Youth Shotgun Selection

You would like to have your new shotgun shooter started safely, comfortably, and with target-breaking success….

Safety and gunhandling etiquette will be talked about elsewhere on this blog or on the safety and etiquette page of our website . For now, I’m trying to address the frequently asked questions about choosing that first shotgun for a younger or smaller person.

The comfort of the new shooter is largely determined by matching the size and strength of the shooter with the shotgun chosen for him (or her!).

It is usually pretty easy to select and fit a first shotgun for someone when they are within an inch or two of five feet tall. The youth model shotguns that are readily available have lengths-of-pull for their butt stocks that will usually accomodate someone in this size range.  Don’t rule out the adult versions of a number of these guns, because their stocks can certainly be shortened, and relengthened as the shooter grows. Being smaller than this doesn’t prevent a shooter from getting started, but all the factors I present will be more critical.

When shopping for that first shotgun, the main concerns are:

The weight of the gun;
The balance of the gun;
The anticipated recoil of the gun;
The fit of critical stock dimensions, such as comb height, and possibly cast;
The flexibility of the gun to adjust and grow with the shooter.

The original butt-stock length-of-pull is of only secondary concern, as it is the most readily adjusted stock dimension.

Weight and balance

We tend to judge the weight and balance of a gun based on our own strength, and how it feels to us. Keep in mind that a smaller shooter will perceive both weight and balance differently… plan for their needs.

Shotgun weight is often less of a factor than balance. The hand on the forearm of the shotgun should be responsible for the primary movements of the gun. A smaller shooter does not have the same strength as a large adult, and can’t handle lifting and reaching with a muzzle-heavy gun, even if the overall weight of the gun is fairly light. Bad posture, discomfort and bad habits result. When evaluating this, place your hand on the forearm where a smaller person is likely to hold, close to the receiver, and then evaluate where most of the weight is carried as you try to move the unmounted gun. Avoid a clunky, muzzle heavy front end, even in lighter guns, and smaller gauges.


We all would like none. Again, a smaller person perceives it more sharply than a larger person does. In general, the lighter the gun, the more perceived recoil, so there are tradeoffs to be made.

In general, avoid the trusty old break-open single shot 20 or 12 gauge. They kick like a mule. They are OK for a few shots here and there, but I would prefer to avoid them as a new shooter’s “one gun”.


.410s carry few pellets, and are more for experts than beginners. I have seen a few exceptions, with over/unders shot brilliantly by small, very young, but very well-schooled shooters.

28 gauges are wonderful for starting out, with good target-breaking capabilities, lighter weights and minimal recoil. The drawbacks are that ammunition is very expensive and sometimes hard to find, and there are not a lot of models to choose from. They are an excellent choice for a new shooter if you reload ammunition.

20 gauges are the optimal starting guns, with minimal to moderate recoil, light to moderate weights, good target-breaking capabilities, inexpensive ammo, and many models to choose from.

12 gauges are not usually at the top of my list for new shooters. You can find very light recoiling ammunition, but the size, weight and balance of the gun normally make them inappropriate for a smaller shooter. Occasionally I’ll see someone who is very strong and very aggressive for their size, and I’m willing to start them with a 12 gauge auto.


Avoid the single shots, primarily because of excessive recoil.

Double barrels, whether over/unders or side by sides, tend to have a little too much recoil for most new, smaller shooters, unless you find a 28 gauge.

Pumps tend to have recoil close to the double barrels and tend to be muzzle heavy. It is the second factor which is most limiting.

The automatics are a mixed bag of sizes, weights, and handling characteristics. If you choose correctly, you can find a gun with acceptable weight, balance, and recoil characteristics that is also flexible enough to change as the young shooter grows and evolves. Several manufacturers, including Beretta, Benelli, and Franchi have built in stock adjustment systems that allow the drop and cast dimensions of the stock to be altered to fit the individual shooter, and these can readily be altered as the growing shooter’s face dimensions change… they don’t just get taller, do they?

I hear people express concerns about the safety of starting out a new shooter with an auto, and I don’t buy into those concerns at all. If you start them with the gold standard of gunhandling etiquette as outlined on THE MIDWEST SHOOTING SCHOOL website, a semi-auto is no more dangerous than any other gun.

28 gauge autos are great, but expensive to shoot. The selection is limited.

12 gauge autos are usually too heavy for the new, young shooter, but with the right kid, there may be exceptions.

This brings us to the 20 gauge auto, which I consider the ideal youth shotgun… (This is only because the 28 is not as readily available, and its ammo is much more expensive.)

You are looking for a combination of reasonably light weight, a light weight front end, controlled recoil, and the ability to fit the gun to the young shooter. Ideally, you can adjust the gun’s stock dimensions as the shooter grows…

There are several guns that fit this bill, with their own particular characteristics:

The Beretta 391 Urika 20 gauge, with a wood stock

Moderate 20 gauge weight, some weight forward
Mild recoil
Maximum adjustability of stock drop and cast to adjust the fit to the shooter.
Good durability for extensive use.

The Benelli Montefeltro 20 gauge, with a wood stock

Light weight, light front end
Mild to moderate recoil
Good adjustability of stock drop and cast for fit
Good durability for extensive use.

The Franchi 48AL (also available in 28 gauge) & Model 720

Lightest perceived weight (48AL), light front end
Mild to moderate recoil
Good adjustability of stock drop and cast for fit
OK durability for extensive use/Good durability for occasional use

All are available in youth models with shorter stocks and barrels, but may be OK in the standard sizes, depending on your new shooter. If they are already at the 5’ plus range, and you expect a good deal more growth, I might recommend the adult version with a standard 26” barrel, and plan on temporarily shortening the stock.

There are other models I might occasionally consider suitable, depending upon the size, strength and attitude of the youth, or new shooter.

Having the right shotgun to start with is a major part of the equation leading to success, but it also needs to fit correctly, and be moved correctly, to complete the equation. If you have one of the three shotguns listed above, the vast majority of the time it can be made to fit. I’ll talk about actually fitting the gun in another posting, and if you would like an idea about how to start out that new shooter, I’ll try and describe that, too.

In the meantime, feel free to contact me with your specific questions.

If you use the approach I’ll outline, and combine it by teaching the principles outlined in our instructional DVD, A Shotgunning Philosophy, you can’t go too far wrong!

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