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Buyer's guide for parents of young deer hunters

By Staff
Dec. 7, 2001
This Christmas, scads of youngsters will find deer rifles under the tree on Christmas morning. This column is for those who will be buying rifles for the lucky kids and for those who will be advising Santa. These words of wisdom are a bit early for the buyers, I realize, because most buyers of rifles are men and men do their Christmas shopping on December 24th.
First, my qualifications as a giver of advice on gun buying are substantial. When our only child was born, I rushed out and bought him a shotgun. It rusted before I finally gave it to him 8 years later some 4 years before he was old enough. When a man gets a son or daughter, it is completely unfair for him to have to wait 12 or 14 years for a hunting companion. But wait we must, I learned.
Anyway, I gave him the gun too soon, okay. Now I know better. That experience thing you know.
Another blunder
Then, when he was 15, I went and got him a rifle for deer, antelope and elk and blew it again! I knew a .243 would be fine for antelope and deer and he could wait a while for elk. But then I reasoned that in just a few years he would be grown up and a .243 would be too light for him and another purchase would be required. So I got him a .280 and it kicked him too hard and made his ears ring. He decided he didn't like big game hunting and to this day doesn't do it.
So I offer the following suggestions from a background of solid mistakes in buying hunting guns for youngsters.
Don't get them a gun that makes a lot of fuss and kicks like a jackhammer. Even if the beginner asks for a 30-06, don't listen. Even if he or she is the biggest kid on the basketball team and is bigger than you and growing like a weed, don't listen. The young, enthusiastic shooter needs to start out with a rifle that is comfortable to shoot. Heavy artillery can quickly cause flinching. Flinching at the shot is a destroyer of accuracy. It can become a habit. Don't foster flinching.
Starting early
We have so many deer these days and easy hunting that kids are shooting deer shortly after weaning. My advice is to let the youngster hunt deer without a real deer rifle until around age 12 depending of course on degree of maturity. But if their pleading and your eagerness must be served, forget about long range knockdown power and remember their frailty and sensitive ears.
Really young and small hunters need the very lightest cartridges like the .222 or .223 Remington. These calibers are legal for deer in Mississippi but not in all states. Their drawback is their lack of knockdown power, but this brings with it the opportunity to teach the child the importance of precise bullet placement.
A better deer cartridge is the .243 or the less popular .244 and .6 mm, good choices for most youngsters in the 10-year-old range. For those who can handle cartridges with a bit more punch, the .260, 30-30, .250 Savage and .257 Roberts are available.
Either get a youth model or shorten the stock of the rifle to fit the young shooter. Sawing off the stock and installing a soft recoil pad can be a fun family project for those who are handy.