Three Tips for Parents Teaching Kids How to Shoot

You know the trick to training a dog? Buy the right dog. You know the trick to teaching a your child to shoot? Procreate with the right woman (I’m still waiting for Malin Akerman to return my Tweet). OK, yes, that ship has sailed (the whole fleet). Which leaves you working with what you got. In the video above, we’ve got a winner! Sweet kid. Attentive. Respectful. As any parent knows, that’s subject to change without notice. So my pre-tip tip: make sure your kid’s in the mood for instruction when you take them shooting. If they’re not, forget it. Stop. Leave it for another day, year or child. They may come around when you threaten to pull the plug but make NOT teaching your kid the default option. Right, here are three ideas for transferring your firearms-related wisdom and experience to your young ‘un . . .

1. No octopus hands!

Preparing, loading and shooting a gun may be second nature to you, but it’s a complicated business for a kid. Notice the sequence of events above. The sprog reaches for the gun. The elder takes it, releases the slide and thumbs-on the safety with one hand while the kid’s watching. Then the duo’s hands are all over the piece.

Dad says “the safety’s on” as he switches the safety off. Huh? The kid says “wait.” It’s all happening too fast. “Can’t really get my hand on the trigger,” she says. Dad ignores the comment. Various hands go on and off the gun. After the shot, hands come off the gun in no particular order.

The trick to avoiding this potentially dangerous confusion: slow WAY down. Make firing the gun a clear, orderly ritual. Talk it though from beginning to end. Use the same words each and every time. Something like this . . .

“I’m putting one cartridge into the magazine, pushing down on the spring and sliding the cartridge down and forward. See that? I’m inserting the magazine into the gun. Did you hear it click? I’m keeping the gun pointed downrange at all times. I’m racking the slide. Notice that the safety is now on. Can you see the safety? Is it up or down? Is it on or off?

“I’m holding the gun in my left hand, pointed downrange. Sit down here slowly and put your left hand over mine. I’m bringing my right hand onto the gun. Put your right hand over mine, keeping your finger off the trigger.

“Grip my hands firmly. Are you comfortable? Good When I say ‘now’ rest your right finger on the trigger. Do not pull the trigger. Do you understand? Good. Now.

“When I say now again I want you to gently squeeze the trigger. After you squeeze the trigger stay still and just remove your finger from the trigger. Nothing else. Do you understand?

“Now. Good. Finger off the trigger. Stay still. You OK? Look down the sights at the target. Can you see where you bullet went? No? Doesn’t matter. Take your right hand off the gun. Good. Take your left hand off the gun.

“I’m holding the gun in my left hand. I’m pushing the button that drops the magazine. I’m checking the chamber. I’m laying the gun down on the table with the muzzle facing downrange and the empty chamber facing up.

“Look at the empty magazine well and look at the chamber. Is the gun clear and safe? Do we keep it pointed downrange? Good. Let’s check to make sure no one else is on the firing line.

“THE RANGE IS COLD. Is there anyone else on the firing line? OK, let’s go see how you did!”

2. Constantly reinforce muzzle discipline

The young lady in the video above cites the Eddie the Eagle doctrine: don’t touch an unattended gun. Tell a parent or adult. Great landing wrong airport. She’s with a parent and she’s touching a gun. She needs to learn the rules that apply to handling and firing a gun. Actually, she only needs one.

Yes, I know: there are four safety rules. But kids aren’t good at remembering four of anything and muzzle discipline is the one rule to rule them all. If the gun is aimed in a safe direction the chances of someone getting hurt are lower than the chances of the aforementioned Swede’s response to my electronic enquiry.

Just hammer away at it. Is the gun aimed in a safe direction? Where is the safe direction? Why is it a safe direction? Where would be an unsafe direction? Would it be safe is someone was walking way back there? Does it matter if the gun is loaded or unloaded?

Don’t let your kids treat firearms safety rules like their times tables: something they repeat automatically. Make sure they learn them one at a time and think about each one.  And not just on the range. Hit ‘em with questions at random times.

3. Cherish their targets

You want your child to take pride in their shooting. So they should “own” their target; it’s physical proof of their growing prowess. If you treat the target as important, so will they. Make your targets awesome!

