I don’t remember all the birthday gifts from my childhood, but I clearly recall the gift I received on my eighth birthday. Until that day I’d been relegated to carrying an air rifle in the field when I hunted with my father. One morning in early October, though, my pellet rifle was missing from the gun safe. In its place was a brand-new .410 single shot.
I still have the gun, and although it’s currently surrounded by larger, more expensive, and more complicated firearms in my own gun safe the .410 still gets to stretch its legs each squirrel and rabbit season. I have many great memories of that shotgun, and I spent some of the best days of my youth afield with my dad. And now that I’m a father myself I’m already taking stock of which firearms will be best suited for my son and daughter as they mature.
Maybe there’s a kid’s birthday right around the corner at your house, or perhaps you’re already thinking about Christmas (good for you, overachiever). If those kids are old enough and have mastered the principles of firearms safety perhaps this is the year to teach them to shoot. If you do so there’s little doubt they’ll want their own firearm, and that’s not such a bad thing — firearms are a great way to teach kids about responsibility and ethics, lessons they’ll benefit from the rest of their lives.
The good news is firearm manufacturers are producing more youth models with shorter stocks and truncated barrels specifically for young hunters and youth shooters. Here’s a list of 14 of the best firearms for youth shooters for everything from backyard plinking to big-game hunting.
Rimfire Rifles for Youth Shooters
Mossberg International 801 Half-Pint
The Half-Pint is a single-shot .22 LR with adjustable sights, a compact (12″ length of pull) wooden stock and a 16″ barrel. The rifle weighs in at just four pounds and the large cross-bolt safety is easy for kids to manipulate and operate. The dovetail top receiver also allows for simple scope mounting if you’d like to add an optic. This is an ideal first gun for kids since it generates virtually no recoil, making it perfect for a low-cost afternoon spent punching paper targets, spinners, and tin cans. MSRP: $234. www.mossberg.com
Browning BL-22 Micro Midas
The Micro Midas is the compact version of Browning’s sleek, reliable BL-22 lever rifle. With a short 12″ length of pull and a weight of 4 ¾ lbs. the BL-22 Micro Midas is manageable for all shooters. The lever design has a shortened 33-degree stroke for more manageable cycling and the BL-22’s design allows it to fire .22 Long Rifle, .22 Long and .22 Short ammunition. This rifle’s tubular magazine holds 11 rounds (.22LR) and other key features include a grade I walnut stock, gold trigger, and adjustable iron sights. $579.99. www.browning.com
Savage engineered the Rascal to be the ideal first gun for a youth shooter. It’s available in a wide variety of plastic stock colors (the new purple version is shown here) and this single-shot .22 comes with an adjustable peep sight and it is drilled and tapped for scope mounting. Unlike rimfires of old that had heavy, creepy triggers the Rascal receives Savage’s excellent AccuTrigger — the same one you’ll find on their precision long-range centerfire rifles. The trim proportions (12″ LOP, 16″ barrel, and a trimmed-down stock) help make this one of the lightest rifles ever produced. At 2.66 lbs., the Rascal weighs less than many handguns and it fits even the youngest youth shooter comfortably. It’s surprisingly accurate for such a compact firearm, too. $191-$238. www.savagearms.com
Ruger’s sleek 10/22 semiauto .22 rifle has been a standout in the rimfire market for more than five decades. It’s infinitely customizable, utterly reliable and extremely accurate. The blowback design functions very well with a wide range of loads and so the 10/22 isn’t picky about ammo. The 10-round rotary magazine functions superbly and the large controls and crossbolt safety are easy for small hands to manipulate. There’s a compact version with a 12 ¾” LOP, but since the 10/22 weighs between 4.5 and 5.2 pounds many youth shooters can comfortably handle full-sized models. MSRP: $359 (Youth). www.ruger.com
Centerfire Rifles for Youth Shooters
Winchester XPR Compact
The XPR Compact utilizes Winchester’s full-diameter, three-lug bolt design and barrel nut for proper headspacing, so this is a very accurate rifle. There’s a two-position safety that will only allow the action to be cycled if the bolt release button is depressed. This rifle also comes standard with Winchester’s M.O.A. trigger, which is light, crisp, and user-adjustable. XPR Compact rifles come with synthetic stocks with a 13″ LOP and they weigh under seven pounds. Shooters can select from either a black or Mossy Oak Break-Up Country camo stock and there are a number of caliber options including .243 Win, 7mm-08 Remington, 6.5 Creedmoor as well as several others. $549. www.winchesterguns.com
Mossberg Patriot Youth Super Bantam
Mossberg introduced their Patriot line of push-feed bolt-action rifles a few years ago, and now the company is offering a Super Bantam version of these rifles that comes with a stock spacer that allows for LOP adjustments from 12 to 13″. Available chamberings include .243 Win, 7mm-08 Rem and .308 Win, and there’s also an option to select a combo model that comes with a pre-mounted 3-9×40 scope. Available synthetic stock colors include black, Muddy Girl camo and Kryptek Highlander and all Patriot Super Bantam rifles come with a 20″ fluted barrel, a spiral-fluted bolt, Mossberg’s LBA bladed trigger and a detachable box magazine. Prices start at $397 for the Patriot Youth Super Bantam rifle and $436 for the scoped combo. www.mossberg.com
