• Buying Used Guns - Things To Know

    There are a lot of used guns on the market nowadays. With the prices of new guns going higher and higher, the appeal of used guns is growing. This is especially true for new shooters or gun buyers on a budget. Here we look deeper into the basics of buying a used gun and, hopefully, help you to make a better purchase in the future.

    Buying a used gun is much like buying a used car. Naturally, the condition of the gun and desire of the buyer determines the price. We have no control over the desire of the buyer as it might be he is after a collectors item or many other reasons. We can, however, offer some information and guidelines to follow when determining condition. In this article, we will put forth a 10 point guideline for buying used guns. If you follow these points, you will make better informed purchases and maybe even save yourself from some bad deals.

    1) The Barrel and Bore
    The barrel has the most influence on the accuracy of a gun. If it is too long, too short, too thin, etc, will determine how much trouble the gun will have in producing good groups. Short, thin barrels are great for hunting but not very well suited for long range or target use. Be sure to ask yourself what the primary role for the gun will be.

    If the barrel on the gun you are looking at fits your needs, check the bore. The metal should be shiny and bright. The grooves should be mostly square, not rounded off. Also look for pits and dark places in the bore, these should be noted. Look for signs of fouling and general lack of cleaning. Put simply, if the bore looks bad, keep walking. Bad barrels are not worth fooling with.

    2) Muzzle Wear
    While you are looking at the barrel, be sure to take a look at the muzzle. The crown should be perfectly round and centered on the bore. All the rifling should be the same all around, not shorter, longer, or wider than the others. A worn or damaged muzzle will hinder accuracy.

    A good way to check for wear is to use an unfired bullet as a gauge. If convenient, take a bullet that is the same caliber as the gun. Place that bullet nose first into the muzzle end of the bore. The bore should swallow about 2/3 to 3/4 of the bullet. If it drops deeper, consider the muzzle to be worn beyond good.

    3) The Action
    This is the most important part as the rest of the gun is built around it. I like to cycle the bolt slowly and quickly a few times. While doing that, try to feel for any unusual resistance or lack thereof. Bolts should be fairly easy to operate but not really easy or hard. If it's real easy, ask about possible modifications. If it hard, something is damaged or out of wack.

    Once you are confident in the bolt's performance, check the extractor and ejector. If you have a full length sized case in that caliber, try chambering it. If it chambers easily, see how well the extractor removes the case and then how far the ejector throws out the case. If you don't have a case, simply inspect the extractor and ejector. The edges should be smooth and there should be no chips, nicks, or pits.

    Be especially cautious of receivers that are bent, warped, cracked, welded, etc. Don't buy anything that has unusual markings, grindings, stampings or thread repairs. Avoid them like the plague! These have been abused badly and may even be stolen or counterfeited. If possible, have the owner remove the action from the stock and allow you to inspect it closely. If you are suspicious, find another gun.

    4) The Trigger
    Triggers are either praised or scorned. This being the case, they are usually the first item that receives attention from a gun's owner. Make sure it works perfectly.

    Cycle the action and pull the trigger. It shouldn't try to bind and the let off should be crisp. The gun should make a distinct "click" sound. Most factory triggers quite firm and have a lousy pull. If the trigger is easy and/or light, it has either been worked on replaced. Cock the action and bump the gun on the floor and swiftly bump the stock with you hand. It shouldn't "go off".

    While inspecting the trigger, make sure the safety works. Cock the action and put the gun "on safe". Pull the trigger. It shouldn't move. The safety should be easy to work as well. If it's difficult, there could be a problem.

    5) Open Sights
    This pertains to open or iron sights. I'm not going into scopes as used scopes is a subject better left to itself as it can be quite indepth. This point will, naturally, only address guns with open sights.

    Iron sights are relatively simple devices. They are normally quite tough but can be damaged by careless owners. The main thing to look out for are front sights that are bent. This will cause the gun to shoot either left or right from point of aim. This damage is usually caused by a shooter shoving the gun behind a truck seat or it gets knocked over and lands on a hard surface. Rear sights don't get as much abuse but will ocassionally get damaged. They will get clogged with dirt and not move or become loose and move while shooting. A dropped gun is usually the cause of this.

    When inspecting the sights, look for cracks, dents, and stripped screw heads. Damaged sights can usually be an easy fix but stripped heads are something a gunsmith or machinist will have to remove.

    6) Scope Mounts
    Scope mounts are pretty straight forward and not much to them. There are two most common styles of mounts, Weaver and dovetail. These are not interchangeable.

    Scope mounts can be either one piece or two piece bases. Both are quite strong and normally not very prone to damage. The few things to be concerned about here is stripped out screws, dented slots, and rust. The dovetails will also loosen up in their slots after a few removals/installations.

    7) Metal Finish
    There are quite a few finishes available on guns now. Bluing is still the most common, but stainless steel is also very common. Also popular are nickle and parkerized finishes.

    All gun finishes will wear with handling. These wear spots are usually found on edges like sights and receivers, but also on bolt handles and barrels. The more wear and handling a gun has had, the thinner the finish will be. Some military surplus guns are almost silver since most of the finish has been worn off.

