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THE FIRST TIME I ever pulled a trigger–on an Iver Johnson single-tube 12-gauge–rocked my world. As my ears rang, my dad walked over with a steel Pepsi-Cola can, ragged with shot holes. For 46 years I have dragged that keepsake from childhood home to college dorm to my various domiciles. And I’ve never stopped shooting. Now I have two young kids of my own, and the three of us have learned a few things about how to make target shooting a safe and fun way of spending time together. What works for us should work for you.

GO BY THE BOOK. Your child will remember every aspect of these early shooting lessons, so don’t cut corners. Make a show of pulling the gun out of the safe, checking the safety, and walking around the backstop. Explain your thought processes as your hand closes around the gun: “I’m pointing the muzzle in a safe direction. I’m checking the breech to make sure the gun is unloaded. I’m keeping my finger off the trigger.”

SIMPLIFY THE RULES. The 10 Commandments of Gun Safety remain sacrosanct, and you should school young shooters on every one of them. In the field, however, I reduce them to three easily remembered rules that we practically chant each time one of my kids holds a gun: Safety on. Trigger finger off. Muzzle up.

EMBRACE THE MODERN AGE. I learned to shoot with iron sights. I also walked to school barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways. I struggled with the heretical nature of this decision, but I’m introducing my children to scoped rifles early in the process. It’s more likely to make them want to shoot more often. We live in the city, so target shooting is hardly a daily activity. I want to maximize the safety and pleasure.

GET CREATIVE WITH SAFE TARGETS. Paper targets are indispensable for teaching the finer points of accuracy. But they’re not as much fun as water-filled balloons, ice cubes made from Kool-Aid, or bobbleheads. Our current fave? McDonald’s Happy Meals characters: Mr. Incredible, Bratz dolls, Babe the Pig, Hercules’all of them shot to bits. But a word of caution with unorthodox targets: Ever and always, be sure of your backstop.

GEAR TIP: Young Gun
At 4½ pounds, the Ruger 10/22 Compact settles nicely between small hands. A 12¾-inch length of pull is about right; shave off 1½ inches with Brownells’ Ruger 10/22 Youth stock ($82;, which comes with or without a raised cheekpiece for rifles with scopes.