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

Sporting Shooter - - Contents -

‘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!

Wood qual­ity

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!

De­sign qual­ity

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.

Fin­ish qual­ity

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

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