Consumer Information

4 Best Youth Shotguns

Father and son sitting in a pickup truck after hunting in forest. Dad showing boy mechanism of a shotgun rifle

As the dog days of summer wind down, most of us who venture afield in search of game and fowl can’t help but look forward several weeks to the opening of bird season.

Most seasons open with dove and some early goose season.

In many households across the country, there will be a new hunter this season.

As a youth mentor who has instructed and introduced thousands of kids to hunting and shooting, I’m often asked my opinion about how to choose a first shotgun for little Johnny or Susie.

Considerations for Youth Shotguns

The most important thing that must be considered when choosing to use a shotgun is to ensure it’s properly fit to the shooter.

A poorly-fit shotgun will yield less than desirable results and, quite often, a poor experience due to the recoil.

Speaking of recoil, I advocate and recommend a semi-automatic 20-gauge shotgun for new shooters.

The gas operation of semi-auto youth shotguns will soak up a fair amount of the recoil.

Many modern semi-autos also have recoil-eliminating technologies built into the stock to further provide a pleasant shooting experience.

The lower recoil also serves to lessen the probability that your new shooter will develop a flinch that will cause accuracy issues with each shot.

Should this happen, or if it has already happened, it needs to be corrected.

Look for a qualified youth instructor to help them work through the issue.

Forget the .410 Bore

I know, many old-timers talk about their days afield with the single-shot .410.

They only had three shells to use while walking in the snow, uphill, both ways to get to and from school and their daddy would tan their hide if they did not bring back at least four rabbits…

That being said, they are wrong in this case.

The .410 is a skilled shooter’s gun. It has a small pattern, and is generally best suited for an experienced shooter looking for a challenge.

youth wearing orange safety vest and shotgun
Picking the right load for the shooter and need (target versus hunting or home defense) often dictates the difference between success and someone who will resist ever wanting to continue in the sport.

Picking Youth Shotguns

I realize, some folks will not be able to swing the extra money for a new youth gun instead of a hand-me-down, and there are children who can easily tolerate the additional recoil based on size, stature or even attitude.

As a result, I have also included several pump-action shotguns in this mix.

I do not recommend a single-barrel shotgun as a youth’s first bird gun.

Single-barrel shotguns are often very lightweight and kick like a mule. I have a single-barrel Beretta companion that I shot as a youngster.

It fit me poorly and had no recoil pad. If not for my extreme desire to hunt and shoot, I certainly would not have developed into the hunter I am today.

TriStar Viper G2 Youth Two-Stock Combo

There are a number of reasons the TriStar Viper G2 is a top choice for a youth shotgun. 

As I stated in the introduction, I’m a big fan of semi-automatics — especially for kids.

I have a great deal of experience with this gun, and I love the fact that it comes with an additional stock and shims to achieve, if not a perfect fit, as close as you can get with a rapidly-growing child.

Chambered in three-inch 20-gauge, the Viper G2 will be a menace to doves, upland game, rabbits, squirrels and — as my own children can attest to — hundreds of ducks and geese with many years of service.

I have three of these that are used in our youth shooting events.

They have performed for thousands of kids with nary a hiccup, so I can recommend the Viper G2 based on dozens of experiences.

The Viper G2 Youth Two-Stock Combo comes with a synthetic stock and a parkerized finish for low maintenance.

It has a 24-inch barrel, screw-in chokes, which share the same thread and pattern as Beretta/Benelli shotguns.

Tristar Viper G2 shotgun right profile black
The Tristar Viper Youth shotgun is the author’s top pick for youths and small-framed shooters.

Remington 870 Express Compact

Finished with a hardwood stock and a parkerized, flat-black metal finish, this scaled-down version of the #1 selling shotgun of all time is about as bulletproof as they come.

The Remington 870 Express Compact is equipped with Remington’s soft rubber recoil pad to soak up vibration.

Remington’s 870 Express Compact features a pump-action design has proven reliable for nearly six decades.

Remington 870 Express Compact with pink Mossy Oak camo
Remington 870 Express Compact is available in a number of color variations.

Mossberg 500 Youth

The Mossberg 500 pump is probably the second-best-selling shotgun of all time.

The Mossberg 500 is the choice of the American military and Special Forces when they need a workhorse, room-clearing weapon.

The Mossberg 500 Youth is available in a package with several different stock shims and an additional barrel, so the gun can grow with your child, which I love.

I like these youth shotguns for their amazing reliability to function even when neglected for quite some time. 

I know this, because I have one and wanted to see how long we could use it without cleaning. The answer is a very, very long time.

I eventually took it apart and cleaned it, because it just didn’t feel right to shoot it for so long and use it so hard without any maintenance.

Disassembly and cleaning bring with it some challenges when trying to put the action back together.

However, if your child is a tinker and loves parts and pieces, they will love this gun.

Mossberg 500 Youth Bantam
The reliability of the Mossberg 500 Youth make is the number one choice for today’s military, so it should handle birds just fine.

Benelli Montefeltro Compact 20-Gauge Combo

If budget is not an issue, this is the youth shotgun for your child. It comes with two stocks — a compact and full-size.

The Montefeltro will be one gun you can count on your youth keeping and shooting through their adult years.

The Benelli inertia action is renowned for its simplicity and reliability — consisting of only five parts — that can easily be field stripped without tools.

