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Well over five decades have come and gone since I received my first gun, but memories of that Christmas of my 10th year remain as powerful and poignant as if that gift had been received this past December. Mind you, I already had appreciable experience with guns. Dad had given me a BB several years before. There had been some plinking sessions with a .22, and using a borrowed .410 I had already bagged my first bushytails under his cautious, caring supervision as my hunting mentor.
I still own that first gun, a little Stevens Model 220A 20 gauge. Although of little monetary worth (Dad told me many years later that he paid $25 for it, and today’s value is under $100), the gun has tremendous sentimental value to me. It is still perfectly functional in every sense, and was the gun I used, even though I had other, better choices by that point in my life, to kill my first wild turkey. I sensed turkey hunting would mean a great deal to me, and taking my first longbeard with a shotgun which was almost an extension of my being had great appeal to me.
Those fond memories having been duly related, it needs to be recognized that the shotgun was a singularly inappropriate choice for my first gun. It kicked like an irate Georgia mule, had the thinnest of butt plates without any padding, and was choked tight as a miser’s purse. While the recoil posed problems, it was the latter characteristic which made the gun truly unsuitable. It was intended for all-purpose use on small game, and while the super-tight choke was fine for bushytails, it presented distinct disadvantages when it came to rabbits, quail and grouse. Yet those were the game I hunted as a boy.
All of that serves to point out the fact that selection of a youngster’s first gun is a matter for careful thought. In my case, I have no doubt that money (or lack thereof) was the critical factor, and often a hand-me-down gun is passed on to a youngster. Those may be the only available options, but whenever possible, focus on common sense rather than convenience. You will be doing yourself and the budding hunter a big favor. With that thought in mind, here are some points to consider when it comes to selection of that first gun. With luck, the recipient will cherish and treasure it for the remainder of his or her life, and you are thus making a gift or purchase which will literally last a lifetime.
In addition to these suggestions, maybe the most important concept of all involves personal knowledge of the youngster who will be getting the gun. As a parent, grandparent, relative or mentor, try to make an honest, open assessment of the personality, mental and physical maturity, and general readiness of the tyro in terms of being ready to own and use a gun. Failure to do so is unfair to the youngster and unwise on your part.
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