Getting kids involved in hunting and shooting sports actually starts way before they ever put their hands on a gun, Derrick says. Bringing kids along on hunts or to the range from an early age lets them be involved in the whole process, without the focus solely on shooting. They get a taste for what hunting really is – the stalking, the sitting, the glassing, the waiting, the woodsmanship and more. Highlighting a recent hunt for Aoudad where he took his son Rhyder along, Derrick says that the hunt was a great opportunity to talk to his son about the wind and other elements of the hunt and explain why it is that hunters have to be mindful of wind direction and scent. By letting kids experience all the aspects of a hunt with you, they begin to understand that hunting is more than just shooting. It lets them build a natural interest in hunting and shooting sports and develop their passion and intrigue without pressure.
Being around hunting and shooting sports, where guns are present, is a good way to start destigmatizing and/or demystifying firearms. Frequent exposure to firearms makes them less taboo. The ability for kids to ask questions, talk about guns and handle them under supervision goes a long way in demystifying them. Derrick says that because he is a gun builder, his son has been around firearms his entire life. As a result of that frequent exposure, guns have never been taboo and he didn’t have to demystify them for his son, as it happened more naturally. However, he notes that in the world we live in today, unfortunately guns do carry a certain stigma, so teachers and mentors have to be aware of that and address it with young learners.
Where should kids start? Derrick says that Nerf guns are a good gateway for really young children to start with. He says he got his son a bolt action style Nerf gun and let him shoot taxidermy on the walls, targets and more. From there, he graduated Rhyder to a BB gun. While most of us have experience with BB guns, Derrick says the caveat is that they are not made to fit a kid. They often have a really long length of pull, heavy triggers and an oddly designed comb that doesn’t lend itself well to shouldering and aiming proficiently. As a result, he moved his son on to a .22 quickly. The move from a BB gun to a .22 long rifle can cause some parents to want to set extra safeguards in place, one of which happens to be a heavier trigger. Derrick says that a heavy trigger is a bad idea. A heavy trigger has its own implications that can impede accuracy. Starting his son off with a normal 2 ½ pound trigger, Derrick notes he wasn’t scared of it, he can anticipate when it’s going to go off, he doesn’t flinch, he doesn’t pull through it and as a result he is able to make more shots. Instead of using a heavy trigger as a safety measure, being an active and engaged instructor can be far more effective. Derrick says that teaching muzzle awareness and control is important so that kids understand that they need to be in control of where their gun is pointed at all times. In addition, he says parents/mentors/teachers should also hammer home other safety minded aspects like helping the new shooter become familiar with the safety and how it works, checking to see if the firearm is loaded, leaving the bolt open on the rifle when not in use, keeping fingers off the trigger and more. Teaching safety is more important and effective than imposing a heavy trigger in hopes that a child doesn’t accidentally discharge the firearm.
What’s the next step? Once the kiddo you are working with has spent a good amount of time with a .22 working on their shooting form, shot placement and accuracy, it’s time to move up. Derrick says that he moved his son from a .22 to a 22 Creedmoor, however other great caliber options would be a .22-250, .243 and 6mm Creedmoor depending on the size and age of the shooter. The 6.5 Creedmoor could also be a viable option for kids who are a little older, especially if you know they will be doing some hunting. The addition of a suppressor is a good idea, too. “I think suppressors are amazing and I think the country is doing a disservice to the next hunting generation by making them so hard to get,” Derrick says. Everyone can enjoy the benefits that suppressors provide, but they are especially helpful for new shooters. By minimizing the “boom” and limiting the recoil, suppressors allow kids to shoot largely unbothered by elements that could otherwise scare them or cause them to form bad shooting habits.
Accuracy is something that comes with time and practice. Derrick says he started his son on gong targets at 100 yards, letting him shoot until he could hit them with frequency. Once he was hitting targets at 100 yards consistently, he would then back up allowing his son to practice out to 300+ yards. When working with kids, Derrick says if you are going to use a scope, finding the sight picture can often be difficult for them. In order to alleviate frustration, Derrick says not to give new shooters too much of a zoom. He gave his son a lower power scope with a 56mm objective, ultimately providing a giant field of view. Derrick says that new shooters often want to shoot so badly but can’t always find the animal or target in the scope. So, it’s not always about finding a clear scope picture, but rather the target in it. The less frustrating you can make it, the better, he says.
Finally, it’s long past time we set traditional gender roles aside. Both boys and girls are plenty capable of shooting, they just need the right instruction. Derrick says that boys are often ready to jump right in and can’t wait to get their hands on the gun and shoot. Conversely, he says that girls tend to be a little more focused and calculated with their efforts. Knowing that, instructors have to tweak how they work with kids on an individual basis.
Listen in as Derrick Ratliff, President and Founder of Horizon Firearms, joins The Revolution for an in-depth look at teaching kids the fundamentals of shooting firearms. He’ll discuss early exposure to the outdoors, demystifying guns, caliber selection, trigger weight, firearm safety, suppressors, scopes and much more. Don’t miss it!
Get a kid outdoors!