Although we can all dream of the very best guns money can buy ? the great English names or pairs of hand-crafted Belgian over-unders ? the truth is that many sportsmen are content to use just one gun for the majority of their sporting needs.
Tempting though it is to own a different gun for every occasion, the reality is that one is often enough to cope with shooting sports as varied as clay shooting, walked-up, pigeon and driven shooting.
If you want to use your gun for a variety of sports, I would suggest a 12-bore with 2¾” chambers, as this will allow you to use nice 24-28gram cartridges for game shooting, harder-hitting 32gram loads for pigeon, and heavier bismuth loads for inland duck shooting.
Whether the gun is side-by-side or over-under is, of course, a matter of personal preference, but those moving from over-under to side-by-side may find the change from one trigger to two slightly tricky to deal with.
Whichever you choose, do be sure that the gun is not too heavy ? I would suggest something in the region of 6½-7¼lbs.
Obviously this can be a little more flexible depending on the type of shooting you prefer.
The only exception, perhaps, to this advice would be if you are a keen wildfowler. If you spend your sporting hours on the foreshore, where several hours can be spent just getting into place for a solitary shot, you do not want to be underpowered.
The nature of this kind of shooting means a gun that will do the job when required ? a magnum, for example ? is essential.
Barrel length is another tricky subject, with longer and shorter barrels seeing periods of popularity.
The length, and therefore weight, of the barrels has a great impact on the handling of the gun, and those who will be doing a lot of walked-up shooting would be poorly served by an unwieldy, heavy gun with long barrels.
However, those who shoot predominantly driven birds will enjoy the more deliberate swing and handling of a gun with longer barrels.
I would say that 28″ barrels offer the required flexibility to take on lots of different sporting quarries.
Choke is key to range Bear in mind, however, that barrel length has absolutely no impact on the range of your gun ? it’s the choke of the barrels that makes all the difference.
What choke you should be looking for again depends on the type of sport you will predominantly be shooting, and for many all-rounders a gun with multichokes will seem a sensible option.
However, I know many shooters who think about the more technical aspects of the sport a little too much, and who can soon become wrapped up in changing chokes when they are having a bad day and have missed a few shots.
As such, I would recommend that most sportsmen should be happy with improved and quarter or quarter and half chokes.
With the good even patterns and overall higher speeds of the modern mass-produced cartridges, these chokes should be ideal for most birds up to 50 yards.
If you will only occasionally be shooting higher birds, it is very simple to use cartridges with a larger pellet size ? only the most stratospheric birds need tighter chokes.
There is a vast range of sporting shotguns available on the market, and when you consider the quality of secondhand guns available it?s easy to become overwhelmed.
However, buying a new shotgun is supposed to be a highly pleasurable experience, so make sure you take your time and try as many guns as you can.
Check the stock for cracks, and ensure the barrels are clean and in good overall condition.
Examine all the moving parts of the gun to ensure the action is good and tight, and look closely for any signs that the gun has been altered in any fundamental way.
Finally, ensure the balance and feel of the gun is good, and when you set your price bracket, make sure you stick to it.
Webley & Scott side-by-side £1,295
This is the classic all-round English gun. It has the most-used action in the trade, and was built from the mid-1960s to 1978, when the maker’s name changed to W. & C. Scott.
Most Webley & Scotts have 28″ barrels with 2 ¾” chambers, and are very nicely balanced. Though they were crafted extremely carefully, in many ways they were the closest that the English gunmaking trade came to a mass-produced gun.
This particular example has a rounded pistol grip, which is a little unusual but is good news for those with bigger hands. The balance of the gun is just forward of the hinge pin and this helps it to handle beautifully.
There is a push-rod fore-end, alongside double triggers and an automatic safety catch.
It is in excellent condition, with some colour remaining on the action, and with fine and attractive chequering.
These Webley & Scotts are really excellent guns, and there are plenty of very good examples on the market today.
The last ones we sold brand new in the late 1970s went for about £1,000 each, and a good secondhand one today will make anything from £1,000-£1,500.
When you consider that a new Spanish gun costs in the region of £4,000-£5,000, the Webley offers a fine English gun at a superb price.
AYA No.4 shotgun £550
This is another well-known great all-rounder. They always tend to come fairly tightly choked, but any good gunsmith should be able to bore out and regulate these AYAs easily.
The ejectors on these shotguns are strong ? some might say a bit too strong, in fact, because you tend to find empty cases scattered some distance back from your peg!
This 12 bore has 28″ barrels with 2¾” chambers, and still has a lot of its original finish left.
Judging by the serial number, this particular example was made in the mid-1970s, and is still tight and clean. This AYA is in excellent condition and has obviously been little used.
The rather bold chequering on the wood, which is of a lighter finish than we are perhaps used to, may put some buyers off, and it certainly feels a little heavier in the hand.
Nevertheless, considering the price, this gun offers excellent value for money.
When I first started in the trade in the 1970s these Spanish guns sold for £250-£300, and top-quality examples can be picked up today for between £500 and £600.
Though they do not have the same overall quality of a handmade English gun of a similar age, they are still good-looking, reliable firearms and will give excellent service.
Winchester Supergrade XTR ‘lightweight’ £895
Winchester stopped making these guns in the mid-1980s, but they are excellent. They were produced in Japan to an extremely high standard, and offer great flexibility for a good price.
The action has a full hinge pin and proper ejector kickers in the fore-end, and is still delightfully smooth in opening and closing.
It has the feel of a good quality English boxlock but in the form of an over-under.
These guns are built with an American claro walnut and have a polyurethane finish over the top, which is perhaps not to most English buyers? tastes as it does tend to retain quite a few lumps and bumps.
However, the wood is of a very good quality, so any decent stocker will be able to strip off the finish and oil the gun, giving a more subtle and attractive overall appearance.
This price point is similar to that of a few new lower-end over-under guns currently available on the market.
But if I had to take one gun with me to a desert island it would certainly be one of these because of their reliability, appearance and character.
These Winchesters are a little unusual, but with their classic proportions and looks, excellent handling and solid reliability, they make a fine investment.