I receive a ton of deer-hunting related questions over the course of the year. One of the most common is: What kind of gun should one get for a first-time deer hunter? As the tradition of a firearm under the Christmas tree is still very much alive and well in Maine, I figured I’d offer some thoughts and perspective.

I imagine my suggestion of putting a gun under the tree will ruffle the feathers of a few. It might even seem a bit out of line in this age of political correctness and paranoia, but if you go back a few years the concept of getting a gun for Christmas is not nearly so outrageous. The 1983 movie “A Christmas Story,” the tale of a 9-year-old boy who wants a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, remains among the all-time seasonal classics. A 1950s Sears Christmas catalog ad shows a happy family in front of the Christmas tree in awe over their brand new guns. And countless outdoor magazine stories have been written about a youngster’s dream of getting their first deer rifle for Christmas. For those inclined to fulfill those dreams, there are plenty of choices.

Choosing my daughter’s first deer rifle was a learning experience. Initially, I chose a New England Firearms/H&R single-shot Handi-Rifle for its simplicity – a good way to start a young hunter, I thought. However, upon adding a base, scope and rings, I discovered the hammer height required mounting the scope so high that it pulled her cheek off the stock. If you go that route, stick with open sights.

As I’m a big proponent of optics, a last-minute scramble resulted in the only other youth rifle I could find, a Remington Model 7 Youth in 7mm-08 WIN. It proved more than adequate, at least for a young lady. The caliber was an ideal compromise, powerful enough to knock down a deer but not so potent she couldn’t withstand the recoil. (I know there are plenty of light caliber fans who will disagree, but I wouldn’t recommend anything much smaller than the 7mm-08, or my personal favorite, the .308 WIN, for Maine deer.) And, the youth stock would still fit her small frame as an adult.

I knew that wouldn’t be the case for my son, so I chose a different route, and after a bit of research came up with the ideal solution. The Mossberg 100 ATR Super Bantam’s modular stock uses a system of spacers that allows the rifle to “grow” with the shooter. It has since been supplanted by the Mossberg Patriot Super Bantam that, like the 100 ATR, comes as a kit, including base, rings and mounted scope. And it’s a quality gun at a very affordable price.

Because I had more time, I was also able to find one in my preferred .308 WIN, a caliber that, like the gun, can “grow” with the shooter. I started my son out with reduced recoil rounds for the first couple seasons, then switched to standard rounds about the same time I added a 1-inch spacer and recoil pad to make it adult size.

Another intriguing option for a young hunter is the Rossi S20. One model comes with three matched, interchangeable barrels in 20 gauge, .22 cal and .243 WIN. Like the H&R, it’s a single-shot hammer gun that comes with rifle sights, but the hammer profile is a bit lower, so it may afford better scope-mounting. And the three barrels allow your youngster to use the same gun for waterfowl and upland birds, small game and target plinking and deer hunting.

While a new gun under the tree will certainly delight its recipient, it’s not something to be taken lightly by either the giver or receiver. As of this year, there is no longer a minimum age requirement, so it is up to parents to decide if and when your youngster is ready to take up the hunting tradition. Then, be sure they receive the proper training on safe, responsible handling of firearms.

In the meantime, have a merry Christmas.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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