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Ruger American Rifle Compact
Ruger’s highly successful American bolt-action centerfire rifle is now available in a compact version for youth hunters. The heart of these rifles — a rigid action with a three-lug push-feed design — is the same one you’ll find in the full-sized version, but the American Rifle Compact features a shortened LOP (12.5″) and a stubby cold hammer-forged 18″ barrel. Those proportions help keep weight at just six pounds without sacrificing the superb accuracy shooters have come to expect from these affordable guns. The barrel and receiver come with either a blued finish or a stainless version that can stand up to the worst conditions. $489. www.ruger.com
CZ 527 Youth
The 527 Youth has a long list of impressive features — a micro Mauser controlled round-feed action, a single set trigger, and scope bases that are machined directly to the receiver for maximum strength and stability. The Turkish walnut stock has a reduced 12 ¾” LOP and the 18 ½” cold hammer-forged barrel comes with fixed iron sights. The 527 Youth is available in two chamberings —.223 Remington and 7.62×39 — both of which are affordable to shoot and produce mild recoil. The 5 ½ lbs. CZ has an MSRP of $733. www.cz-usa.com
Remington 783 Compact
The 783 is Remington’s new budget bolt gun which comes with a detachable magazine and the crisp, adjustable CrossFire trigger. There’s a compact version of the scoped combo rifle available with a black synthetic stock (12 3/8″ LOP), 20″ barrel and a pre-mounted 3-9×40 scope. Available caliber offerings are .243 Win and .308 Win, both mild and versatile hunting calibers. With the scope in place, this rifle weighs 8 ¼ lbs. — light enough for young hunters to control and heavy enough to absorb recoil. $399. www.remington.com
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Shotguns for Young Shooters
The new 301 single-shot hammer-fired shotgun is available in 12 and 20 gauge and .410 bore and it is lightweight (less than 5 lbs. for the compact models), durable, and simple-to-operate. There are compact versions in both 20-gauge and .410 that sport short 22″ barrels. These no-nonsense scatterguns come with durable synthetic stocks and their robust design, simplicity and affordable price tag make them a good choice for new youth shooters, especially the .410 Compact. MSRP is $173. www.savagearms.com
Browning Citori Micro Midas Satin Hunter
Built on the time-tested Citori action, the Micro Midas is a serious shotgun that’s perfect for kids who want to hunt and participate in the clay target competitions. As the name implies this over under has a satin finish on the walnut stock, the receiver, trigger guard and barrels. Available in either 12 or 20-gauge, the Micro Midas Satin Hunter comes with a stock with a 13″ LOP and two optional barrel lengths (24″ or 26″). In addition, the Satin Hunter comes with Browning’s Growth Insurance program, which allows the owner to purchase a full-length stock at half-price. MSRP for the Micro Midas Satin Hunter is $1,649. www.browning.com
Franchi Affinity Compact
The Affinity uses the Benelli (Franchi’s parent company) Inertia-Driven system, but unlike the Benelli guns the Affinity’s recoil spring is located in the forearm. That means the Affinity’s stock can be cut down without any issues, and the Compact version offers Inertia-Driven simplicity with a short (12 3/8″) length of pull. Like most inertia guns the Affinity Compact is light — just under 6 lbs. in the 20-gauge versions and under 7 lbs. in the12-gauge. You can select from 24″ or 26″ barrels and there are three color options (black, Realtree APG, Realtree MAX-5). MSRP starts at $899, which is actually quite affordable for a rugged Italian-made semiauto. www.franchiusa.com
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Stevens 555 Compact
Stevens makes the list of best youth shotguns again with their newly released 555 Compact, a shortened version of the company’s popular, affordable 555 line of over/unders. Available in 20 and 28-gauge and .410, the 555 Compact features a Turkish walnut stock that has been shortened to 13 ¼” and the forearm has also been minimized to give the gun a proportional look. The lightweight aluminum alloy receiver has a matte black finish and the tang-mounted safety and barrel selector is well positioned and convenient for young shooters to operate. MSRP: $692. www.savagearms.com
CZ 620 Youth
CZ’s sleek little pump gun is tough-as-nails and quite affordable. It comes in 20-gauge with a black synthetic stock and a 24″ barrel with three screw-inch choke tubes (IC, M and F included). The crossbolt safety rides just behind the trigger (perfect positioning for those with short arms) and the durable stock and black matte finish will stand up well to the abuses of daily field use. At 5.2 lbs. the 620 Youth is quite light, but CZ has outfitted this gun with a cushioned recoil pad that helps absorb kick. MSRP is $349. www.cz-usa.com