I have just completed my third year of coaching my son Alan in rifle shooting. Thirteen years old, he is now working on his NRA Distinguished Rifleman junior rating. The experience has been exhilarating and satisfying. Every father should see that his boy learns to shoot a rifle. Why? The reasons are many and varied-some practical, others psychological. It will pay the lad all sorts of dividends as he grows older.
This is a photo of Frank Parsons, captain of the 1952 International and Olympic Team, coaching his two sons and other members of the Pinwheel Junior Rifle Club in Washington, D.C.
Being practical and cold-blooded about it, your son should be taught to shoot a rifle in preparation for duty in the Armed Services. World conditions almost make it a certainty that every able-bodied young man will serve a hitch in the Armed Forces. When he does leave for duty, life can be much pleasanter if he can be spared the extra effort of learning to shoot. The knowledge that he is a trained rifleman will increase his own confidence and that of his superiors. He will get along better and advance quicker with this basic skill. Who knows but that it may save his life someday? It has happened before.
There are other reasons a youngster should be taught to shoot. Every boy loves to handle and shoot a gun. The recreation of rifle shooting will bring to your boy many happy hours afield and on the range, not only in childhood but throughout adult years. The thrill of shooting a rifle is one of the finest experiences a lad can have.
There is a very strong element of character building in learning how to shoot a rifle in childhood, especially if the National Rifle Association Junior Program is followed. Let me describe this junior Program. You enroll your boy as a junior in the NRA for fifty cents a year. He then starts firing his first series of targets for his first award, that of pro-marksman. When the required targets are completed and certified by the instructor, they are sent in to the NRA. After each qualification is earned, your boy receives for a token fee (i) a diploma, (2) a brassard, and (3) a qualification badge.
In the NRA Junior Program, qualification courses of gradually increasing difficulty are fired. The boy learns determination and patience. Because the awards become more and more difficult to earn, the boy has to concentrate and work harder and harder. It takes courage and determination to fire target after target until a good one is earned. This spirit will carry through in other channels as your boy grows up. He learns that anything worth having is worth working for. He is also taught sportsmanship and honesty in reporting scores.
My son Alan earned all his awards up to Distinguished Rifleman in very short order. Now he has been working two years on this top rating and still about a year to go before earning it. However, he has set his heart on it and is determined to earn it before he enters high school!
These, then, are some of the reasons for teaching your boy to shoot a rifle. One further result, and probably the finest, is this: A spirit of pal-ship will result, tying you to your boy even closer than ever. He will remember the pleasant hours with his dad throughout his lifetime, and so will you.
How do you go about teaching your boy? First, lest you be apprehensive, let me assure you of this, you don't have to be a champion rifle shot yourself. If you have had basic training in shooting a rifle with the use of the sling, you can-with the supplementary aid of the proper manuals-train your boy.
Here is a list of the best, all NRA publications: (1) Junior Rifle, Handbook (25 cents) describes the entire junior program in detail; (2) Shooting the .22 Rifle (75 cents), an excellent booklet containing instructional material by the late Colonel R. C. Andrews, who coached me into an "Expert Rifleman" rating 20 years ago, Frank Parsons, Olympic shooter and a great college team coach, and Bob Perkins, present National Champion, and (3) How to Shoot a Rifle ($1.00).
If you are a rank beginner and know nothing about rifle shooting, don't despair! Tie yourself to the nearest rifle club and obtain a junior membership for your boy. It would be an excellent idea to enroll yourself also. Most rifle clubs have excellent junior programs, and your boy will be in good hands.
At what age should you start your boy? The earlier the better! A boy of five or six can be taught. As soon as your boy starts displaying interest in guns, get him an air rifle. Teach him the rules of safety, let him handle it only under your supervision at first, and treat it with the respect of a firearm. You can teach the lad the principles of sighting and aiming in a prone, "sandbag rest" position, and let him shoot at Bustible Bullseyes for added fun. Bustibles are small, black discs which shatter when hit. As he grows pp, let him begin shooting at targets. There is an NRA 25-foot, air rifle program. This can be used until the boy is old enough for a 22 rifle.
At this stage, perhaps at age nine or ten, get the boy a junior-sized rifle, or cut one down for him. , Don't try to force an adult-sized rifle on a ten-year-old boy! It won't work. He can't get his eye close enough to the rear sight. If you cut a piece off the butt, save it (as I did! ) and in two or three years you can glue it back on (as I did!)
About equipment, let me emphasize this point. You don't have to spend a fortune! My son earned all his awards through "Expert" using a $15.00 single-shot rifle equipped with an aperture front and peep rear and a sling for another $15.00. So you see, your initial outlay need not be too high. Incidentally, I would strongly advise that you get a single-shot for junior's first rifle.
Go easy on practice sessions and quit before the interest lags or dies out. If the youngster does not feel like shooting at the moment, don't force him. Be guided by the boy's interest and enthusiasm, not by your convenience. I found that Alan's interest was sustained only if the instruction was made as brief as possible. A five-minute period of instruction was all that he could take. Then, I'd let him shoot, correcting his errors while actually shooting. When target shooting interest begins to lag, hang up some Bustibles and have the boy see how many he can break in five or ten shots. Boys love to shoot these to pieces. It's great fun and relief from the tedium of position target shooting.
Another great psychological aid is to get your boy a real shooting coat. These are now available for juniors. The lad will be very proud of his shooting jacket. Sew all his qualification brassards and junior NRA patches on his coat. You will find him trying to wear it at all times!
Another stunt we used was to give our own special awards for each "good" target. My son earned many a quarter and swelled up his bank account considerably during his qualification program. This system of rewards and incentives also serves another very useful purpose. It trains the youngster to shoot under pressure. In coaching Alan I always put pressure on him. This is of the utmost importance in any type of shooting competition.
As the lad grows older and earns his "Expert" rating you can begin thinking of a better rifle. I graduated Alan to a Winchester 52 with standard-weight barrel at age twelve. This because he was big enough and strong enough to handle it. In most cases it would be better perhaps to get an "in-between" rifle such as the Winchester 75, until the lad is sixteen years of age or older. It depends on size more than age.
One additional word of caution. If your junior complains (as my boy did) that the bullseye is indistinct, take him to an eye doctor. He may be nearsighted (as my boy turned out to be!). Properly corrected by glasses, this condition will not prevent him from becoming a good shot.
I have slanted this article to fathers, urging them to teach their boys how to shoot. There are two corollaries to this. (1) If your "boy" is a girl, so to speak, by all means don't let this deter you! (2) If you have neither, offer your services to others!
Each and every trained rifleman should offer to train a junior or group of juniors. There is a thrill of achievement and accomplishment unequalled by mere winning of medals, in the training of a junior. One of the most thrilling moments of my life was the day my son trounced me in a fourposition match!
I urge you all to pair up with a junior shooting pal and see what real fun can be!