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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.