How to Pick the Perfect Youth Hunting Rifle

There are so many options out there when looking for a good hunting rifle for your child, but all of these choices can be difficult to navigate. Fortunately, there have been others that have gone before that can offer advice and help you find the best fitting rifle for your child and will ensure you don’t spend a lot of money on something your child doesn’t want to shoot.

Two great hunting rifles for a child who is just learning how to hunt are the 6.5 Creedmoor or a .243 Winchester because of their low recoil. Once the child builds up confidence and skill, even a younger and smaller child may be comfortable using an AR-10 or AR-15 to hunt bigger game.

Although it may seem overwhelming to teach your children how to handle and use guns properly, several recommendations, as well as some tips for helping your child build a good relationship with guns, will be given to you as you continue to read.

Guns by Age

12 and Under

One of the most important things to do when introducing guns to your child is to make sure there is no intimidation surrounding the use of guns. One of the best ways to do this is to start off small, which is why the Daisy Red Ryder BB Gun is recommended for kids under the age of 12.

The Red Ryder will help kids get comfortable around guns and get used to using the sights, fitting the gun on their shoulders properly, and learning how to pull the trigger. The Red Ryder is ideal because of how easy it is to use for smaller children, especially because there is no pumping involved.

This gun is super cheap, going for only $30 at Walmart, making it an ideal option for a first-time shooter.


When your child is ready to start shooting a real firearm (or when you feel they are ready), one of the best options is the Savage Rascal .22. This rifle is a single shot, making it a safe option for both the child and whoever is teaching the child how to shoot.

Not only is it a safe gun, but it is also fun for a child. It makes some noise, it does a little damage, and it is extremely lightweight. All of these things help your child become confident when shooting and help resolve any intimidation that might have arisen from starting to use a real gun.


One of the biggest differences between a beginner rifle and a hunting rifle will be the cartridge size. It is important to choose something that won’t have a big recoil but will still be powerful enough to hunt with. Two great options in this category include the 6.5 Creedmoor or a 243 Winchester.

The 6.5 Creedmoor is a good step up from the .243 Winchester because it is still low recoil but can be used to hunt deer and even larger animals.

The table below lays out cartridge size correlated with the kind of game it can kill, but it is important to keep in mind that the larger the cartridge, the heavier the recoil. For children, it is easier for them to handle a lighter recoil, and there are several options that allow for hunting with little recoil. It is important to point out that everything depends on the child and their experience, so age recommendations are simply recommendations, not a strict timeline that needs to be followed exactly.

Squirrel/Small GameCoyoteDeer/AntelopeElk/Bear
.17 HMR.223 / 5.566.5 Creedmoor.308 Win
.22 LR.22-250.243 Winchester7mm-08
.243 WIN.25-06 Remington6.5 PRC

Tips for Shooting with a Kid

Never Go too High on Recoil

Once your child shoots something with a recoil that is too high for them, it will be difficult to get back up to that point if they get scared. It can take months before they are willing to shoot anything, even a smaller gun with low recoil that they had previously been comfortable using. It is important that they are prepared for the recoil that comes with shooting a bigger gun.

As soon as they get hurt by a heavy recoil or scared by the loud sound, they may not only become intimidated and have no desire to go to the range, but it can also spark bad habits when shooting because they are nervous of the recoil. It is crucial to let them take initiative in wanting to take the next step and shoot a bigger gun. Never push your child too far.

Use Low Recoil Ammo

When your child starts on a new gun, make sure you use low recoil ammunition. Essentially, this ammo is just using less gunpowder so that there is less kickback. There is a wide variety of low recoil ammo, and if you are buying it in-store, it will say right on the box whether or not it is low recoil. If you are using a more popular rifle, such as the 6.5 Creedmoor, there will be more options for this kind of ammo compared to something that is less common.

If you are unable to find low recoil ammo for your particular rifle, look for the lightest grain ammo and go for that.

This helps the child feel comfortable shooting a bigger gun and will help ease them into the feeling of shooting that new gun. If they are doing good with the low recoil ammo, you can go ahead and step them up to regular ammunition.

