How to know if a
Which gun to buy and what to pay for it is possibly one of the most widely discussed topics in the shooting world. Here, gunsmith Jonny tells us what is and isn’t worth the extra dough
‘Adverts and sponsorship cost money, so expect the cost of marketing campaigns to be bolted onto the gun’
You get what you pay for: that’s what they say. This idea is shoved down our throats by purveyors of quality goods, but is it true? In a world where a Silver Pigeon is £1,700 and yet you can get a brand new over-and-under from Turkey for £499, it is getting harder and harder to justify the investment in more expensive guns, especially with most reviews finding few negatives to say about their cheaper subjects. Let’s shed some light on the subject to try and see where that money goes.
Regardless of cost, it is worth putting it out there that all guns, generally speaking, are reliable, and as such will go ‘bang’ when you pull the trigger with a cartridge in the chamber.
Providing your cartridges are of a decent quality and you are pointing the barrel in the right place, the clay will break or the bird will fall. This is every budget gun owner’s argument, and to be fair, it’s true! However, before we all go Russian down to the Baikal/Kofs store to fill our cabinets with cheap guns, it may be worth reading on…
Balance, handling and pointability all add up to ‘shootability’. This recipe will aid the shooter in getting the gun to target with repeatability, not fighting the shooter and leaving him exhausted at the end of a round or drive.
Great gunmakers can take an 8½lb gun and make it handle like a wand; lesser makers will produce 7½lb guns that feel like shooting a sack of potatoes. Yes, a good shooter can pick up any gun and shoot, but there is certainly a lean towards very shootable guns in the upper echelons of shooting.
Shootability can be improved in any gun, so don’t feel trapped with your current set-up. Rebalancing and other modifications can change a gun completely, and could be the best investment you ever made. There are also some very shootable guns out there for sensible money, but you might have to sacrifice some of the following to get them within budget.
Metal isn’t just metal – obviously! Most receivers are made from steel or aluminium, and nearly all barrels are made from steel. Every maker’s recipe is different, and how they get it from raw stage to final shape is also very different.
Generally speaking, from the bottom all the way to £2,000, you will see an increase in material quality; after this price point, little improvement will be seen. Having worked on ejectors a lot recently, it is very clear that some people’s ejectors made from metal are softer than other high-end maker’s stock wood.
This is an area worth investing in if you want a gun that will last. Unsurprisingly, guns made of a special alloy of monkey metal and butter seem to wear quickly. This wear can be on the joint, making it sloppy to open or close or loose on the face – and even dangerous if the sears wear out on the inside making it double discharge, or worse, just go off!
The obvious one here is wood grade, but we will only touch on this quickly. Wood with the best aesthetics are obviously rarer and hence more money, so a handsome piece of wood will cost more.
Aside from looks, it is worth knowing that a grade one piece of wood isn’t just a grade one piece of wood, and the quality within grades can vary a lot. Where the wood is from in the tree, where that tree was in the world, and how that wood has been handled from when the tree was felled to the day it was sculpted into the stock and fore-end will all have a bearing on quality, density, longevity, hardness and even feel.
Some quip about beauty being more than skin deep is appropriate here, but seriously, rather a quality grade one than a poor grade three. Once again, generally the more you spend, the more you get.
Popularity and branding
Popularity is a large factor in gun values, and a gun that is built well can be worth very little if nobody wants to buy it.
A key example here would be this: a B525 or a Silver Pigeon, both in 30" Sporting variant, are some of the most popular guns in existence, and as such both new and used examples command very strong prices. However, a gun that is just as well built, such as a second-hand Winchester 8500 Trap, may out-handle these, but will command roughly 70% of the value. This rule goes for Trap guns generally as they are deemed unsuitable for modern Sporting clays and yet are very capable of shooting modern Sporting clays. So, for the sake of buying something a little different, a bargain or two can be had.
Brand carries value, and we do buy names, usually because they are good, but this does mean good brands cost more. Companies spend money on marketing to keep their names fresh in peoples’ heads – adverts and sponsorship cost money, so expect the cost of marketing campaigns to be bolted onto the gun. It can be scary when you see what some companies spend on marketing – it does make you wonder how much is left to spend on the gun!
You are paying for intelligent design; there is a reason that the best guns have used the same design for decades. These makers protect their designs and, as such, you will always suffer from a compromise or two on cheaper alternatives. Sloppier triggers and badly designed ejectors are among the list of design faults with the popular budget guns.
Up to the £1,500 mark new, you will see a huge benefit in spending more to get a better engineered shotgun. After this, you will see little to no improvement.
Some could say the list of things that come under this title count for nothing, but the confidence a well-finished gun gives you can really help your mental game.
Finish quality covers, but is not limited to: straightness of lines on the stock; the fit of a butt plate; quality of chequering; depth of engraving; wood-to-metal fit; trigger pull quality; opening and closing feel of the gun; wood finish; blueing quality; rib laying quality; and ejector timing.
Finish quality and shootability are inextricably linked, usually because better handling guns are better finished, but also sports psychology dictates that confidence makes the
sportsman, and nothing gives you confidence like the right gun.
There are always exceptions to these rules, and reading this article back to myself I think I would place the perfect gun second-hand between £1,500 and £2,500. Not going for the cheapest of the cheap, you can still have the best in material quality and action design and be buying into top-end shootability and finish.
I hope this has been of some help!
Buying a good quality second-hand gun can often be a smarter choice than a brand-new budget gun of the same price.
Bettinsoli is a make which resides at the lower end of the pricing bracket, but can respresent a good purchase
Wood-to-metal fit is generally affected by price
Metalwork is one area where spending less will definitely give you less quality
Sloppy triggers and badly designed ejectors are often issues with the more budget guns