Buying a used gun

Buying a Used Gun


With more and more used shotguns and rifles on the market these days, hunters are increasingly looking to second-hand firearms when buying a gun. As with any significant purchase, however, you need to do your homework before plonking down the cash. All it takes is a little knowledge and forethought to help ensure that you make the right choice and are ultimately happy with your new firearm.

Whether it’s a shotgun or rifle, the general appearance of a used firearm is a good first indication of its condition. The exterior tells you a lot about the gun, especially how well the previous owner cared for it. There are plenty of used guns on the market, so stay away from anything that looks like it was treated poorly.


With rifles, the most important consideration is the bore. Remove the bolt and look through the barrel from the muzzle end. The bore should be round and clean, with the grooves and lands sharp and bright. Also, a grey or dark bore may be an indication of rust, a firearm’s most lethal enemy. Any imperfection should be treated with caution-beyond all other variables, problems with the bore can affect accuracy.

Externally, ensure that the barrel is straight; it’s not unusual to find slight but critical bends. Also, make sure that all factory-installed sights are intact and solid. Check the stock for signs of cracks or repairs, especially around the action, and stay away from any significant damage, or a replacement stock could be in your future.

Next, work the action several times (including cycling through some ammo) to ensure it’s smooth and functioning. Again, look for signs of rust on the bolt or in the action. Check the safety, too, and dry fire the rifle a few times to check for trigger problems.


I strongly recommend that any prospective rifle be checked by a qualified gunsmith for appropriate headspace. Excessive wear, whether through everyday use or poor cleaning practices, can reduce headspace and most assuredly affect accuracy-not to mention shooter safety.

The availability of spare parts is also worth considering. Stick with the major manufacturers and/or relatively recent models; finding parts for very old or obscure rifles can be a nightmare. Consider your choice of calibre, too. Unless you’re a handloader, I advise selecting one of the more popular calibres to ensure that ammunition is available.

Selecting a pre-owned shotgun is somewhat easier, though many of the same concerns apply. Again, an examination of the exterior will reveal any problems with the barrel or stock. Check that the action is tight, and be very wary if there’s any significant looseness. With an autoloader or pump, disassemble the gun and look for signs of regular cleaning. Also check that the action functions smoothly.

Again, an internal inspection of the barrel will identify any rust problems or other imperfections. Also ensure that all applicable chokes come with the gun or at least are still available from a local dealer. If you’re considering a fixed-choke model, meanwhile, check that the choke is suitable for your hunting applications. And game bird shooters should ensure that any shotgun they’re considering can handle steel shot.

Proper fit is more important with shotguns than rifles when it comes to accuracy. When checking the fit, wear clothing that is similar in bulk to your hunting apparel. Although long stocks can be easily cut down-and spacers can be inserted at the butt to lengthen short stocks-other fit problems can be expensive to remedy.

Whether buying a shotgun or a rifle, remember that both you and the seller must have the appropriate licences (call the Canadian Firearms Centre if you have any questions). And above all else, safety should be your first priority. A thorough check by a qualified gunsmith is well worth the effort, especially considering that a quality gun, if well cared for, can last several lifetimes.

By the Book

When estimating the value of any used firearm, you would do well to consult the bible of pricing guides: the Blue Book of Gun Values by S.P. Fjestad. Now in its 23rd edition, the guide is published by Blue Book Publications.

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