Build an AR together

This isn’t for everyone, but if you want to build an AR with your child, it is a relatively cheap and quick process that can help them get excited about bigger guns and help them feel more comfortable around them. It is about $375 and only takes an hour and a half to build. It can be super fun for a child to choose the different components that go onto the gun and is not a bad choice for a child to learn how to hunt.

Although these can look scary and can even be intimidating for adults when they see them on a store shelf, they actually have many redeeming qualities. Since the gun itself is heavier, it doesn’t have such a heavy recoil, and most of them have a simple red dot for the sight, making it easy for children to hunt with.

Obviously, these rifles are more dangerous for children because they are semi-automatic and kids can be careless sometimes, so it is recommended that you only put one bullet in the magazine at a time to ensure there are no accidents.

Go Single Shot

When your child is stepping up to their first hunting rifle, it may be a good idea to take the magazine out (if it is semi-automatic) and have them load each shot individually. Since not all rifles have a single shot option, you as a parent can just hand your child one bullet at a time to load into their gun.

This is for the same reason that an AR is more dangerous: a semi-automatic gun can be fired more than once, and if a kid gets excited after a shot and accidentally points the gun back at you as a caregiver, things can go badly. Once they have shown that they know how to handle the firearm responsibly and correctly, then you can go ahead and put the magazine back in.

Skip the Muzzle Brake

You may be tempted to get a muzzle brake to put on a bigger firearm for your child, but these actually have the potential to do more harm than good. They are so loud that they can really scare the child, and when testing with a child to see if they liked shooting with a brake better than without one, they actually preferred to shoot without a brake. Even though there was more recoil, it wasn’t so loud.

With a muzzle brake, you would need both earplugs and ear coverings to block out the noise, which can make communication difficult. Since this can also be a hazard, it is recommended to just skip the brake.

Choose the Youth Model

It’s a good idea to go with the youth model firearm for smaller children so that they can learn good posture and habits when shooting. The youth models are generally lighter and the barrels are shorter than the regular models, which fits most children better than a full-size rifle.

The general rule of thumb is that when you put the butt of the gun in your elbow, your fingers should rest right on the trigger. This sizing ensures better shooting and helps create good shooting habits in kids.

One option is to purchase a regular size model that has an insert in the stock that can be removed in order to convert it to youth size. As the child grows, the gun can grow with them, and you won’t have to buy them a new rifle when they outgrow the youth model.

Consider a Heavy Gun

The reason behind using a heavy gun with your child is because that recoil is going to be very light. Using an extremely light rifle is not ideal for a child learning how to hunt because the recoil can really traumatize them and can even deter them from shooting at all.

Obviously, you want something fairly light, since you (as the parent or guardian) are probably going to be the one carrying their gun while you hike throughout the woods. As the child gets older, they will be able to carry their own gun when hiking for extended periods of time but for a small child, they can only go so far.

Keep Scope Magnification Low

I generally like to keep scope magnification low on youth models. For example, 9x or 14x. As much as you can tell your child to get used to shooting at 6X, if they can change the scope around or mess with it, they will. It is easier to just get a fixed power scope so the child can get used to shooting at that magnification and it won’t mess them up when they are out hunting.

Hold off on Shotguns

If your child is 11 or 12 and is comfortable shootings the models we have discussed above, then maybe consider having them shoot a 20 gauge or .410. A 12 gauge is going to be a lot to handle for youth and again, if it is too much to handle, then they will get spooked and won’t want to come back.

It obviously depends on the child and their experience whether or not they can handle a 12 gauge, but generally, a 20 gauge is a good option for kids who have no experience with shotguns, and even if they do have experience it is still an ideal choice. It is even safe to let your child wait until they are 14-15 before they shoot a 12 gauge.

Have Fun with Targets

Kids are not going to be constantly enamored with shooting paper targets. After a while, the fascination with shooting will wear off if all they shoot is paper plates or cardboard. Let them choose their own targets from a thrift store or even just use old cans or glass bottles. Have some fun with it! If you don’t, kids will get bored and won’t want to continue shooting.

Overall, it is up to you as a parent to decide when your child is ready to move on to bigger guns or when they are ready to start hunting bigger game. Every child is different, and some might take longer to adjust than others, and that is perfectly fine. Just make sure you aren’t pushing them too fast and everything will work out just fine.