I’m a competitive shooter, but I didn’t start competing until I was about 40 years old. By then, my boys were in their teens, so I never had to really worry about taking little ones to the range. However, my youngest son, Alex, who is an excellent shot, still struggles with the noise, even at 19. Thinking about that inspired me to write this column about bringing kids to the range and keeping them occupied so they enjoy their time there.
BEFORE THE RANGE
Before Colton (my oldest) turned 3, we didn’t let the boys play with toy guns. My husband has always been in law enforcement, and we wanted to make sure they had a respect for real guns and firearms safety. Once they understood “real guns versus play guns” and showed an interest, we let them have their toy guns. Yes, squirt guns, Nerf guns and cap guns… we went all out.
A great tool for teaching firearms safety to children: Julie Golob—champion professional shooter, firearms instructor and mother—wrote a great book on the subject: Toys, Tools, Guns & Rules: A Children’s Book About Gun Safety. Boy, do I wish that came out 20 years ago, when my boys were little and I read to them every night. What a great way to start a conversation about guns and firearm safety with children!
The NRA Eddie Eagle program is another tool for teaching firearms safety to children. The website, EddieEagle.NRA.org, has videos, games, songs and downloadable activity books for kids. There are even three different parent guides, which are separated into Pre-K and kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade, and 3rd and 4th grade, just like the activity books.
OLD ENOUGH TO SHOOT
Colton shot his first handgun when he was only 4 years old—a Ruger .22/45. Yes, he was big for his age, and obviously, my husband stood right with him. At 8 years old, he shot his first deer; at 10, he joined an air rifle team. He had amazing gun-handling skills and no fear of sound.
“Only you can know when your child is old enough to understand firearms safety, accompany you to the range or shoot a firearm.”
But, as I mentioned earlier in this article, my youngest had issues with the sound, so we had to do things a little differently with him. Alex always wore double hearing protection—soft foam earplugs with earmuffs over the top. Although I find them a necessity on the range, Alex didn’t like the style that amplified voices and suppressed gunshot noise. He needed all sound blocked out. With the sound of the bang! suppressed through hearing protection, he became an amazing shot and one of the most safety-conscience shooters you’ll ever meet.
MORE THAN ONE WAY TO SUPPRESS THE BANG
A great tool for teaching children to shoot is a .22 with a suppressor. Not only does it suppress sound, it also reduces recoil. Similar to a muzzle brake, which reduces recoil by redirecting gasses, a suppressor reduces recoil by trapping the gasses. A firearm with less recoil and suppressed sound is perfect for introducing a child to live fire on the range. While teaching the fundamentals of shooting to a child, it’s also fun to have interesting targets. A simple online search of “printable shooting targets” brings up a variety targets you can download and print on your own. Also, reactive targets that gong, spin and flip and come in various shapes and sizes also add a carnival-like atmosphere, making shooting even more fun.
ON THE RANGE
Whether practicing or competing, many competitive shooters spend a lot of time on the range, which often means bringing the kids along. Get them involved. First and foremost, consider their hearing and eye protection. Be sure to find sizes specific for children; and, while you’re at it, maybe let them pick out their favorite colors, if available.
Also, children need to understand the importance of keeping on their eye and hearing protection at all times (as well as keeping their fingers out of their mouth and washing their hands before eating!).
KEEP THEM ENTERTAINED
I always carried a bag of stuff to keep my kids entertained when we would visit friends, travel or attend meetings and appointments. These bags were specific to where we were going, and I didn’t let them play with the contents of the bag at home. That helped make them special and kept them from getting bored with the contents. The range should be no different. Aside from a chair or a blanket to sit on, let the child bring along their very own “range bag.”
The following list contains suggestions for items to pack in a child’s “range bag”:
• Hearing and eye protection (specific for children)
• Hand wipes—specific for removing lead
• Snacks and drinks
• Julie Golob’s book, Toys, Tools, Guns & Rules: A Children’s Book About Gun Safety
• Coloring book and crayons (Eddie Eagle activity pages)
• Small toys (find fun, inexpensive toys at garage sales and surprise the child with something new)
• Wide-brimmed hat for both sun protection and safety from flying objects (I always found that a fishing-style hat with straps works well. In addition, they are foldable and will fit easily inside a range bag.)
“… children need to understand the importance of keeping on their eye and hearing protection at all times…”
Only you can know when your child is old enough to understand firearms safety, accompany you to the range or shoot a firearm. Through my experience with my own boys, I know every child develops differently. As a parent, it’s important for you to understand your child and not pressure them into doing something they aren’t ready for.
And on the flip side: For those children who are curious about firearms, parents should step in right away and be available to answer their questions. Teach your children correctly from the beginning, and your family will enjoy a firearms lifestyle as much as my own family does.
Michelle Cerino is both a firearms trainer and the president of Cerino Consulting and Training Group, LLC—a firearms training company she built with her husband, Chris, in 2011. She writes, hunts and competes in major 3-gun matches nationwide.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the October 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.