The author's son after his first time shooting a .410 shotgun. (Joe Genzel/)
My grandfather was an avid reloader. He would toil with rifle cartridges downstairs every night after dinner while my father and his siblings finished their homework at the kitchen table. Sometimes in the middle of their studies, a loud bang erupted from the basement and they would all gasp in panicked surprise. My grandfather built his own 25-yard range in the basement so he didn’t have to venture outside in brutal Illinois winters. He shot into a coiled lead catch that stopped his handloads from penetrating the concrete foundation, or a ricochet.
I tell you this story because that’s how many kids in rural areas grow up. Well, maybe their father didn’t have a rifle range in the house, but most country boys and girls are around guns and ammunition from an early age, and begin shooting when they are young. That makes them far more comfortable with firearms than kids in suburbia.
In the last few years, I’ve introduced my own son to his first hunting gun—an H&R Pardner .410. My family lives in a city of about 90,000 people where you cannot legally fire a gun inside city limits. My son, who is 7 years old, knows there are guns in our house, and has held many of them under my close supervision. But since we are city folks, he had never fired a gun until recently.
That’s a far cry from how my father’s generation—and much of my generation (I’m 40)—were introduced to guns. When I was a kid, my friends and I were allowed to shoot BB guns in the backyard while our dads tipped tallboys and grilled steaks. My father showed me how gun powder burned by dumping lines of it on our driveway and lighting it on fire from the lit end of his Marlboro Menthol. This all transpired while neighborhood kids played stick ball and rode bikes on the street in front of our house.
But that’s not how it works today. My son is learning to shoot much differently than I did. Since we live in an urban area, and in a time where gun culture is under heavy scrutiny, he cannot plink at empty soda cans behind the garage with a Red Rider. Living in the city makes it harder to get your kids comfortable with guns. So, I had to think of other ways to introduce my son to his first hunting gun, while still leaving him with the same confidence a farm kid, who grew up shooting guns, would have. It’s an ongoing process that will continue for years to come. Here is how I got him started.