Ravers' idiot's guide to buying a second hand English shotgun.

Discussion in 'Shooting, Hunting and Fishing' started by Ravers, Jul 5, 2012.

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  1. Ravers

    Ravers LE Reviewer Book Reviewer

    As many of you maybe aware, prior to ditching London life and emigrating to the sticks, I was the manager of a large gun factory in Hammersmith (the one beginning with P).

    Anyway I get quite a few requests and PMs on here asking for advice, usually from folks looking to purchase their first proper side by side. So to save me replying each time, I thought I'd chuck a few top tips up here.

    Obviously with the wealth of shooting knowledge on here, it would be cool if other shooters could also whack some tips up and turn this thread into a useful tool for everyone's benefit.

    First things first, you need to decide whether you want a boxlock or a sidelock, what's the difference? Well in reality, not a massive amount, sidelocks look nicer, hold their value better, for sure you'll look like the lord of the manor when you go on a game shoot if that's your thing. Beware though, they are more complicated (read expensive) than boxlocks to maintain. Getting one restocked can often cost more than the gun itself is worth. Purdey, H&H or Boss will sting you for around 12 grand for new woodwork (yes really) so if you do go down the sidelock route, ensure the wood is in good nick and that it fits you, (more about that later). A tidy Birmingham boxlock will cost you less than an average London sidelock and probably give you less hassle in the long run.

    Having said that, if you can afford a sidelock, it's worth it merely for the smug factor and the fact that it will probably increase considerably in value.

    So now you've decided what you want, it's time to think about what you will use the gun for primarily. If you're going to be doing a fair bit of trekking around and carrying the gun, it's probably best to avoid a 10lb pigeon gun for instance. A good weight to aim for in a 12b side by side is somewhere between 6 and 7lbs and will be good for most things.

    In my personal opinion, barrel length is largely irrelevant, if they are properly made, the gun should shoot well regardless. Having said that, I personally wouldn't get anything shorter than 28" or longer than 30", for resale reasons.

    Stock measurements are vital, if you already have a gun you shoot well with, try and get a new gun with similar stock measurements. If you don't know your measurements, a gunfit at a reputable shooting ground is worth every penny. 14 1/2" long is about average, I'm 6'2" and shoot best with a 14 3/4" stock. Obviously bend and cast measurements will also affect things, but length is most important. Your chances of finding a second hand gun with your perfect measurements are very slim, so aim for something as close as possible, failing that go for 14 1/2" as it will be easier to sell in the future.

    Makes to look out for: like cars, there are hundreds of different makers, obviously London guns are the holy Grail, but Birmingham, Edinburgh and Newcastle all had decent makers at certain periods throughout history. Do your own research on the different makes and find one you like. Remember many of the boxlocks you see were knocked up by BSA and Webley but have different makers names on depending on who finished them as such don't be afraid of buying a gun you've never heard of, there is a strong chance the barrels and action came from one of the well known Birmingham factories.

    Top tip from me would be to check out Atkins. He was an ex Purdey man who went solo and the few guns I've seen of his are as good as any similarly aged Purdey but considerably cheaper. Good lick finding one.

    So once you've found your gun there are a few points to look out for when assessing it's overall condition.

    No big pitting or heavy scratch marks in or on the barrels.

    It should go without saying that rust is to be avoided.

    Barrels should be straight and free of dents and 'bruises.' To check hold them up to the light at about half arms length from your face, look down the bore and angle the barrel until you see the reflection of the light running down the length of the barrel. Rotate the barrel looking on both the inside and outside for any points where the beam narrows or thickens. If you own another shotgun, practice looking down those barrels to get your eye in. It takes time and at first you probably won't have a clue what you're looking at.

    Ribs are fitted properly, i.e. no air gaps between the rib and barrel, in an ideal world they should be airtight to avoid moisture ingress. Older guns tend to have a bit of leakage, a sure sign of this is if a small hole has been drilled on the bottom rib or butt piece. This is the bodgeneer's way of sorting the problem out, it's done so you can squirt oil inside the barrels and keep them lubed up.

    Plenty of wall thickness in the barrels is pretty vital, you don't want the expense of replacing them.

    Tight joint between barrels and action, no rattles when it's open, no daylight between the barrels and the action face when it's closed. A little daylight between the flats of the barrels and the well of the action is ok.

    Electors work and are in time together, take snap caps with you to test this. They should have enough throw to pop the caps out over your shoulder and both should land roughly in the same place. NB: Non electors don't sell as well but are worth looking at, they're especially good on walk up shoots where you need to pick up your cartridges.

    While you've got the snap caps out, dry fire the gun a few times, make sure the trigger pulls aren't unduly heavy, see that it opens and closes nicely. If it's a Purdey style assisted opener, check this feels correct and isn't clunky, it should be easy to open but will be hard to close. If it's an H&H 'Rogers cocking' style it won't be as smooth.

    Check that the strikers (firing pins to a military man) retract after each shot and sit flush with the action face. If they sit forward or rattle about, the return spring or striker itself might be broken.

    Wood has no cracks or other heavy damage, a little wear is nice but you obviously want something with plenty of life left. Avoid very dark wood, especially if it is really dark around the hand, this can be a sign that oil has seeped in. There should be zero movement between the wood and the action.

