Teaching children to shoot while they are growing up is important so that they are familiar and comfortable being around firearms. Instructing them in the proper way to handle a variety of different types of of weapons ensures that they always confident in their own knowledge of what is in front of them. My family taught me, and I’m doing the same (though just a little bit differently) with my kids.
I know what you are thinking. Nerf guns are not real!! You’re right. Nerf guns are not real guns. But they are great teaching tools. Opinions are divided about whether to let kids shoot each other with Nerf, especially if you are using them as gun safety and training tools. Personally, I think Nerf wars are a great part of being a kid (even a grown up kid) but I understand that some people don’t want to confuse gun training with play. In that case, use Nerf to teach gun safety using targets and not people. Nerf makes lots of different targets, or you can use normal shooting targets that you already own. And then there’s always my favorite — aluminum cans hung from string at different distances and heights.
With a non-lethal weapon like Nerf guns, you can start talking about gun safety when your kids are really young. It’s never too early to establish good gun safety habits, and Nerf guns are a great place to start. Talk about trigger finger discipline. Teach kids to keep their gun pointed in a safe direction. Show them that you don’t point a loaded weapon at anything that you don’t want to shoot. Teach them to be not only aware of their target, but what is beyond their target as well.
You can also teach different shooting positions like prone, on one knee, standing, or braced on a solid object. Familiarize them with different positions and demonstrate that a well-braced firearm allows for more accurate shots.
Another great Nerf experience is loading the Nerf magazines. The process is the same on a real firearm. Teach them how to count each shot fired while they are shooting, so that they know when the magazine is empty. And get them used to quickly dropping one mag and switching to a new one.
They even make Nerf tactical vests that you can buy for your children.
Once kids have mastered gun safety with Nerf, pellet rifles are a good next step. Shooting aluminum cans (my favorite target) while plinking in the backyard is a good way to teach a variety of skills.
I was five when my father started teaching me to shoot a pellet rifle. He spent a lot of time showing me how to line up the sights on the target. He taught me the proper way to pull the trigger, so that there is no movement left or right that changes the place where the pellet hits horizontally. He taught me how to control my breathing and not to hold my breath while shooting, which affects where the pellet hits vertically.
All of this training I did with aluminum cans. They were placed on top of a small rail and each hit made the can fall off of it. My father thought that it was important for me to have a visual indicator each time I hit the target. Twenty to thirty feet was about as far as we practiced.
For our children, we actually incorporated a pellet rifle shelf on the bottom of our backyard archery target, and hooks up at the top for hanging aluminum cans on different lengths of twine. With those two target options in addition to various lawn targets purchased at our local sports and outdoor place, our kids can plink around without scaring the neighbors.
Once he was confident with my pellet rifle skills, my dad introduced me to a .22 rifle. At first it was a single shot bolt rifle. We practiced the same way we did with the pellet rifle, but we moved the cans out further and further until I was able to hit the cans at about a hundred feet. This took some time and we shot a lot of rounds. Luckily ammo was cheap.
This is when we started wearing hearing protection.
Ruger 10/22 Rifle
Next, my father bought a Ruger 10/22 and added a simple 4x scope on it. He made sure that I was a part of the sighting in process for the scope, so that I knew how to add one to a rifle. I had never shot at paper target till then, so this was new to me. We sighted in at the 100 foot range that I had been shooting the iron sights at before. It took probably 50 rounds to get sighted in, mostly because I was learning how to use a scope too. I had a hard time getting a tight three shot group to adjust the scope from, but my father was patient and took extra time to instruct me.
This was also the first time that I shot a semi-automatic rifle so the loading process was different and a lot more fun to shoot.
As soon as the rifle was sighted in and I was comfortable with the scope, we moved back to the cans as targets. But now the training moved to shooting at multiple targets. We would line up ten cans and I would see if I could shoot them all with the ten rounds that I had in the rifle’s magazine. Once I was able to consistently hit all ten, I was instructed on shooting every other one from left to right. Then going back and shooting the rest from right to left.
Then we started working on shot placement. My dad wanted me to shoot just the tops of the cans, so that they flew further after being hit.
After shooting we went home and my father taught me how to disassemble and clean the rifle. Prior to this he had always done the cleaning, but it was time for me to learn, and is still a routine I follow after shooting.
