Whether a youngster learns to shoot with a crossbow, compound bow, rifle, muzzleloader, or shotgun, the principals of shooting safety and, in many instances, shooting form necessary to achieve proficiency, are very similar. A gentle ‘trigger squeeze’ is the name of the game, regardless if the trigger is on a centerfire rifle, the release used in shooting compounds or, the crossbow’s trigger. Granted, most good shotgunners ‘jerk’ the trigger when the correct sight pitcher is achieved. Many of my most fond and yes, occasionally frustrating moments in the outdoors, were teaching kids to shoot. There is something very rewarding when, after hours of instruction and grooming, they get it.

  What is a good age to begin training? Around the age of five or six, most kids can begin to learn the basics, starting with a BB gun and progressing to an air rifle in a year or so. I’ve seen six year olds that could shoot their light bows surprisingly well. By the time most youngsters reach eight or nine, they are ready for some serious archery training.

  There is a very fine line when teaching safety. I’ve found it best to approach the subject in a quiet manner, taking time to explain that once a bullet or arrow leaves a weapon, the shooter is taken out of the control equation. The projectile cannot be recalled. I’ve sacrificed a few watermelons in this stage of training. One shot at a melon from close range with a shotgun loaded with light shot is all it takes to drive the importance home of firearm safety. Just make sure to do this little demonstration in a ‘fun’ manner. No need to be too graphic when explaining the damage caused, the sight of the melon disengaging will become firmly engrained in the youngsters mind for years to come.  Rule number one is to treat every shotgun or rifle as though it is loaded and rule number two is to ALWAYS keep the firearm or cocked crossbow or drawn bow pointed in a safe direction. With archery equipment, especially crossbows, great care must be taken to keep hands and arms away from the path of the string when the bow is shot. This is especially important when shooting crossbows. Rule number one when teaching crossbow safety is to keep hands and arms BELOW the string.

  All firearms and crossbows have safety latches. Teach your youngsters to make a habit of continually checking to make sure their safety is on and not in the fire position. It’s extremely easy, especially when hunting ducks or upland birds, to take the safety off and have the birds fly by just out of range and then, forget about the position of the safety. Teach them to be able to ‘feel’ the safety position without looking. A good case in point was a dove hunt years ago with my oldest son Matthew. Matt was 11 and we were dove hunting on a stock tank. I left my shotgun in the truck and was setting directly behind my son, watching for incoming birds and giving instructions. A dove darted by, Matthew cocked his little single shot 20 gauge, swung  on the bird with firing and then brought the gun back to rest in his lap, cocked and loaded. In his excitement, he’d forgotten to uncock the single shot. I neglected to check it. The barrel was pointed away from us; he had learned this rule well. In a minute or so, KA-BOOM, his shotgun discharged in the mud a few yards in front of us. Keeping that barrel pointed in a safe direction at all times is an absolute must.

  Never, ever cross a fence with a firearm in your hand, loaded or unloaded. Sooner or later, the law of averages will catch up with you and you’ll pull a stand of barbed wire loose and fall with your firearm. ALWAYS walk a few feet down the fence from where you plan to cross and lay the gun on the ground  under the fence, UNLOADED with the action open with the stock of the gun pointing on the other side of the fence. Cross over the fence, walk over and pick up your firearm (the barrel will be pointing away from you, on the opposite side of the fence.

  I’m a rabid bow hunter and love to shoot and hunt with my Darton compound or crossbow but I understand that young kids need all the advantage possible.  When training youngsters, whether with rifle or bow, it’s very important to spend the time to teach the basics of shooting and safety. Kids need to be comfortable with the weapon they choose to hunt with and be proficient shooting it. This can only be achieved through repetitive practice and lots of it. This equates to some quality time spent with the youngster and often requires a lot of patience. Keeping that rifle or cocked crossbow pointed in a safe direction will prevent a great deal of problems. I started my sons shooting scoped pellet guns, graduated them up to .22’s and then to a heavier rifles for their first hog hunts. Hogs are a wonderful ‘first’ big game for youngsters. They are plentiful, ecumenical to hunt and make great table fare. A .22/.250 makes a good hog killer for a young hunter, providing the teacher takes the time to instruct with proper shot placement. Shot through heart/lungs with this little caliber or in the neck at the base of the head, and any wild hog is destined for the meat pole! Depending upon the size of the hunter, larger calibers such as the .243, the.223 or 6mm. make good choices. Most 12 year olds can easily handle calibers of this size. Calibers up to .270 or even 20/06 using reduced recoil ammunition are good choices. My youngest son, now in his early twenties began his hog hunting career shooting a 50 caliber inline muzzleloader charged with 70 grains of power and a 225 grain sabot. This light load was plenty of medicine for cleanly killing hogs and had very manageable recoil. I remember well him making the 90 yard shot on a 140 pound sow. Bullet placement was perfect, right behind the crease in the shoulder and a bit forward in the lower part of the hog’s body, a perfect heart shot.

  Crossbows make excellent weapons for young hunters wishing to get started hunting with a bow. Today’s crossbows are safe, powerful and pack plenty of game killing punch. The Darton Serpent is a safe, well-built crossbow that’s easy to shoot and very compact in size, ideal for smaller shooters or adults that wish to pack a smaller, lighter crossbow. Mine is topped with a good scope and deadly accurate out to 50 yards, which is the maximum yardage I have my grandson, Luke Zimmerman, shooting. We’re making plans for Luke to harvest his first hog soon. He’s started shooting a lightweight compound but Ole’ Gramps would like to see him get a clean kill or two under his belt  with the crossbow before we crank the poundage up on his compound.

  Regardless the weapon, it’s important to keep training sessions fun. I’ve always been stern when it comes to safety issues but the minute shooting/safety training becomes boring or ‘work’ for the youngster, it’s time to stop. Concentration levels fall drastically when youngsters become tired or bored and safety issues are apt to arise.  In the beginning, it’s much more important for the kid to have a good, tight group with a rifle or bow at close range than a ‘shotgun pattern’ at distant targets. The proper method to adjust sights or scopes is best taught at close targets. I often use balloons as targets, kids like to see and hear their targets break. In the beginning, blow the balloons up to make six or eight inch targets and reduce their size as your young shooter gains accuracy skills.

  The first time your young charge makes a well placed shot on a game animal with his or her weapon of choice, you will feel immensely proud and all the time you spent in training will be repaid tenfold! I always stress the fact that once the animal is on the ground, it’s time to go to work learning a whole new set of skills, skinning and butchering. Make sure and get your youngster involved in this process if it’s only placing the meat in the cooler as you do the butchering.

  Being an old camp cook, I thoroughly love putting wild game to use and try to involve my youngsters in the cooking process. I’ve never, ever seen one of them set down to a platter of fresh BBQ pork chops that they harvested and help butcher themselves when they did not brag on just how good the meat from their wild pig tastes.

  Teaching kids to become proficient shots and later how to hunt has been one of life’s most rewarding endeavors for me. I look forward to each and every outing, probably every bit as much as the youngsters that I’ve had the pleasure of training!

-Written By Luke Clayton