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A Guide to Youth Shotguns

A Guide to Youth Shotguns

a youth hunter holds a shotgun while hunting grouse and woodcock.

If you are in the market to buy a youth shotgun this guide will help you find the right price and model

I remember like it was yesterday when my grandfather took me to the local gun shop at the age of ten to look for a youth model 20-gauge shotgun. My godfather had given me a single shot .410 bore a few years prior with which I’d learned both safe firearm handling and the basics of wingshooting but it was time to take the next step.

“You’re ready for a shotgun you can shoot a quail with, kid.” With that order I marched beside him into the gun shop and eventually walked out one step closer to being a quail hunter, “just like grandpa.” I remember the shorter stock fit perfectly into my young arms and the 21-inch barrel swung smoothly on the taxidermied Canada goose hanging behind the gun counter. I thought I was really something with my first “big boy” shotgun.

Working at that same gun shop during my college years provided me many opportunities to help outfit young hunters with their first shotgun. (READ: A Beginner’s Guide to Buying a Used Shotgun) When a parent, grandparent, or mentor walked up to the gun counter alone asking about a youth shotgun one of the first questions I asked was, “Is the youngster here with you today?”

Matching the right youth shotgun to a young hunter was much easier when they were present and could effectively “try on” the shotgun to determine the best gun fit and feel. If the shotgun was to be a birthday or Christmas surprise I would encourage the adult to find a creative way to engage the youth in shouldering several makes and models. Yes, sometimes that required a tiny white lie but a positive end result justified the means.

Characteristics of youth shotgun

A few common characteristics of youth model shotguns include:

  • Shorter buttstocks
  • Shorter barrel lengths
  • Less overall weight

Shorter barrels accommodate the shorter arms of younger shooters and ensure the shotgun fits their structure well. Youth model barrel lengths in the 21-inch to 26-inch range—as compared to the 28-inch to 30-inch range more common to full-size shotguns—provide a more balanced platform for smaller hunters to achieve a smooth, fluid swing. Combining shorter buttstocks and barrels also, by default, reduces the overall weight of the shotgun which, again, caters to youth who are learning the art of wingshooting. Additionally, many manufacturers of youth or compact shotguns offer full-size stocks or even a combo package that contains both a shortened stock and full-size stock to accommodate the growth of your young shooter.

Gauges available in youth model shotguns range from .410 bore to 12-gauge. There are more 20-gauge models offered in youth and/or compact models and it is much easier to find 20-gauge upland loads in retail stores than, say, the more niche .410 bore and 28-gauge shells. A 20-gauge is a great choice to get a youth started as it offers less recoil while giving young shooters a solid option for anything from clays on the range to late-season rooster pheasants and even wild turkey.

Here is a table that lists many of the manufacturers, models, gauges, and more that are available in youth/compact shotgun models. A few may have been inadvertently omitted but this list is a great starting point for a search. The prices came from online searches and research at my local gun shop. I’m sure one could find better or special pricing on both new and used youth shotguns either locally or on one of the many online auction or classifieds sites.

ManufacturerYouth Model(s)Action TypeGauge(s) or Caliber(s)Prices Start at (New)Prices Start at (Used)
BenelliMontefeltro Compactsemi-auto20$999$750
BenelliM2 Field Compactsemi-auto12, 20$1299$1099
BenelliNova Compactpump20$399$200
Benelli828 U Compactover/under12$2799$2399
BerettaA400 Lite Compactsemi-auto20$1348$1049
BrowningCitori CXS Microover/under12, 20$1766$1495
BrowningCitori Cynergy Micro Midasover/under20$1629$1395
BrowningSilver Field Micro Midassemi-auto12, 20$942$849
CZ-USARedhead Primierover/under12, 16, 20$988$649
Franchi Affinity Compactsemi-auto20$799$593
Harrington & RichardsonPardner Compactsingle shot.410, 20$199$95
HenrySingle Shot Youthsingle shot20$439$335
Iver JohnsonSingle Shot-Youthsingle shot.410, 20$180$85
Mossberg500 Youth Bantampump.410, 20, 12$299$150
MossbergMaverick 88pump20$199$124
MossbergSA-28 Youth Bantamsemi-auto28$476$379
MossbergSA-20 Youth Bantamsemi-auto20$464$349
Mossberg505 Youthpump.410, 20$299$175
Remington11-87 Sportsman Black Syntheticsemi-auto20$599$369
Remington870 Compact and Jr.pump20$329$289
RemingtonV3 Field Sport Compactsemi-auto12$731$599
Stevens301 Compactsingle shot.410, 20, 12$161$75
StoegerCondor Youthover/under.410, 20$379$249
StoegerUplander Youthside by side.410$386$299
TriStarViper G2semi-auto.410, 20, 12$502$399
TriStarRaptor Fieldsemi-auto20$353$299
TriStarCobra III Fieldpump20$200$149
WeatherbySA-08 Synthetic Compactsemi-auto20$460$255
WinchesterSX4 Compactsemi-auto20, 12$667$599
WinchesterSXP Field Compactpump20, 12$358$249
WinchesterSXP Youth Fieldpump20, 12$379$254
*This information was last updated in August of 2020

