Introducing kids to airguns

John Hooper compares old attitudes with new in regard to children and airguns, but finds one thing’s still the same: kids really enjoy shooting!

How many of your shooting or outdoorsman acquaintances do you know that did not start out with an airgun as their first ‘real’ gun? I grew up in the 1960s and ’70s, and every kid I knew had a BB gun.

The luckier ones had a Benjamin pump. Even at the tender age of 10 or 12 we were pretty good shots because we shot them hundreds of times.

My next-door friend had a Daisy 25 that he could shoot wasps out of the air on a regular basis. I had a basic Daisy that I bought at the hardware store (pre-Wal-Mart days) for $7 – my seventh birthday money. It would hold over 300 BBs that would last less than a week.

By the time we were of age to shoot powder guns we were fairly well trained on how to hit what we aimed at. We still needed some work on things like recoil and safety.

I can testify because I still carry a BB in my chin where my brother shot me with an ‘unloaded’ Daisy 99. This makes a great visual aid when teaching the youth of today about gun safety.

What all this leads up to is that was then, and this is now. Today, things have changed about the way kids and guns are viewed. I see this vividly every spring and fall when we hold our biannual airgun tournament. Nine out of 10 people that show up to shoot do not even own an airgun – and half don’t know how to use one, but they are all excited to get the chance.

We’ve had complete families show up to shoot because the parents feel that it is important for their kids to get gun safety knowledge and experience in shooting, but have no other place to get this type of training.

At the rifle range, competitors try to put their best 10 shots on paper – young and old shoot together, but are scored in their specific category

A lot of our first-timers come back at the next shoot carrying the Red Ryder that mum or dad bought for them because they were so enthused with their first chance at shooting airguns.

Fewer and fewer kids are being introduced to the shooting sports today due to the inevitable changes in the world around us. Hunting is a sport, not a necessity, for most folks as it was in the days of old, and it gets more and more bad press.

There are a lot less places for the public to hunt or shoot than even 20 years ago. The gun hysteria in the press gives a lot of people the wrong impression about shooting sports, especially when it comes to kids with guns.

It’s just not easy anymore for a 12-year old to take his trusty BB gun out and roam the countryside plinking tin cans, so us old timers have to help out if we want to keep the sport alive for the future. 

About seven years ago, I was talking to a friend of mine from church called Steve about how much we enjoyed shooting airguns. Steve grew up in the Boy Scouts, and had actually won the South Carolina state championship twice in their yearly tournament.

He is still very active in the Scouts, and has held almost every office position in his 50 years-plus of scouting. I was complaining that there was nothing available for airgun shooters to get together for some fun and competition around our area these days.

Even the gun ranges here, of which we have plenty, do not allow airguns. We got to talking about how fun it would be to have an informal tournament and maybe get a few people together. Our church actually sponsors a Cub Scout and Boy Scout troop, so we thought we could also incorporate some badge opportunities for them if we got them involved.

The first hurdle was as in real estate: location, location, location. Luckily, behind our church building – next to the scout hut, coincidentally – we had bulldozed a flat spot out of the side of a hill for the kids to play volleyball and football.

This left a nice red clay bank on one side that makes a perfect backstop, and the play field has enough room for eight lanes of 10-metre shooting. We got some PVC together and made target stands and rifle props.

Steve visited almost every business in our small town, and I contacted several of the airgun companies and sporting goods chains. Most were very positive about our plan, and donations were abundant, as well as allowing us to put up flyers announcing our upcoming event.

The morning of our first shoot broke with perfect weather and very little wind. I just hoped that we would get a dozen or so shooters to show up so that all our preparations and hard work were not in vain. We had planned to shoot from 10am until lunch, with each group of shooters getting 10 minutes to make their shots.

Youngsters have no problem taking on a heavyweight rifle as long as they have a little assistance from a tripod

When we finally got everyone through the course it was nearly 2pm, and we had registered over 80 shooters. They ranged in age from six to one fellow over 80, and they all had a good time. Probably 30 per cent had never even fired a ‘real’ gun before, but you could tell they had been bitten by the bug.

Steve and I were overwhelmed by the response, and realised we had started something important that needed to continue. It was kind of like that Kevin Costner movie, Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.”

We found out that we were not the only ones that enjoyed getting together and punching holes in some paper. All you need is to find a place to do it and a few friends to share the fun and spread the know-how.

Steve and I did not even get a chance to shoot at that first match due to the volume of participants, but I think we had more fun than everyone else. It gave us great pleasure seeing the joy in the faces of all those who had never experienced the thrill of hitting a target for the first time.

If you were lucky enough to introduce shooting to your children or grandchildren, then you know what it’s like. You don’t have to limit passing your knowledge to only the kinfolk; get involved in spreading the word of our wonderful sport.

I can tell you from my experience that there are more people than you can imagine that would like to try the shooting sports, but just don’t have anybody to help them get started.

If you are one of the lucky few that have a place to shoot and the know-how, then spread it around with those that aren’t so lucky. It is the responsibility of all of us to promote what we enjoy to the next generation so that the sport does not fade away. If you build it, they will come.

And now for this issue’s tip – how about an easy and cheap shooting stick? As I got older and my arthritis started working on my shoulders, I found that I could not shoot very accurately at distances over 20 yards any more.

I started looking for a shooting stick that fit my needs. It had to be light enough to carry through the woods, but steady enough to help me hit what I was aiming at. Most of all, it had to be cheap enough to keep this old skinflint happy.

I read everything I could find and tried a lot of different ideas, but nothing I saw worked well for me. One day while cleaning out a closet, I came across an old camera tripod from my early days of 35mm photography. It hit me that the same principle for the camera would work well with my rifle. It only needed some slight modification to be just the ticket.

A ¾” PVC elbow would make a good cradle, so I drilled a 3/16” hole centred up in the bend of the elbow. The standard quarter-inch screw that most tripods use to connect the camera would self-tap right into the hole. Some peel-and-stick Velcro tape (the loop side) made a perfect soft pad inside the Vee of the elbow, so as not to mar any stock finishes.

John recalls one beautiful Sunday afternoon spent honing the youngsters’ skills in all things airgun

Most tripods are so versatile in height that you can use them sitting or standing. If you shoot Hunter Class Field Target then you can leave one leg collapsed and use only two legs as a bipod to stay within the rules (in the United States).

I constantly keep a lookout for old tripods at flea markets, thrift shops and garage sales, rarely paying more than three or four dollars for these handy ‘shooting sticks’.

We have collected enough over the last few years that every tournament shooting lane has one. The easy height adjustment comes in handy when six-foot seven ‘Big Mark’ follows eight-year-old ‘Little Billy’ on the shooting lanes.

Mighty handy if you ask me. Even when shooting magnum springers I have not noticed any problem with hold-sensitive issues. Pick up one of these the next chance you get, grab a 79-cent elbow at the hardware store, and slap them together and give it a try.

Until next time, this is the Saturday Afternoon Shooter sayin’, “Keep them in the X ring”! 

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