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What is the right age to start children?

Started by USNAVYCHIEF(Ret), September 12, 2019, 11:50:48 AM

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This is a section of the forum I glossed over in the past, as my daughters were ~5-7 yrs old when I was an active instructor.

Appleseed, is where my daughter Shannon (she is an IIT and is X ALL OUT on this forum) got her start.

When the opportunity presented itself, and it was at the first signal from her that she was interested in marksmanship, I seized it immediately.

She had expressed interest and I was struggling with the "How" on getting her started.

BeSwift (Brian) in here, was the first person I contacted, as he has been around Appleseed a long time.  I asked him "What rifle would be appropriate for someone small in stature".

I believe I got the best advice ever from him that day.  He advised me to check out a Blackhawk Axiom 10/22 stock.  That stock is length of pull adjustable to about what the cricket is all the way out to what an AR15 A2 would be.

So I ordered one off Amazon, and we proceeded to build Shannon's rifle.  We opted for a scope, as I did not want to over saturate her with information regarding the fundamentals.  The scope choice allowed me to not have to worry much about sight alignment or front sight focus for a long period of time.

Hindsight being 20/20 and contrary to what I hear many adult shooters say I do NOT recommend starting a youth out on iron sights at all.  It is easy enough to teach sight alignment and front sight focus (the only 2 things that are different) after they have a solid grasp of the rest of the fundamentals.

We also went with a standard GI web sling.

In my experience, finding a rifle that FITS is imperative.  Too short or too long both bring their own sets of undesirable effects.

The adjustable buttstock on the Axiom, allowed for a real good length of pull.

We were able to also add on to that buttstock clip on cheek risers, those helped a lot as well.

So rifle built, now we were off to position work.

This is where I "almost" lost her, and likely where I did lose her twin sister.  For those of us that shoot, do you recall the first time you were "slung up" prone?  I do, it was very uncomfortable for me. 

My 10 yr old daughter was in tears the first few times, as soon as the tears and complaints started....we stopped.  Then came back to it a few days later.  We repeated this a few times, until she was able to deal with the uncomfortability.

But, her twin witnessed the above and it has turned her off, "for now".

Sure...I've instructed and attended a lot of events, and have done alternative things to keep the children interested.  Had them shoot off a bipod or rest, I've seen baloons placed at the target line....All GOOD stuff, as the kids had a pleasurable experience.

For anyone considering getting a young youth involved, do not let their age deter you.  But approach it with lots and lots of patience and take it slowly.

They can and will surpise and impress you!

I know Shannon has impressed me. 

I would recommend that you as the parent/guardian not shoot at the event, and supervise/work with the child.  I screwed that one up, and missed some training opportunities.

There may be tears at the event.  Shannon cried a LOT when she did not qualify her first event.  And, at other events since, if she had a bad stage, she would cry a lot.

THAT is an AWESOME time for a training pause.  I think the most value she has learned in her marksmanship journey to date, is "how to deal with failure".  Kids show their emotions, they wear it on their sleeves and you can see it in their facial expressions, and just about every parent knows when the lower lip/chin starts to quiver, the waterworks are not far behind.

I don't think I have seen her wimper once in the past few months after a poorly executed shot.  THAT is the immense value she has attained and a gift that the skillsets of marksmanship will endow in time.  The counseling/training that was given after a tear session was "Never quit....never give up, the only shot that counts is the one in the chamber, not the previous miss or perfect shot, and not the last stage of the match when we are on the 2nd stage of the match". 

Consider the Blackhawk Axiom stock for the 10/22, it can also make the rifle a bit more accurate as the barrel does not touch the stock at all past the action screw.

She is not much taller than she was after her first Appleseed in August of 2018, and since then she has also earned the Rifleman patch on a 25M AQT with a centerfire AR15.  Her centerfire AR15 has an adjustable buttstock very similar to her Blackhawk Axiom's stock, so it was a fairly easy transition.

I'm not sure what the answer is to "What is the right age to start children"?  But, I can share our experience on this, and in our case it was the moment she expressed interest.

My advice, do not miss that moment.



That looks like a good stock for a loaner with so much adjustability. What scope did you end up pairing with it?
There's things that gnaw on a man worse than dyin'. - Open Range


Quote from: Captain on September 12, 2019, 01:22:53 PM
That looks like a good stock for a loaner with so much adjustability. What scope did you end up pairing with it?

FYI, if you sign up for ExpertVoice and do the BLACKHAWK training the Axiom stock can be had for $46.03.  It's listed as "Axiom R/F Stock Ruger 10/22"
Do good, recklessly.


Quote from: Captain on September 12, 2019, 01:22:53 PM
That looks like a good stock for a loaner with so much adjustability. What scope did you end up pairing with it?

It is a great loaner stock because of the awesome flexibility with length of pull.  I donated one to the local instructor cadre here to use at local events.

The scope we started her with was a Leupold VX Rimfire 1-7 (something like that).

Then we changed that recently to match my Nikon Prostaff EFR 3x9x40MM AO.  That switch was primarily for use at 200 yards, the Adjustable Objective works well for that.



I started my oldest daughter at 8, but not with sling-supported positional shooting, but off a sandbag with a Compact model of 10/22.  It has a smaller stock and shorter barrel, and so it still has good balance.

I wanted to keep it simple, make success likely, and keep it fun but safe.  So the first focus was on safety, aiming through a scope, and trigger squeeze.  It wasn't long before she was dissecting clays at 50 yards and we stayed until we needed headlights to finish.

