USED SHOTGUNS ARE bargains. Let someone else take the depreciation hit, and you get a gun that will still last a lifetime.
Some people shy away in the belief that there is something wrong with any used gun, but shooters get rid of perfectly good guns for all kinds of reasons. They trade up. They need money. (As someone who sold three perfectly good guns to pay for my German shorthair’s emergency surgery, I know that’s true.) They quit shooting, or they just want a different gun.
Most of my favorite guns were bought used. The way I look at it, I’m not only saving money, but I’m also sparing myself the trauma of putting the first scratch on a pristine stock.
How to Buy a Used Shotgun
Most reputable dealers will guarantee guns to be free of mechanical defects, but the fact is you still buy used guns “as is.” Which means, of course, that you need to be an informed shopper. Start by borrowing or investing in a copy of S.P. Fjestad’s Blue Book of Gun Values. It’s the Bible of used-gun prices. When you go shopping, here are some things to look for.
1. Make sure choke tubes come out
Rusted-in or stuck chokes can cost a couple hundred dollars to remove and are a sign the gun has been neglected.
2. Look down the bores for pitting
You might decide to live with very light pitting or have it polished out, but deep pits are deal breakers.
3. Make sure the barrels are fluid steel, not Damascus
To identify Damascus steel, look for swirl patterns or the stamped words “twist,” “laminated” or “Damascus.” Unless you’re an expert in metals, stay away.
4. Look for safe scars
Check the toe of the stock, where it would bang into the bottom of a safe, and the sides of receivers, which can be marred by the bolt handle of the neighboring gun.
5. Inspect barrels for dents
Dents are dangerous but can be fixed. Bulges are very dangerous and also tend to be very expensive to repair.
6. Look where wood meets metal
Wood that is flush with the metal or below its level means the gun has probably been refinished.
7. Ring the barrels
Take the gun apart and hang the barrels on your finger from the underbolt or forearm hook. When you thwack them, you should hear a clear, bell-like tone. A “thunk” means side or top ribs need resoldering, a job necessitating the expense of rebluing.
8. Look for cracks in the stock
Check around the tang, in the head of the stock and in the wrist. Forearms can crack, too. Cracks should be repaired before you shoot the gun.
9. Check the stock dimensions
Many older guns, especially American doubles, have lots of drop, making them very difficult to shoot well. You’re looking at a few thousand for a new stock to make the gun shootable.
10. Take pumps and autos apart
If the magazine cap is rusted on, the insides have probably been neglected. Look for rust and missing rings on semiautos, underneath the forearm.
11. Check the screws
Buggered slots mean an amateur has been poking around inside the gun. Also, engraved screws on higher-end guns are expensive to replace.
12. Check for wear by looking at a double gun’s lever
On new guns, the lever angles to the right and gradually moves to six o’clock. If it’s past that point, it’s time to tighten the action.
13. Bring snap caps and try the trigger
If the trigger’s heavy, deduct the price of a trigger job (usually under $100) from your offer. If the gun is an older double, the price of trigger work goes up to a deal-breaking amount. Make sure the ejectors work, too.
14. Wiggle the barrels
If the barrels wiggle with the fore-end off, the action needs tightening, which can run you a couple hundred bucks.
15. Check chamber length
Chamber length should be stamped on the barrel. Chambers may be shorter than standard, especially on older 16 gauges. On many guns, the chambers can be lengthened.