Back when I was a kid in the hills of southern Ohio, the rites of manhood and The Use Of The Gun came in three distinct steps.  First, after hours of wheedling, the young man received his first BB gun at age 10 or 11, depending on mental maturity and the stamina of his mother.  Next at 12 or 13 came the dependable .22 single shot rifle, and finally (shades of manhood) a long awaited single shot .410 shotgun at age 14 or so.  Since these three weapons invariably came in the form of Christmas presents, Christmas was a long anticipated day.

This Christmas, another good sized group of young men and women will be receiving various brands of weaponry, and chances are fair, they’ll have the same sequence of guns.  But, in my personal opinion, it’s not a good idea.  The BB gun is fine.  Mine was a sure enough Red Ryder carbine that I treasured and shot thousands of copper BB’s through.  It was so weak that I could see the pellet go, and the BB described a rainbow-like arc, rather than a straight line, but I didn’t care.

 It came with plenty of instruction from my father, and lots of words on gun safety, then finally, I was turned loose to roam the hills with my friends who had their own BB guns, armed to the teeth and wrecking havoc on everything from twigs and stones to buckeyes and walnuts.

 The BB gun is good, but the final two in the sequence are definitely faulty.  For openers, again in my opinion and that of lots of gun experts, the second weapon a youngster should receive is a shotgun, and NOT a .410 single shot with a hammer to cock.  A .410 is not a gun for youngsters, but for full adult experts.  The cartridge is small, the pellets few, and with my own .410 I missed far more than I hit, and wounded most of those.

I once let my own daughter use the .410  I’d hunted with in much younger days, and watched her take careful aim at a big fox squirrel on a tree trunk.  She bounced bark all around it, but the animal shuddered, hung a minute, then raced up the tree.  That same day I bought her a 20 gauge, and next day she dropped a nice fox off its limb with no problem.  A 20 is definitely better for kids.

But not a single shot with hammer.  Lynn Moll, an expert gun handler who works at the Shelby Sportsmens Den, said “You want a 20 gauge with a safety, not a hammer, either a bolt action or a pump.  It takes too long, when a rabbit races out or a pheasant flushes, to pull that hammer back and raise the gun to fire, so the animal usually gets away.  Then, if not watched carefully, a youngster might start hunting with the hammer on cock to save time, and all it takes is a slip on mud or a trip on a brier to cause a tragedy.”  I know that well, because I hunted that way myself once at age 13 and had both my skinny young butt pounded, and the gun taken away for the duration of that hunt.

 A .22 with its much longer range should be the last gun given to a youngster, again and always with plenty of attention to the rules of gun safety and careful initial supervision.  But, a single shot .22 (with safety) is a wonderful weapon to teach real accurancy because you get only one try.  I ran hundreds of boxes of cartridges through  my own .22, so many rounds in fact that eventually I and my youthful friends could knock single buckeyes out of a tree and head shoot any squirrel that would hold still for a moment.

But, whatever you buy your youngster this Christmas, pay full attention to gun safety.  Greg Wasilewski, Richland County wildlife officer, recommends that you put them through a Hunter Education Course, even if they don’t plan to hunt, because the course teaches basic safety rules, and it wouldn’t hurt to take out a library book on the subject too, or see what booklets the National Rifle Association has to offer.  That’s much wiser than just handing them a new gun and saying “Be careful.”

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