Teach the children…
With all the bad press about kids with guns I thought I’d write something to show just how easy it is to teach children how to enjoy airguns and stay perfectly safe while they’re doing so.
I think that more of this sort of education is needed and from an early age. Once the vital facts of airgun safety life are taught, learned and understood, they tend to stay in the minds of those who benefit most from them. My children have always been around airguns and they know how to be safe, because they have learned these simple rules. *Don’t point an airgun toward anyone, ever!
* Always treat an airgun as loaded.
* Keep your trigger finger away from the trigger on the outside of the trigger guard until you are ready to shoot.
* Don’t rely on a safety catch. The real safety catch is your safe gun handling, so never do anything with an airgun with the safety catch on, that you wouldn’t do with it off.
* When an airgun is in your possession always point it in a safe direction, preferably pointing to the floor but away from your feet.
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* Always know what is behind your target and where it is safe to shoot.
* Check the condition of your backstop, ensuring that it can stop every pellet, replacing it if you’re unsure, and make sure no pellets hit outside its boundaries.
* Make absolutely certain that the range is clear of people, pets, and anything else that isn’t safe and legal to shoot at. Secure gates and access points and make sure everyone knows you’re shooting.
These few rules must be in addition to adult supervision as children still must not be left alone with airguns at any time.
Making it fun
My seven-year-old daughter, Sapphire, wanted to try out the U.B.C. Battleships Target, and as I have an Air Arms S200 hybrid with a bipod, I knew it would be easy for her to manage, rather than having to support the full weight of the airgun. Proper shooting training can come when Sapphire is older, but for now I just wanted to teach her that shooting safely and having fun were one and the same.
I sat down with her first of all and showed her all the components of the rifle, how to load it, point it down range, the safe trigger finger placement, and how easy it was to put her mind into ‘safety-first’ mode, ready for the shoot.
We set up the range together, which is a good idea because they can see the reasoning behind why everything is done a particular way - safety considerations, backstop and the like - and to feel that they are a part of the whole set-up. This is far better than the ‘do it because I tell you’ approach, where obedience is the driver. Understanding why something needs to be done definitely implants the lesson far more reliably.
Once the safety preparations were taken care of and the targets set out, we then got to the firing line ready for the shoot.
Sapphire struggled at first to get comfortable, so I let her find her own style as she was getting frustrated. Kids can lose interest very quickly, so sometimes a compromise is needed between proper technique and just getting on with having fun shooting. In this case, as you can see, the stock is too long for Sapphire, but I plan to fit an adjustable one for her. It’s important that junior shooters have enough control over the airgun to shoot it safely and with a fair chance of hitting a few targets.
Using pre-charged pneumatics or CO2-powered guns makes initial success far easier, because there’s no need to worry about controlling the recoil. While spring-piston airguns are usually cheaper and often more simple to use, managing that recoil is a major obstacle and it can really put off very young shooters. I’m all for using springers to teach proper technique – and nothing does that better than a recoiling gun – but at the very early stages when the ‘fun’ aspect has yet to be established, I’d recommend recoilless all the way.
Making it easy
At first I was loading the rifle for her, and then, when she knew what to do, I let her load it herself. Once loaded, she naturally placed her trigger finger along the trigger guard, so the prep talk and guidance had paid off and not once did I have to correct her. All the while, though, I was right next to her, within ‘taking control of the rifle range’, but not being overbearing.
After shooting the Battleships target we had fun shooting tin cans, which she really enjoyed; sending cans flying all over the place. Truth to tell, I loved it too, and there’s definitely something wonderful about ‘reactive’ targets, especially when compared to paper. A reactive target gives the junior shooter an instant reward for putting the pellet in the right place, and that helps them to repeat the action. It’s the old ‘action and reward’ system, which works for training dogs and people alike.
Making it a regular treat
Sapphire and I had a safe and enjoyable time together, because we both knew how to be safe and we incorporated proper safety considerations into our shooting. The more we do this, the more ‘automatic’ it will become, and that’s how safe shooting needs to be. To keep the lessons and the learning flowing, I’ve promised Sapphire that we’ll have regular shooting sessions together, and these have become rewards in themselves. We’re at the point now, where Sapphire will remind me of my promise to do some shooting, so I know she’s really enjoying it.
What I’m teaching my daughter, and all the fun she gets from it, comes courtesy of a set of simple, common sense, unbreakable rules. She knows that and she knows better than to try to separate the fun from the safety. The fact is, though, fun and safety go hand-in-hand in shooting, and one needn’t ever reduce the other. Finally, shooting can be such a ‘family’ thing, and what’s better than doing something you love with the people you love? Teach a kid to shoot safely, and you’ll both get a fantastic reward from it, I promise. n