I can't cite scientific numbers to support this opinion, but my personal sense of it is that the felt recoil from a single barrel .410 is about the same (and sometimes more) than a single barrel 20-gauge. Since there is more lead in the air with the 20ga, why not give the kids more of a chance of success from the git-go? They will be busting more clays quicker -- and therefore having fun --- and they will become accustomed to a gun that is appropriate for real hunting, should their interests go in that direction.
I know that there are a couple hundred thousand shotgunners out there that, like me, shot a .410 first. In my family, my grandad had a .410 on the wall behind the kitchen door on the farm for varmint control, and the next size up was the 12-gauge. My younger brother started his 8-year-old on an H&R 20ga single, and it's working out fine with that young fellow. My son is only a year or two away from starting to shoot, and because he is more slender in build than his hefty cousin, I am puzzling what kind of 20gauge I could get that would soak up the most recoil.
When I have kids, I won't put them through the frustration of starting out on a .410. A .410 is a gun for an expert, not a beginner (in the opinion of most shooters). I agree with AimingHigh - your kids will probably appreciate the sport more (and sooner) if you start them out on a 20 gauge.
Just my $.02, though.
I struggled with the same question when I recently purchased my son's first shotgun. He's an average sized 11 year old, so I was afraid that a lightweight 20 gauge might have punishing recoil and he might not enjoy shooting. On the other hand, a 410 with a full choke barrel and only 1/2 ounce of shot could make busting clay targets a bit of a challenge (and success is a great confidence builder).
Since we'll probably do a little small game hunting, and a little clay target busting, my solution was to get both. I found a limited edition NEF 410 full choke, and a 20 gauge modified choke, with laminate stocks and recoil pads for $95 each. I bought them both so HE can choose which one HE likes better for each type of shooting. I could have bought one, and sent the receiver to NEF for the other barrel, but at $95 a gun I would rather just have them both.
He just took his hunter safety class, so I gave them to him for completing it. He has not shot either one of them yet, but he asks me almost every day, so I expect it will be soon. I can post the results when I know them.
They made a limited edition model that came in a cinnamon or camo laminate. Here's a picture of the ones I bought. The top two are a 12 and 20 gauge in "Camo" laminate, and the bottom one is the 410 in "Cinnamon" laminate. Good luck finding one though, I had to look everywhere to find them...and now my son wants a laminate stock for his Sportster 22LR. You can buy the stock and forend from NEF and easily swap them.
Get a H&R Topper Jr.410, I started with mine at 5,. 40 yrs. ago. My son started with the same gun at 5. So did my older brother 8 yrs. before I got it. If you teach a kid right and bring them along slow from stationary targets to slow rollers along the ground to hand tossed clays to,, well you get the idea. He/she will be good with any shotgun they pick up all their life.
A forum community dedicated to Shotgun owners and enthusiasts including the Remington, Beretta, and Mossberg shotguns brands. Come join the discussion about optics, hunting, gunsmithing, styles, reviews, accessories, classifieds, and more!