My heart ached as I stared at the little single-shot rifle sitting in a rack in the back of our local hardware store. Only a day before Christmas, and “my” rifle was still on the shelf. I wanted that rifle so badly, but I didn’t have any money to buy it. My only hope was my folks might purchase it as a Christmas present, but sadly, the chances didn’t look good.
I was 12 years old and had grown through a succession of Daisy air rifles—wear them out is more correct. I remember the day I saw the beautiful little Anschutz single-shot .22; I went to the back of the store almost every day and ogled it. The gun stood out from all the other single-shots because the stock was figured walnut and the bluing was deep and shiny. The rifle was also several dollars more than any other single-shot in that store.
My brother and I rushed to the tree bright and early Christmas morning. There were lots of wrapped packages, but nothing long and rifle-like. After opening a gift or two, we had breakfast before returning to the Christmas tree. To my amazement, a long package had found its way under the tree—and I wasn’t disappointed. I still have that little rifle; it’s sitting in the back of a big gun safe. The .22’s extractor is worn and not completely reliable, but I don’t care. It’s a special rifle and always will be. Every so often I take it out, crank open the bolt, look through the open sights and memories flood my mind—this little rifle was my best buddy for a long time. It still is.
Those were simple days: Kids could walk through town with an air rifle or .22 rimfire and not incur the wrath of a SWAT team. Farmers appreciated the elimination of gophers and crows, and guns were not bad, nor were they indicators of evil intents or actions.
Firearms are still wonderful Christmas gifts. To make the right choice for a son or daughter, parents should consider the age and maturity of the child, type of firearm, weight, barrel length, length-of-pull and, of course, recoil. I would also include the necessity of high-quality sighting equipment. Very simply, anyone learning to shoot a rifle is more accurate with a scope.
Making A List, Checking It Twice
I think the ultimate first gun for a responsible youngster is a BB gun or air rifle. Thanks to the excellent BB/pellet traps and target designs available today, safe firearm handling and marksmanship basics can even be taught in the comfort of a good-sized room in your home with these air guns.
When most hunters think of BB guns they think Daisy, and rightly so. Introduced in 1939, the Daisy Red Ryder has sold more than 9 million units, easily making it the most famous BB gun ever built. Daisy Outdoor Products still makes the Red Ryder, as well as many other excellent air guns. In addition to Daisy BB guns, parents can also check out the air guns and accessories from companies such as Gamo USA, Beeman and Crossman.
After spending a year or two with an air gun, your child will be ready to step up to a rimfire rifle. In no particular order, here are some models that have recently caught my eye:
• HENRY MINI BOLT YOUTH: Not long ago I added a Henry .22 rifle to my gun safe. This tiny bolt-action gun is perfect for introducing my grandkids to the sport I love so much. Our 41⁄2-year-old proved deadly on large red balloons at eight paces during her first shooting experience! Henry builds a wonderful group of bolt-action and lever-action rimfire rifles.
• CHIPMUNK RIFLE: Like the Henry Mini Bolt Youth, the single-shot Chipmunk is another good-quality bolt-action rimfire designed for young shooters. Available in several stock materials and colors, these eye-catching little rifles would make any child’s Christmas special.
• REMINGTON MODEL FIVE: Remington makes several outstanding youth-scaled firearms, but the Model Five is my favorite. This bolt-action, clip-fed repeater is a fine first rifle.
• MARLIN 915Y: This single-shot is available in either wood or composite, blued or stainless for small-sized shooters. The Marlin 915Y is a simple, safe and accurate shooter.
• RUGER 10/22: As one of the best-selling .22s of all time, the standard-sized 10/22 semiauto is already a small enough gun for many young shooters. However, if you need an even smaller version, check out the 10/22 Compact Rifle. It features a short, 123⁄4-inch length-of-pull and 161⁄8-inch barrel.
• SAVAGE CUB MINI YOUTH: In addition to this single-shot bolt-action .22, Savage also offers youth-model centerfires.
• BROWNING MICRO HUNTER: Available in smaller calibers, this would be a dream rifle for many young hunters. In fact, this is by far the sweetest little centerfire I’ve ever handled. Browning’s lever-action BL-22 and wonderful semiauto rimfires are also fine guns.
• MOSSBERG HALF-PINT PLINKSTER AND PLINKSTER: The Half-Pint Plinkster is a neat little bolt-action single-shot; the standard Plinkster is a semiauto. As a youngster becomes more experienced with the Half-Pint, the removable magazine plug can be replaced with an optional 10-round magazine, easily converting the Half-Pint into a repeater. For upland birds or waterfowl, Mossberg’s youth shotgun is called the 500 Bantam and is available in a couple different designs.
• ROSSI TRIFECTA: One of the most practical and compact gun packages is the Rossi Trifecta. This youth-stocked rifle comes with three barrels—20 gauge shotgun, .243 Win. centerfire and .22 rimfire —which makes it a do-anything rig. With a simple break-open design and a button safety, this is a handy starter package.
In addition to guns as Christmas gifts, parents can also consider youth-sized camouflage clothing, binoculars, decoys, game calls, safety harnesses, bow-and-arrow packages and even memberships in the local fish and game associations. A post-Christmas hunting trip in one of the states with later seasons would be welcomed as well.
From past experience, both during my youth and during my adult life, I do know that putting a hunting-related gift under the Christmas tree provides the opportunity for you to spend special time with your family outdoors. And my motto has always been, “The family that hunts together, stays together.”