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three guns for gifts
Find a shotgun your kid will enjoy hunting with for years and holidays to come. Field & Stream

At the clays range, at the clinics where I help train new shotgunners, and on the first day of trap practice for the high school team I coach, I see kids holding guns that fit them like last year’s pants. Most are 12- to 14-year-olds with 20-gauge youth-model Remington 870s or Mossberg Model 500s. The guns are too short and kick too hard.

Where did they get these guns? From you, their parents, who put one under the tree a year or two earlier. You didn’t think you were doing anything wrong, but there is a better way.

If you are starting kids very young—say, in third or fourth grade—those light youth pumps may be the only guns they can lift. However, most kids aren’t big enough to start shooting shotguns at flying targets until they weigh around 85 pounds (usually in the fifth or sixth grade). At that point, they’re on the verge of outgrowing most youth-model shotguns. Why not get it right the first time and pick a gun a child can grow into?

Stock Options

The problem with youth guns is that barrels don’t stretch. Stocks are easy to lengthen, but before long, that 21-inch barrel that was easy for a new shooter to handle will be way too short to swing anywhere but the turkey woods.Most kids can shoot longer, heavier guns than you, or they, think they can. A 26-inch barrel isn’t a problem once they learn how to hold the gun correctly, and it’s much easier to hit with. Have a gunsmith cut the stock down if it’s necessary and reattach the end when the shooter grows. If it’s synthetic, buy a shorter one.

At least one manufacturer understands that kids outgrow guns quickly. Browning’s Micro Midas series of youth guns (Citori o/u, BPS pump, Silver semiauto) all come with 24- or 26-inch barrels, short stocks, and a certificate for 50 percent off the price of a full-size stock as the young shooter grows.

Pain at the Pump

Light 20-gauge pump actions kick sharply even with regular 7⁄8-ounce loads. I have seen kids using them start to flinch and lift their heads after only a few shots. The best gun for a new shooter to learn on is a semiauto. Both of my sons began with gas-operated Remington 1100s. Shooting guns that didn’t hurt made it fun—and easy for them to learn to keep their heads on the stock.

A gas semiauto doesn’t have to cost a ton of money. Weatherby’s SA-08 is light and slim, and it lists for $649 in wood and $499 in synthetic. The Remington 11-87 Sportsman comes in a 3-inch 20-gauge with a 26-inch barrel in wood ($815) and synthetic ($649) models. Moving up in price, Winchester’s Super X4 Compact ($939) comes in 20 gauge with a short length of pull and a 24-, 26-, or 28-inch barrel. The nearly identical Browning Micro Midas Silver ($1,159) comes with a 24- or 26-inch barrel. The last two may seem expensive, but your kid can shoot these guns into adulthood.

Beretta and TriStar both offer innovative, lightweight 20 gauge gas guns that grow at both ends. Short barrels are easier to handle before young shooters develop upper body strength, but don’t swing well when the kids grow bigger and stonger. The Beretta A400 Lite Compact Synthetic ($1500) has two stock spacers that let you alter length up to 1 ½ inches, and it has an 1 ½ inch threaded barrel extension, too. The TriStar Viper G2 Youth (about $500) comes with both a youth and fullsize stock and a barrel extension.

Lots of people shy away from semiautos for kids, fearing that the child will get a case of auto finger and empty the gun rather than making one good shot. The solution is simple: Dole out one shell at a time for the first year or two. That’s what I did with my sons. I was always at their side with another shell at the ready. That’s as it should be, because the gun itself is only part of the gift. It’s also the promise that you will be there to take your son or daughter shooting and hunting.

Top Picks

Browning Micro Midas Silver: Stocks are shorter, and you’ll get half off the price of a full-size stock.

Weatherby SA-08: Slender, lightweight, with a choice of stocks and a low price.

A400 Lite Compact Synthetic: Stock spacers and a barrel extension let this lightweight semiauto accommodate young and old shooters alike.

TriStar Viper G2 Youth: Interchangeable youth and adult stocks plus a barrel extension equal an affordable starter gun you can’t outgrow.