I’m often asked how I recommend new people begin shooting. You’d think that would be relatively simple. For the most part it can be, but we manage to make it complex more times than we realize. When asked how I prefer to introduce kids into shooting handguns, I don’t do so any differently than an adult. We begin with a thorough understanding of safety and philosophy and then choose a firearm wisely – almost always a 22.
We really need to have some discussions about safety and the basic uses of handguns as part of the instruction in my opinion. Just like any student, most are eager to hear a bang. However, we can’t rush or forget the prerequisites to shooting safely. I try to spell out the basics of safety, toss in a few what if scenarios by pointing out items around the range area that would or wouldn’t be safe to shoot at, as a practical example and to make sure they can not only understand the safety rules, but apply them to real world shooting.
Of course this can get old and we don’t want to lose their attention. Often, I’ll shoot with them for a bit, and then ask some questions while magazines are being loaded of empty cases and being policed. This is again, a good time to discuss weapon uses and to reiterate to your young one those items you want them to consider when it comes to weapon use or what they may hear from others that isn’t accurate or helpful for them.
How many times have we watched a YouTube video or home video program on television and seen a guy hand some tiny little person a 44mag? We all know what’s going to happen and most of us cringe before the impending calamity. I’d respectfully submit those people as mental midgets. Anybody who has agreed to the responsibility of bringing a new shooter into the fold has the duty not to punish them with a firearm they know the new shooter is unlikely to handle well.
So that’s rule number one – don’t choose a firearm that sets the new shooter up for failure. I really like 22 pistols for this purpose. They aren’t too costly to shoot in most cases. They don’t have heavy recoil and they’re manageable in a person’s hands. They’re not as loud as most other calibers. Because they’re overall easier on the shooter, they’re more likely to achieve some initial success. That in and of itself, is huge for us. After all, learning to shoot is one thing, but shooting well and being pleased with your performance will make a big impact on how likely you are to return to the range for trip #2.
In cases of semi-autos or revolvers, I like loading a single round initially for quite a while. This can last a single range session or multiples. It is different for each person and I prefer to double down on safety, especially with children. Load one, fire one. When the comfort level is present to add more capacity, then off we go. Until our safety needs are adequately being adhered to, I won’t add ammunition and complexity.
I believe there is room for both paper targets and those that are reactive like steel gongs are various poppers, but I’ll caution you on steel. I like to avoid ricochet possibilities every chance I get, and let’s face it, the odds climb with shooting something hard. So while I like both steel and paper for most purposes, the hardest thing I’ll shoot with a rimfire train up is a tennis ball. I don’t want the student worried about what is bouncing back at them. Granted, we discuss ricochets, but I don’t want them distracted or worried about it while shooting. I’d much rather have them concentrating on the basic marksmanship fundamentals I’m trying to instill. Paper targets are really good for this purpose, so I stick with them.
It should go without saying we want to encourage proper breathing, trigger control, sight alignment, etc. but this is part of being thorough. They’ll get the hang of it in time, but I’d rather concentrate on their reflection as much as the initial shooting itself. This may sound odd to you, but getting somebody new out to the range is a big accomplishment to begin with. The only thing more important than safety is a great experience. That said, following closely in 3rd place is the reflection of the time spent shooting. This is where marketing comes in a bit. Take a picture of your young one by their target. Catch them smiling about their performance. Let them take the target home and show Mom or Dad or whoever in the family about it. This encourages them to reflect on their shooting as a positive thing. In an age where firearms are demonized by everyone everywhere, it is important we correct their irresponsible behavior and education and clarity are the means to this end.
This past year in the Iowa Legislature NRA, IFC, and a myriad of influential groups tried hard to remove the 14 year-old handgun use restriction. It was blocked, again, by the Democrat controlled Senate. I didn’t realize so few understood this until recently, but handguns can’t be handled or operated by those younger than 14 years of age. So when you’re out giving instruction and teaching first shots to your young ones, be sure to remember the law. Granted, we see and understand the full value of education and safe handling of every firearm as staple of responsible ownership, but there are a few who’d see this right of passage continued to be made illegal. Know the law folks, and better yet, help us correct the error in Iowa Code that bans you from teaching firearm safety to our youth when it comes to handguns.
All in all, you can use this template regardless of youth or adult. If you’d like to see the person you’re taking out for the first time really enjoy their range experience, follow the suggestions above and you’ll have contributed greatly to their education. What is it they say? Aim small, miss small.