Guide to buying a Second Hand Shotgun
Whether you’re buying your first shotgun or adding to your existing collection, second-hand guns can be a minefield. In this guide, we’ll go through the do’s and don'ts of picking one, what to look out for, and where to look.
Checking the condition.
Judging the condition of a used shotgun is a little more in-depth than just checking for rusty barrels and scratches on the woodwork.
Check for soft spots - any dark areas on the wood and patches which are a little soft to touch can be a tell-tale sign of rot. Rot can cause areas of the stock to weaken which will greatly reduce your shotguns’ lifespan. Rust on any metal areas touching the wood can also be a good sign of excessive moisture intake - it’s likely that moisture will be creeping into the wood from the same areas that are affected by rust.
Any cracks or fractures in the furniture should be avoided as this can lead to broken stocks, expensive repair costs and even a potential risk of injury. Holding the gun with barrels in one hand and stock in the other, very gently try to bend it back and forth and up and down. No cracks should appear and there shouldn't be any flexion. You shouldn’t get any movement between the action and the barrels either.
The Barrels, Ejectors and Bores.
Rust is the biggest killer of shotguns, especially when it comes to barrels. When looking down the barrels, the bores should be smooth and have a mirror finish. Dirt shouldn't be an issue, but if left for too long can lead to rust or pitting. It's always best to get the dealer or seller to give it a clean before you commit to any purchase. External rust can sometimes be cleaned off without too much problem but if it starts getting more serious, will damage the bluing (the protective coating on the barrels and sometimes action), which is an expensive fix!
Checking the ejectors on a gun is simple. If you're lucky enough to be testing it at a clay ground, fire a couple of shots, open it slowly and both cartridges should pop out simultaneously. It's also worth checking to see if they eject without firing as they shouldn’t. If you can't test it out at a range, snap caps can be used (inert cartridges designed to take the pressure off the springs). Just follow the same process; load, squeeze the trigger twice, open the gun, the snap caps should eject.
If you hold the barrels lightly in one hand with the muzzle (the dangerous end) hanging down and knock them with the knuckles on your other hand, they should ring like a bell. However, if you hear a dull thud this could mean a loose rib or potentially something more serious such as a loose weld between the barrels. If you come across any issues like this in a firearm you already own - you’ll need the help of a gunsmith to fix it. Check out this list of top 10 gunsmiths in the UK.
Serial numbers and Proof markings.
Proof markings can tell us a lot about a gun, including whether its steel shot proofed, its age, where it was made, the size of the load it's capable of taking and its bore or gauge. Proof marks and serial numbers are usually found on the flats of the barrels or sometimes under the top lever on break action guns. If you find a serial number on both the action and the barrels, they should match. If they don't match, you could have some issues both legally and with how the gun works.
The bore/gauge should be clearly marked and accompanied by the maximum cartridge size (also known as chamber Length). A chamber length of 2.5 inches, or 65mm, is very common on modern weapons, anything shorter is very limiting when it comes to cartridge choice, shot size and load weight. If you're planning to shoot very heavy loads such as 50 grams you'll need to look at guns with a minimum of a 3-inch chamber (75mm), though a 3.5-inch chamber is also available ( may be shown as 85mm or 90 mm). It's always worth remembering the cartridge length specified on the gun is a maximum; you can load shorter cartridges but not longer.
There are few better feelings than a perfectly fitted shotgun in your hands. A few things that should always be on your mind whilst checking a gun for fit are;
With the gun shouldered you shouldn’t be able to see much the of the rib, only the bead. A good trick to see if you're seeing too much rib is to place a £1 coin on the rib. Place the coin two-thirds of the way down the barrel from the breech end (where the cartridges go) and with it mounted, you should just about be able to see over the coin and see all of the bead.
Older and cheaper guns, in general, can be heavier. Depending on what you plan on shooting this can be a bit of a pain. For example, if you're shooting walked up game you could be walking 5 miles or more without much of a break and a heavier gun along with a full game bag and a couple of boxes of cartridges can make for quite a struggle. On the other hand, if you're shooting heavier loads, using a light gun can be a quick way to a sore shoulder due to the amount of force that’ll be bouncing back off of the gun.
Length, Drop and Cast
Stock length of pull, also known as length of pull, is one of the biggest factors to consider when finding the right shotgun. Length of pull is the measurement from the middle of the trigger to the middle of the stock. It's usually recommended to find a gun with the longest stock you can comfortably mount and swing, the ultimate test is a high overhead shot such as a high tower bird. If the length is too short and you go for such a shot, you will feel considerably more recoil, but if it’s too long you’ll find your swing is inconsistent.
Most factory guns have a pull length between 14 and 15 inches but the typical lengths required by adults range from 13 to 16 inches. If you have very long or very short arms don't be surprised if you can't find a gun that fits. Luckily, any competent gunsmith should be able to shorten a stock; there are a number of aftermarket pads designed to extend a stock. These can be found under accessories on our site.
The distance between the line of sight and heel of the gun is called the drop. Adjusting the drop of a stock will change the placement of your shot on its vertical axis. Generally, a firearm with a higher comb (where you put your cheek) will make your shot place high and a lower comb will make your shot place low. Most trap guns have a high comb that falls in line with the rib and this is because most of the targets found in trap disciplines tend to be going away and rising, like birds.
Cast has an effect on the horizontal alignment of your head and the rib. It’s usually used to compensate for people with slim or wide faces. The cast is more noticeable on some weapons than others and is something that can be easily altered by a competent gunsmith. With the bead and top lever facing upwards, a gun with an ‘on-cast’ will look as if the gun is bending to the right and an ‘off-cast’ will bend to the left. Although the cast can have an effect on your shooting and shouldn't be overlooked completely, it’s one of the less important factors when it comes to gun fit, this is because it is relatively easy to compensate for.
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