It’s no secret that passing down our hunting legacy to the next generation is a critical factor in preserving the sport we love. Some of my best memories are of time spent in the field with my father, and now that I have children of my own, I’m making plans to take them to the field when I feel they are ready.
Part of children’s development as hunters involves learning safe gun-handling practices, and that’s much harder for them to accomplish when they’re trying to wrangle a firearm that’s too big and too heavy for them. When I was coaching 4-H Shooting Sports, one of the primary issues I encountered while teaching young children to shoot safely is that they simply couldn’t handle the firearm they had brought along. Because the average full-sized firearm is engineered to fit the average full-sized hunter, those kids were perpetually frustrated as they tried to mount, swing and fire a gun that was built for an adult.
Today, however, there are many well-built, economical rifles and shotguns designed specifically for youth hunters and shooters. These guns are lighter and have shortened lengths of pull and barrels so that they’re more manageable for kids.
If you’re planning to introduce a kid to the hunting and shooting sports, take a look at these 11 youth options.
Weatherby’s affordable Vanguard rifles look good, and they are backed by a sub-MOA accuracy guarantee. The Synthetic Compact version features a durable, black, synthetic stock with a stock spacer that allows you to adjust length of pull from 12½ inches to 13 5/8 inches, so this rifle can grow along with your young shooter. The three-position safety allows the rifle to be loaded and unloaded with the safety engaged, and the two-stage trigger is light enough so even the youngest shooters can quickly master trigger control. This 6½-pound rifle sports a 20-inch #1 contour barrel, and it is available in .243 Win., 6.5 Creedmoor, 7mm-08 and .308 Win.
Winchester’s XPR Compact offers the same push-feed action as the full-sized XPR with a shortened (13-inch) stock. The black, synthetic stock and Perma-Cote finish on the metalwork make this bolt-action impervious to the elements; and the two-position safety with bolt unlock button allows the rifle to be cycled with the safety engaged. The field-ready Compact Combo model, which debuted in 2018, comes with a Vortex Crossfire II 3-9×40 scope. Available chamberings include .243 Win., 6.5 Creedmoor, 7mm-08 and .308 Win., as well as the .270 Win. and .300 Winchester Short Mags.
Mossberg undoubtedly offers one of the most extensive lines of firearms for young shooters, and the brand’s 5-pound 510 Youth Mini Super Bantam .410 offers a 10½-inch length of pull that will work with even the youngest, smallest hunters. There’s an included stock spacer that allows length of pull to be extended to 11½ inches. This entire gun is covered with Mossy Oak Break-Up Country camo. The Youth Mini Bantam offers the flexibility of a 3-inch .410 chamber, and the tang safety is easy to reach for both right- and left-handed kids.
The Stevens 301 is a break-action, single-shot, hammer-fired shotgun that’s available in .410 bore and 12- and 20-gauge. Lightweight (the .410 model weighs just 4.8 pounds) and simple in its design, the 301 is an ideal gun for a young hunter. Unlike many other single-shot shotguns with exposed hammers, the Stevens comes with a manual safety on the left side of the receiver that’s easy to operate. There’s nothing fancy about this gun; it comes with a black, synthetic stock, plain bead front sight and absolutely no frills. Nevertheless, for a youth field gun, it’s just right. Plus, it’s priced affordably.
Ruger’s controlled round feed, bolt-action rifles have a long and successful history in America’s game fields, and the new Hawkeye Laminate Compact offers that same time-tested CRF action in a shortened version that’s ideal for young shooters. With its 16½-inch barrel and 12½-inch length of pull, the Hawkeye Laminate Compact measures fewer than 3 feet long and weighs approximately 6 pounds, making it a manageable hunting rifle for even the smallest shooters. The black, laminate stock and matte stainless metal finish make this gun impervious to the elements. The LC6 trigger is excellent. Chambered in .243 Win., 7mm-08 and .308, the accurate and dependable Hawkeye Laminate Compact should be on your short list of best youth rifles.
A few years ago, Stevens introduced a budget-friendly over/under shotgun. Known as the 555, this stack barrel offered everything upland hunters wanted—a solid boxlock action, good trigger, interchangeable chokes and excellent balance—without any of the frills that drive up cost. Now, Stevens has released a compact version of the 555 that comes with a short, 13.25-inch length of pull. The scaled receiver is made from aluminum alloy with steel inserts in the breech, and the 24-inch barrels are just the right size to maintain a front-of-receiver balance point. Plus, the Turkish walnut stock looks great for a gun in this price range. It’s available in 20- and 28-gauge and .410.
Many young shooters get their start with a single-shot .22, so the new Purple Rascal from Savage is an excellent choice for the child who’s learning to handle a firearm for the first time or heading to the woods to try to bag a squirrel or cottontail. The diminutive Purple Rascal weighs in at just 2.66 pounds and measures 31.5 inches, making it manageable for almost any child. The aperture sight is easy to adjust, and there’s a manual safety as well. If your child isn’t a fan of purple, there are plenty of other stock color options.
The Cynergy line of over/under shotguns is reliable and robust, and parents looking to buy their child a great hunting gun that serves equally well for trap, skeet and sporting clays competitions need look no further than the Cynergy Micro Midas. The Cynergy’s low-profile boxlock action lends itself to a compact design, and it comes standard with a black walnut stock, silver nitride receiver, gold-plated trigger, three choke tubes and much more. The 20-gauge model with 24-inch barrels weighs just 6 pounds, so it’s manageable for anyone; and the superb balance of this gun makes it ideal for kids who are serious about competition shooting.
The Patriot Youth Super Bantam combines Mossberg’s push-feed rifle action with a shortened synthetic stock and a 20-inch barrel. Weighing in at just 6½ pounds, this gun is light enough for kids to carry yet heavy enough to help them manage recoil efficiently. Standard length of pull is 12 inches, but there’s an included spacer that can increase length of pull to 13 inches as your young shooter grows. There are many caliber options. Each of these rifles comes with scope bases and an LBA-bladed, adjustable trigger. The many stock color options include black, Muddy Girl camo and Kryptek Highlander (shown here).
One of the hallmarks of Winchester’s updated SX4 shotgun line is the use of high-strength polymers. These high-tech polymers are not only stronger than the aluminum alloy parts they replace, they’re also lighter. As a result, the SX4 Compact 12-gauge semiauto weighs just 6 pounds, 8 ounces, with a 24inch barrel. The Active Valve gas operation system is reliable and helps lessen felt recoil, so this 12-gauge won’t kick the daylights out of a new shooter. Recoil is further reduced via a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad. The SX4 Compact comes with three choke tubes and a rugged, synthetic stock that can handle a lot of abuse.
Unlike some of the other guns listed here, the 110 Lightweight Storm was not expressly designed as a youth model. However, because it incorporates the new Savage AccuFit system that comes with five comb risers and four length of pull spacers, you can customize the fit of this rifle to accommodate just about any shooter. A lightweight polymer stock, fluted bolt and short, 20-inch barrel all help keep weight to a minimum, so these guns weigh in at around 5½ pounds. The crisp AccuTrigger is smooth and crisp, and the tang-mounted safety is conveniently positioned. Plus, if the accuracy potential in this rifle is up to Savage’s high standards—which it almost certainly is—you can expect to print small groups on paper. Available chamberings include .223 Rem, 6.5 Creedmoor, .270 Win., 7mm-08 and .308 Win.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the June 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.