Hunting is an invaluable tool for wildlife conservation, and if it is to remain then we must introduce a new generation to the sport.
Sadly, a growing number of children never have the opportunity to experience hunting first-hand, and more kids than ever before are living insulated from the outdoors and the natural world. The best way to preserve our rights and protect our hunting heritage is to introduce the next generation to the sport.
Like many hunters, I had the opportunity to head to the field with my father at a young age and experienced the thrills and challenges of pursuing game. I look forward to introducing my own children to the sport, and when I do so I want to be sure their experience is memorable and hunt successful.
Part of that success means having the right gear, and the good news is that several firearms manufacturers have developed shotguns and rifles that are specifically designed for kids. These guns are lighter and have shorter lengths of pull, which means that your young hunting friend won't be burdened by a gun that is simply too much for them to handle. Here's a look at eight of our favorite youth guns.
Mossberg 500 | Super Bantam Deer/Field
I grew up in the Midwest where hunting deer with rifles was prohibited. That meant slug guns were the best choice for big game, but few slug guns can match the versatility of the Super Bantam Deer/Field Combo.
This 20-gauge pump shotgun comes with two barrels; a 24-inch rifled deer barrel with adjustable sights and a 22-inch vent rib barrel with interchangeable choke tubes. In addition, the added stock spacer allows for an additional inch of pull (12 to 13 inches), and the full Mossy Oak Obsession camo dip protects the gun from the elements and helps conceal it from wary game.
Like other Mossberg pumps this gun has a tang-mounted slide safety that will work with either left or right-handed shooters, and Mossberg recently added a dedicated left-handed version of this gun for southpaws. At its heart the Super Bantam is the time-tested Model 500 action, so this gun can stand up to years of hard hunting. Weight is just 5¼ pounds. MSRP $522
Savage | 11 XP Youth Combo
Savage's 11 XP combo has a short length of pull and comes with a 3-9x scope already in place, which eliminates the hassle of buying and mounting an optic. Savage's bolt rifles have a long-standing reputation for excellent accuracy and the tack-driving 11 XP Youth is available in several kid-friendly calibers including .223, .243, 7mm-08 and .308.
There are also left-handed models available. The stock is black synthetic - perfect for standing up to the abuse of field carry - and the rifle comes equipped with Savage's superb AccuTrigger, which has a bladed design and is user-adjustable for pull weight.
The barrel nut allows for precise headspacing, and that, in turn, lends itself to accuracy that belies the 11's budget price. At 7 pounds and 39 ½ inches long it is light enough and compact enough for kids, and the tang-mounted three-position safety is well-positioned and convenient. The XP package comes with a Nikon 3-9x40 scope with the BDC reticle, and at this price it's one of the best values in youth firearms. MSRP $629
CZ | 455 American Combo
Most kids - myself included - start out shooting a .22 Long Rifle, and that's a great caliber for plinking, target shooting, training and hunting small game like squirrels. But with the 455 American you can swap out barrels and turn that .22 into a hot .17 HMR to expand a child's varmint and predator hunting capabilities.
The American comes with a polished Turkish walnut stock with an America-style straight-comb stock (hence the name). Swapping between .22 and .17 is a simple process; just remove the two action screws to spate the action and the stock and then remove two set screws to swap between barrels.
There are no headspacing issues, and this combo package comes with everything you need to transform the rifle from one caliber to the next in a few minutes. Like other 455s this rifle comes with 11 mm dovetail bases machined directly into the action so you will just need rings and a scope to turn this into a tack-driving target and small game rimfire. The trigger is excellent and, like other 455s from CZ, accuracy is superb. Other key features include an adjustable trigger, two-position safety and a cold hammer-forged 20-inch barrel. Overall length is just over 38 inches and weight is 6.1 pounds, making this a rifle that is easily manageable for even the smallest shooter. MSRP $557
Stoeger | M3020 Compact
Stoeger utilizes an inertia-operated action that is robust, lightweight and extremely reliable. With minimal moving parts and no gas system to clean you can be sure that the M3020 will survive years of abuse.
The black matte finish and black composite stock reduce glare and make this a great turkey and duck gun, and the 3020 is also a great starter firearm for kids who are involved in clay shooting sports. It will also work for hunting doves, upland birds, and small game like rabbits and squirrels and comes standard with three chokes (improved cylinder, modified and extra full turkey).