For one thing, give your kid their own target, something that they’ve chosen. Splatter targets are way cool. So are hand-drawn circles. Whatever target you choose make sure you write the day, their name, their age, the distance, gun used, caliber and other details after they’ve perforated it.

For another, display the targets in your home with pride, like an art work from school. Use the target as a springboard to conversation. What do you want to try next time? Further away? Different gun? Was that a lucky shot? I bet you Mom couldn’t do that? Should we make a bet?

And lastly, have them mime the shot for Mom (or someone). Get them in the right stance, talk to them about breathing, pretending to shoot. Better yet, see if they can talk you through the entire process. What should I do first? Now what? Put your finger in an unsafe direction. See if they call you out on it.

When it comes to teaching kids gun safety, that’s non-negotiable. When it comes to teaching kids how to enjoy shooting and do it well, well, I’m thinking it’s nature not nurture. But as long as it’s done with love and safety, in the reverse order, I reckon it’s all good.

How’d that work out for you?

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About Robert Farago

Robert Farago is the Publisher of The Truth About Guns (TTAG). He started the site to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

39 Responses to Three Tips for Parents Teaching Kids How to Shoot

  1. avatarKen says:

    Cute kid. My son is about the same age. He’s not interested in shooting a gun yet (unless there’s a computer mouse attached to it!) ;)

    • avatarJerryboy says:

      “introduce you children to gun culture, before hollywood, the media, and video games do”.

      you should always start your kids with the non-electronic variant of the firearm. they must know that what comes out of the end of the gun can AND WILL hurt or kill someone. while i love a good violent video game, i personally advise not introducing children to shooter video games until they’ve been shooting a real gun for at least fives years, or at least until they’re in their mid teens. at that point they should have the basic maturity to understand that what is happening onscreen isn’t real but what happens when handling a real firearm is.

  2. avatarChris McLain says:

    Shouldn’t he have been showing her how to shoot a double barreled shotgun in the air?

  3. avatarmlopilato says:

    Pre-pre tip tip tip: make sure you at least tell the wife or husband first.

  4. avatarMoonshine says:

    Nice post, Robert. My kids hang their most recent targets in their rooms. Kinda fun when I hear their friends ask, “Did you shoot that?”

  5. avatarDaveL says:

    I’d recommend covering the basics using a long gun – it’s harder to mess up muzzle discipline to a dangerous degree, especially if you get them shooting from the prone. It’s also much easier to get those encouraging bullseyes, all else being equal, than standing or sitting with a handgun.

    • avatarmountocean says:

      For smaller kids I’ve seen parents at the range add a bipod to said long-gun. That way the rifle stays on the bench pointed down range. All your rug-rat has to do is shoulder, aim, fire, set strait down. Of course, as soon as they’re able I’m all for taking off the “training wheels” so they can develop proper gun handling, but for small kids and the first couple range trips for anyone it’s seemed like a good way to keep the muzzle under control.

  6. avatarChuckN says:

    Well, there’s one girl I won’t worry too much about when
    the dating scene starts. Great post.

  7. avatarRalph says:

    And don’t start ‘em too young. “Too young” differs from kid to kid. Some youngsters are ready at five, some at ten, some are barely ready when they enter basic training.

    The best training gun for a young kid is IMO a .22, bolt action, single shot rifle, like the Henry Mini Bolt youth rifle. It shoots everything from shorts to long rifle and weighs 3 1/4 pounds. Even a really young child can operate it safely and hit what they’re aiming at. For $260 list, it’s affordable and looks good, too.

    • avatarg says:

      +1

      My first gun was a bolt action .22 Chipmunk rifle. I was a happy kid, Christmas day.

    • avatarAnon in CT says:

      some are barely ready when they enter basic training.

      And some are so not ready even when they enter basic training. Which is what made being an instructor so much fun.

      • avatarBilly Wardlaw says:

        I will NEVER forget watching my D.I. yank a rifle by the barrel out a kids hands and beat him senseless with a cleaning rod, into the bottom of a fox hole, for flagging him and the entire range with his M16 after a FTF.

  8. avatarmike chandler says:

    theres a lot of good info in this one. my daughter is 6 and just got a pink crickett .22. right now shes on powderless primers and this gives us alot more things to work on and the reward style of hanging them up adds some more fun to it. bunch of good ideas here.

