First shotguns for new or growing shooters need not break the bank. A safe, reliable model that’s easy to customize but ideal to shoot is a far better alternative than handing down a family heirloom that simply does not yet fit.
Break-action shotguns, the style that open at the breach with the push or pull of a lever, generally fall into two categories: the very pricey and the extremely inexpensive, and all that follows here will be addressed toward the latter.
Inexpensive break-action shotguns are generally not beautifully made, and they can be a perfect first gun for a new shooter or for a shooter whose body is still rapidly on the grow for that very reason. Shooting a shotgun well has little to do with learning ballistics and everything to do with a comfortable fit and lots of practice. Shotguns must be pointed and swung rather than aimed and, to do that well, a shooter must have a shotgun that fits. When a shooter raises their shotgun to their shoulder, it should be easily balanced. The top of the stock where their cheek touches should be of a height that allows them to see straight down the line of the gun. The length of the stock should allow them to comfortably reach the trigger with one hand and the forearm with the other without being either stretched out or cramped up. All of these factors are very easily adjusted if you don’t mind marring the look and finish of the gun.
Length of pull
The distance from the face of a firearm’s trigger to the centerline of its buttplate or pad is formally known as the “length of pull.” Shotguns are made to a one-size-fits-all specification and adult shooters generally can adapt, though such adaptation even then is rarely optimum. For kids, it’s a mistake. A kid’s first shotgun should be cut to size as closely as possible.
To get a good idea of how long a new shooter’s shotgun should be, it works fine to take a BB gun that fits them well and measure it. Also, you can have them hold a yardstick as though it were a shotgun. The spot where their trigger finger falls should point to a comfortable length of pull.
From this length, subtract the thickness of a good recoil pad, then saw the stock down to that length. Before permanently mounting the recoil pad, tape it in place and have the new shooter try it again. They should be able to reach the trigger easily, and their opposite hand should be able to reach the forearm while keeping enough bend in their elbow to be able to support the shotgun without leaning backwards or any other undue strain.
Height of comb
The top of a shotgun’s stock, where the shooter’s cheek rests, is called the comb, and how tall it is determines the shooter’s view down the sight plane. Adult shooters often adapt to a too-low height of comb by sliding their cheek forward or back to get their eye on plane, a practice that makes consistent shooting nearly impossible. Mentors can stop bad habits and wasted practice time before it starts by customizing their young shooter’s height of comb with a pad.
With the length of pull issue sorted out, have the young shooter shoulder and point the unloaded gun at a 45-degree angle from their body a number of times with their eyes closed, and note the point on the stock where their cheek touches.
With this point established, have them open their eyes and slowly raise their head off the stock until their eye is exactly on plane with the sight. Measure this distance to get a rough idea of what thickness of pad to buy.
Comb pads, just like recoil pads, are available in a variety of thicknesses. The pads also cover several more inches of stock than are strictly necessary. To get a new shooter into the habit of returning their cheek to exactly the same point on the comb every time they raise the gun, trim the pad’s excess length before glueing it to the stock. This way, if the shooter mounts the gun with their head too far forward or back, they’ll feel what they’re doing wrong that instant.
Management of recoil
Break-action guns tend to pass along to the shooter the largest amount of felt recoil of any style. The best way to deal with this is to have such a gun fit as correctly as possible. After that, a good recoil pad makes a world of difference. A comfortable cheek pad on the comb helps a lot, too. Assuming the gun your new shooter is using has all three of these, as it should by this point, the next step to take is to have them shoot recoil-limiting ammunition.
Possibly the very best option here is Winchester AA Low Recoil ammunition. Designed specifically for trap, skeet and sporting clay use with break-action shotguns, it offers top-quality performance with minimal discomfort.
Once fitted to the shooter and loaded with good but light ammunition, these guns are a great way for any new shooter to start. For one thing, they’re the easiest models made for ensuring safety. As long as they’re in the broken position, that is, open with the breech exposed, there’s no way they can fire. That way, they’re easy to keep safe, for the shooter and mentor alike.
Further, since they offer only a single shot at a time, shooters quickly learn to make the very most of that only opportunity count.