Your first gun

James March­ing­ton of­fers some ad­vice on se­lect­ing a shot­gun that will help you grow with­out break­ing the bank

Clay Shooting - - Contents -

Some ad­vice on se­lect­ing a shot­gun to help you grow with­out break­ing the bank

Most shoot­ers will have fond mem­o­ries of their first gun. It’s one of those mile­stones you don’t for­get, like your first car or first love! Buy­ing your first gun is an ex­cit­ing time, but it can be wor­ry­ing too. You’re mak­ing a big in­vest­ment, and you don’t yet have the ex­pe­ri­ence to feel con­fi­dent about your choice. You’ll be of­fered all sorts of con­flict­ing ad­vice by well mean­ing friends and fel­low shoot­ers – who are prob­a­bly lit­tle bet­ter qual­i­fied than you are!

First of all, re­mem­ber there’s no rush. I’ll as­sume you ap­plied for your Shot­gun Cer­tifi­cate as we de­scribed last is­sue, ev­ery­thing went to plan and you are now the proud owner of your very own SGC, along with an empty gun cabi­net just aching to be filled. You’re keen to get stuck in, and it’s tempt­ing to rush off and buy the first gun that takes your fancy – but don’t. You’ll have to live with your choice for some time, and it can make a big dif­fer­ence to your early shoot­ing progress, so take the time to choose wisely.

Set your bud­get

Start by nar­row­ing down your op­tions. De­cide what you can sen­si­bly af­ford to spend, re­mem­ber­ing that there will be other costs as well as the gun it­self. You will need a bag for your shoot­ing gear, eye and ear pro­tec­tion, a gun sleeve, a shoot­ing vest, and maybe some sort of se­cu­rity ca­ble for the car. Af­ter all that, you will still want some­thing left over for clays and car­tridges, oth­er­wise what was the point!

I can’t tell you how much to spend; that de­pends en­tirely on you and your cir­cum­stances. How­ever I can tell you that you needn’t spend a for­tune to get a good gun that will do a fine job of break­ing clays and needn’t hold you back. Any­thing from £500 to £1,000 will get you started, while if you can stretch to £1,500 or so you can start to look at the big name brands.

What type of gun?

Once you’ve de­cided on your bud­get, your next de­ci­sion is what type of gun. Not just whether it’s an over-and-un­der or some­thing else, but whether it’s pri­mar­ily a clay gun, a game gun or an all-rounder. That de­pends on the type of shoot­ing you ex­pect to do most. At this early stage it can be dif­fi­cult to be sure which di­rec­tion your shoot­ing might take, but you prob­a­bly know

al­ready whether game shoot­ing is a pos­si­bil­ity. If so, you might go for an all-round gun suit­able for game and clays, per­haps a ‘field’ or ‘hunter’ model over-and-un­der.

If game shoot­ing is un­likely, then you can con­cen­trate on pur­pose-built clay guns, with the ad­van­tage that they will have fea­tures that make them more suited to clay­bust­ing. For in­stance the safety catch will prob­a­bly be the man­ual type, mean­ing that it won’t re-set it­self to the ‘safe’ po­si­tion when you open the gun, and the gun’s weight and de­sign will be op­ti­mised to han­dle the re­coil of clay shoot­ing car­tridges.

An over-and-un­der is prob­a­bly the ob­vi­ous choice, but don’t dis­count the semi-au­tos. These can of­fer ex­cel­lent value and many peo­ple find them more com­fort­able to shoot, due to the re­duced re­coil. Just re­mem­ber that there are ex­tra safety rules if you’re us­ing a semi-auto at a clay ground, such as load­ing only two car­tridges, and us­ing a safety flag to show that the breech is clear.

Does it fit?

As you look around the range of guns on of­fer, all sorts of fea­tures will catch your eye – per­haps the stylish en­grav­ing on the ac­tion, a lovely pat­tern of grain in the wood of the stock, or an at­trac­tive rib de­sign. Per­haps the gun comes in a nice trav­el­ling case, with a se­lec­tion of mul­ti­chokes.

All those are nice to have, but the one over­rid­ing fac­tor should be the one you can’t see – does the gun fit you?

We’ll look more closely at gun fit in a fu­ture ar­ti­cle, but essen­tially it means that when you mount the gun in your shoul­der, it points where you’re look­ing. Buy a gun that fits and you’re half-way there. If you buy a gun that doesn’t fit, on the other hand, then your shoot­ing will be an up­hill strug­gle – and hav­ing a pretty stock or nice en­grav­ing will be lit­tle con­so­la­tion.

The prob­lem is, find­ing a gun that fits is eas­ier said than done. At this early stage in your shoot­ing ca­reer, you are still find­ing your style, re­fin­ing your tech­nique and learn­ing a con­sis­tent gun mount. As you con­tinue to de­velop and im­prove, your re­quire­ments will change. For this rea­son I al­ways ad­vise that a shooter’s first gun should be ad­justable.

Many guns are avail­able with an ad­justable stock, and I feel it’s well worth pay­ing a lit­tle ex­tra. It’s true that a gun­smith can al­ter your stock’s mea­sure­ments, adding or re­duc­ing cast and comb height – but it’s a lot eas­ier, and cheaper, if you can sim­ply loosen a cou­ple of screws and move the comb your­self. Later on, when you have de­vel­oped your tech­nique and have a con­sis­tent gun mount, by all means get a stock to the right mea­sure­ments, but for now some flex­i­bil­ity is a great help.

Try be­fore you buy

It’s a very good idea to shoot your cho­sen gun be­fore part­ing with your money. Ide­ally you would nar­row down your choice and then try the three or four guns on your short­list be­fore reach­ing a fi­nal de­ci­sion. If you can do this with your reg­u­lar coach, so much the bet­ter, as they can of­fer ex­pert ad­vice on which gun suits you best.

Many shoot­ing grounds have their own gun shop, or have an ar­range­ment with a lo­cal gun dealer, so you can try be­fore you buy. There may be ‘demo guns’ avail­able so you can com­pare makes and mod­els. Take full ad­van­tage of any op­por­tu­ni­ties of­fered – the more guns you try, the bet­ter you can re­fine your choice. Don’t dis­miss the ‘easy’ tar­gets when you’re try­ing dif­fer­ent guns. A sim­ple ‘point and shoot’ tar­get can high­light a prob­lem with gun fit which might not be ob­vi­ous if you’re shoot­ing a tricky crosser.

Tak­ing the leap

So you’ve taken your time, you’ve looked at all the op­tions, nar­rowed down your choice, tried a few guns and fi­nally made your de­ci­sion. At last, you are the proud owner of your first gun, and you’re em­bark­ing on a brand new chap­ter in your shoot­ing ca­reer – con­grat­u­la­tions! Don’t for­get to no­tify the police about the de­tails, as re­quired un­der the terms of your cer­tifi­cate.

Take care of your new gun, en­joy us­ing it and get­ting the best from it. The road ahead won’t be straight­for­ward. There will be highs and lows, with frus­tra­tion and dis­ap­point­ment as well as progress and suc­cess. We’ve all been there, and it’s all part of the ad­dic­tion that keeps us com­ing back to smash clays and try to do just that lit­tle bit bet­ter than be­fore.

Nar­row down your choice, then take the op­por­tu­nity to shoot your short­listed guns

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