Length of pull has been reduced by three-quarters of an inch and the light, trim operating system means this gun weighs just 5 1/2 pounds, perfect for all-day carry. With a 26-inch barrel overall length if just 47 inches. Wondering about the longevity of this gun? Don't be; last October I carried a 3020 in Argentina and fired 3,700 shells in three days without any problems. With that kind of reliability young hunters can expect years of trouble-free service from their scattergun. MSRP $599
Thompson/Center | Venture Compact
The Venture is an accurate budget rifle and it's now available in a compact version with a shortened stock that's ideal for young shooters. The partially-enclosed action aids in rigidity which, in turn, makes this a very accurate rifle, and the three-lug design reduces bolt lift.
The 20-inch barrel comes with 5R rifling that is designed to reduce bullet deformation, and the Venture's trigger is user-adjustable from 3.5 to 5 pounds. These accuracy-enhancing features allow T/C to back the Venture Compact with a sub-MOA guarantee, and since it is chambered in five popular low-recoiling cartridges (.223, .22-250, .243, 7mm-08 and .308) you can select a model that's perfect for whatever game your youth hunter plans to pursue.
The Venture Compact also comes with a one-inch stock spacer that allows the owner to adjust length of pull from 12½ to 13½ inches, so when your young hunting companion is ready to step up to a larger gun the Venture Compact can comply. The black composite stock comes with Hogue grip panels for a comfortable hold and the oversized trigger guard makes it easy to fire the rifle even when wearing gloves. Other features include a two-position safety and a detachable box magazine. MSRP $537
Winchester | SXP Compact
The all-American pump gun is one of the most versatile firearms available, perfect for everything from doves and rabbit to pheasants and ducks. The Winchester SXP Compact is based on the standard SXP action and is chambered for 2 ¾ and 3-inch 12 or 20 gauge shells depending upon the model.
The receiver is made from aluminum alloy and its light and durable and there's a crossbolt safety mounted just ahead of the trigger guard for easy access. Unlike many other budget guns the SXP Field Compact comes with a walnut stock, and like other Winchester shotguns and rifles it has the Inflex recoil pad that is designed to divert recoil away from the face, a great addition to a short, light youth shotgun. There are five models available; 12 gauge versions with 26 or 28 inch barrels and 20 gauge models with barrel length ranging from 24 to 28 inches.
Every SXP comes with Invector-Plus choke tubes (improved cylinder, modified and full included). The chamber and bore are hard chrome-plated and all models are back-bored for improved patterning. All versions come with a 13-inch LOP stock and weigh between 6 pounds, 4 ounces and 6 pounds, 12 ounces. MSRP $399
Weatherby | Vanguard WBY-X Volt
The Vanguard line of budget rifles are extremely popular with hunters and shooters because they offer superb accuracy (backed by Weatherby's 1 MOA guarantee) at a reasonable price. The action is supplied by Howa of Japan and the two-stage trigger offers short take-up and crisp, clean break that enhances accuracy capabilities.
The WBY-X Volt offers these same amenities in a short-stocked youth version available in a number of low-recoil chamberings including .223, .22-250, .243, 7mm-08 and .308, so no matter whether young hunters are chasing ground squirrels or elk there's a Volt that will get the job done.
The flashy injection-molded composite Monte Carlo stock has green spider web accents and comes with a detachable stock spacer that allows the hunter to adjust length of pull from 12½ to 13 5/8 inches, meaning as the child grows their gun can do the same. The high comb helps mitigate recoil and aligns the eye perfectly with a scope, and the Weatherby's three-position safety means you can load and unload the rifle with the safety engaged.
This compact rifle has a 20 inch barrel for an overall length (with spacer removed) of just 39 inches. Weight is 6 ¾ pounds, light enough to carry on long hikes yet heavy enough to help reduce kick for recoil-sensitive young shooters. MSRP $749
Ruger | American Rifle Compact
The American rifle has been a huge hit for Ruger, and since this budget bolt gun was launched the lineup has grown to include several new models, one of which is a compact version with a 12½ inch length of pull and an 18-inch barrel.
This makes the Compact version a full five inches shorter than the standard American Centerfire rifle and keeps the gun manageable for small-statured shooters. But don't think that this small gun isn't loaded with the same accuracy-enhancing features found on its larger cousin; the American Compact comes with a cold hammer-forged barrel that is free-floated thanks to the Power Bedding integral bedding block in the stock.
The one-piece receiver is very rigid and the wide bolt with three lugs up front reduces bolt lift by about 20 degrees. The American Rifle Compact also comes with an adjustable trigger and clever rotary-style magazine. At 36¾ inches this is the shortest bolt gun on the list, weighing in at just 6 pounds, and it is chambered in .223, .22-250, .243, 7mm-08 and .308 so it can handle any game. Accuracy should be on-par with the standard American Rifle, and that means this little gun will produce little groups. MSRP $489