    • avatarLucas D. says:

      You can use primer-only .22s in rifle? The guy who sold them to me said said to only use them in pistols and I didn’t want to call his bluff.

      Welp, if a .22 Chipmunk or Cricket is short enough for them to come out the other end, that’s good news for my niece.

      • avatarmike chandler says:

        she’s went thru 15 or so and i put 15 thru my savage 62. no harm yet. it just rimfire so i dont know what would be different. its still a long rifle shell so it fits the same. goes about 30 yards but wont penetrate chip board.

        i just googled it and theres some comment of the bullet not coming out of the rifle , so if i dont here it hot the wood i will inspect before i load another. ill just have to pay attention. the guy at the gun shop said he uses them in hi kids rifles all the time with no issues. i love in town so they are awesome.

    • avatarSid says:

      My son shoots a Crickett .22LR and we use the low noise bullets. The problem with those is that the charge is not sufficient to cycle my daughter’s 10-22. But primer only out of a long rifle is a bad idea. The manufacturer warns against it. A plugged barrel is not a good thing.

  9. avatarJohnny Dough says:

    Yeah, yeah, kids guns… Can we talk about your taste in women for a moment? Broaden your horizons away from the blonde broomhandles for a post or two. How about a Rachel Weisz, a Kate Winslet, or perhaps a Beyonce? Something for those of us that prefer a Garand silhouette to a Glock.

  10. avatarg says:

    Great tips, ones that my Dad sort of incorporated when he taught me to shoot. Funny enough, the training actually started waaaaaaaay before I ever put my hand on a real gun – my father had bought a couple of water guns the summer before he taught me (including a rifle-sized water gun), and worked in teaching the 4 rules. By the time I was ready for the real deal, my mind was already fertile ground for learning the actual mechanics of shooting a small, bolt action 22 rifle.

    One other fun thing to add to letting kids keep and post their own targets: my dad would let me keep a few of my shell casings and tape them to the target. I was fascinated by the various kinds of 22 cases, and he would also let me keep casings from the guns he would shoot too – .38 special, .357 magnum, 9mm, 12 gauge, etc. Of course, we would only collect brass when the range was cold, but I used to take great pride in finding a perfect casing, with firing pin mark exactly in the middle, undented sides…

  11. avatarThe Smiling Swordsman says:

    My first target was a Cherry Coke can. I remember being really proud that I shot the can right through the “O” in Coke. On purpose of course. ;)

  12. avatarPascal says:

    I would rather that children start with single shot 22lr rifles to teach the basics. A Savage Rascal or Mk I G, Henry Single Shot or even the single shot available through CMP.

    Not sure I would start out with a 9mm handgun even with supervision.

  13. avatarCharlie says:

    I got to the part where he was passing off the pistol to her. Couldn’t watch any more.

    That guy has no business letting an 8 year old shoot a semi pistol, much less a .45! Want to teach her bad habits? That’s exactly the way to do it!

    My dad did the same thing. At 7 or 8 he had me shooting 30-06 and 12 ga. What it “taught” me was a flinch reflex that took years of training to get rid of!

    Start ‘em out on a .22 LR bolt single rifle. No loud noise, no recoil, maximum safety. Make it fun! Work it up from there. That’s what I did with my kids, and today they shoot as good as me.

    Charlie

    • avatarErik says:

      First off the pistol was a 9x19mm not a .45.

      second, what guns other parents start their children on is none of your concern, it’s obvious she’s under proper supervision and has basics down. This guy has every business in teaching his kid to shoot whatever gun he wants to teach her to shoot, it’s his kid, not yours.

      • avatarCharlie says:

        I don’t care if it’s a 9X19 or a 7.62X25. It’s a centerfire semi pistol, and my comments stand as written.

        You do it your way, and I’ll do it mine. And don’t whine at me when your kids can’t hit a can at 10 feet. That OK with you, buddy?

        • avatarLucas D. says:

          Not that you don’t have a point about starting them off small, but… They’re doing it their way and you’re doing it yours. No one’s going to whine to you because nobody put you in charge of teaching their kids.

  14. avatarIng says:

    Good stuff.

