Not all babies are beautiful, not all dogs are smart, and not all used rifles are good buys. But some of them are terrific bargains because shooters and hunters are as nuts as any other hobbyists and constantly trade firearms.
If you are looking to buy used guns, the first thing you need to know is that they fit into one of six categories, depending on their condition:
[POOR] The gun is pitted and rusted, may not be in working order, and may not be safe to shoot. Forget it.
[FAIR] It works and is safe to shoot, but it has taken a beating. Consider only if it's dirt cheap and you don't mind paying to have it touched up, or if you want to do the refinishing yourself, or if you want something to knock around.
[GOOD] It's in fine working order, but repairs or replacement parts may be needed. It should have 80 percent of its original finish.
[VERY GOOD] The gun should have more than 90 percent of its original finish, be in perfect working order, have no replacement parts, and need only very small repairs, if any.
[EXCELLENT] Just short of brand-new, it shows only the most minor signs of wear and use.
[NIB (NEW IN BOX)] It's just as it came from the factory, with all the tags, stickers, labels, and everything else. This category is more for collectors than shooters.
The prices for the guns that follow are only for those in good, very good, or excellent condition. Fair or poor guns cost considerably less, and for a reason. Also, these firearms are my personal favorites. There are lots of great bargains out there besides these.
Browning A-Bolt Shotgun
This 12-gauge slug gun, made from 1995 to 1998, had a 3-inch chamber and came in a Stalker model with a graphite-fiber-glass composite stock and a Hunter model with a walnut stock. There were two versions of the A-Bolt. One had a 22-inch full-length rifled barrel, the other a 23-inch smoothbore with a screw-on rifled tube for the muzzle.
I shot only one--a full-length rifled Stalker--and never forgot it. It was the most accurate slug gun I've ever used. The only reason I can think of for its short production run is its price--it cost $700 to $800 new. People were probably not willing to spend that, to their loss. You should be happy to find one with either a wood or synthetic stock and the rifled barrel. I doubt the smoothbore would shoot as well.
GOOD: $400 VERY GOOD: $550 EXCELLENT: $650
Browning High-Power Bolt Action
This gun was made by Fabrique Nationale in Belgium (on Mauser actions) from 1959 to 1975, and by Sako (on its actions) from 1961 to 1975, and was chambered for everything from .222 to .458 Winchester. There were three grades: Safari (the plainest), Medallion (fancy), and Olympian (very fancy). You are interested in the Safari grade because the other two are sought after by collectors and cost a lot.
Be aware that Browning used salt-cured wood for the stocks on some High-Powers. (I have no idea why.) This is certain to cause rust and can't be fixed, nor are replacement stocks available.
As for calibers, look for a .270 or .30/06. My recollection of the High-Power is that it was a hard kicker in the bigger calibers.
Although they are plain, the Safari grades are fine guns--excellent metal-work, good wood, hand checkering, and a general reek of quality, not to mention true Mauser and Sako actions. Light and reliable, they handle well. If someone were to make one today, it would cost $2,000.
GOOD: $575 VERY GOOD: $750 EXCELLENT: $900
Marlin 1895G Lever Action
The 1895G (G is for Guide) came out in 1998 and won our Best of the Best Award that year. Chambered for the ancient but useful .45/70 cartridge, it is short (18½-inch barrel), light (7 pounds), and handy. Though it is still in production, it is listed because the price for a new blue-steel version is only $668. Used ones go for much less.
This is a rugged little gun with two personalities. Used with factory ammo, it's effective and surprisingly light kicking. With souped-up, cast lead--bullet loads such as those made by Garrett, it will open a can of whup-ass on anything. Hang on.
GOOD: $170 VERY GOOD: $300 EXCELLENT: $400
Savage 99 Lever Action
This great gun had a 100-year run (1899--1999), and there are a lot of them out there. The 99 comes in two versions, one with a rotary magazine and one with a detachable box magazine, which was introduced in 1965 as a cost-cutting measure. If I were in the market for a 99, I'd look for the rotary: It is the ultimate in lever-action class and cannot be made today at a competitive price.
Caliber? Go for a .250 Savage, al-though you'll pay for it. Other than that, a.300 Savage or .308. If you should find a.284, pass it up. The ammo is hard to come by.
The surest indicator of the 99's worth is that collectors have glommed on to it. Because there are so many variations, and so many factors affecting prices, let me quote a devoted 99 collector:
"I continue to buy 99s in good condition in modern hunting calibers. Top price so far for a cherry-condition late .308 was $400. Two days ago I was pleased to get a good-condition 99 for $275. The average cost of the 99s I've bought for speculation is $320. But prices are going up."
Remington 788 Bolt Action
This dead-plain rifle, made from 1967 to 1983, was accurate all out of proportion to its modest price. I used to have one in 6mm Remington, and a better-working gun you couldn't want. I note that prices for 788s are starting to rise, as people are becoming aware of its many lovable qualities. One point to consider: A number of 788s were chambered for the 7mm/08 cartridge, which I consider highly desirable, and for which you can add 20 percent to the figures below. If not that, then look for a .308.
GOOD: $375 VERY GOOD: $425 EXCELLENT: $500
Remington 760 and 7600 Slide Actions
I don't think rapid fire is necessary in a deer rifle, but there are many who feel differently, so here's a pair of fast shooters that I can live with. The Model 760 appeared in 1952, morphed into the 7600 in 1982, and is still alive and well. Yes, it has a poor trigger pull, and the slide wobbles. On the other hand, slide actions can really make the lead fly, and they're far more reliable than the average auto and surprisingly accurate, too. There are many variations and calibers; these are general prices for both models.