First hunting Trip
At this point it was important to my father to actually take me out hunting. We headed into the woods on a nice brisk fall morning looking for squirrels. He talked to me about walking as quietly as possible. We would walk ten to twenty feet and then stop to listen. The whole time he talked to me softly about what to expect when we saw one. He showed me how to brace the rifle against a tree for better stability. When we found a squirrel he whispered to me about shot placement. He wanted me to shoot for the head.
I missed three or four squirrels before I finally hit one. But right after that I was able to hit a second squirrel with just one shot. I think that after the first kill I was a little more confident with what I was actually doing.
We set up a small fire beside a creek and my dad demonstrated how to gut and skin the first squirrel. Then he walked me through doing the same on the second. I didn’t do a very good job on mine, but there was no judgement. It was all about the learning experience. We cleaned up a little in the creek, then skewered each of the squirrels and fire roasted them. That was the first “taste like chicken” meal I’d ever had. I was smiling ear to ear as I tried to figure out how to eat it. Truly a memory that I will never forget.
My Uncle’s Farm
The following year I went to my uncle’s dairy farm in Missouri for the holidays. Talk about the ultimate playground for a kid. He had several hundred acres of land and a large herd of cows. I had two cousins that helped my uncle work the farm. They had to get up really early to gather the herd for milking and hours of chores to do before the time that my day usually started. Wearing rubber boots that were way to big for my feet, I ran around the fields herding cows with them. My cousins hated living on a farm, but this city boy loved it!
When all the work was done on the farm, my cousins hunted. I was introduced to shotguns when they were told to go get dinner by my uncle.
Rabbits were on the dinner menu and two of my cousins grabbed .410 shotguns and headed out. They reluctantly let me tag along. Before we even got to the treeline one of my cousins fired a shot and bagged the first rabbit. He threw it into a bag that he had slung over his shoulder, like it was nothing unusual. I guess for him it wasn’t.
I had never seen a shotgun used before. My cousin explained that each round (shell) had lots of little BBs inside it and spread out as it flew further away from the firearm. They had two different types of shotguns. One was an over-and-under shotgun that had a .410 barrel on top and a 22LR on the bottom. Apparently that was the nicer of the two. My cousin never even let me hold it. The other one was a pump action shotgun and my other cousin showed me how to load it, fire it, and pump a new shell into the chamber. I tried firing at a few rabbits with it. But never actually hit one.
I did hit a squirrel with it though. Kind of surprised my cousins when I shot up into the trees and it fell on the ground ten feet in front of me. They looked at me like “what the hell did you shoot that for!! We’re hunting rabbits!”. But I carried it back to the house proudly anyway. Between the two of them they were able to hit six rabbits and we had rabbits and a squirrel for dinner.
A few nights later we went raccoon hunting. Honestly I had no idea that the dogs running around the farm were anything special, but it turns out they were “coon dogs”. We drove to a different part of their property and released the dogs. They took off like they were on a mission. They barked occasionally and we ran to try and keep up. This was the first time that I had been in the woods at night. I had no flashlight, but the moon was almost full and there were no clouds in the sky, so it wasn’t too hard to maneuver.
Soon the dogs started barking different. I probably wouldn’t have noticed, but my cousin yelled that they had treed a raccoon. We ran that direction and sure enough when we got there the dogs were at the base of a tree. They shined a flashlight up and a raccoon was up in the branches. Man I thought this was magic. I had no idea dogs could find and track a specific animal by smell.
I was thirteen when my father introduced me to larger centerfire rifles. First with a Marlin lever-action .30-30. This was my father’s go to deer rifle. He had no scope on it, so it was back to iron sights when I shot it. He also had a Remington 700 chambered in .270 that one of his brothers gave to him. It had an inexpensive 3×9 scope on it.
I really didn’t know why he would want to use a rifle without a scope on it for hunting. I had gotten used to using a scope while shooting. But his explanation was simple. The type of deer hunting that he has done all of his life is under a hundred foot shot, usually in thick woods. The shorter lever-action rifle was much easier to carry. Plus he explained that most people like to tell you that you have to shoot a deer in a particular place to kill it. But the truth is that area is much larger than you think. It is more like a twelve inch diameter circle. Anywhere you hit in that area and the deer will not run far after.
We went to an outdoor shooting range to shoot further distances. The place had a 300 yard range and we set up a target to shoot at. My father had never shot at this range before, so it was new for both of us. We each fired a few shots at the target, then went out to see how we did. There wasn’t a single bullet hole on the whole target. We had missed it completely.