    Check the gun balances as close to 1/4" forward of the crosspin as possible, obviously stocks/barrels get changed over time and this isn't always possible. Close to the centre of the crosspin is OK, but of the balance point is just slightly forward of it, the gun will feel more agile in the swing.

    Check the stock measurements feel comfy for you. Don't feel foolish swinging the gun around in the shop and pretending to shoot some birds. Make a few bang noises if you want, you'll feel more of a dick when you go on your first shoot and find the gun isn't comfy for you. Take into account what clothing you usually wear, if you always wear your favourite Barbour when you shoot, wear it when you try out the gun.

    If it has interchangeable chokes, check they are properly lubricated and easily come out, you don't want one's that have rusted in.

    Try to avoid single triggers, they always go wrong on older guns and are a nightmare to maintain.

    That's about it really, obviously finding a perfect gun will be difficult and expensive but try to avoid any with really obvious snags. Some of the points above are fairly minor and you can probably live with them, just be careful, second hand gun dealers are like car dealers, many will **** you over given half the chance.

    Have a skeg at the auctions too, often bargains to be had there.

    If you require any tips on purchasing an OU or a foreign gun of any kind, please refer to my sig block.

    Happy shooting.
     
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  2. Thats all well and good Mr Ravers (great post by the way) but what about my mum?
     
  3. She needs a boxlock, and not the sort ravers is on about.
     
    • Like Like x 3
  4. Here's a question...

    Which is the best shooter for sawing so its easier to hide and do blags and that?
     
    • Like Like x 1
  5. Two bits of 3/4" gas pipe gaffer-taped together and hidden up your sleeve, of course - marginally less chance of being airholed by a trigger-happy flatfoot.
     
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  6. On over/under with a wooden stock. Less of a bulge.
     
  7. Touche

    Paraphrasing Ravers

    Your mum
     
  8. Are Damascus barrels suitable for sawing off and what sort of spread can I expect to achieve if removed just in front of the fore-end?

    Thanks awfully.
     
  9. A good little article there Ravers. One observation I might make on Barrel length is that short barrels (25" in the case of my BSA boxlock) might be as accurate but I found I was "poking" the gun rather than swinging it. Guess I was used to my 28" hammer gun .

    Don't dismiss hammer guns, same rules apply as for sidelocks.

    To check the wrist (hand) of the stock, place the gun upside down on a counter with the stock over the edge. Whilst holding the barrels down firmly, move the stock up and down, side to side too if you like. If it is cracked it will be immediately apparent. As Ravers says, dark oil staining in this area on a sidelock or hammergun indicates that the wood may have been soaked to the extent that is has become weakened.

    Regarding damascus barrels, don't be afraid of them but if they are thin in the wall they are prone to rivelling - (a sort of ripple effect visible in the bore). This needs you to have your eye in to spot it so seek advice from someone who actually does know a bit on the topic before parting with big money.

    Last tip. Don't fire heavy loads or anything by Hull cartridge in anything old or of merit. Save the goose loads for the Greener GP.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  10. Ravers

    Ravers LE Reviewer Book Reviewer

    Sound advice there. Hammerguns are well worth a look.

    I forgot to mention chamber size, older guns will probably have 2 1/2" chambers, this isn't really a problem and generally you can get away with putting modern 2 3/4" cartridges down it. Sometimes they might get stuck and not eject properly, you may have to pull the empties out by hand. Obviously steer well clear of 3" carts though and avoid buying a gun with chambers smaller than 2 1/2".

    Also don't be afraid to consider 16b guns. They are slowly coming back into fashion and are generally cheaper than 12s with little noticeable difference. In my opinion the best looking Purdeys are the newer 16b guns. The proportions just seem to work better.
     
  11. Just curious, what kinds of people can afford a brace of new Purdeys; they go for about 60k don't they?

    They must be making their money easier than I am.
     
  12. What kind of people can afford a new Range Rover? I see plenty on the roads and the value is only ever going to go down - rapidly. The guns should keep their value better I think. I have a rifle that cost me twice what I've ever spent on a vehicle. (OK I don't spend much on vehicles!)
     
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  13. Don't get me started on the price of new disco's.

    The buggers want the best part of $100k for one here in Aus.

    A rangie costs $200k.

    Will probably have to go jap and get a Prado at some point.

    I think that there is a secret office somewhere that gives people 2k per week and the buggers have never let me in on the secret.
     
  14. Ravers

    Ravers LE Reviewer Book Reviewer

    Single guns start at 70ish, once you've chucked in some lairy engraving and a bit of gold naming, you won't get much change out of 90.

    A lot of collectors buy London guns, repeat customers who buy three or four from each firm a year. The trade is also enjoying an influx of new money as the sport gets more popular, Russians, Arabs etc. Yanks still make up about 50% of all the sales though.

    There is no typical customer, you see everyone from Russian oil barons who are buying a wall hanger to seriously passionate shooters who have saved up all their lives for a basic gun with the most basic engraving.
     
  15. Thanks Ravers - On barrel length, its really down to preference. I am 6'4" and for walked up and rough, carry a 26" barreled BLE that has a churchill rib. Shorter barrelled guns are certainly less popular at the moment and are less easy to swing steadily, but are great to carry and for snap shooting.