Finding the right firearm for a young hunter is a key step in boosting overall participation in Upper Midwest hunting seasons.
Choosing a gun with the right fit, low recoil and high impact will make the experience a lasting draw to the outdoors.
Mike Ahlman of Ahlman’s Gun Shop in Morristown, Minn., said a Daisy Red Ryder is everyone’s no-brainer for little kids excited to shoot targets. The .22 rifle is a common second gun, but the choices expand when a youngster is welcomed to the annual deer harvest.
“A .243 [rifle] is what we all use,’’ Ahlman said. “I call it the Minnesota Favorite.’’
The .243 is a projectile that’s light on recoil but powerful enough to bring down a deer. It’s accurate enough to use on shiftier targets, and it’s a cartridge supported by a selection of youth-sized stocks and barrels.
The combination of less kick, a reachable trigger and something light enough to aim builds confidence. Harsh recoil might be the biggest downer, Ahlman said.
“If they are going to flinch, they are going to miss,’’ Ahlman said.
But for deer hunting, he steers parents away from buying guns with even less kick, like the .223 rifle. Too many animals end up injured. “A .243 is bare roots minimum for me,’’ Ahlman said.
He said some young hunters start with .308s. “It kicks a little bit more, but it’s not too bad,’’ he said.
Steve Dreifuerst, divisional vice president for sporting goods at Fleet Farm, agreed that compact, .243 rifles are a top entry-level hunting gun. Fleet Farm carries several models expressly made for the age group, he said.
“We always want to advocate any youth introduced to firearms … get them enrolled in hunter safety,’’ Dreifuerst said.
Ear protection, eyewear and in-home gun safes also are essential, he said.
Kevin Lunzer, gun shop manager at Joe’s Sporting Goods in St. Paul, said 7mm-08 ammunition is another popular choice for youth hunters. It’s a .284 bullet in a .308 casing that shoots flat and combines power with reduced recoil.
Rifles built for 7mm-08 cartridges are commonly used by hunters on both ends of the age spectrum, Lunzer said. Older hunters, too, favor the ammo to avoid the wallop of heavier rounds.
Lunzer said kids new to hunting often want a rifle that’s semiautomatic, capable of giving them a second or third shot at the pull of a finger. But bolt-action is the way to go because it begs for accuracy. Secondly, semi-automatic rifles and shotguns reload themselves even when you don’t need a second shot.
“Let’s say the animal goes down and you get excited and now you’re running over to it,’’ said Lunzer, a firearms safety instructor. “You’ve probably got your safety on, but you’re still running with a loaded gun.’’
If a family is limited to hunting in a shotgun-only slug zone, all three experts recommend 20-gauge. They kick more than youth-caliber rifles, but they’re also good for hunting wild turkey, waterfowl, pheasants, grouse and other game.