Benelli Montefeltro with wood stock right profile
While the Montefeltro may not be budget-friendly, you’ll know this is a shotgun your young shooter will use and cherish for a lifetime.

I own several Benelli’s.

My original Super Black Eagle has more than 25,000 rounds through it, many of those being heavy three-inch and 3½-inch magnum waterfowl loads.

Today, my Super Black Eagle is often my “go-to” gun.

Benelli combines lightweight, ultra-reliability and a rather nice-looking gun in this youth package.

Which youth shotguns would you recommend for young shooters? Let us know in the comments section!

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in August of 2018. It has been updated for clarity and accuracy.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (13)

  1. Im looking for youth shotgun for my 76 yr old mom for Rattle snakes. She weighs about 100 lbs… The 20 guage shes had was too much for her.. But she still wants one that would fit her… Any good advice would be appreciated. Thanks

  2. Start a youngster with a single shot break open .410 shot gun, teach gun safety and handling! Accuracy comes later, with the same gun, keep it simple to start off.

  3. After years of shooting 22s, BB and pellet rifles to learn basic hunter safety I started my oldest with a Pardner 20 gauge single shot for upland birds.
    Pretty heavy barrel that soaked up recoil and promoted full swing shots. His younger brother used brother’s shotgun enough that when the time came, he got a Remington 20 gauge 870 pump.
    Both boys learned two very important lessons; basic weapon safety, and make your first shot count.
    A couple seasons later we started shooting waterfowl and everyone got 12 gauge semiautos.
    I’m lucky, now that they’re adults, we still routinely hunt together. Never felt safer or had better blind partners.
    The 3 of us have gotten friends, nephews hooked on hunting and shooting sports. I’m proud to say they emphasize safety and do a great job making it fun.

  4. Wrong the perfect first shotgun for a kid is a single shot 410. Here is the reasoning. You want to teach them the basics. a single shot makes them slow down and make every shot count. All other single shot shotguns have too much recoil for a youngster and they’ll either not have fun or develop bad habits. Yes it’s a small shot pattern but learn the basics before you have enhancements assist you and you’ll be a better shot.

  5. You both stand corrected, that is a Mossberg 500 youth. The forearm is located closer to the receiver for “shorter” arms. The stock spacer adjustment system makes it easy to lengthen with the child’s own growth spurts. A superb platform built with safety and reliability in mind.

  6. Forget the Remington for the Mossberg.Mossberg’s tang safety is inherently safer.Light 20 ga loads won’t recoil any worse than a 410-and the pattern better-and more available/affordable in these troubled times.If the kid can’t hit the critter[or target or clay pidgeon],they’ll only be discouraged.y

  7. Teaching kids how to shoot is a tricky road to travel. The question about a single shot .410 is easy. If you didn’t start with a bolt action (able to single load) .22LR, then a short LOP single shot .410 may be a viable option. This is NOT for shooting moving targets, but only stationary ones. Likewise, the typical paper targets are not ideal either. “Plinking” is a better option. Balloons, Soda Cans, or other reactive targets are much better. Kids, like many current adults, have short attention spans, so a 15 – 30 minute lesson repeated a number of times is also better than several hours at the range, shooting paper targets. Once it seems that the child is “comfortable” with shooting, then a 20 gauge, with the proper LOP, is ideal for moving to teaching “wing shooting”.

  8. I would not start a youth with a semi-auto. A pump is much safer than a semi-auto when carried with two rounds in the magazine and no round in the chamber.

    Also, I do not know of any pumps or semi- autos that are not single barrel. Did you mean single shot?

    Finally, what are the experiences with the newer 870’s? I was already concerned about the changes Remington had made even before they were sold, again.

  9. .410 shotguns are a must in teaching gun handling & shooting. If you give your 12 gauge to a 98 pound skinny & lengky kid, you will develope a flinch. 6-7 year olds can handle .410 comfortably and hitting the target isnÔÇÖt as critical at that age as gun handling. Work your way up to bigger guns. Hand me down guns also create length of pull issues – short dad gives tall kid his favorite 12 gauge with 13ÔÇØ LOP and the the kid is 5ÔÇÖ11ÔÇØ needing a 14.5ÔÇØ reach, heÔÇÖll shoot high and dad will yell at him for wasting ammo. 28ga.& 20ga. are fine guns for hitting game birds. One problem IÔÇÖve seen with kids getting into guns is, parents expect somebody else to teach it on one Saturday for 1 hour class while they go off, as usual, doing their own thing. They buy one box of ammo and focus on the target. Start when theyÔÇÖre younger, gauges and calibers for their height and weight, shoot 1000 rounds in the afternoon and focus on THEM! Cultivate the earth replenishing it with lead & aiming will develop naturally when they want to hit it.

  10. I was enjoying reading about youth shotguns. I have a 5 year old grandson. But I hate to tell ya, that’s not a Mossberg 500 you pictured. It bugs me to know end that sites who want come across as experts let something like this happen. It cheapens your site and makes it hard to think of it as a good source for info. Just my thoughts, Brad

    1. Brad, it appears that they uploaded the wrong photo. That’s not only not a Mossberg 500, it’s not a Mossberg or a PUMP!
      Even the best editors make an error now and then.

      I can assure you- even the editor of this publication… though he might disagree 🙂

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