We pick out the best shotguns for children priced £3,000 or under

The most pressing concern will be over what calibre of gun to buy. I am very much of the ‘old school’ and started shooting at tin cans with a .410 side-by-side before progressing onto pigeon and eventually moving on to a 20-bore. Things are a little bit different these days, however, with most youngsters learning how to shoot at clays.

Clearly, having proper instruction can only be a good thing, not only in terms of teaching safe gun handling but also the more abstract ideas of lead and swing. Because the shot can be the same every time, they can also build up a big library of sight pictures.

Choosing shotguns for children

Whether to start with a .410, 28-bore or 20-bore depends largely on the stature of the youngster. A .410 has always the starting place for the young shot due to its small size, low weight and limited recoil. But you should think carefully about how often the youngster is going to shoot before heading down this route, as the limited size of the shot pattern can make shooting a disheartening experience if it proves difficult for them to learn the line and lead of the shot. However, this is a very good bore size to start with, not just for ease of shooting but also for learning about the responsibility of carrying a gun, safe handling, cleaning etc.

Gun fit for children

When it comes to fitting guns for youngsters, we usually find the cast and bend very rarely needs to be altered. We usually recommend the length of stock, the cast and bend to be altered at a later date once they have got more into the rhythm of shooting. Bear in mind that their shape will change radically and rapidly as they grow, so they should have a gun fit session fairly regularly.

We are finding more and more that 28-bore and 20-bore guns are the preferred gauge for youngsters to start with. Though heavier than a .410, they are considerably lighter than a 12-bore and recoil can be reduced to a minimum with careful cartridge selection. Of course, this also gives the youngster more fire power, meaning they are more likely to hit their target and stick with it.

Side-by-side or over-and-under?

Whether to go for a side-by-side or over-and-under is again a purely personal choice. Over-unders do tend to kick slightly less and they can be slightly easier to learn to shoot with as they have only a single sight plain. Of course, over-unders do tend to be heavier than side-by-sides.

You might want your son or daughter to shoot with a side-by-side for tradition’s sake, and a 28 or 20-bore would be ideal for driven or duck shooting and is certainly what I would recommend. However, if they are likely to be shooting more clays than anything else then an over-under is the one to go for.

The three guns I have selected fall into three price brackets, and all would suit most youngsters at the start of their shooting careers.

Yildiz .410

£595
Yildiz .410
Yildiz are a Turkish manufacturer who have been steadily building a reputation for manufacturing good quality, good value shotguns. They make an excellent .410 side-by-side with either double or single triggers and 26″ or 28″ barrels. I would recommend a double trigger with 28″ barrels and ejectors.

These guns come with long stocks can be shortened down to the youngster’s size. We recommend that the wood be kept so that it can be placed back on the gun if need be later on.

The gun is a good weight at 5lbs, meaning it will handle well and will allow for a good consistent swing. These guns also have a 3″ magnum chamber, meaning heavier loads can safely be put through the gun if more stopping power is required.

When new, like many guns, the action can be rather tight but your gunshop or gunmaker should be able to ease the gun while you wait, making it a lot easier to operate.

This can be an important safety consideration; if the gun is easy to open and shut there is less chance of the barrels being forced upwards dangerously when closing the gun.

AYA Number Four

£2,995
AYA Number Four
A superb choice of a 28 bore gun would be an AYA Number Three or Number Four. The only difference between the two is simply that the Number Three is a non-ejector, while the Number Four is an ejector.

These guns have 28″ barrels choked at 1/4 and 1/2 and 2.3/4″ chambers. This being a small calibre gun, I would recommend the chokes are taken out to improved cylinder and 1/4, or cylinder and improved.

Like the Yildiz, it is likely you will need to shorten the stock and should keep the wood. These guns are single trigger and come at a very handy 5.1/2lbs and are very reliable. Smaller bore guns hold their value extremely well, and with the good AYA name on top this is a very sound investment, as well as a great gun to shoot.

From new you should expect to pay upwards of £2,500, which for a youngster is quite expensive. If there will be another youngster learning to shoot in a few years time, then the price could be justified and the gun passed down to the next sibling coming along. However, a good second hand version of either the Number Three or Number Four is always a good buy, the Number Three being anywhere from £500 – £750, and the Number Four around £750 – £1,500.

Beretta Silver Pigeon S

£1,750
Beretta Silver Pigeon S
Some of the guns we sell the most of in 20-bore come from Beretta’s range of over-unders. Their Silver Pigeon guns have been amongst the most popular and best-selling of the last 20 – 25 years, and for good reason. They are elegant and attractive, good to shoot with and extremely reliable. They have very slim actions and are very easy to operate and shoot, being under 6lbs in weight.

I would recommend buying a gun with 28″ barrels, however there have been quite a few guns with 26″ barrels sold over the years, and if you are fortunate enough to come across one it could better suit if the youngster is small. Barrels are choked at 1/4 and 1/2 when new, and I would recommend they are altered to improved and 1/4 or cylinder and improved. They have a crisp single trigger and, like all the guns here, have automatic safety, which absolutely essential for a youngster learning to shoot.

It is matter of seconds for a gunsmith to make a gun auto-safe, so if you’re buying a second-hand you should ensure that every time the gun is opened the safety catch returns to the safe position.

The balance of these guns is slightly forward of the hinge pin which will help to keep the gun free and maintain an easy swing.

The starting price new for these guns is £1,750 but a good second hand one is definitely worth buying, if priced from £800 – £1,200 depending on condition.

Bill Elderkin is the managing director of Elderkin & Son (Gunmakers) Ltd. of Spalding in Lincolnshire. Tel: 01775 722919