It’s important to introduce youngsters to shooting, but many airguns are too heavy to handle. Stick to some basic rules, however, and you can find the right model…
1. Age & Safety
Let’s start with safety. It is perfectly legal to allow youngsters under the age of 14 to shoot on private land, when supervised by someone 21 years or over. However, finding a suitable gun can be awkward, given the weight and dimensions of many models on the market. A good guide is to start at an age when they can at least appreciate how important it is to be safe at all times. If they can’t concentrate, scrap the idea and wait until they can!
2. Gun Weight Consideration
Keeping weight to a minimum can be vital at the early stages. Just lately, there seems to have been a flurry of dedicated junior airguns – a welcome sight. Notables include the Browning M-Blade, made by Umarex, which is a scaled-down spring piston model. The Gamo Junior Hunter is another totally scaled-down, low-powered special, which is easy for kids to handle.
3. Spring or PCP?
Traditional spring power still accounts for the majority of sales: this type of system is self-contained, but takes more effort to prime. The Weihrauch HW 30 S is another junior special: this one is lighter and again low-powered, so it’s easier to handle.
A pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) is a lot easier to shoot, as it is recoil-less. These can be lighter as well. The latest BSA Ultra JSR is a great little gun, specially aimed at juniors.
A key factor if you’re looking at pneumatics, however, is that they need external charging gear – either a bottle or a pump. This can add £100-150 to the budget.
4. Cocking Effort
Spring-powered guns can be very difficult to cock for youngsters, as the mainspring needs to be compressed. However, dedicated junior models can be much easier to handle, as the low power means a smaller spring inside. Cocking a PCP, on the other hand, often just needs a small bolt or side-lever to be pulled back, so are much easier.
5. Power Requirement?
Low power means easy cocking in a springer; that’s fine, since juniors simply don’t need full power when they’re just learning the sport. Low power in a PCP invariably means more shots from a charge – so it’s really a win-win situation.
6. Open Sights or Scope?
Many budget guns and junior models come fitted with open sights, which are normally of the fibre-optic variety these days. I would always advise learning to shoot with these first, as they give a good insight into the basic principles of shooting. There’s plenty of time to progress to using a scope further down the line.
So do you buy .177 or .22? This one’s simple. Gun shops traditionally seem to point most newcomers towards .22 calibre as the traditional all-round choice – but resist!
It’s a fact that .177 is miles easier to shoot, due to its flat trajectory, and pellets cost roughly half that of their larger counterparts, so there really is little choice in my book.
8. Visit A Club
Finally, if you’re still unsure, visit your local club to see and handle as many makes as possible. Most clubs are friendly and only too keen to point newcomers in the right direction – and there may even be a few second-hand bargains floating around.