March 16, 2023
By Brad Fitzpatrick
The number of youth enrolled in shooting sports programs like the Scholastic Clay Target Program and 4-H Shooting Sports is growing, and that’s a good thing. Shooting sports provide a way for kids to learn discipline, responsibility, and safe gun handling. And, despite what anti-gun forces say, shooting sports are safe. At last year’s SCTP championship, more than a million rounds were fired without an incident. Shooting is statistically safer than bowling.
As refreshing as it is to see so many kids in shooting sports, that also means that firearms manufacturers need to offer plenty of options in lightweight, compact firearms. I coached 4-H Shooting Sports for a couple years, and the biggest issue I saw was not that the kids involved were unsafe when handling their firearms, but rather that the firearms they were using were simply too long and heavy for them.
It’s not just kids that need light, compact firearms. Firearm manufacturers build guns for adults of average height. If you’re slightly below that average you may find that factory guns are too long, and a gun that is too long can be very hard to manage.
Whatever the reason, if you’re looking for a compact gun the good news is that there are many options. Here are eight great compact guns suitable for almost every target, hunting and sport shooting discipline.
Stoeger Condor Youth
- Chambering: 20 ga., .410 bore
- Length of Pull: 13”
- Weight: 5 lbs., 8 oz.
- MSRP: $499
When I started shooting clays competitively, many of my fellow youth shooters couldn’t afford a fancy stackbarrel, but the more affordable Condor served as a competent clay gun for kids. The Condor offers a fast one-two shot and familiarizes kids with the balance and feel of an over-under shotgun at a fraction of the cost of other options. Available in 20 gauge or .410 bore with 13-inch length of pull (LOP) satin walnut stocks, Condor Youth shotguns weigh in at just 5.5 pounds and measure just more than 3 feet long. The relatively short 22-inch barrels move the balance point of the shotgun rearward and make it easier for small-statured shooters to control the gun. With .410 2½-inch target loads, even young, small shooters can operate this firearm with ease, and the break-action design is safe and simple. This is the perfect starter gun for kids who are interested in hunting or breaking clays, but simply cannot handle a larger, heavier shotgun.
Ruger American Compact
- Chambering: .243 Win., 7mm-08 Rem., .308 Win., 6.5 Creedmoor
- Length of Pull: 12.5”
- Weight: 6 lbs.
- MSRP: $599
With its shortened stock and available 18-inch barrel the Ruger American Compact shaves several ounces and 5 inches of length off the full-size version. This centerfire bolt-action rifle comes chambered in .243 Winchester, 7mm-08 Remington, .308 Win. and 6.5 Creedmoor, so there are plenty of low-recoiling cartridge options for new shooters. The tang safety is easily accessible even for shooters with small hands and the Ruger Marksman trigger is adjustable from 3 to 5 pounds. The black synthetic stock isn’t particularly fancy, but it does save weight and is rugged enough to stand up to abuse in the field. The stock also features a dense, soft recoil pad that absorbs kick and makes shooting more comfortable and enjoyable. Even though this gun is designed with kids in mind, it offers the same level of accuracy that makes the full-size American one of the most popular hunting rifles in the country.
Stevens 560 Field Compact
- Chambering: 12 ga.
- Length of Pull: 13.5”
- Weight: 6 lbs. (approx.)
- MSRP: $499
Stevens recently introduced their new 560 Field and 560 Field Compact shotguns, which are gas-operated semiautos made in Turkey that feature walnut stocks, interchangeable chokes (IC, M, F), and chrome-lined barrels. The controls are oversized and easy to operate, and the reliable gas system operates smoothly while reducing felt recoil. Length of pull is 13.5-inches on the 560 Field Compact, which is not as short as the Mossberg or Retay, but for small-statured shooters this gun is a great option, especially for a teen or shorter adult that wants to hunt upland game or shoot clay target games. Gun weight has not yet been published but with an aluminum receiver and short stock you can expect overall weight to be around six pounds. At $499 the Stevens is an exceptional bargain.
- Chambering: .22 LR
- Length of Pull: 13.5”
- Weight: 4 lbs., 8 oz.
- MSRP: $320
Though its LOP is fairly long, the Winchester Xpert weighs in at just 4.5 pounds and is therefore easier for anyone with small arms and reduced upper body strength to manage than heavier rifles. The bolt is light and easy to operate, and recoil is next to nothing so this is a gun that anyone can enjoy shooting for extended periods. Reliable 10-round rotary magazines come standard (the Xpert also accepts Ruger 10/22 and aftermarket mags) and it’s easy to mount a lightweight scope or red dot optic on this rifle. The first .22 bolt-action rifle I shot as a kid was memorable only for its abysmal trigger that was heavy and creepy. In contrast, the adjustable MOA trigger in the Xpert is crisp, clean and safe. There’s a sling stud molded into the rear of the stock and a Picatinny rail with cover molded into the underside of the forearm that allows you to mount a sling or bipod. The Bentz-style match chamber makes this affordable .22 ultra-accurate.
