Buying a Second-Hand Firearm
By Ron Spomer
A version of this first appeared in Minnesota Outdoor News
Used but not abused. That’s the key to getting a real deal on a firearm, literally the most bang for your buck.
Many shooters are afraid to buy a secondhand firearm because they fear it’s a lemon. If it were any good, why would someone sell it? I know the answer to that one – actually several answers:
- Lost my job and need the cash.
- Wife’s pregnant and need the cash.
- Moved to the city and don’t have time to hunt anymore.
- Got bored with the old .270 and decided I needed a .300 Weatherby.
- Discovered I had too many rifles and sold the three I hadn’t used in 10 years.
- Didn’t like the recoil.
- Wanted more power and range.
- Too old to hunt anymore.
- It doesn’t fit me.
- I’m stupid.
None of these is a bad reason to sell a gun, nor keep you from buying it. And #10 may be the best reason of all. Many shooters sell perfectly good rifles because they think they’re inaccurate, perhaps the barrel’s shot out. Quite often they’re merely dirty, improperly bedded or shooting the wrong ammunition. I once sold a .22-250 Savage I didn’t think was shooting well enough with factory ammunition. The friend I sold it to handloaded a few recipes until he found one that made this the most accurate rifle he’d ever owned. And I’ve twice discovered hunters shooting .300 Win. Mag. ammo through .300 Weatherby Magnum chambers.
The trick to getting a good used gun is careful inspection. These are basic mechanical tools, so judge them on appearance, function and performance. If it looks and feels worn out and abused, it probably is. Knocks and dings may be only superficial, or they may hint at more serious problems. Cracked, dried-out wood indicates water damage. Rust is a serious problem if it locks up operating parts or etches a barrel especially the bore. Light, surface rust can be polished away and the metal protected by re-blueing or baking on a ceramic finish. Light pitting in a shotgun barrel isn’t a huge problem, but in a rifle can ruin accuracy. Blackpowder bores are especially susceptible to rust due to salts in the powder. The Hawkeye borescope slips down a barrel for a magnified view of its entire length. You may be able to borrow one from a gunsmith. Your auto mechanic may have a small scope for looking inside engines that could work, too. Irregular pits near the muzzle suggest severe rust damage. Near the chamber throat they could be rust or cracking/erosion from excessive heat. Neither guarantees inaccuracy, but throat erosion often suggests the barrel may be reaching its useful end.