Oftentimes it’s hard to tell whether children are comfortable with new skills, or ready to progress when it comes to understanding gun safety, basic concepts and actually being able to implement ideas or techniques.
This article is about evaluating the AR-15 as a steppingstone to the broader world of guns, gun safety and progression in hunting or sport shooting skills.
Because of an easy to understand platform, generally low recoil, modest ammunition costs, and well-designed ergonomics, the AR can be a very good option to build confidence for kids interested in shooting, hunting, and firearms. This website features a ton of options in .22 long rifle caliber which is a great starting point for people new to the sport.
As the person who is likely paying for the platform, the availability to modification and increasing rifle capabilities is also enhanced by the market access to upper receiver conversions and other component parts that can help you build a custom-tailored solution for a lot of situations.
There is also no doubt that the AR-15 is a very capable hunting platform where applicable – specifically for small to moderately sized game, generally from 5 lbs. to 400 lbs. at reasonable ranges up to about 375 yards.
Because of this wide range of capabilities, the AR can provide an approachable, long-lasting option for training and transitioning shooters of all ages into more powerful and complex concepts and firearms.
From traditional to the new norm in rifles – how big of a step is it from a bolt action or a shotgun, to the AR-15 platform?
Thanks to vast market options and the popularity of customization of the AR-15 it’s hard not to consider the rifle in working with new shooters or opening the breadth of capabilities for those shooters based on what the gun can do. Certainly, the bolt action rifle and the modular AR-15 were designed to do different things – but there is more carryover right now, than ever before.
More complex than a bolt action, but a lot more approachable compared to larger calibers, the AR can be more complex, but still offer new options to increase learning of concepts.
Because of the more complicated sights, fire controls, the addition of a detachable, often larger magazine, and the additional features (forward assist, charging handle, etc.), it may seem harder to use at first, but new shooters learn as they identify new opportunities to learn. A more complex platform can be helpful in progression.
Let’s be clear too: guns are tools that require attention, protocols and proper engagement to ensure safety and to accomplish goals properly. The AR-15 in that sense, is a tool that, while slightly more complex than, say, a break open shotgun or a bolt action, is not too difficult for most shooters to understand.
Is an AR going to be too much for the little ones?
The most important variable in teaching young kids how to handle any type of firearm competently, is how you teach them, and how you break down the steps and their associated importance.
While this isn’t a primer on gun safety per se, there is a lot to be said about the importance of knowing exactly what to tell children about processes, protocols and absolute “checklist items” to ensure safety.
A great foundation is built step by step, line upon line, and should be approachable. As long as you are sure they understand each step and can repeat them back to you – especially when they can use their own words and understand the reasoning behind the concept – you are building upon a good foundation.
The main parts that will be difficult for children to understand on the AR-15 is the fire-control group (safety/selector switch), and the ability to check for a loaded chamber (which will necessitate pulling the charging handle without a magazine in it).
It may be difficult for very young children or those with less wrist or hand strength to manipulate these functions. Additionally, asking a child to engage a bolt catch to keep the chamber open to view may be quite difficult considering they may be struggling already with pulling the bolt back.
Leading by example and handling overall gun safety checks while explaining the process is a good building block if this is the case.
What else can the AR-15 do, and will the kids be able to use it for that too?
The AR is incredibly capable. It is used daily for hunting, target shooting, plinking and other casual sport shooting. It is also a realistic option for the lower end of the big game hunting spectrum and can even be used as a hardcore precision competition option.
It’s lightweight, easy to learn and feels substantial, while still being controllable. It offers access to intermediate range calibers with lower recoiling options and still has lethality where needed (on game up to about 400 lbs., depending on the load chosen).
Kids, once they understand the things, they need to be aware of (how to load the rifle, how to actuate the safety, how to manage common concerns in the moment, etc.), they can feel confident that they will be ok.
Oversight is an important core principle here. This is still a firearm, and it is still subject to regulations and while it can be applicable in a lot of settings, you’ll need to provide that buffer that helps a child or new shooter understand how laws, best practices and experience important factors at all times in shooting sports are.
Where do we go from here?
Some important points about why the AR-15 might be a perfect option for progressing young or inexperienced shooters.
- The recoil is more than a rimfire, so it’s a new challenge, but it’s also not overwhelming, especially with a few shots under the belt
- The rifle is generally built to be lightweight and can be very good for smaller framed individuals, if built for balance
- The ergonomics are able to be adapted to smaller hands and smaller frames
- There is a wide use spectrum for the gun, and more than enough custom cartridges built to enhance each desired effect
- Costs are lower than other high powered, centerfire rifles, generally
- You can customize any possible need on the platform, from length of barrel, to adjustability of the buttstock, to adding lasers or optics easily, etc.
- Conversion kits for the .22LR are still readily available, so if the shooter is not ready for the transition yet, or you want to start on an AR, the option is available too
The AR-15 is an option for progressing shooters. It’s also a fully-fledged solution for a lot of the sporting and hunting uses such shooters will want to be engaging in going forward. At the very least, as a solution for transitioning to larger calibers or more complex firearms, the AR-15 can be a viable solution for kids, new shooters, and the like.