Forget love at first sight, buying a new gun should be a slow process, says Tom Payne

It always amazes me how many people are seduced by the aesthetic of a gun before they’ve even analysed how well it’s built and given some serious thought to how it handles.

I suppose, in many ways, that’s the point. We all like pretty things, it’s simply human nature, so if a manufacturer can churn out well-figured stocks and laser up some pretty engraving, a potential customer decides to buy at first glance. It’s love at first sight and no matter what you do your mind will allow that gun to feel and handle perfectly for you while you’re in the shop and even for the first couple of outings. It’s a condition I like to call ‘new gun syndrome’. You have no hang-ups with the gun so you shoot with a clear mind. Then suddenly the wheels fall off and your shooting is doomed because the gun was never right for you in the first place, no matter how pretty it is.

adjusting a gun

Off-the-shelf guns can be tweaked to your exact specification by a good gunsmith

In truth, we’ve perhaps all been guilty of falling for a pretty but inappropriate gun at some point and the reality is that, in doing so, we’ve got it all the wrong way round. Aesthetics should be the icing on the cake not the starting point.

When buying a gun establish a make

The first thing to do when buying a gun, and this goes for all bore sizes and men and women alike, is to try and first establish a make. This is easier said than done. The only way to get a feel of a particular brand is to test various guns out at your local shooting ground. This is important as you are trying to gauge build quality, how well different brands truly handle and how compatible you are with a brand as an individual. This process can and should take some time but it is important because you are already starting to focus your attention on the right gun for you and not the prettiest gun in the rack. In an ideal world, we’d all get a gun made for us but as the past few months have shown, an ideal world this ain’t. Buying off the shelf won’t give you exactly what you want but setting a bit of budget aside to pay for a gunsmith to make a few tweaks is money well spent.

I will use Perazzi as an example because I shoot one and love them. But that doesn’t mean to say there aren’t Brownings, Berettas and Blasers out there, to name a few, that wouldn’t suit you as well.

trying out gun weight

Finding the right weight and balance is key when buying a new weapon

Stock

Once you have a make in mind, get yourself to a respected gun fitter (I hasten to add there are not actually that many) for a session.

Unless you are getting a gun made, this will 
give a set of adjusting measurements that inform a gunsmith about 
the tweaks they may need to 
make.Depending on stock bolts, 
and the strength and pliability of 
the wood, most basic measurements can be achieved. Unfortunately, unless you are sweeping the grip or reducing the front of the comb (removing wood to allow someone with a bigger hand to shoot the gun more comfortably), the grip cannot 
be changed.

The grip you have is so important. If your hand is not seated correctly then you will not mount the gun properly or consistently. If the grip 
is too big or too small, other issues 
will become apparent, like stretching too much for the trigger or pulling on the trigger. It can also change the length and cramp you up.

When looking at the stock, make sure the grain runs straight through the grip/hand. This is important as it gives the wood maximum strength through the most stressed part of 
the stock.

Barrel

There are a number of things to 
look at here. Firstly length. To an all-round game shooter, 30in barrels would be the standard go-to length; 32in barrels take a bit of getting 
used to and if you’re only shooting 
a few days a season, it’s probably a 
bit too much gun to handle. They 
are also excessive if you’re doing 
bits of rough shooting and spending time in the pigeon hide, with a bit 
of driven sport thrown in.
Barrel weight is also another major factor. With any gun, the overall weight and balance are so important, and, of course, the barrels affect this. For example, do you prefer light and lively barrels causing the balance to sit at the back of the gun meaning the shooter will have to do a lot of work? Or do you prefer a gun that has heavy barrels making it feel harder 
to control? The majority of guns 
will try and balance forward of the hinge pin.

As an example, these are my gun’s measurements and numbers: 8½lb Perazzi with 32in barrels with a weight of 1.530kg. The gun is balanced to my requirements so it’s a heavy gun with long barrels at a sensible weight but balanced out properly so it doesn’t feel heavy when I’m shooting it.

Gun engraving

Aesthetics have instant appeal, but choose function over form

Top rib

The top rib is very important. It’s 
what takes your eye out towards 
what you’re shooting at. Many 
over-and-under game guns will 
have a thin top rib; side-by-sides have a concave rib and sporters have a 
wide or tapered rib. The finish on 
that top rib is important, too. You also have to choose the bead, which, on a shelf-bought gun, is easy enough to change. You don’t want anything affecting you being able to focus on what you are shooting.

Chokes

Chokes are, to some extent, about personal preference. I shoot fixed choke ⅝ in both tubes. A lot of Shots like multichokes but factory multichokes are not brilliant for many makes and do affect the balance, normally making the gun’s muzzle heavy. If you want multichokes then the only way to go is to have the gun ‘Teagued’. The best all-round game chokes are half and half fixed or slightly tighter. Fixed choke or Teagued is the only way forward in my opinion. Teague chokes is a company at the forefront of multichokes. Metal is removed at the end of muzzles and thin choke tubes that fit perfectly and flush with the muzzles are screwed in. They do not affect the weight or balance of the gun and pattern superbly.

Steel proofed

Frustratingly, this has become an important point when buying a gun. At some time, hopefully in the distant future, this is the direction that we are moving in and so barrels able to cope with steel will give the gun you choose longevity. Don’t just assume all modern over-and-unders are steel proofed because some aren’t.

Fore-ends

Fore-ends come in all shapes and sizes: thin game, beaver tail, slim beaver tail, snarbled, etc. Your front hand drives the gun so you need a comfortable grip on the fore-end making sure it allows you to have full control. Also, you should look at whether you have the ability to change the length of your front hand should you wish to. This is where a schnabled fore-end (where the fore-end tip flares out to a large nob) becomes a problem. Personally, 
I don’t like them.

Trigger pulls

It’s one of the first things I’m aware of when testing someone’s gun but it’s also something people seldom consider when buying a gun. The amount of problems caused for the shooter through heavy trigger pulls or pulls that aren’t crisp are innumerable. Your first pull should be around 2½lb and your second pull 3lb. Flat springs or coil springs can feel different so 
you need to find out what is best 
for yourself.

There is more to think about when buying a gun from a shop off the shelf. Unlike having a gun made where a company takes you through the entire process, sometimes going into a gun shop can be like getting prepared 
for the second-hand car sales routine: 
“I have the perfect gun for you, 
sir, it will fit you like a sock on a 
hen’s head.”

I would tend to favour shooting grounds with a good gun shop 
and a wide selection of guns, 
like Ian Coley, for example. You 
can really have a look and test out guns. It’s very important. Don’t be conned by the pretty looks, spend 
as much as you can when buying a gun, and be prepared to have a gunsmith make tweaks. 
At the end of it all, if you’re shooting well, you’ll enjoy your sport and 
that will only happen if your gun 
is right for you.