|Prepare Young Guns for Squirrel Fun|
By John Howle
Many of us who were fortunate enough to grow up in the country hunting squirrels along hardwood ridges and bottoms not only did this for sport, but we were taught that the gun was not a “weapon,” but a tool for putting food on the table. Teaching children the safe use of this tool is easy to convey when taking them on squirrel hunts. The child’s attention is held during this fast paced style of hunting, and chances run high for bringing in a harvest.
How Old Should a Young Gun Be?
As guardian of the child, this is your call. Basically, the child should be able to fully understand the concept that when the shot is fired it can’t be brought back. Second, the child should show the physical and mental maturity to comfortably hold the firearm steady and always know what’s beyond the target.
According to Johnny Johnson, Supervisor of District I Law Enforcement for Wildlife Resources, Alabama’s laws are ideal for getting youth involved in the outdoors through squirrel hunting. “We want to bring youth into hunting without so many age restrictions,” says Johnson. “Basically, you can take any age child hunting, but if they are 16 or younger, they have to have close adult supervision. We recommend that everyone take a hunter education course.”
In an effort to recruit more young hunters, The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) teamed up with the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) and the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance in an effort to work with legislatures to successfully lower restrictive age limits across the nation. The “Families Afield” act has helped remove youth hunting restrictions in 11 states. According to the Youth Hunting Report funded by the NSSF and NWTF, youth hunters are the safest hunters in the woods when accompanied by an adult.
Choosing the right gun
There’s been a long running debate over scatterguns versus a .22 for young squirrel hunters. Some believe that the shotgun is a better first squirrel gun because the extra recoil serves as a reminder to the youth of the powerful potential of the gun. Also, more pellets mean a better chance of bagging a squirrel.
For me, the last thing I want to do when biting into a fried squirrel leg is to ruin my dental work with a hidden pellet. (By the way, to avoid this problem, you can hold the meat up to a bright light to reveal any hidden pellets that might be embedded.)
The trusty .22
It’s light, it’s low recoil, and with some basic training, young guns will be making accurate shots for only pennies a bullet. There are a few gunmakers out there who now offer specialized youth shooting .22 rifles that fit the smaller frame. One such gun company, Henry Repeating Arms (www.henryrepeatingarms.com) is located right here in the U.S.
Henry makes an ideal small frame rifle called the Mini-Bolt. This bolt-action single shot is one of the safest and most accurate rifles for youngsters I’ve seen thus far. The gun shoots .22 shorts for virtually no recoil, which translates to virtually no flinch. You can also shoot traditional .22 long rifle bullets through the rifle.
Prepare for the Hunt
Developing marksmanship skills should begin for the youngster at the shooting bench. This is the best place for young shooters to learn breathing control, trigger squeeze, and shooting form. A solid bench rest gives the youth the opportunity to fire that first round in a rested position, which eliminates the wobbles of first time shooters. Following this, you can move into the offhand shooting position, which is the norm for most squirrel hunts.
The best target I’ve found for adding excitement when training youngsters in .22 shooting is simple, party balloons. Set up a target with an appropriate backdrop such as a dirt bank or side of a hill. Sharpen a 2 x 4 plank, drive it into the ground, and nail a second plank across the top forming a “T.” Simply use thumbtacks to attach the balloons to the top of the “T” and a short distance from the shooter, for instance 15 yards. This way the child knows instantly if he or she is on target, and it’s fun to watch balloons burst when hit. Have the young shooter move farther away from the target as skills progress.
When you feel the child is shooting steady and ready for the woods, follow your hunter safety requirements. “If you and the child are hunting squirrels during gun deer season, you have to be wearing 144 square inches of blaze orange for safety,” says Johnson. “This can be a cap with a small logo.”
Finally, have the child memorize the 10 commandments of hunter safety:
1) Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
2) Firearms should be unloaded when not actually in use.
3) Don’t rely on your gun’s safety.
4) Be sure of your target and what’s beyond it.
5) Use proper ammunition.
6) If your gun fails to fire when the trigger is pulled, handle with care.
7) Always wear eye and ear protection when shooting.
8) Be sure the barrel is clear of obstructions before shooting.
9) Don’t alter or modify your gun, and have it serviced regularly.
10) Learn the mechanical and handling characteristics of the firearm you are using.
If the child is only able to remember one commandment, let it be number one, always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. Visit www.outdooralabama.com and click on education for additional programs that get youth involved in the outdoors.
John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.