Should you go for a shiny new gun or maybe pick up a bargain by choosing a popular gun that's come up for sale second-hand?

First off, let’s consider the emotional side of buying a brand new gun.

You’re the first owner, so its history starts with you. You’ll have the excitement of taking it out on its first shoot. You’re going to feel this whether you’ve spent thousands on a made-to-measure bespoke order or whether you’ve saved up long and hard to buy a well-thought of factory product.

Many British-made shotguns are more affordable now than they have been for years but most guns purchased are imports. Shooters are opting for the over-and-under on the whole, but the die-hard traditionalists are looking at the new side-by-sides. You’ll also see more semi-autos around for the pigeon or vermin shooter and even the pump-action has more of a look in.

Other than the look of the gun, buying new means you also have certain statutory rights. Apart from the pride of ownership when buying new, you also have a guarantee which usually covers parts and labour for a certain period. No maker or importer is going to provide an extended guarantee if they do not have confidence in the product and so you as the purchaser can be confident that such shotguns will deliver years of trouble-free use. However a guarantee will not cover misuse or abuse of a gun.

How to buy the model you want for less

Seemingly there is plenty of choice. But if your budget is limited and your chosen model goes beyond it, what can you do?

My advice would be to buy a cheaper model of the make you admire or  buy a second-hand model of the one you really want.

Stretch your finances or settle for what you can afford?

What’s best for you? Remember that many shotguns in a maker’s range are variations on a base model, with various add-ons available, such as better walnut, sideplates and extra decoration. All these are designed to enhance the gun’s look and appeal. In matters such as function and reliability, it can be that a more expensive model is no better or worse than its more economically priced stablemate. On the other hand, you may feel that you should buy your heart’s desire to get true satisfaction. Just remember that good looks on the surface are not always an indication of what lies beneath.

The pros of buying second-hand

Buy second-hand and you’re not only more likely to stay within your budget, but you’ll also be able to make a private purchase or buy a gun at auction. Even an almost-new gun will show a saving due to depreciation — and that is a loss to the original purchaser. Buying from a dealer usually means you have to pay more than a private purchase, but it has its commercial advantages. For a start, you have statutory rights if the gun is not as advertised or unfit for purpose and there is the possibility of a trade-in on your old gun.

At auction it is a case of sold as seen. At one time, faults would be listed, but there’s a tendency to be less specific about this now. Bargains can be picked up at auction but bear in mind that this may be because dealers are dumping stock that has not been popular. My advice would be ‘buyer beware’ if you’re looking to buy a gun at auction – but it can be great fun if you do your research beforehand and keep your wits about you.

With a private purchase, there is no commercial responsibility unless it is a privately owned gun sold through a dealer, then the dealer is responsible. The exception in all cases is if a shotgun is out of proof. This is an offence on the part of the seller; the fine at the time of writing is up to £1,000 for each out-of-proof barrel.

Buy the best you can afford 

This holds true whether you are buying a new gun or second-hand.

If you’re buying second-hand, always buy a gun that’s in the best condition – which might not mean buying an upgraded model. That does not always mean expensive, as some makers such as Mossberg have earned a good reputation for reliability with their economically priced pump-action shotguns. Many Italian over-and-unders are a sort of variation on a theme — with similarities between the basic build and lockwork, it is the detail that makes the difference. Makes that are affordable include Bettinsoli and Sabatti, along with anglicised versions such as the Lincoln range of over-and-unders. Turkish brands such as Yildiz, Huglu and Khan, some with stunning walnut, are really the sort of gun to consider buying new.

There are plenty of guns from Italy, Spain and Turkey that are affordable. As prices increase a second-hand purchase may become more and more attractive.  Rizzini and Caesar Guerini are the sorts of gun with nicely styled stockwork and good handling where buying second- hand can make savings. As for the two stalwarts, Beretta and Browning, from the point of view of a second-hand purchase, sometimes, if you are lucky, savings can be made, but generally they hold their price well, which is one of the attractions of ownership.

Repairing your gun and finding spares

You may well come across a second-hand purchase that’s a bargain but needs some work done on it.
Most problems with over-and-unders are associated with worn or broken strikers (firing pins) or weak helical mainsprings, sometimes a minor lockwork spring that has failed or a broken extractor leg. This is not normally a problem because modern guns have ready-made spare parts, some requiring the absolute minimum of hand fitting. Complications can arise when a make is still current, but no longer imported or a grey import. With an economically priced gun, it may not be financially worthwhile for a gunsmith to make a part.

Aya side by side

An AyA side by side shotgun

The most reliable shotguns?

In my view, the shotguns that are most reliable and least attention-seeking (apart from servicing) are traditional side-by-sides produced by AyA and Arrieta.  These designs have been proven over the last century and most gunsmiths are very familiar with them.  A worn or unreliable semi-auto is best avoided, but the manually operated pump-action will often go on for years, with only the occasional problem, such as a broken extractor, letting it down.

It’s your choice. Buying new or second-hand is never an easy decision. But bear in mind how long you’ll be using the gun for and the resale value and following the advice of buying the best you can afford always holds true.