton straddler.

All the while kids in the neighborhood whose parents didn't hunt were getting Crosman 760's and Crosman .22 Woodsmaster's which were both pump up air rifles that would kill a squirrel, rabbit, or even blow the end of your finger off as one of my friends soon discovered. Luckily I was able to buy one of these Woodsmasters from my older brother's buddy for little of nothing and without my parents knowledge as he had graduated to a .222 and the Fox squirrel population around our house began a rapid descent.

I can't really say I learned to hunt with a shotgun because dad had to be there for that to happen. But I could take that pump up .22 cal air rifle every day into Lewis' Woods which was 500 acres a five minute bike ride away and also contained a gravel pit to fish and skinny dip and the whole neighborhood would meet after school and live in the woods fishing, camping, swimming and shooting crows, squirrels, sparrows and blackbirds. Damn I wish I was twelve again..

Jim in Mo.

Dr. R
Concerning your Daisy, that was my gun but apparently you had a lemon. Mine was bad ass. I'd dry fire about 10 times or until it'd shoot an air hole in a broad leaf weed. Then I was ready. Had that gun for a lot of sparrow kills till I shot my sister in the tongue. Being grounded from hunting for three months was eternity for a 3rd grader.

Dr. Ralph

A little more information about that tongue shot would be nice... if it was ruled an accidental shooting perhaps I could try this on my wife. Did she stop talking long enough to make it worthwhile?


I started with an old Stevens .22/.410 at around 10/11. Moved up from that to a Browning Auto-5 in 20 gauge, and occasionally a Stevens 311, also in 20 gauge at around 12 or 13. After that I started using my father's Winchester Model 12 12 gauge.

For rifles, I pretty much went straight from the .22/.410 to a Sako Finnwolf chambered in .308 Win. for deer hunting at age 12. I also used a Ruger M77 chambered for .280 Remington.

Dr. Ralph

We had a Stevens O/U .22-.410 too and it was my introduction to rim fires. Ithaca 37 featherweight 20 ga. came in as an upgrade for my single barrel around age 16 when my brother got a Franchi semi-auto 12.

On another note my older brother was offered the same opportunities as I but never really enjoyed the outdoors. My youngest son is a carbon copy of myself and if he is not fishing he is shooting. His older brother would rather play on the computer and thinks fishing and hunting are boring but is always up for a trip to the range for massive ammunition consumption. It's another one of those genetic predisposition things that environment has no great affect upon if given the appropriate opportunities...

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