Just starting out hunting and don’t want to shell out big bucks for a new rifle or shotgun? Or maybe you’d prefer a vintage piece with a little more character than you can get from a factory-new gun. Buying a used gun online can be a good opportunity to get a deal and a better selection than you can typically find at your local gun store or outdoor retailer. However, because you can’t actually handle the gun you’re buying—can’t check the action or test the trigger—buying online is also full of potential pitfalls. Here are a few fundamental tips to avoid them.
- 1. Handle the exact model in person before shopping online. This one can be challenging; you may be looking for a gun that none of your friends own and isn’t for sale locally. But if you can handle the model of firearm you’re considering, even briefly, it will give you a definite sense of the gun’s handling, weight, sights, etc., assuming it hasn’t been modified dramatically. Every gun is a little different—even from those that left the factory on the same day—but you can learn a lot by holding it in your hands, first. Keep an eye out for local gun shows or fairs, as they provide an opportunity to handle, and in some cases even shoot, firearms without a commitment to buy. Some ranges have firearm rentals, which may also be an opportunity to try out a model before you buy it.
- 2. Do your research. Read up on the model in which you’re interested. Peruse gun forums and read about others’ experiences. Even if there are a few horror stories floating around, don’t be deterred unless there’s a common complaint among several users. You can learn a great deal about a firearm and its manufacturer from other members of the outdoor and shooting communities. They won’t hesitate to tell you if that sweet shotgun you’ve been eyeing has a longstanding reputation for jamming, or if the rifle you’ve lusted after is actually a lemon.
3. Determine a fair price. You can save a substantial amount by buying a used rifle or shotgun, but you can also get taken to the cleaner’s if you don’t have at least a vague idea of what a given model fetches on the market. If you’re unsure what a reasonable price might be, find a current copy of the Blue Book of Gun Values and give it a once-over.
- 4. Choose where to shop. Many brick-and-mortar gun shops have an online presence and sell used firearms on consignment, meaning you can potentially negotiate with the gun’s owner on price. (Start haggling at about 15 percent lower than the listed price. Any lower and you risk insulting the seller.) Such shops often guarantee their used guns and are willing to work with you on returns if you’re unhappy with your purchase, as they have a reputation to protect and an increased degree of accountability compared to private sellers.
- If you resolve to shop on a gun auction site, instead, you’ll find that your choices in available firearms expand dramatically. If you’re looking for an oddball caliber or harder-to-find model, this may be your best shot. But beware: Guns on auction sites run the gamut from treasures to misrepresented junk—the sellers from consummate professionals to shady pawnbrokers.
- 5. Read each listing carefully. Online listings vary from descriptive to conspicuously vague. Make note of any critical omissions regarding the gun’s form or function and follow up with the seller. You should be able to get a clear idea of all the gun’s flaws, functional or aesthetic, from their write-up and any additional questions you ask in a follow-up message. Exercise extreme caution when dealing with sellers who claim to know little about the piece they’re selling and won’t accept returns.
- 6. Scrutinize the photos provided. If they’re low-resolution, dark, or blurry, beware: Many clues as to the gun’s condition can be lost or hidden by bad-quality photos. Insist on better ones from the seller and look them over carefully. On used rifles, look for errant screw holes drilled into the receiver for old scope mounts, dings and dents in the barrel’s crown, burred or boogered screw heads, shortened barrels or stocks, and for hairline cracks in the wrist of the stock or chips in its heel or toe. Although some “sporterized” rifles make for fine hunting guns, many of them have simply been butchered by amateur gunsmiths and aren’t worth the postage you’ll pay to get them.