It was May of 1960, on my 12th birthday, that I got my first gun. It was a Winchester Model 69a which was a bolt action rifle that had a walnut stock, a 5 shot clip and iron sights. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
Dad enrolled me in an NRA hunter safety course that was taught in a steel Quonset hut on Sixth Street across from the Tracy Rail Yards. There I learned the same basics that they still teach today:
1. Safety Safety, Safety.
2. Every Gun is Always Loaded.
3. Always Point Your Muzzle in a Safe Direction.
4. Never point your gun at something you don’t intend to destroy.
Then it was practice, practice, and practice. I went through a brick of 500 rounds of 22 ammunition. Finally I was ready for bushy tail squirrel season. When the big day came we drove up to Early Intake on the Tuolumne River near Groveland. It was amazing at how tricky those darned squirrels were. After more misses than I could count I finally got my first squirrel. I cleaned and skinned my trophy and the next day we had squirrel stew for dinner. I tanned that squirrel and still have his hide to this day.
I was a pretty big kid and had no trouble shouldering my new Winchester 22, but that’s not necessarily the case with all kids. The good news is that now they make smaller 22’s specifically for kids. They are smaller, and lighter and easier for a child to shoot. When my oldest grandson Joshua got big enough, Grandpa just happened to buy a Chipmunk 22 made by The Keystone Arms Company of Pennsylvania. It is a single shot, bolt action with a 16 inch barrel and a handsome walnut stock. Heck they even make the Chipmunk with a hot pink composite stock for girls.
There are other single shot 22’s out there by reputable manufacturers, but the point is that a single shot 22 may well be the ideal first gun for a child. Even more important than getting a child his or her first gun is that you be willing to invest hundreds of hours of your own personal time to instruct them in its safe use. A couple hours every other Saturday could well be the best investment you’ll ever make. Whether it’s your own child, a grandchild, or a niece or nephew, investing your time in the future of our world is a darned good investment.
With the holidays coming up, now is a great time to check out your local gun store or catalogues for that first gun.
Until next time, Tight Lines.
Don Moyer is a longtime Central Valley resident and avid outdoorsman. He contributes occasional columns.