I'm going to throw out some ideas on youth rifles for deer hunting. Maybe we'll get a conversation going. Maybe not. This is just like the previous thread about deer rifles. It is about time to be thinking of what Junior's going to be shooting this year for yute season. You know: yutes. The yutes go out with their little yute rifles and shoot da deer wit dem.
Anyone who wants to go out and get a new store-bought youth deer rifle for their kid is welcome to. There are a lot of them out there-- short stocked, short barreled rifles in classic yute offerings like .243 WIN. If you have the scratch and the will to do this, by all means do. If you plan on making it the official family first-rifle and pass it down from young-un to young-un, it will probably pay for itself.
I did not go this route. For one thing, I did not have a lot of money to throw at dedicated yute rifles. I had two sons who wanted into the sport. They were big kids. They were going to be starting at 10 and outgrowing their rifles by 12 or 13. I wanted an interim fix.
The most important issue with picking a yute rifle is recoil. If the yute flinches, it's all over. That doesn't mean that you should go out and buy the rifle with the least recoil. It means that you just need to be concerned. It means it might be a good idea to start the yute out shooting a .223 Rem or something of that ilk to get them accustomed to the functioning of a centerfire rifle and gradually build up to a reasonable amount of recoil. It may mean waiting an extra year. At these ages, it is not as important to take a deer. Kids just want to be out hunting with you. Pulling the trigger is not as important as you think. Do not force the issue. The important thing is to go slowly. A lot of the recoil problem is solved through proper stock fit. However, this is a moving target. What fits them at 7 does not usually fit at 10.
Selection of venue is also very important. A yute out in the woods, sitting on a stump and shooting at deer offhand requires a rifle that can be shot by the yute offhand. If the yute is going to be up a tree in a stand with a shooting rail, he can be shooting a much heavier rifle. If he will be shooting off the sill of the window of a hunting blind or shooting off sticks or shooting out of the back of the barn off a folding card table, it is a considerably different than hefting a rifle and keeping it steady while unsupported. My recommendation is towards fixed positions. I weaned both kids on hunting blinds and then moved them to buddy-style ladder tree stands with fixed rails as soon as they were able to handle the height.
There are a lot of things that can fill the role of a yute rifle, given a little ingenuity. A 20 GA semi-auto shotgun with a skeet barrel is a great first yute gun. 20 GA slug is a potent deer killer close in. So is a Mini-14 or a Mini-30 or an SKS. You just need to be creative. Unless the yute is shooting offhand, you can get them a heavier rifle and let them use a prop. Both of my sons started with a Marlin 336 in 30-30 WIN. It had a naturally short stock. It had an external hammer that let Dad know the state of the action at a glance. It has been an ideal yute rifle for my kids. #2 son graduated to an M1 Garand after 2 season. What's a 12 year old doing with a 10 lb rifle? Easy-- bigger rifle, less recoil. It did not matter that it weighed so much carrying it out to the stand. Where it mattered was that between the weight and the gas-operated action, the Garand is a pussycat to shoot.
So what about all these marginal cartridges I mentioned: 223 REM? 7.62X39? Yes, they are okay, but you have to be willing to limit the kid's range. Be thinking about extended bow-hunting ranges. Nail a deer with a 223 REM, a 7.62X39, a 44 Mag rifle, or some such round and that deer will go down-- provided the yute has made a good shot. Bad shots with any of these cartridges are going to get lousy results, but then they probably would have been lousy with a 30-06. These are not going to be beanfield rifles. For any yute rifle, be thinking about finding a venue that offers a 20-50 yard shot for the kid's first deer.
So what about semi-auto guns? Yes, they do offer a challenge for the supervising adult. However, there are a couple of tips I would recommend for any yute rifle. First, limit the number of rounds. My kids started with 3 rounds. That is the number of rounds I usually load as well. Sure, the magazine will hold 5, but after 3 shots you probably should take a break and re-think your strategy. With a semi, you might want to start the kid off with just 2 rounds. Honestly, I have had over a decade's experience with kids and rifles. Basic firearm safety is basic firearm safety. If the child cannot be trusted with a Mini 14 loaded with 5 rounds, he should not be trusted with any firearm. The other tips I can give you is fairly basic as well: Do not trust safeties. My kids started with a lever with three in the magazine. When the deer showed up, they worked the action and brought a round into the chamber. Unless it was showtime, my yutes never had a hot one up the spout.
So let's just say that I have been somewhat unconvincing. You don't want Junior out popping his first with your grouse gun and slugs. You want a yute rifle, but you don't want to spend a whole lot of money. Here is my advice: buy a used adult rifle in a caliber Junior can handle and buy a youth stock for it. Spend an extra $50 for an inexpensive Tupperware stock. It is quite a bit better in my mind than finding a youth rifle and then trying to find an adult-sized stock for it later on. My reasoning is simple: The yute is going to grow quickly, and be needing that adult stock in seemingly no time. In the interim, a little extra barrel will improve the stability of the rifle.
What was my ideal yute rifle? I tried a bunch of things. Most of them I have already described. Out of all of them, I liked the Marlin 336 in 30-30 Win as the starter rifle for both my yutes. As I mentioned previously, I liked the exposed hammer. It made it very easy to see what state the rifle was in. I liked the range; inside 50 yards 30-30 is a death ray. The kids liked the recoil and the fit of the stock. It was an adult rifle that fit both of them beginning at age 10. If I were not reloading, this would be my only pick.
My second choice for an ideal ersatz yute rifle was a Mosin Nagant M44 . This was a $60 bolt-action rifle. The rounds were that funky 7.62X54R, but I reload so it was no problem for me to buy the dies, some brass and some .311 bullets. I lopped off an inch of stock, removed the bayonet, and put on a recoil pad. The case of the 7.62X54R is like a rimmed version of a .308 Win with totally eccentric dimensions. Using H4895 powder I loaded up loads that mimicked a 30-30 WIN, a 300 Savage and a 308 WIN. All three were decent deer killers. I also bought a second stock for the M44 for about $25, so that I could restore this horribly bubba'd - up rifle when it's yute hunting days were through.
If you reload and you're interested in reloading for yutes, the Youth Load section of Hodgdon.com is a great reference. Basically H4895 is THE powder for youth loads. It is a medium-burning powder that can still give consistent velocities when loaded well below the maximum. The yute load listed for the 30-06 is roughly the same specs as a 30-30 WIN. If you can reload, seriously think about coupling this with my idea of the adult rifle and the additional yute stock. Buy junior a 30-06, or whatever you'd like to buy him for his 18th birthday. Order a Tupperware yute stock for it, and couple it with some nice yute loads from the Hodgdon site. One deer rifle, 10 years or so worth of use, and the kid walks away with his first adult deer rifle. You keep the yute stock at your house, start hitting the pawn shops to look for a good deal on something to fill it and begin dreaming of grand kids.