This is going to be a post that is directed more towards the new gun owners that discover this blog rather than the more experienced readers that we have. For those of you that consider what follows to be common knowledge, please share this post and the blog with new gun owners that you know and meet.
I’m going to make the assertion here that youth sized models of many long guns may in fact be superior to the full-sized versions for certain applications.
The genesis of this post came from my recent purchase of a lightly used Marlin 336Y. The “Y” designates it as a youth model. That translates to a shorter barrel and a shorter length of pull. What does this gain me?
First, let’s address the barrel length. The barrel on my 336Y is 16.25 inches, just barely over the shortest allowed under US law before it would become a SBR (short barrel rifle). This makes for an exceedingly handy and well balanced firearm that is as equally at home in dense woods as it is inside a home in tight confines.
Second, and this is perhaps more important, the youth model comes with a stock that features a reduced LOP (length of pull). If you’ve never heard the term, length of pull refers to the distance from the end of the buttstock to the trigger face. You can test whether a gun “fits” you by holding the stock against your forearm with the buttpad held firm against your bicep with your arm bent and seeing whether you can easily reach the trigger. I think I first read it in a book by Jeff Cooper that a person can more easily use a rifle stock that is too short for them rather than use a stock that is too long. I have found this to be true in my experience. I am definitely a smaller stature shooter, and many rifles and shotguns are indeed “too big” for me to easily shoulder. (My PTR 91 is a prime example of this phenomenon.) Conversely, the youth model of the Marlin fits me like a glove. The rifle is quick to shoulder and easy to manipulate, much more so than the regular stocked version.
On a related tangent, this is another reason that I like the AR-15 for home defense and another reason that I find “assault weapon” bans that prohibit collapsible stocks to be ridiculous. I fail to see how ~3.5 inches of stock adjustment makes a rifle any more dangerous or deadly!
Let’s look at what we “give up” in choosing a youth model. With respect to my 336Y, magazine capacity is one less than normal. As this is primarily a hunting gun for me, that’s not a big deal. In addition, the shorter barrel results in a weapon that has more muzzle blast and increased recoil (these latter factors are a bit ironic considering that the manufacturer markets this gun as being intended for first time hunters). More significantly, the shorter barrel gives up some muzzle velocity and effective range, but this is always a compromise inherent in choosing a shorter barrel. The assertion that shorter barrels are less accurate is a myth. Rather, shorter barrels are generally more rigid and therefore more accurate. Rather than giving up accuracy, what you are really giving up is range, due to the reduced velocity. For me, the trade-offs are worth it. As I mentioned above, the balance and handling characteristics are much, much better. This rifle is perfect as a pack gun in the woods, as a quick handling camp gun, pressed into a home defense role, or just tucked behind the seat of my truck. (The potential merits of a lever-action rifle for defensive purposes is another discussion entirely. Check out Grant Cunningham’s thoughts on the subject here.)
Let’s briefly examine some other common “youth” model choices and their considerations. In looking at shotguns as a home defense weapon, many youth models come in 20 gauge instead of the ubiquitous 12 gauge. Unfortunately, while these guns offer a lighter and shorter package with a reduced length of pull, I cannot recommend them for home defense due to poor ammunition choices. To paraphrase Tom Givens, the military and law enforcement communities rely exclusively on the 12 gauge, and the resulting premium anti personnel ammunition choices are only available in 12 gauge. Instead of choosing a 20 gauge youth model, I would suggest an easier way to get a shorter gun and shorter length of pull.
If you already have a 12 gauge shotgun that you like and are comfortable with, then you may want to consider a youth stock set for the gun. Alternatively, a quick perusal of many aftermarket “tactical” shotgun stock offerings will reveal that many of them feature a reduced length of pull to allow for use with body armor. For those of us that don’t typically run around in body armor, a short LOP stock allows for quick shouldering and makes for a shorter overall weapon. The slightly shorter stock also brings the forearm in closer for easier manipulation of the pump action, thus reducing the potential for short stroking.
By way of example, on the Winchester Defender 12 gauge that I keep cruiser ready in my bedroom, I have installed a factory youth stock set. It’s not “tactical” and I like the look and function of the wooden stock set just fine. With its short 18 inch barrel, my shotgun is well suited for maneuvering around inside my home, and for my short stature, it is easily shouldered and manipulated. Likewise, Robert has also fitted a short LOP stock to his shotgun. Needless to say, there are good reasons that prominent instructors recommended this modification to all shotguns intended for defensive use.
One final benefit of having “youth” model guns in your collection is that they are easily passed off to smaller or less experienced family members (teenage children, wives, etc.) if a team based response to a threat is warranted. They can also be used for their intended purpose, namely teaching and equipping young shooters with a gun properly sized for them.
So for all the reasons I discuss above, if you’re considering a long gun for home defense, I encourage you to look at “youth” models even if you’re a full grown adult!
As always, we welcome comments from our readership. What are your experiences with youth model long guns?