Luckily there was a nice man at the range who was shooting on the same 300 yard range and he helped us out. He told us to look at our ammo box. That there is a chart on the box that tells you how far the bullet drops at different ranges. For the .270 the round would drop 11.5″ at 300 yards. While the .30-30 dropped 26″ at 300 yards. Which I thought was odd because it was a larger round. But at the age and experience level I really didn’t know anything about ballistic charts or long range shooting.
The man showed his rifle and scope set up. He showed us how his scope allowed to adjust for different ranges. He showed us how the scope on the .270 that we had didn’t. He said that if you know the range you are shooting that you can adjust the iron sights or the crosshair up to allow for the drop. Said it is not ideal. But possible.
We marked the target at 300 yards for the drop of both of our calibers and were actually able to hit the bullseye consistently. But we decided to upgrade the scope on the .270 after that.
I didn’t actually shoot pistols until I was an adult. My first exposure to them was when I was in Army Boot Camp. I joined the Army about the time when they were switching from the Colt 1911 to the Beretta 9mm. So we actually shot both. I really enjoyed it.
When I was at my first duty station in Germany, the on-base gun club was run by German civilians. I bought a CZ-75 9mm there new for only $280. What a great pistol. Me and a good buddy would go and shoot most weekends. No matter how much I practiced, the bastard was always able to out shoot me with my own pistol. Two decades later I gave it to him.
For my kids I did very similar training to the way my father taught me with the aluminum cans. We also do paper targets at an indoor shooting range. I think that the pistol is harder to learn than the rifle. So I started them shooting both types of firearms about the same time.
I spent a lot of time exposing them to different styles of pistols. Including a single-action revolver in .44 mag, double-action revolver in .38 special/.357 mag, automatic in .22lr, 9mm, .40 and .45. Obviously starting out with the smaller calibers while they were young and working them up to larger ones as they grew.
My wife is a revolver girl. She owns more revolvers than I own pistols. She is damn good with them too!!
My MOS in the Army was Infantry (mortars – 11C). I was exposed to a variety of firearms. But I was assigned my own M16A2. We did a lot of training with it. But I have to be honest, when it was time to qualify with it. I did not do well. The Army qualification range is a forty shot exercise. You have to hit thirty two of the pop up targets to qualify with the rifle. The targets are a variety of ranges from fifty meters to three hundred meters. My problem was that I had never shot at multiple ranges like that. All of the multiple targets that I had shot at in the past were all at the same range.
I ended up in the remedial training the day after, while everyone else went on to other training. At the time, I thought it was embarrassing. But now I know it was awesome. There were only five or so of us that were stuck at the qualifying range that day. We had a single Drill Sergeant that worked with us. Instead of going through the qualification range once, I was able to do it forty to fifty times, with one on one training between each try. By the end of the day I was shooting almost perfect. I never was able to get a perfect score. But I never shot under thirty eight from that point forward. The Army considers that Expert.
All of my children have gone through training with my AR15. I prefer the red dot on the AR15. It works great for the range that the rifle was really designed for. I like to set up AR500 metal targets at different ranges for practice.
When I was out of the military and married, my father-in-law taught me how to shoot a shotgun. He was once a nationally ranked skeet shooter and owned a lot of very nice shotguns including some five figure Italian over and under shotguns. But his hunting shotgun was a nice Benelli semiautomatic.
He gave me a Remington 11-87 12 gauge semiautomatic shotgun. He took me to the skeet range and did his best to teach me. In the end I was a competent shotgun shooter, but never really a great one. He said I shot a shotgun like I do a rifle. I don’t swing the barrel and follow through after the shot, like I should.
When we went dove hunting he would bring a single box of shells with him and easily limit out, often letting doves fly past that I would have shot at. But his opinion was if the dove didn’t fall close to his feet after it was hit, it was too much work to go get them. He was much more patient than I was.
I would load up with three boxes of shells and often had to go back to the truck for more before I was able to limit out. Over the years I switched to “faster” shells (higher fps) that better suited my shooting style. I was able to use fewer shells after that.
I started exposing the kids to shotguns earlier. So they are as good or better than me at this point.
I know this is a long rambling post. But it certainly was fun to write. I really enjoy shooting with the family and I have a lot of great childhood memories of shooting with my father. With responsible guidance, there’s no reason you shouldn’t teach your children to shoot.