    Looking back on the past couple-to-three years as I’ve taught my kids how to shoot (and retaught myself, recalling what I learned 25 years ago in Boy Scouts), I guess I did it mostly right. At least, my son loves shooting and goes with me almost every weekend. My daughter has had a couple of fun outings and learned the bare basics, but just isn’t as interested, so we leave it at that; an open invitation, but no pressure.

    I started them off with two safety rules: point the gun in a safe direction and keep your finger away from the trigger. The rest of the rules came up naturally as they were learning to use the guns.

    We started with rifles, not pistols — a Marlin model 60 semiauto and Henry lever-action .22. At first I did the loading and handling, and I talked them through the process as I went. Then I had them tell me what to do next (while I did it) until they had it down, and then they got to hold the rifle and we talked the process through as they did it themselves. They both take pride in doing it themselves and doing it safely. When we’re out shooting, we all keep tabs on each other (did you check for empty? safety on? okay…).

    They both have keepsake targets. My daughter keeps the first pop can she ever shot right next to her Littlest Pet Shop toys on her bookshelf. My son prominently displays a 30-30 casing that he plugged with his Henry .22 to win a $5 bet with me. Ah, good times.

  15. avatarDan says:

    Actually, the advice about slowing down is great for introducing ANY new shooter to firearms. Thanks. :-)

  16. avatarJB says:

    I haven’t taught my kids yet, but I think I have seen an example of what not to do. At an indoor range a couple of months ago a parent was basically playing drill instructor with his young child and an AR-15. When you’re screaming “pull the trigger” to a 9-10 year old IMHO you’ve gone too far.

  17. avatarWhatAboutBob says:

    My son (7) isn’t ready yet, but when he is, it will be in this order….

    Bow and arrow, probably at camp.
    Pellet rifle with iron sights at my club’s rifle range, so he can see what it’s all about, and what he will earn when he shows he knows the rules.
    22lr bolt rifle with iron sights
    Ruger Mark 1 with iron sights

    I don’t think starting with a 9mm pistol is a good idea, would have scared the shit out of me at that age. Working this progression keeps it fun, and allows positive reinforcement. Not telling anyone what to do, but it seems like common sense.

    I’m already teaching him about not pointing at things he wouldn’t want to hit with a real gun and pointing in safe directions. Healthy respect.

    • avatarNWGlocker says:

      Great suggestions and a useful thread. Thanks guys. My daughter is already learning some “muzzle” control since she’s shooting suction cup bow and arrows, not to mention water pistols. She needs constant reminders of safe directions.

  18. avatarWA_2A says:

    IMHO the best “beginner gun” would be a revolver (K-Frame) in .22 or .38 special; start off w/ single-action and gradually move to DA. When it’s time to “graduate” to a semi-auto get something like a Ruger SR-22 or 22/45, or any other semi-auto .22.

  19. avatarVolgunner says:

    While parents should be the first source of firearms training, wouldn’t it be revolutionary for schools — all of them — to be required to teach firearms training to all children as part of instruction in “civics”? Imagine a Second Amendment Academy . . .

  20. avatarVolgunner says:

    Shouldn’t all schools be required to teach firearms training to all kids as part of the “civics” curriculum? Imagine a Second Amendment Academy . . .

  21. I was not fortunate enough to be brought up with guns and taught by a parent. I learned about guns when I decided to buy one at 26 years old, just before my birthday (in NJ of all places). A little over a year later I am fairly proficient with my two handguns and .22 rifle primarily through self taught instruction, I’ve gotten my gf to accept and enjoy firearms, enjoyed shooting and learning with my roommate who has been a gun owner a little longer than me, and it’s incredible how much more knowledgable and passionate I have become about the constitution and this great country.

  22. avatarPublius says:

    Started at Boy Scout camp in the early 1960s. It had a range for Marksmanship merit badge, with instruction/supervision by a Marine corporal on loan for the summer (or perhaps he was paid). As you’d expect, no bullshit on his range.

    The rifles were .22lr single-shot, bolt action jobs — a mix of (I think) Remington, Winchester, and maybe an Iver Johnson, too.

    We were charged a penny a round. As allowances weren’t generous for most of us, taking Marksmanship merit badge imposed a personal cost beyond mere effort. But it did help reinforce the message: Take your time, learn it right, shoot well the first time.

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