It used to be something of a tradition years ago that shotgun sales declined quite noticeably after the end of the game season to pick up again just prior to the start of the next season. Certainly with private sales you could often sell a gun at a better price a little before the new season than just after. The wise purchaser would therefore start looking for a gun fairly early in the year to get the best buy.
Those, however, were the days when gameshooting was the main preoccupation of the gun owner and the side-by-side the undisputed king of the shooting field. Consideration given to purchasing another gun was, in the main, a gentle, leisurely affair and the best time to buy was as well defined as the seasons of the year used to be. Of course, few shooters I knew bought new guns as they aspired to a classic British boxlock or sidelock and to anyone on average wages a new gun of this sort was financially out of reach. If you wanted another gun it was a case of putting the word about, perusing the local small ads, visiting a gunshop or risking a bid at the provincial gun auction. One adventurous gameshooter I knew purchased an imported over-and-under, which he claimed was the way forward, but we believed we knew better and simply indulged his eccentricity.
A ruthless business
Yet he was right and our world changed to the extent that even the purchase of a gun became something of a more ruthless business. There were a number of factors that came into play including the massive rise of interest in clay pigeon shooting with good Sporting bird layouts, increased disposable income, realistically priced imported guns and more prominent and aggressive advertising, which all contrived to smudge those once clear-cut lines that used to rule sales.
It also helped that lighter over-and-under designs were becoming available, which made useful dual-purpose clay/game guns. For this sort of sport they started to supplant the earlier heavy designs, which had been one of the criticisms of those original imports. In a comparatively few years the imported over-and-under outstripped the sales of side-by-sides.
Surprisingly, in spite of the availability of almost year-round shooting, there are still seasonal fluctuations that can sometimes benefit the buyer. Peak sales times tend still to be just pre-September for the gameshooting, pre-Christmas for that ultimate present, and May, or a bit sooner if there is an early spring, for the fair weather clayshooter. Avoid these times and you might get a better deal.
Benefits of buying in summer
So, apart from the odd second-hand deal, importers special offers and the annual game fair bargain hunt, is there any other good reason to purchase a gun in the summer? The practical answer is there are plenty of reasons, all of which will enhance your enjoyment of the next seasons shooting.
Familiarity with a gun is important from both the safety aspect and getting the best out of it. The way it operates and the feel, either when mounted to the shoulder or carried broken over the crook of the arm, should all become a natural extension of the user, and this takes time.
Some of the detail is very important, so start with the little things first. Does it have an auto-safe? If not, do you feel completely comfortable with this or is it a matter of practice before getting used to it? Then again, conversion to auto-safe might be a consideration, but some manufacturers that used to supply conversion kits no longer do so due to the possibility of liability claims unless factory fitted as original equipment. For the same reason, your gunsmith may be loath to make changes, but even if they are happy to do so it is likely to be a few weeks before you get it back and there is always more of a rush in the workshop just before the game season. The gunsmith will certainly prefer it brought in early in the year rather than later, just as you will appreciate a reasonably quick turnaround.
With a single non-selective trigger gun, either side-by-side or over-and-under, it is useful to check which is the more open barrel and which one carries the most choke. For walked-up and general knock-about shooting it is the open barrel first; for driven game, the choked barrel. For the majority of modern guns fitted with multichokes it is only a matter of arranging the chokes to suit the sport, but you still have to know which barrel is the first.
With selective triggers I find it surprising how many gameshooters are not completely sure about which position of the barrel selector selects which barrel. Obviously, with all guns this morsel of knowledge is important and especially so with those having fixed chokes. Barrel selection should become such an automatic action that one does not need even to look at the selector to check the position.
The other aspect with fixed chokes, if you are not sure what they are, is to go to the gunsmith and have them checked. It was not uncommon with imported guns to have a lot of choke, which could then be tailored for a specific use at a later date. Altering chokes is not difficult for the gunsmith but it will be more time used up when the gun is not available for that important pre-season practice.
Time for alterations
Practice should be more than swinging the gun at a few clays, though that is still better than nothing. Before that, it is important to know that the gun is shooting where you are looking. A short session on the clay clubs pattern plate or your own temporary set-up is a good start. This may show up deficiencies that point towards the need for stock alterations.
Stocks on over-and-unders were inclined to be a bit on the heavy side but are getting better and some now are quite beautiful, very much in the English style. There are, though, older over-and-unders where the comb is a bit wide and the stock sports a lack of cast and often not enough drop. For more deliberate clayshooting this is not necessarily a problem, but for gameshooting an instinctive mount is better, and that equates to good gun fit.
Stock work on any gun, side-by-side or over-and-under, can mean from shortening or lengthening a stock to comb and cast alterations, including the possibility of refinishing. The gun could be at the gunsmith for weeks and then more practice is needed after it is returned as we all owe it to the quarry to perform to the best of our ability and strive for clean kills.
It can be seen, therefore, that getting familiar with a new gun and, if necessary, carrying out a few alterations, means that the weeks easily slip by. Time in hand, even only for practice, is most useful and so an early purchase, well before the start of the season, is ideal. Take this idea a bit further and not only does it mean plenty of time to choose, but perhaps even to change. It is far better to find out well before the game season that a new gun may not be all you expected than to have it spoil your shooting.