14 Tips for Buying Used Shotguns

Waterfowlers who know what to look for can get a great deal on a secondhand shotgun
By Phil Bourjaily

Since shotguns are built to last, there are always used waterfowl guns available on the resale market. The rigors of duck and goose hunting can be hard on a gun, but "used" doesn't have to mean "abused." Waterfowlers sell or trade their shotguns for all kinds of reasons. They upgrade. They need money. One hunter's trade-in can be another's treasure. 

Armed with the latest Blue Book of Gun Values, you can find a quality used gun that fits your hunting needs. Reputable dealers stand behind these firearms, but used guns still come "as is" and need a thorough inspection. 

Here's a checklist of things to look over when buying a secondhand gun:

1. Barrel Check the barrel inside and out for dents and bulges, which are immediate deal breakers. If the barrel is dirty, ask for it to be cleaned out before you look for pitting in the bore and chamber. Check the rib for dents.

2. Break Action Remove an over/under or side-by-side's forearm. Holding the stock's grip in one hand and the barrels in the other, wiggle the action. It shouldn't budge.

3. Pump Action A stiff or balky action on a pump gun can mean bent action bars. There's a difference, however, between "smooth" and "sloppy." Buy the former; avoid the latter.

4. Chamber Length The gun's chambers may be shorter than standard, especially on older 16- and 20-gauge Auto 5s and Model 12s. 

5. Choke Tubes Be sure they can be easily removed. Tubes rusted in place can cost a couple of hundred dollars to remove.
Extractor Check the extractor on the bolt; it should be sharp with good spring tension. 

6. Magazine Tube On gas-operated guns, make sure the outside of the magazine tube is clean and smooth. Feel the inside as far as you can reach with your finger. Most tubes are dirty, but you don't want to find rust or pitting.

7. Opening Lever On new break-action guns, the opening lever angles to the right and gradually moves to six o'clock as the gun wears in. If the lever is past six o'clock, the action needs tightening.

8. Rings and Pistons Make sure that a semiautomatic has all of its rings and gas-system parts and that these are clean. Be wary if an obvious waterfowl gun has been shot with rings or pistons set for light loads. 

9. Safety The safety should work and not be stiff. Also keep in mind that while the safety on most guns can be switched to accommodate either left- or right-handed shooters, some require new parts to do so.

10. Screws Mangled screw slots mean an amateur has been poking around inside the gun. 

11. Trigger Pull Check to see if the trigger pull is too heavy or light. Most triggers can be adjusted by a gunsmith.

12. Synthetic Stock Synthetic stocks leak. Pull off the pad and make sure the stock bolt and action spring tube (on semiautos) are clean and rust-free. 

13. Wood Stock Look for cracks around the stock head and grip. Check the stock's length and be sure it hasn't been shortened. Discolored wood at the stock head means the gun has been over-oiled, which softens the wood. Also make sure that the stock and forearm match.

14. Buying Long-Distance Buying a gun from an auction site is much like buying one from a gun shop. In fact, most online sellers are gun dealers with brick-and-mortar addresses. You will have to pay the transfer fee through a federal firearms license holder. Ask for an inspection period when you win a bid. Three days is the old standard, but some sellers will allow you to have more time. Most sellers will let you test-fire a gun unless it's an unfired collectible. If you don't like the gun for any reason at all, return it to the seller.