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Gun Safety For Your Kids

Rick Welch of Pegram, Tenn., helps his son, Tate, aim a BB gun, which will get him ready for shooting more powerful guns.

Teach your young hunter good lifelong habits

By Phil Bourjaily
Photography by Brian Bruzewski

My sons are now 21 and 17, and the times they spent learning to hunt and shoot with me are among the fondest memories we share. We had fun even though we always treated safety very seriously so the lessons they learned would become lifelong habits.

Here are five key steps to raising a safe young hunter:

Demystify Guns

Keeping guns forbidden and mysterious only increases their allure. At home my sons were allowed to handle any of my guns under my supervision if they asked permission first. I made sure they knew how to open the action of every one to be sure it wasn’t loaded.

I made sure my boys understood that guns kill. When I brought game home, I made sure the kids saw the lethal damage pellets and bullets do to tissue as we cleaned birds and dressed deer. A friend of mine takes that demonstration one step further and impresses new shooters with the power of firearms by shooting a cantaloupe at 10 paces with a 12-gauge.

Give Them a BB Gun

Give a child a BB gun a year or so before he or she is ready to start shooting .22s and 20-gauges. Store it with your guns and make a point of treating it like the real gun it is. Let your young hunter bring it along, unloaded, on short hunts with you. Insist that he or she carry it with the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. Pack a few BBs along for some safe target shooting at the end of the day.

Spend Time on the Range

The more often you take your children shooting, the more practiced they’ll become in handling guns safely. At the range, insist that muzzles always point up, down, or downrange. Actions must remain open until the gun is ready to fire. Keep control of the ammunition yourself, handing out shells one at a time. Limit kids to one shot only. Kids are careful about muzzle control until they fire a shot, but in the excitement of hearing the gun go off, they forget where the gun is pointing. Insist on eye and ear protection.

Pick Your Hunts Carefully

Your first real hunts should be for squirrels, waterfowl, deer, turkeys, or doves — sedentary hunts where the game comes to you. Leave your own gun at home and sit right with your child, whispering advice and giving the go-ahead to take the safety off and shoot. Save upland bird and rabbit hunting for last. It requires walking with a loaded gun for long periods as well as split-second shoot-or-don’t-shoot decisions. Because we want to raise hunters who are more than just killers, take time to enjoy the outdoors and to have fun. My kids remember shooting ducks on their first hunts, but they also remember seeing swarms of migrating blackbirds, and the splash fights we had while bagging up decoys.

Lead by Example

As you instill lifelong safety habits, nothing you say speaks as loudly as your own actions when you and your child hunt together. Handle your own guns with extra emphasis on safety. You'll find nothing pleases kids more than correcting your gun handling if they catch you in a lapse. Don't argue. Accept their correction as you would expect them to accept yours. You will all be safer for it.

Phil Bourjaily is the shooting editor of Field & Stream and a high school trapshooting coach.