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The most repeated question that I receive from my adult pupils is along the lines of “At what age can my daughter/son begin clay shooting?”
My common replies about age suggest to parents that 11 to 12 is a good age to start, but I also explain that I have started a few youngsters from as young as 7. These have all been exceptional cases. They always have been girls and boys growing up in game shooting families where correct shotgun usage and safety have been an important part of their education throughout their young lives.
The most important message that I give to parents about the best time for their youngsters to start clay shooting is; “when the youngsters really want to”!
Beware the overzealous projecting parent; dragging their reluctant children to the shooting school! Does not happen very often; but a sure fire way to turn off the youngster, possibly for ever:
Physical stature is of course a very important factor in deciding if the youngster is ready to begin to clay shooting. The child needs to be able to comfortably support the weight of a suitable gun weighing around 6lbs. The ‘cut down’ recoil reduced 28 bore described in my previous article about pain free learning; will be ideal for the young novice pupil.
All the other pieces of equipment provided for lady pupils are crucial for our young shots. Ear defenders that fit over their ears are an absolute must. Young ears damage very easily; so ear plugs will not be sufficient to protect their long term hearing.
Traditionalists reading this article; will no doubt query my omission of any mention of the .410 calibre. Parents of my era will have commonly been introduced to shooting via the use of the .410 calibre.
Many of these parents will arrive at the shooting school with the young pupil proudly bearing a .410 shotgun. This gun may well have been in the family for two or more generations. It will probably have a single barrel that is very tightly choked. Both the barrel and stock will probably be too long for the young pupil to handle comfortably.
My logic is that we should be trying to create a comfortable learning situation where the pupil has the very best chance to connect with flying clay targets. I believe an open choked recoil reduced 28 bore is the best tool for this job, rather than a .410 that might be throwing a pattern the size of a saucer:
Safe shotgun usage is of course the most important subject matter in any shooting lesson; however in tandem with this must be the youngster simply having fun. During these young learning formative years, children are spending long periods in formal learning situations. They will view many of these formal teaching periods as dreary and often boring. If their first shooting lesson is at a shooting school with a coach that they have not previously met; they may well be approaching this lesson with some trepidation and suspicion. My loudest message to these young pupils is they are going to succeed; that I am their friend and that we are going to have great fun together.
I believe that the best way for young pupils to learn shooting is to share with one or two of their friends of similar ages. They can each benefit from being the actual pupil for very short periods; around 5 to 10 minutes sessions holding the gun and shooting is ideal; with the whole lesson not taking more than an hour.
Most important for all young pupils; they must experience success, so choosing suitable sporting clay targets is crucial. I believe that during early lessons, all targets should be within 20 yards. Slow incoming ‘Crossers’ and slow incoming ‘Dropping’ targets are perfect. Also ‘Bolting Rabbit’ targets that are not too fast, provide great excitement and satisfaction for the youngsters. Once they have mastered the basics, and providing that they do not ever experience discomfort from recoil; their pace of learning will rapidly quicken to a level of confidence enabling them to cope with more challenging targets.
If you do have the opportunity to introduce youngsters to clay shooting; do take it. You will discover that their success is a great joy.
Finally; please remember that youngsters are the future for shooting :