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    In the Swing

    Johnny's or Mary's First Shotgun

    Bryan Bilinski owns Fieldsport, purveyors of fine guns and renowned wing shooting instruction, based in Traverse City, Michigan. One of the country’s leading shotgun fitters and shooting instructors, Bryan is credited with introducing sporting clays to the United States.
    Bryan Bilinski owns Fieldsport, purveyors of fine guns and renowned wing shooting instruction, based in Traverse City, Michigan. One of the country’s leading shotgun fitters and shooting instructors, Bryan is credited with introducing sporting clays to the United States.
    It is high time, my fellow bird hunters, that we seriously consider the future of our sport and this lifestyle we cherish. Have you ever thought where the next generation of wing shooters will evolve from? I have, and one of the signs that our ranks are shrinking is the fact that hunting license sales across America have largely declined over the past decade. State DNRs have addressed this major concern with special youth hunting seasons and lowering the age requirements to buy a hunting license.

    This problem is serious, but you can make an immediate difference in a big way: Introduce a youngster to the wing shooting sports.

    A key factor is to gift Johnny or Mary their first shotgun, one they will use either to bird hunt or shoot clay targets. That first shotgun is the catalyst required to begin their new journey as wing shooters. However, selecting the perfect first shotgun can be a daunting task.

    Buying a youngster their first BB gun, pellet gun or .22 rifle is a rather straightforward purchase. Because these single projectile rifles are aimed, as long as Johnny or Mary can line up the iron sights, learning to shoot can be fun, and the child can be successful.

    Sorry, no such luck with a shotgun. It is a gun of movement controlled by hand-eye coordination and must be comfortable and fit to shoot. It is crucial that it properly fits in order to be successfully shot on game birds or clays.

    What are some of the key factors to consider when buying a youngster their first shotgun?

    First, consider the age and relative strength of the youngster. A 12-year-old who weighs 90 pounds will require an entirely different gun than a 15-year-old weighing 140 pounds. Both the weight of the gun and respective recoil forces are of key consideration. Recoil is a concern when buying the first gun. A gun that is light will produce more felt recoil but will be much easier to lift, mount and carry. Additionally when considering recoil, the type of shotgun shell you select for the youngster to shoot is key. For example, a 20-gauge, ¾-ounce load will produce much less felt recoil than a standard ¾-ounce target load.

    Two additional concerns include both the gauge of gun and action type. Two gauges for youngsters that are good all-arounders are the 20- and 28-gauges. Ammunition for the 20-gauge guns is normally less expensive and more readily available than for 28-gauges. Shotgun shells loaded for larger birds like pheasants and ducks definitely favor 20-gauge guns. However, a lightweight 28-gauge is hard to beat for clays and game birds such as doves, quail, woodcock and grouse.

    Shotgun action types to consider include the single shot, pump, semi-automatic, side-by-side or over-under. Your budget may dictate the type of shotgun you purchase. The market is absolutely ripe with a number of excellent shotguns for your consideration. A nice little used or new single shot can be purchased in the neighborhood of $150. Pump guns can be bought for $250 to $350 and up. Semi-automatics can be purchased from $500 and up — way up. Decent quality side-by-side or over-under shotguns start at $700 and quickly accelerate into the thousands.

    As a gun fitter, I’d say a key factor to consider is that most guns bought for youngsters might need to be customized through the installation of a recoil pad and/or an adjustable comb in order to perfect the fit of the stock.

    I highly recommend you properly check the eye dominance of the youngster you are acquiring a shotgun for. Most young shooters, who haven’t progressed through puberty, might not have their eye dominance established yet. I advise my young students to shoot from the side of their body they feel most coordinated. To correct the problem created by the cross dominant eye, I’ll use one of either the Magic Dot, Shot Spot or Off-Eye products affixed to the lens and covering the offending eye.

    Now that I hope you are on the search for the perfect shotgun for your Johnny or Mary, my next column will be a review of the numerous options available in the youth gun categories.

    Wolfe Publishing Group