As a firearms instructor for the Boy Scouts, I’ve worked with thousands of kids who were learning to shoot. At Philmont Scout Ranch, in New Mexico, we shot .50 caliber black powder rifles, 12 gauge shotguns, and .30-06 rifles. The emphasis was on bigger guns for older Scouts, but it wasn’t always an effective strategy. Sometimes, kids need something a bit less intimidating.
I start almost all novices with a .22LR of some sort. For kids, the Crickett is perfect. Single shot rifles, pistols, and shotguns put a heavy emphasis on the extra skills that accompany shooting, like loading, ejecting, aiming, and safe handling. That last part is even more treacherous, as many new shooters, proud of their first shots, will turn around and brag. Often, the gun’s barrel swings around too.
But there comes a time when young shooters want something bigger. Rifles have a distinct appeal, but there’s more to shooting sports, and the shotgun is the next logical step. But again, I like to start with something modest. The .410 bore is ideal.
Here are a some .410s that make great first shotguns.
1. The H&R Pardner
The H&R Pardner isn’t going to break the bank. MSRP is $225. These guns have classic lines that evoke the glory days of American shotguns. And they’re still made in America, too. The fit and finish of these isn’t what it could be, but the Pardner line is comprised of rock solid, no nonsense guns. They could not be any easier to clean, and the blued steel demands cleaning and care.
2. The H&R Tamer
The H&R Tamer is a step up from the Pardner. The materials are more durable, for starters. The price is close: $223. These guns look and feel less like antiques. The stainless finish is much easier to maintain, and the polymer stock is designed to hold some extra ammunition. The Tamer also has a more tactical feel, if only because of the pistol grip. But that is appealing to many kids who are already used to the way some weapons feel from their Airsoft versions of real guns. 3. Rossi Tuffy
Rossi’s Tuffy is very similar to the Tamer. The MSRP is slightly lower, at $211. The Tuffy stores ammunition in the stock instead of the side of the stock, so there is a bit more security there. That said, the extra rounds are harder to get to. The grip is more ergonomic for small hands, and hard to hold for those of us with larger hands. 4. Rossi Youth Model .410
The Rossi shotgun line is really rugged. I’ve never handled one that didn’t feel overbuilt. Their Youth Model .410 is no exception. 155 alone, or $225 as a matched pair (which comes with a .22LR barrel, also). These are so incredibly well built. They have to be, as simple as they are. But the Rossi guns can take the abuse. I like the Rossi Youth Model .410 as a truck gun, personally. With the variety of .410 ammunition available these days, this becomes one versatile gun. And sale prices often bring this gun down below $100.
5. Mossberg 505 Youth All Purpose
Mossberg’s 505 Youth is a step up. As these are pump guns, shooters have to be even more cautious. There is no exposed hammer to see, and no easy way to tell if the gun is loaded or not (if you aren’t holding it, or if you lose count). But they are great options for older kids who have enough experience with shooting to get into the sporting side of shooting. MSRP: is $ 389. 6. Mossberg 510 Mini
The 510 Mini, from Mossberg, offers a bit more versatility, if only because of the polymer stocks. The whole package starts off smaller than a 505, but the adjustable buttstock allows for the gun to grow with a shooter. This is ideal for young hunters, and the Mossy Oak is a nice touch. The MSRP is higher, too, but still totally reasonable at $438.
All of these guns are, in different ways, teaching tools. And they’re also serious guns. They provide that opportunity to care for something, and to care about something.
Whichever you chose, know that you will also be giving the gift of your time. This is the biggest benefit I see. Shooting is fun, but it is the opportunity to spend some time together that is the greatest gift.