My first rifle was given to me by my father after I had been on the Fort Meade Junior rifle team for about a year. It was a Winchester model 56 in .22 Long Rifle. I still have it (pictured below). This was when I was 12.
My father and I would drive from Bowie Maryland to Fort Meade in the evening through the guard gates and proceed to the curved metal roofed Quonset huts prevalent on all military bases at the time. Prior to firing a single shot, I and other youngsters of my age, sat through lectures provided by Army personnel on safety, marksmanship principles and the operation of the bolt action .22 Long Rifle. If I recall correctly, there were about 2 or 3 of these sessions along with written tests before we could even go “hands-on” the rifles.
The courses of fire were conducted at 50 feet on small, multiple black bulls-eye targets on thick beige paper stock. We used iron peep sights and leather slings. We fired from the prone, kneeling, seated and off-hand positions. Courses of fire consisted of ten rounds with a time limit at each position. We had little wooden blocks which accepted exactly ten rounds of the .22 caliber ammunition. To this very day, if someone fires a .22 long rifle, that singular, particular smell of the burned .22 long rifle gunpowder always takes me back to this time.
I stayed at the game for approximately two years until, as with any military family, my father was transferred to Newport Rhode Island. I won some awards and along the way and received the junior expert rating with an additional 8 bars attached under the main gold medal. If you can believe it, I once took my rifle to and from school for a “show and tell” without any issue. But that was a different world then.
Many years later, while attending the University of New Mexico, I landed a summer job as a camp counselor at Camp Cimarroncita in Cimarron, New Mexico. I was delegated to instruct the young men who ranged in age from 9-12 in long rifle instruction. Now there is a major caveat here for those of you who know me. I was much younger, lighter-hearted, naive, not a police officer etc. In other words NOT “Uncle Scotty.” I had a great time coordinating and instructing the young men under my tutelage. If I am not mistaken, the girls’ side of the camp, which was on the other side of the hill, also had a rifle program.
For those of you with young ones, we started all our kids on a .22 long rifle. So if your offspring express a desire to learn to shoot and they are mature enough, I would strongly recommend that they start first with a .22 long rifle and learn the basics of safety, marksmanship and rifle manipulation. This should always be under the guidance of a qualified individual. The recoil is non-existent, the noise is low, the results are immediately observable and there is a sense of accomplishment and respect for the rifle after a single outing if it is approached correctly!