I get it: the table above contains a ton of information to process. If you’re like me, you want a cheat-sheet on where to start, so here are a few tips to get you off neutral:

  • Start with your budget to begin narrowing down options.
  • Next, chat with your young shooter to decide which action type best suits them. A few things to consider:
    • Semi-autos usually mean less recoil but they will cost more.
    • Pumps cost less but sometimes working the pump-action can be challenging for young shooters.
    • Single shots only provide one chance but they are inexpensive and excellent for reinforcing safe gun-handling skills.
    • Break action shotguns like over/under are sometimes preferred for the safety of being able to see a shotgun is open and safe while walking. In fact many guiding operations require even adults to do this.
  • Next, consider gauge preference. Remember, 12 and 20-gauges will provide the most flexibility and choice of loads. Although a .410 will have less recoil, it can be very difficult for even an adult to hunt with.
  • New or used? Do you purchase a new shotgun to get your youngster started or try to find a killer deal on a quality used shotgun? Budget will come into play here, too, obviously.
  • Does the manufacturer matter to you? My family has a long history with Browning shotguns but to some folks the manufacturer doesn’t matter. Fit and feel for a young shooter should probably be prioritized over manufacturer, anyway.

Buying the right shotgun for a young hunter is an important step toward ensuring they are successful and they learn to enjoy the experience of shooting. A positive experience leads to recruiting and retaining youth in the shooting sports and the upland fields. Getting the future shooter involved in the selection process is rewarding in many ways especially to secure the best fit between shotgun and youngster. It’s always fun to make this a memorable surprise on a birthday or holiday but getting that right fit must be the primary goal. So, use this guide as a starting point and get to shopping for a youth shotgun that will create smiles and memories for years to come!

View Comments (8)
  • You omitted, IMHO, the most versatile of all, the Charles Daly 101 single shot(made by Chiappa) w/adjustable stock, and multiple choke tubes & NO external hammer, (for kids to fumble with), in 20 ga. Price about $180. Also comes in 410(fixed choke) and 12 ga.(multi-chokes).

    • Thank you for reading my article and thank you for sharing the information about the Charles Daly 101 single shot. That model would make an excellent shotgun on which to start a young hunter/shooter. Thank you, again, I appreciate you adding another solid option to the list!

  • I bought a Stevens 555 O/U in 20 ga for my 12yo daughter. I cut an inch from the stock for a 13.5″ LOP with 26″ barrels. It ways about 5 lbs and has been an excellent choice for her.

  • Great article. I remember I was scared of shot guns cause I was given a light weight adult sized 20 gauge single shot. Thing hit like a mule and i regretted pulling the trigger every time. Took a while to get over flinching after that gun. I think the proper weight and proper load would have made the beginning more fun. I personally got my kids the Mossberg 500 youth its a little heavy for a 20 ga but love being able to see the safety from a distance and the pump seems to help them line up and take a better second shot. And I stick to 7/8 loads in the 1200s. They love shooting it.

  • Thank you for reading my article and sharing your story. There is something magical about watching the light bulb turn on when kids have the opportunity for a successful introduction to shooting/hunting. Have a great season with your kids this fall/winter!

  • I have been listening to Bob St. Pierre’s On the Wing podcast episode with Dr. Scott Taylor. If I heard correctly, pheasant hunter numbers are declining faster than habitat and pheasant numbers. If we want upland hunting to have a future, every hunter and member of the hunting industry needs to support R3 efforts.

    There are many barriers to entry with hunting. One I have encountered recently is the dearth of shotgun options for young people who shoot left-handed for under $2K. Ten percent of the population is left-handed and eighteen percent is cross dominant. Are we really going to write these potential shooters and hunters off or consign them to using a shotgun that does not fit?

    I have found exactly two 20 gauges that could fit the bill for my son: CZ USA’s Drake Southpaw over under and Benelli’s M2 semi-auto. Neither of these are designed for shorter-statured people, so a trip to the gun smith is in order. My understanding is that modifying plastic stocks is tricky, so that left the CZ. I also prefer to have him walking in the field with the action broken open for an extra margin of safety.

    Availability of the CZ was the next hurtle. Until this week, when a shipment apparently arrived, I had no luck finding one anywhere in the US. Even CZ USA could not help me locate one. Ours will arrive next week and have a since seen three or so listed on GunBroker and the larger online dealers.

    My final gripe is the lack of length of pull adjustability. My son is 5′ 05″ now, but will be growing a lot in the next eight years. How hard would it be to provide a stock with a shorter length of pull and a set of spacers to add length and maybe even modify pitch? Such an approach would help adults, too.

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