That First Gun


Just the other week, I gave my granddaughter and grandson their first firearms; a .22 rifle and .410 shotgun.

This rite of passage most of us who hunt have traveled, either we were given a firearm or saved our money for that first gun.

Yet there’s more to this gift than a single firearm or me or you. It’s about passing along the hunting tradition; which needs to start early.

Study after study indicates that if a person does not start to hunt before the teenage years end, the odds are against that person becoming a hunter as an adult.

In addition, much of the American hunting tradition is handed down through families that today seem more, well, busy.

first rifle

That first firearm given to a young boy or girl with the proper safety lessons may form a lifelong habit.

There are exceptions. Plenty of hunters today learned from a neighbor or friend. That’s why it’s so important for us hunters to help any young person, who shows an interest in hunting, starting with a good education.

For decades Montana law said everyone ages 12 -17 had to first take hunter education before that person could hunt. That law changed a few years back to everyone born after Jan. 1, 1985, must first take and pass a hunter education course.

Recently, the state established a program to let young people try hunting for two years before taking hunter education.

Back in the Dark Ages (pre-Internet), the hunter safety program meant sitting in a room, learning from a volunteer instructor, and taking a test. Oh yes, and often a gruesome 16-millimeter movie about gunshot wounds.

That’s changed slightly for those younger than 17. Hint: The movies are more enjoyable.

And now, if you are 18 or older, you can take an Internet course. Ah, the Age of Enlightenment.

Then or now, someone still needs to provide a gun, transportation and outdoor skills. There is only so much a person can learn from a book or computer screen.

The urbanization and fragmentation of the modern family has also thrown up obstacles for many. Various groups have stepped forward to fill the void and take a youngster hunting, though it’s never enough.

Even so, hunting is not a sure stick. I remember my dad taking me and a neighborhood buddy hunting. My friend, whose family had no hunting connection, went that one time. Afterward, he decided he’d rather fish.

That’s okay, too, as long as we give that youngster the option to make that choice.

So take the neighborhood kid hunting who shows an interest. Pry open your wallet and, after the moths have flown out, buy that youngster a good starter firearm.

Who knows where that first firearm will lead.

My first firearm? It was a bolt action .22 my parents gave me for Christmas. It poured rain that Christmas day, so I couldn’t take it outside and shoot it.

Worst day of my life.

It was the same .22 I gave my grandkids.

Best day of my life.