    The things I look for most is rust, pits, and nicks. These are sure signs of neglected and abused guns. Rust is a problem in places with high humidity but also forms under dirt that was once mud. It's caused by a gun not being cleaned and protected. Some slight surface rust is usually common and nothing to worry about, as you can easily clean it off. Pits are caused by corrosion of the metal. Rust is the most common cause of this but it could also be caused by a corrosive chemical. Pits should be considered open wounds as they are difficult to clean and protect. Nicks are from guns being dropped or having something dropped on them.

    Be aware that guns might have had the surfaces re-finished. This can be done professionally, usually results in a good job, or can be done as a do-it-yourself project and these rarely have good quality. I recommend avoiding any non-professional refinishing. If the gun is a collector's item, it might have been re-done to up the sale price. Be very wary of this as re-finished metal will lower the collector's value.

    8) Stock
    Whether it's synthetic or wood, the stock sees the hardest use. It gets held, dragged around, bumped, kicked, hit, etc. These can be found in varying conditions from like new to basket case.

    On synthetic stocks, you don't have to worry a lot about surface damage like scratches, dents, gouges, or cracks. They're quite tough and tolerate of abuse. The one place you need to look at though is the action screw recesses. This area can sink or crack from over torqued screws.

    Wood stocks are not as abuse tolerant. The are easily scratched, gouged, dented, and even warped. The biggest thing to watch for is a warped and/or cracked stock. A wooden stock will absorb moisture when exposed to rain and other forms of water. This can cause the stock to shift. Look for discoloring of the surface as it could indicate water intrusion. Cracks are another problem with wooden stocks. These can be caused by several things. The places to look at are the end of the butt, tang and wrist area, action screw holes, sling swivels, and action mounting surfaces. Once a stock is cracked, it's better to just replace it as repairing them can be difficult.

    The stock may have been bedded. If so, it should be inspected to see how good the job turned out. The compound should be neat and smooth with few overhangs. It should also be hard and dry. If it's sloppy, the overhangs can affect performance. If it's tacky or soft, it hasn't cured properly and will need to be redone.

    Another thing to look for is a re-finished stock. If it's synthetic, it was probably cleaned and painted. Not a problem but something to be aware of. Wood stocks can be stripped, sanded and re-finished to make them look nicer. Some sellers with do this to try to make the gun look more appealing to buyers. Again, not a problem if done correctly. It will hurt any collector's value the gun might have if that's important.

    9) Repairs
    Repairs are a fact of life with guns just like with cars. Some parts break from abuse, some simply wear out, while others are just bad parts. This is something to be aware of when buying used guns.

    When inspecting the gun, look for any repairs that have been made. If factory parts were used, you will probably never see a repair. If, on the other hand, the parts were rigged up some sort of way, you may want to move on. If not, you will either have to consider replacing the rigged parts or being stuck with them.

    Some repairs may need to be made to the gun if it has been neglected. That will be something to consider when negotiating the price. You will need to find out what needs replacing or repairing and then find out if the parts can be had. If the gun is pretty common, parts will be easy and relatively inexpensive to obtain. If it's a rare, uncommon, or limited production gun, parts will be harder and more expensive to buy. If it's a really old or odd gun, parts may not even be available and will have to be made. Be sure to factor this into your offer.

    10) Modifications
    Modifications are any work or items that were not original to the gun. Factory replacement parts are not modifications unless used in a way that the factory didn't intend. Keep this in mind as modifications can affect the value of the gun.

    Some popular modifications are:

    • Adding sling swivel studs
    • Aftermarket or reworked trigger
    • Re-tapping scope mounting holes to larger size
    • Glass bedding the stock
    • Change bolt handle or knob
    • Changed recoil pad/plate

    These modifications can improve the guns performance when done properly. They can also increase the value of the gun in certain circumstances. If done improperly, they can harm the gun's performance and value. Any modifications will hurt a gun's collector's value.

    If one follows the above guidelines, he should have no problems when looking at buying a used gun. There are lots of guns out there now, some good and some not so good. Now that we have some clues as to what to look for, we be much more confident in our efforts.

    Comments 8 Comments
    1. ThorBird's Avatar
      ThorBird -
      Wow. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and saving each of us from making a bad investemnt with our hard earned money.
    1. JCalhoun's Avatar
      JCalhoun -
      You're welcome.
    1. huuf's Avatar
      huuf -
      Great article !
    1. Barrelnut's Avatar
      Barrelnut -
      Should make myself read this before every trip to a gun show. Thanks!
    1. davemuzz's Avatar
      davemuzz -
      I second what Barrelnut typed. In fact....I think I'll make an electronic "list" on my "dumb phone" (yeah....you know what I mean} so that I don't forget the major points. Great article!!!

    1. Geezerguy47's Avatar
      Geezerguy47 -
      Thanks for the share of timeless info.
    1. yobuck's Avatar
      yobuck -
      I think the most important thing to consider in purchasing a used gun is the safety aspect.
      Id be sure to do a headspace check on any used gun prior to firing it unless you were very familiar with its background.
    1. mike4045's Avatar
      mike4045 -
      Thank you for the information!