Shotguns for under £350
One of the really attractive aspects of rough shooting is that few other shooters take much notice of what gun you use, so there is little to be gained from spending money for posing value when it is only results, modest as they may be, and safe shooting that count.
At the moment it is a buyer?s market for anyone who wants something functional and simply constructed but effective in the right hands.
So, for this exercise, we are looking at a price limit of £350 for a double gun on the assumption that our rough shooter is still a bit of a traditionalist, even though for this sport others might favour an auto or even a pump action.
Prices are broadly divided between side-by-sides and over-unders, single- and double-trigger models, ejectors and non-ejectors, and imported guns and older, home-grown products.
It may seem obvious, but the gun also needs to qualify as a game or field model and I make this point because it is not unknown for shooters new to the sport to buy unsuitable competition models in the mistaken belief that all shotguns are the same.
The other thing to avoid buying is an imported gun bearing a name few people have ever heard of.
That can mean a non-existent spares situation and the need to have a gunsmith make parts, which may not be practical, given the modest value of the gun.
CHECK THE CONDITION
With all guns, condition is most important, but at the economy end of the price range it can make all the difference when you?re deciding whether a repair is worthwhile or whether it would be better to scrap the gun.
A gunsmith may be needed to gauge the barrel bores for proof size and to check the wall thickness, but the potential purchaser can carry out some simple, basic checks to get an idea of the gun?s integrity.
1. Visual check for general condition. Damage that indicates careless handling may indicate a disregard for even the most basic maintenance, while worn chequering may mean more handling than actual shooting. Visible lubricating oil in the head of the stock and fore-end is not a good thing, as it weakens the wood.
2. When you?ve detached the fore-end, the barrels should still be tight on the action. Hold the grip of the stock with one hand and, with the thumb and forefinger of the other hand on either side of the action, shake it gently from side to side. You will feel, if not hear, any looseness.
3. With the barrels off the gun, they can be viewed from both ends for bulges and dents by looking down the lines of reflected light. By looking down the muzzles, you can often see pits that are hardly visible from the breech end.
4. Hanging the barrels by the hook from a finger and tapping them with a knuckle will tell you if the ribs are secure. If the barrels ring, they are OK. If it is a dull or rattling sound, the ribs are loose and there could be unseen corrosion between the barrels.
Remember, it is illegal to sell a gun that is out of proof. The offence is committed by the seller, not the purchaser.
THE ENGLISH OPTION
Even at the top end of our price range, we will, realistically, be confined to a side-by-side, double-trigger, non-ejector gun.
A British-made boxlock is a sound, honest purchase, but be prepared to look around for the right one.
It will be old, usually much older than one expects ? made in the inter-war period or, possibly, before the First World War.
The best option is to go for a Birmingham-made boxlock, although there are simple non-ejector sidelocks in our price range, which were always a bit bargain-basement and are generally less desirable.
My advice is to take little notice of the name, which could be just the local ironmonger, and some were even quite spurious, invented to sound like a well-known make.
However, a sound, older, British-made boxlock such as the BSA is still a good tool, and prices of these mid-range guns have tumbled over the past 20 years.
It is possible to get quite a good one for about £350, but be warned ? it may take a long search to find something sound and genuine.
One idea for staying within your budget and getting a better deal is to consider a 16-bore rather than a 12. With the tendency to use light game loads in 12-bores, the 16-bore is at no disadvantage in performance, although there is less choice of ammunition, which also tends to be more expensive.
For rough shooting, where the cartridge count is not very high, a bit more cost on the ammunition could easily be offset by the pleasure of obtaining a nicer gun.
Something else to consider is a sleeved gun.
These always fetch less money, mainly because they are no longer original but partly because some foolish myths have grown up over the years ? for example, that the gun will never handle the same, that performance will somehow be inferior and that it is not as good as the mechanically similar method of monobloc construction.
If the sleeving is done really well ? and remember, in any event, it has to pass proof ? many of these stories can be dismissed as either untrue or simply irrelevant.
Usefully, further financial discount can be obtained with earlier examples of this work that were stamped ?Sleeved? on the outside of the barrels near the breech.
If you can live with this, it makes no difference to how the gun shoots.
THE IMPORTED SIDE-BY-SIDE
Side-by-sides with double triggers built on the Anson & Deeley principle are noted for simplicity of construction and reliability, and an excellent example of a sturdy, well-made gun in our price range is the AYA Yeoman.
You can buy a well-made sturdy AYA Yeoman side-by-side with double triggers for £200.
Prices for these peak at £200, but a No.4 ejector gun can sometimes be obtained for about £150 more.
In the lower price bracket, it means one can always afford to spend a bit more on getting such things as chokes adjusted or stock length altered and still be within your budget.
There are similar guns, some with ejectors ? for example, the Sabel range ? and plainer, non-ejector examples, such as the Spanish-made Master, the latter often priced at less than £100.
The ejector guns within our price limit are most often built on copies of the fairly foolproof Southgate system.
If in doubt, though, it is always wise to opt for a non-ejector gun in better condition than to pay for additional mechanical complexity, which may not even be necessary for the sport in hand.
The greatest choice is in imported over-unders and, if you want single-triggers and ejectors, this is where to look.
Double-trigger non-ejector over-andunders, such as this Rex, will do the job.
Some double-trigger non-ejector guns can be bought for about a fifth of our budget price ? as knockabout ?hedgerow? guns, they will do the job, but they can prove difficult to sell on.
One of the benefits of buying a Lincoln is the excellent spares backup.
The Baikal range is much underrated, being mechanically sound with good barrels, although the base models did at one time have some fairly awful wood, which could split at the head of the stock.
Unusually styled, the Baikal is mechanically sound with good barrels.
Our price range encompasses everything from the double-trigger non-ejector gun at around £100 to the non-selective, single-trigger ejector at something like three times that price.
Another old faithful is the Laurona, with double triggers, but the ability to use the rear trigger as on a single-trigger gun; they can usually be picked up for £250 to £300.
Otherwise, we shall be looking at such guns as the Lincoln, which has an excellent spares service, or Lanber, Rizzini, Sarasqueta, Sabel or similar ? all single-trigger ejector guns but with fixed chokes.
If a name really is important, the budget may stretch to an older, Italian-made Browning Medallist.