Ruger Mini 30
I’ve already made my case for not having semi-autos as a pick for youth rifles—well, at least for a first rifle. For a young hunter who has had a few years shooting with you on the range and taking shots at does from the treestand with you alongside, though, a semi-auto might be a safe choice, and if so, I bring you today’s pick, the Ruger Mini 30. Unusual choice? You bet it is, but this gun’s features make this a very kid- friendly pick.
First, you gotta love the short stock—length of pull is just 13 inches. It’s also wearing a tough synthetic stock and weather-hardy stainless hardware (the original wood and blue version is still available, too), both of which will take the knocks without batting an eye. Wearing an 18.5-inch barrel, this nifty little gun weighs in at a super-manageable 6.50 pounds; a 16.5-inch barrel is also an option with alloy steel hardware, but since you don’t lose any weight and probably do sacrifice some accuracy, I’d stay with the longer barrel.
The chambering in 7.62x39mm is a great choice for deer, and the since the semi-auto action will soak up a lot of the recoil, then even if this is the first bigger caliber your child will be managing, this gun is generally considered to be quite handleable. Functionally—and I can vouch for this personally—the Garand-style action isn’t at all hard to operate, with an ample and easily accessed slide lever that’s a cinch to pull back. Also, since this a Ruger and not actually a Garand, there’s no reason to pinch small fingers in the top of the bolt. Simply slide in the five-round magazine (two versions come with 20-round magazine—definitely not deer woods appropriate), rack the slide, and you’ve got one in the chamber, no muss, no fuss.
While I like the Ruger Mini 30 for its compactness and inherent maneuverability, there’s one aspect about this I like more than anything, and that, this is a great sporting gun for increasingly popular 3-gun competition. Yes, that’s a pretty far departure from hunting, but this is a full-action sport that really appeals to a generation of video-game-raised youths—and I’m for anything that keeps folks young, old, and in between interested in the shooting sports year round. So have some fun with this all-seasons gun, get your children exposed to the dozens and dozens of shooting games available, and keep them involved. That’s how you pass it on.
MSRP: Ruger's website has the stainless steel Mini 30 with a five-round magazine priced at $949.00 Undoubtedly, there are ample used models on the market available for appreciably less. See our Standard Catalog of Firearms 2012 for condition and pricing guidance on used models.
Corbon DX Hunter Ammo
Better known for its self-defense handgun ammo, Corbon also makes some stellar hunting rifle cartridges. Corbon claims 100% weight retention upon hit and expansion on its DPx Hunter line of rifle cartridges (DP stands for “Deep Penetration”), and it’s kind of hard to top 100%. I like the 123-grain load because it eases up on the recoil, and it’s also probably a prime choice if you’re in California or other lead-free zones, for this is a solid-copper lead-free bullet. If you feel the need and your kid can handle it, the 150-grain topper in the Corbon Hunter line (this one’s a bonded core jacketed softpoint) will work just fine, too.