Why airguns are best for starting out in shooting

US shooters may have easier access to powder-burners than we do in the UK, but Tom Claycomb III still reckons airguns are best for starting out

Jacob Abedini had never shot a gun until Tom took him out to the desert to shoot his Umarex Synergis .22 rifle – he learned quickly and hit the bull

We all want our kids and grandkids to hunt with us, don’t we? I’m an outdoor writer and get to hunt all over America. And yet to this day, the coolest hunts I ever had were as a kid with my dad. I had the best dad and mom in the world, and want to build those same kinds of memories with my kids and grandkids, don’t you?

But where did I start out hunting? Bear in Alaska? Elk in Idaho? Deer in Texas? Hog in Florida? No! It was with a BB gun. Then I graduated to a Benjamin pump-up pellet gun. I think a huge percentage of us started out with airguns. With them I learned to stalk the wily English sparrow and cottonmouth snakes in the creeks on our farm. In those days airguns were single-shots, so we learned to make our shots count.

By the time I was 10 I had graduated to real firearms which was the norm in Texas. But some 50 years later I got back into airguns big time. I’m into airguns big time now. I’ve been on Pro-staff with Crosman, tested airguns for numerous other companies and am now sponsored by Umarex.

I teach airgun seminars at the big stores up to the Safari Club International Convention in Las Vegas. In my seminars I encourage dads and grandads to start the kids off with airguns. Here’s why I think airguns are a great way to get our kids into hunting and shooting.

As kids, we hunted deer with .30-06 rifles and 180 grain bullets. We were skinny little kids and they almost flipped us out of our tree. Airguns are a great way to start shooting with because they don’t kick. Sure, the big .50 cal Umarex Hammer has a little recoil, but not like a cartridge rifle.

In comparison, the .177, .22 and .25 cal pellet guns and BB guns have little to no recoil, which is what you’d start your kids out on. A lot of little kids nowadays weren’t raised as rough as we were, so that’s a big deal, they don’t want to get pounded.

Another big benefit with starting kids out on airguns is that they’re quiet. Young kids have sensitive ears, so this is also a big deal. As a kid I don’t know if I ever saw anyone using ear protection. 

I shot thousands of rounds before I wore a pair of ear muffs. I wish it had been a bigger issue back then because my hearing wouldn’t be as bad as it is. But with airguns, this is a non-issue.

After shooting the Umarex Synergis, Jacob tried his hand shooting a Henry lever-action .22 rimfire
The manager went shooting with Tom, and they were able to hunt pests close to the cows due to the low noise of the air rifle

I’d say the third big benefit of starting kids on airguns is that they provide a lot more hunting opportunities. I don’t know if I’ve ever been turned down when looking for hunting access from a farmer or rancher if I tell them I want to hunt on their place with airguns, much less if you have a cute little six-year-old with pigtails tagging along. In the spring the high deserts in southern Idaho are covered with a little ground squirrel nicknamed the whistle pig. On a good day I’ll get 350-500 shots.

I also do a lot of pigeon and Eurasian dove hunting at feedlots with airguns. Those birds are good to eat, and airguns allow you to hunt them around livestock because they’re quiet and won’t spook the cows or horses.

I’ll breast them out and slice the breast into three parts. Marinate the breast and then lay a slice on a strip of bacon along with a slice of onion and a slice of jalapeno pepper. Wrap and pin it together with toothpicks and throw on the smoker or grill. Breast meat cooked like this makes a great appetiser.

So, whistle pigs, pigeons and Eurasian doves provide for great hunts for young kids. If the weather is nice, they can get a lot of shooting and work on their hunting skills. These three species aren’t spooky, so kids don’t have to be super-quiet or stealthy. 

But what if the kid is tender-hearted and doesn’t want to kill anything? That’d be my youngest daughter. Then just take them somewhere where they can shoot targets. Who doesn’t like shooting tin cans and plastic bottles filled with water? Ha, I still like doing that.

Sig Sauer makes a lot of cool airgun targets. Spinners, shooting galleries, you name it. Kids love seeing them spin. Or set out clay targets and watch them explode. But everyone is on a budget, so if you can’t afford commercial targets don’t despair. Get a cardboard box and pack it with slats of cardboard or Styrofoam and make your own backstop. Then you can tape a target onto the box.

The good deal about airguns is that you can practise shooting all winter in your house. Set up a target in the basement or garage. If you make your own backstop, use a big box. Even if you use a commercial target, I’d suggest placing a large backstop behind it. You don’t want BBs bouncing off the concrete walls if you miss.

So let’s say you’re sold. You’re all in. What airgun should you get your kid? 

Well, that’s according to how old they are. A break-barrel is the most economical airgun to shoot. The problem is, some of them are tough to cock. But if the kid can load a break-barrel, then great. 

Here in the US, some of mine boast speeds of up to 1,450 feet per second. That’s fast. So break-barrels are economical to shoot and are useful for hunting, but remember you’ll need a good backstop.

Pre-charged pneumatics are my favourite airguns because they are my most accurate airguns. When hunting with airguns we’re hunting small game with small kill zones, so accuracy is of the utmost importance. 

Most of mine use rotary magazines. Buy three or four magazines and you can shoot a while before reloading. Now for the downside of PCPs – they’re the most expensive to buy, the most expensive to shoot and can be too complicated for small children to operate. 

Not only do ranchers let Tom hunt on their land, half the time the cowboys do all of the shooting and he has to reload the airguns for them
It’s easy to get through a lot of air when shooting a PCP, so in order to extend the shooting session Tom brought along a compressor

They work off compressed air, so you’ll need an air tank(s) or a compressor. Air tanks are a little bit of a pain because you either have to run to a dive shop to fill them, or own a compressor. I’ll go through two bottles in less than a day while whistle pig hunting. It’s a pain to have to run back to town to fill them up.

The third popular style of airgun is the CO2. I have quite a few CO2 guns, but the downside is that none that I know of spit out pellets over 500 feet per second, so they’re not really a viable hunting option.

One thing that makes CO2 guns super-popular is their designs. 

I’ve got ones that mimic the popular Ruger 10/22, the old M1 Carbine and then a lot that mimic modern semi-auto pistols, but the coolest one in my opinion is the Umarex Steel Force. 

It looks like an AR and holds 300 BBs and can fire six-round full auto bursts. I’m not sure what the six-round burst is good for, but it’s a blast to shoot. So kids will love the modern CO2 guns because a lot of them mimic cartridge firearms. At my airgun seminars at the SCI Convention the kids are begging their grandads to buy them an AR-model CO2 gun.

Nearly all of the CO2 guns I own are BB, but a few are pellet guns. On most of them a child can change out the CO2 canister, so CO2 guns are a good option. Whichever you choose to go for, make a kid happy and buy them an airgun. And at the same time, you’ll be passing on your family legacy.


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