That used airgun may be a cut-price gem — or it could turn out to be a useless piece of scrap. In our guide to air guns we show what to look for, and what to avoid

Taking the second-hand route when buying an airgun can save you a small fortune. But if you don’t know what to look out for, it can also end up leaving you out of pocket and stuck with a useless piece of scrap. Fortunately, there are a plenty of clues to steer you towards making the right decision when it comes to acquiring a pre-owned air rifle.

The first thing to look for

A quick visual inspection will tell you a lot about a second-hand gun, and the first thing to look for is corrosion. Check for signs of rust along the barrel and cylinder, and don’t be afraid to remove the gun from its stock. Tidy metalwork indicates that the gun has been properly cared for, whereas external corrosion tends to suggest that the internals have been similarly neglected. While you have the gun out of the stock, inspect the woodwork for signs of splitting.

Rust is an even bigger concern with pre-charged airguns, as there’s a risk of the integrity of the air cylinder being compromised by corrosion. Ideally, the owner will have used dry air from a scuba bottle or from a pump with a moisture filter to minimise the risk of internal corrosion — it’s worth checking. Remember also to check the filling probe and/or inlet for signs of damage around the seals — this should be a simple repair with new O-rings but may indicate rough handling and a reluctance to carry out routine maintenance.

Screws

Damaged screw heads are usually evidence of tinkering, which can often do more harm than good. if you notice any screws with gouged heads, be sure to ask the owner how that happened.

Have a few test shots with the gun if you can. Before you load-up, give it a good shake and make sure there are no unusual rattles. If the gun you are trying is spring-powered, the cocking stroke should be smooth and with no roughness or grinding. On a break-barrel, the breech lock-up should be secure with no hint of play. Whatever the power-plant, the test shots should reveal whether the gun is still up to scratch, both in terms of the smoothness of the firing cycle and its downrange accuracy.

Power

Chronograph testing, if possible, should confirm consistent muzzle velocity and (with the exception of FAC-rated airguns) an acceptable power level within the UK legal limit of 12ft/lb. Have a look down the barrel; a build-up of lead deposit isn’t a problem and can easily be cleaned, but rust, scrapes and gouges are cause for concern. Metal-bodied airgun darts can cause serious harm to rifled barrels; if the gun is offered with a set, or if you have reason to believe the owner has been using them, expect there to be damage.

Provenance

Who you are buying from can make a huge difference. a shooter who has kept a record of any maintenance carried out on their airgun has probably taken good care of it. Gunshops have a reputation to maintain, and should have the staff and resources to service a second-hand airgun properly before it reaches the racks. They may even be able to offer you a warranty.

Joining a reputable airgun club should give you access to some top-quality second-hand bargains, along with a range where you can try before you buy. Serious club shooters tend to take very good care of their guns, and many of them change their hardware frequently, ensuring a steady supply of nearly new, and very well cared for, pre-owned airguns.

The golden rule of acquiring a sound second-hand airgun is to use common sense and caution. As with most things in life, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

10 tips for buying a used airgun

  1. Look out for rust – including under the stock and especially on the cylinder of PCPs
  2. Be suspicious of damaged screw heads
  3. Ensure that barrel lock-up is secure on break-barrels
  4. Check wooden stocks for splits
  5. Test fire to check firing cycle and accuracy
  6. Chronograph test to confirm power is consistent and legal
  7. Inspect the barrel for signs of damage, especially from metal darts
  8. Ask gunships if they offer a warranty
  9. Join a club. Serious club shooters look after their guns and change them regularly
  10. Use common sense, and walk away if you’re in any doubt