I've built in a bit more since, but we're still mostly having fun and working stability, breathing, squeeze and safety.  She's 10 now, and learning peep sights is next, I think.

In teaching a number of Appleseeds with youth, I've found that kids younger than high school tend not to have the mental and physical stamina for a full day of what we do.  So I'm trying to keep the goal in mind of having my daughters ready to learn sling and position when they're about 13 or 14. Each kid is different, and my oldest may come a bit before that because that's who she is, but it's been a pretty reliable rule for me when judging who I need to keep an eye on as I look folks over on day 1.
If I knew the world was ending today, I would still plant another Appleseedling. 
-Martin Luther

7/5/2014, First appleseed
9/20/2014, Rifleman
4/19/2015, Orange hat
10/15/2016, Red hat
9/11/2022, Shoot Boss
7/9/2023, Pistoleer™/Pistol Instructor
....and still working on it


I recently had a 10 year old show up at my shoot and she began the day by clearing the Redcoat target with an AR-15. She put the AR away and shot her 10/22 for the remainder of the day, achieving several Rifleman's scores, topping out with a 238. She was as focused as any accomplished shooter I have ever seen. She now wears an Orange hat. I would agree that this is more the exception, however, there are quite a few 10 year olds that shoot very well if given the opportunity.
We can have no '50-50' allegiance in this country. Either a man is an American and nothing else, or he is not an American at all.

Theodore Roosevelt


This is a tough question.  Here's my take (based on being a Dad for 31 years, a lifelong shooter, and around Appleseed for 3 clinics).

My short answer is kids are ready for an introduction to shooting when they have the ability to understand the Four safety rules, how to make a safe rifle, and (to borrow from Massad Ayoob) that the power of a firearm is awesome and absolute.  When they get all that, they're ready to learn about shooting.  To that end, I love the fact that at an Appleseed children are welcome. It is a safe and friendly environment for them to learn. Unfortunately, the program of instruction is long for the kids.

We've all seen this next part: At the clinic start, the kids are enthusiastic. Right away, all shooters get to shoot the Redcoat target.


Then begins the long day's program of instruction. Appleseed POI, good as it is, it is challenging for the young ones. The enthusiasm wanes. It does perk up when there is some shooting to be done. But when the POI goes for eight hours, it is tough on the kids (and the parents to keep the kids focused).

I have seen the same thing when coaching little league baseball or teaching kids to fish. No matter how fast the action is, or how fun you try to make it, after a two or three hours most of them are ready to do something else. The prodigies, like the aforementioned 10 year old shooting Rifleman scores-that is a whole ‘nother matter!  Those are the kids that go on to be World Class, Best of the Best.

But, most kids are kids.  I have three sons and taught all of them to respect firearms. My oldest had no real interest in shooting. My second and third enjoy shooting very much. When we went shooting, I tried to gauge their level of interest and commitment and kept the instruction fun, safe to be sure, but fun.  And after two hours, until they were teenagers, they were ready to do something else.

In the end I think the best answer to the question is that it varies with the child. Some kids are laser focused and can't get enough. Other's find shooting interesting for a while and then when a robin flies by it's: "Oh look! A bird"!

Handling the emotions.  The Big 3 sports in my family was baseball, fishing, and shooting.  When the kids didn't do well, and the disappointment set in, I'd tell them this: If you feel bad it doesn't mean you are a failure, it means you care. It means you want to get good at the sport. We'll work on it together.

With my kids that worked really well. Follow through on my part was vital.  We spent a lot of time on the ball field throwing, hitting and catching. We spent a lot of time down on the Kenai Peninsula catching salmon, releasing most and keeping a few.  My boys weren't ready for serious shooting until they were 10-12 years old. Then they could understand and appreciate safety, the power of a firearm, and  how cool it was to direct a projectile, or a charge of shot, downrange accurately and with purpose. Honestly, my biggest challenge was keeping them from becoming too competitive with each other, which of course what another set of issues for the Old Man to deal with.


"Mental notes aren't worth the paper they're written on" - Mark Twain

"Pick up a rifle and you change instantly from a subject to a citizen" - Jeff Cooper

Tennessee Beast

I've seen a kid as young as 5 handle a rifle well and I have also seen adults that couldn't.  The answer is "it depends".
In giving us dominion over the animal kingdom, God has signified His will that we subdue the beast within ourselves.
John Lancaster Spalding

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.
Benjamin Franklin, 1775

"A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined; to which end a uniform and well-digested plan is requisite; and their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories as tend to render them independent of others for essential, particularly military, supplies."  George Washington 1790

"[T]o preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them…"
- Richard Henry Lee, Declaration Signer

Practice every time you get a chance. - Bill Monroe

Black Knight

Levels of maturity comes at different ages to different children.  There are too many factors to consider to begin a potential evaluation. Observation and patience are the keys to figuring out the answer.  Those and a lot of praise!  "You were able to concentrate on safe shooting for 30 minutes, GREAT job!"  Any good behavior is worth praise.  This reinforces the good behavior and builds self esteem.  These are essential qualities that can be molded into RIFLEMEN and ROFLEWOMEN.
Black Knight
1st AS: Tuscaloosa, AL OCT  8-9, 2016
Applecore: Jun 6, 2017
AC/RSO: Jul 12, 2017
IBC: Pelham, TN Feb 23-24, 2019
Pistol IBC: Mar 5,2021