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Buying your first shotgun: here’s how to make the right choice

What should you get? And from where?


The rules on borrowing and lending shotguns are clear

So you’ve started shooting and now you’re set on buying your first shotgun. But should you buy new or second-hand?  At an auction or from a gun dealer? Side-by-side or over-and-under?

Where’s the best place for buying your first shotgun?

We’d recommend buying your first shotgun from a gun shop.

There are several sound reasons for this.

  • The staff will be experts
  • You can ask all the questions you want
  • They’ll be able to look at you and assess your build to help pick out the right model
  • They’ll ask you questions about the type of shooting you plan doing
  • They’ll check you for gun fit
  • They’ll know whether you should opt for a 12-bore or 20-bore
  • They can advise on the legal side
  • You’ll be told how to get a shotgun certificate
  • You’ll be advised about storage, keeping and transporting a shotgun. f

It’s crucial to apply for a shotgun or firearms certificate quickly because it can take weeks or even months to get through, depending on where you live. A reputable dealer will reserve your gun for you while you are waiting to receive your shotgun certificate.

gun shop

A gun dealer will help you to apply for a shotgun certificate

What to buy

Be flexible because right now you can’t be sure how your shooting career will develop. So a multi-purpose gun offering flexibility of use would be sensible. That way you can try out all the different shotgun disciplines with the same gun. A generic gun is what clayshooters call a “Sporter” and game shooters call a “game gun”. They are essentially the same with a couple of minor differences.

Side-by-side or over-and-under? Most shooters opt for an over-and-under, finding them easier to use because there is just a single trigger and a narrower sighting plane down the single top barrel. An over-and-under would be my recommendation when buying a first gun. It’s also worthwhile getting a multi-choke version to add versatility.

Think about your physical size, strength and age. How much weight can you manoeuvre comfortably?

Try out guns from different makes as each manufacturer offers a different fit and handling characteristics.  If you want to sell on your gun in future you’ll find it easier to resell a gun from a well known maker. You can check out different gun reviews here. 

having a new gun fitted

Gun shop staff will explain the inner workings of a gun to you

New or secondhand gun?

Budget aside, there are advantages to both new and second-hand guns.

Beretta Silver Pigeon

The Beretta Silver Pigeon is a popular first choice

New gun

  • You get a guarantee from the manufacturer or importer so you can be confident of the gun’s performance. You’ll also find it easier to source spare parts.
  • The gun will have no history of bad treatment.
  • However a new gun will be more expensive  – add that cost to the other costs, such as a gun cabinet, lessons and your firearms certificate.
  • New guns depreciate quickly
  • If you have bought a beginner’s gun, you might want to upgrade after a year or so.

Second-hand gun

  • You’ll find more choice of guns to fit your budget
  • A dealer won’t sell you a bad gun
  • It’s illegal to sell a gun that’s unsafe
  • A well-chosen gun will hold its value for a few years
  • You’re unlikely to get a guarantee
  • You might find it tricky to get spare parts.

How much should you spend buying a first gun?

Invest £500-£1000 and you will get a very serviceable first shotgun either new or second-hand.

Should you buy a gun privately?

  • On the plus side you might be offered something special
  • Take an experienced Shot with you to check the gun out to see if it is safe (and worth the money)
  • Make sure the seller holds a certificate
  • Tell the police if you make a purchase

Other things to remember when buying a gun for the first time

  • Wear the clothes you plan on shooting in when you’re being fitted for a gun. There’s a big difference in fit when you wear a bulky jacket compared to a light shirt.
  • You will need to install a solid, lockable gun cabinet at home to keep your guns legally.
  • A shotgun or firearm certificate doesn’t limit the amount of guns you can own but the police must be kept aware of every purchase you make.
  • Don’t look at guns for sale ads until you have a good idea of what you need.
  • It’s not compulsory to have insurance whilst you are shooting but public liability cover is definitely recommended. Many shooting organisations, including BASC, offer insurance as part of their membership benefits.
  • Make sure you are up to date with shooting safety and law and know how to behave responsibly out in the field.