For many of us, our first shotgun was used. There’s nothing wrong with that. Buying an “experienced” gun can be a cost-effective move. Shotguns, like other firearms, differ from other products in that they can last for many years and be a solid, usable tool to pass along for generations.
To find the right used shotgun, you need to key in on three things: research, examination, and asking the right questions. If everything looks okay, there are three more things you should consider. Have the gun checked out by a gunsmith if possible. If you are at all suspicious, have your local police run a serial number check. Finally, insist on a bill of sale.
Do your research
Do as much research as you can. The internet and books, like the Standard Catalog of Firearms from Gun Digest, are great tools. You can use these tools to find out things like if the firearm is still manufactured and is the maker still in business. The availability of replacement parts, accessories, and/or service should also be a concern. A broken gun that is unfixable is now an expensive paperweight.
How old is the gun? Most modern firearms have long production lives. Knowing serial number ranges and differences in markings between old and new will give you an idea of the value. Look for styling differences such as stock designs, barrel lengths, caliber options, types of sights, and more. These can also help date the firearm.
Examine the firearm thoroughly
This is critical. There is so much abuse that firearms can take and you don’t want to buy one that has seen too much. Check the barrel, receiver, magazine, trigger assembly, and all metal parts for rust damage. Look for anything loose, broken, and worn or if any of the parts are missing. If you find anything wrong, let the seller know and then respectfully pass on the gun. Reputable dealers and sellers will be thankful for the info.
A full examination includes checking the bore and chamber for excessive wear, rust, or lead and copper build up. Nicks or dents in the muzzle can ruin the accuracy and create safety issues. Be sure to check for that, as well as any internal or external bulges in the barrel. Check the condition of the stock and look for signs of abuse such as dents or stains. If possible, examine underneath the stock as this is where real damage is often found.
You should also check to see if the anything has been modified and to what extent. Check if the serial numbers match and then see if the action functions smoothly. If possible strip the gun to look for rust, dirt, and the condition of the springs and firing pin. If the trigger or safety been modified or altered, make sure both work as intended. If not, walk away.
Ask the right questions
When you find a shotgun you are interested in, you need to ask the seller a number of questions. Armed with the knowledge from your inspection of the firearm, ask questions:
- Is the seller the original owner of the gun?
- When did seller purchase it and where was it bought?
- Why the owner is selling the firearm? This isn’t necessary if you’re buying a used gun at a store.
- Ask if there were any problems with the gun. If so, what was the problem, when did it occur and what was done to fix it?
- Are the original paperwork and owner’s manual available? If the seller does not have an owner’s manual, contact the manufacturer and ask for one. Manufacturers will usually supply one free of charge.
Often, you can learn a great deal about the gun’s history and its condition by talking to the seller about what he or she used the gun for, and when it was last used. This will give you an idea of how often it saw use, the conditions it was used under, and more. I know I have an old pump that you wouldn’t want. I beat that gun up, dragging it through the mud and sludge as I learned how to hunt ducks and geese. It doesn’t work well anymore and would be one to walk away from, that is, if I ever sold it. But that isn’t going to happen.
You should also ask roughly how many rounds were fired through the gun. You don’t want to pay top dollar for a gun that has had the barrel shot out of it or has an action that is as sloppy as my son’s handwriting.
Other things you should consider doing before you buy a used gun are:
- Ask a gunsmith to check the firearm over before you buy it. Most stores will have had a competent gunsmith look over all used firearms before they sell them if for nothing else than to reduce liability. Ask to see any records that this was done.
- If buying from a private party, you might have your local police run a check on the gun’s serial number just to be certain it is not stolen. If you’re going to do this, do so before you buy.
- If you are purchasing the gun from a private party, for your own protection, insist upon a signed bill of sale indicating the gun’s model and serial number, the seller’s name, address, phone number, and driver’s license number, if possible.
With online gun brokers and auction houses becoming very popular, buying a firearm online is now fairly common. You still want to follow many of the same tips suggested above but it will be impossible to inspect the gun before purchase. If the gun is being shipped to you, insist upon having the ability to inspect and return the gun if it turns out to be less than advertised. The gun will have to go to a licensed federal firearms dealer and perhaps that is an opportunity to have the gun inspected professionally.
The bottom line
Used guns can be a great bargain as well as a way to own a little piece of history. Just make sure you follow the steps to making a smart, educated purchase so that you end up being completely satisfied with your new-to-you gun. If you know what to look for and the right questions to ask, buying a used shotgun can be easy.
First image by Derrek Sigler, second image courtesy Beretta, featured slider image from Torrey Wiley (pocketwiley) on the flickr Creative Commons