Mossberg 500 Bantam/Mini Super Bantam
- Chambering: 12 ga., 20 ga., .410 bore
- Length of Pull: 10.5” to 13”
- Weight: 5 lbs. to 5 lbs., 4 oz.
- MSRP: $504-$648
The Mossberg 500/505/510 family of Bantam, Super Bantam and Mini Super Bantam shotguns is comprised of 19 different models with lengths of pull ranging from 10.5 to 13 inches, and barrels from 18.5 to 24 inches. Several of these guns come with stock spacers that allow you to adjust LOP as your child grows, and the various Bantams will also fit on full-size Mossberg shotgun stocks as well. There are Bantam models designed for hunting deer, turkey, waterfowl and for all-around use, all of which feature the durable steel-to-steel lockup, dual extractors, anti-jam-elevator and other features that have made the 500 a favorite of military and law enforcement professionals the world over. Two-barrel combos which include ventilated smoothbore and rifled slug barrels are available, as are models with a variety of camo finishes. All these guns come with tang-mounted ambidextrous safeties, and the Mini Super Bantam features Mossberg’s EZ Reach forearm that requires shorter reach when cycling the gun.
Ruger 10/22 Compact
- Chambering: .22 LR
- LOP: 12.5”
- Weight: 4 lbs., 7 oz.
- MSRP: $379
Ruger makes a second appearance on this list, but how could we ignore the 10/22? Like so many other shooters, it was my first rifle, and that blowback-operated .22 served me dutifully for decades. Mine, however, was the full-sized version and I could have benefitted from the new 10/22 Compact model with its modular black polymer stock that can be adjusted for comb height and LOP. With its 16.1-inch barrel the 10/22 Compact weighs just about 4.5 pounds and measures 34 inches long, so it’s easy for small-statured shooters to manage. The rotary magazine, trigger and blowback action designs are all excellent and this is a gun that will operate reliably and shoot accurately despite its modest price tag. Plus, there’s no rimfire gun that is more easily tricked-out and upgraded than the 10/22. If they choose to do so, your young shooter can transform their first rimfire into a dedicated competition rifle thanks to a plethora of available aftermarket parts for these guns.
- Chambering: .22 LR
- LOP: 11.25”
- Weight: 2 lbs., 11 oz.
- MSRP: $209
The Rascal is, quite simply, the perfect starter gun for small-statured shooters. Weighing in at under 3 pounds and measuring less than 31 inches long, the single-shot Rascal is easy to operate and allows small shooters to focus on their target without struggling to manage a firearm that’s too big for them. The aperture sights are easier for new shooters to use than traditional iron sights and the rugged polymer stock (which is available in a variety of colors) can take a beating without being damaged. This is the perfect firearm for kids to learn on, and if you have children or grandchildren who are ready for the responsibility of gun ownership this is a great place for them to start. Because it’s light, produces almost no recoil and minimal muzzle blast, and is simple to operate, the Rascal is a great rifle for introducing older shooters to the sport, especially those with small frames or anyone lacking the strength to manipulate a heavier gun.
Retay Gordion Compact
- Chambering: 20 ga.
- LOP: 12.5”
- Weight: 6 lbs., 4 oz. (approx.)
- MSRP: $899-$999
Turkish shotgun maker Retay has made a name by offering high-quality inertia-operated semiauto shotguns at a relatively affordable price point. The new Compact versions in the company’s Gordion shotgun line offers all the goods that shooters love about these guns including an ultra-reliable operating system and drilled barrels that always shoot straight. Now, though, the Compacts package those features with reduced weight and less overall length. The 20-gauge Gordion Compact comes with either a 24- or 26-inch vent rib barrel and 12.5-inch LOP stock. Interchangeable chokes come standard, and because this gun is built on a full-sized receiver the young shooter in your home can simply switch to a longer LOP stock as they grow. The rugged Gordion is dependable enough for competitive shooting in SCTP youth events, and it’s also perfect for hunting upland game or waterfowl.
What was your first gun? What do you use to teach youth shooters and smaller-statured adults? Did we miss a compact gun that should have made the list? Let us know by emailing us at GAEDITOR@OUTDOORSG.COM, and use "Sound Off" in the subject line.
Enjoy articles like this?
Subscribe to the magazine.
Get access to everything Guns & Ammo has to offer.
Subscribe to the Magazine