Introduce children to firearms with enthusiasm and joy mixed with respect both for the responsibilities firearms demand and individual persons deserve.
Everyone has seen the family in which some shoot and hunt, and others couldn’t care less. Much of this is inherent in individual personalities. You can fight it, but rarely beat it. So approach introducing Jacob and Jennifer to firearms with enthusiasm and joy mixed with respect both for the responsibilities firearms demand and individual persons deserve.
Any kid will be interested in what Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa do. If your family lives and breathes hunting and shooting, the kids will want to be part of it at some point, often and ideally quite early. So tell them uplifting stories about deer hunting done right, about famous woodsmen such as Dan Boone, hunter-conservationists such as Teddy Roosevelt, and local mysteries such as the Ghost Buck. Play stalking and hunting games, teaching gun safety all the while.
While having this brand of fun, always treat toy firearms — even if it’s just a stick — with respect. Emphasize how good hunters always carry guns safely. Don’t punish kids when they forget where a muzzle points as they engage enthusiastically in pretend hunts, but gently remind and encourage them to do it right.
During all of this, instruct kids that real firearms are adult tools, never playthings. Follow all safety rules in keeping guns and ammo secured from “unauthorized users.” If you can teach kids to not play with the kitchen gas range and Mom’s 4×4 truck, so can you teach them to not play with fire- arms. Google Eddie Eagle Safety for proven techniques for teaching gun safety.
Show kids real firearms so they don’t remain a juicy mystery. Use discretion about when to allow them to fire under tight adult control. Start with dry firing and trigger control, even if the gun is too long for proper mounting. You’re just teaching trigger control at this point and giving the kids a tiny taste of adult responsibility.
When a child is “doing it right,” move to actual firing (again, under hands-on adult control) of a no-recoil rimfire. Use effective hearing protection to prevent flinching and polycarbonate eye protection. Set up reactive targets so the kids see some results. Plenty of praise probably won’t be necessary. Popping a balloon or knocking over a can should be reward enough.
When a child is demonstrating responsible appreciation and handling of firearms, it might be time to gift them an air gun or youth-size .22 rimfire. Again, continue all use and firing under close adult supervision, but grant autonomy to match maturity. Stories about Grandpa being turned loose on the ranch with a .22 rimfire at age 8 without any injuries don’t necessarily mean this was a smart approach, and certainly might not be for your child.
WATCH: This Great Tool Can Improve Your Shooting Success
Rather than such a hands-off approach, plan a safer, more disciplined instructional process for your young shooters, but make it fun. Target competitions should appeal to more careful, disciplined kids. Those with ants in their pants, as we used to say, might get bored punching paper. Direct them to more active games involving moving targets. To wear off some of their excess energy safely, add running, jumping, crawling — obstacle course stuff — to the shoot, but with all guns staying safely at firing locations.
Just as 3D target courses work for archers, they can work for riflemen. Set up a safe “move through” range of knock over or flip up game targets. Set things up so looking, searching, even glassing and stalking become elements in the “hunt.” Kids love such “re-enactment” games.
Finally, reinforce firearms responsibility and the adult seriousness of handling firearms by making the kids help with clean up. Collect all shooting litter — even spent .22 rimfire cases if possible. Give the kids the job of unloading, double checking and securing all firearms and ammo. This is the perfect time to teach gun maintenance, too, by insisting on a wipe down of all metal parts to prevent rust. When it’s time to clean the guns, make sure the kids are right there, learning how it’s done safely and to keep firearms in good working order.
A balance of adventure stories, safety education, family games, supervised use and insistence on safe, responsible handling and respect of firearms should give your young charges every opportunity to embrace firearm use if it appeals to them — and respect firearms either way.