For cartridges, look for .30/06, .270, the underrated .280, or if you can find one, a .35 Whelen.
GOOD: $250 VERY GOOD: $300 EXCELLENT: $350
Remington 700 ADL/BDL Bolt Action
Introduced in 1962, this is one of the most successful designs ever. There are hundreds of thousands of 700s out there, in scores of models and variations. The ADL is the plainer grade, the BDL the fancier one. The latter comes with a hinged floor plate and other bells and whistles. Beware of Model 700s that have had their triggers diddled. Many people have tried to adjust them and most have botched the job. If you have one with a trigger that pulls less than 3 pounds, you have an accident waiting to happen. Take it to a gunsmith and have him fix it. These prices are for the ADL; for the BDL, add $50 to $100.
The 700 has been chambered for every cartridge known to man, but you're best off with the same choices as for the 760 and 7600.
GOOD: $200 VERY GOOD: $250 EXCELLENT: $325
Winchester Model 70 Bolt Action
Let's first rule out the pre-1964 Model 70. All you have to do is mention it and people get all teary eyed and start hauling out outrageous sums of money. Believe me, some of those guns were real dogs. The worst example I've come across was a Model 70 Alaskan in .375 H&H, offered NIB at a price of $4,500 (twice its legitimate value), that would not feed from the magazine.
Let's stick to the post-1964 Model 70s made by the U.S. Repeating Arms Co. and forget the push-feed vs. controlled-feed nonsense. If the rifle works, it works, and who cares? I think the best bargains right now are the Sporter, the Lightweight, and the Black Shadow, which is finished in a matte black. Prices are for all three models, but the Sporter may run $50 more, grade for grade.
As for calibers, why get fancy? Go with a .308, .30/06, or .270.
GOOD: $250 VERY GOOD: $300 EXCELLENT: $350
Weatherby Mark V Deluxe Bolt Action
A bargain does not only mean getting a good rifle cheap. It can also mean getting a fine used rifle for half what you'd pay for a new one. Let us now dwell upon the Weatherby Mark V, which was produced by J.P. Sauer & Sohn from 1958 to 1971, then made in Japan from 1972 until 1995, and ultimately in the United States. Not infrequently, you will find a used Weatherby--mostly in .300 Weatherby Magnum--that looks unfired. This is because its owner bought it, shot it, found that it kicked, and sold it. This past winter, I bought just such a rifle, complete with Leupold scope, for half the list price of a new Mark V. It's in mint condition.
All Weatherby Magnum cartridges are far more than you need for deer, but so what? If you have a .300 Weatherby Magnum, you'll never need to buy another rifle. If you are considering a Sauer-made Mark V, add up to 25 percent to the prices below; the German guns have the cachet.
At various times, the Mark V Deluxe has been chambered for a variety of standard cartridges from .243 through .30/06. If you can find one of these, great. If you want a Weatherby Magnum, I suggest the 7mm.
GOOD: $650 VERY GOOD: $800 EXCELLENT: $1,000
Ruger Super Redhawk Revolver
This double action comes in .44 magnum, which is fine if you want to limit yourself to deer, plus .480 Ruger and .454 Casull. The last of this trio is a brutal cartridge that only the most dedicated pistolero can handle. In contrast, the .480 possesses far more thump than the .44 but doesn't kick a whole lot more and is manageable for anyone who is willing to practice with it. It will dispatch any deer, and critters beyond that, so it would be my choice for a hunting handgun. The standard Super Redhawk comes in an attractive flat gray finish. You may also find a stainless Alaskan model with a Hogue Monogrip. The prices below are for the standard model; Alaskans cost $50 more.
GOOD: $400 VERY GOOD: $500 EXCELLENT: $600
Shopping the Shows
Gun shows are a major source of bargains, but there are a couple of cautions: First, don't think that you're going to encounter some poor oaf who has no idea of the value of what he's selling. At every show I've ever been to, each dealer knew exactly how much his stuff was worth. Second, if you happen to get stuck with a lemon, you are well and truly stuck. A gun store is going to be there the next day, as will the websites that sell used guns. But the guy at the show who took your cash will have vanished, never to be seen again.
I am very cautious about what I buy and from whom. This is true of just about anyone who invests in used rifles and knows what he's doing. You can go online and find lots of websites selling used guns; maybe they're good, maybe they're not. I like to know the guy I buy from and put my hands on the gun before I even consider taking out my wallet.
If you want to expand your boundaries, consider Cabela's Gun Libraries, located in the stores. If you can't trust Cabela's, who can you trust? There is also an auction house called Amoskeag Auction in Manchester, New Hampshire, that specializes in selling firearms from estates. They are honest, efficient, and a pleasure to deal with (www.amoskeagauction.com).
10 Things You Don't Want to See
 A dirty bore, or a bore with copper streaks. Who knows what lies beneath?
 Chips or dings at the muzzle. They ruin accuracy, and the barrel must be recrowned.
 Rust, anywhere, in any amount. Inexcusable.
 Cracks in the stock.
 Pits in the bolt face. These come from blown primers, which means that someone was firing injudicious handloads in the rifle.
 A rifle that fires when the bolt is slammed forward and down. There's not enough sear engagement, which is dangerous.
 A trigger that is heavy, creepy, or light, or shows signs of having been tampered with.
 A rifle that will fire when you cock it, put it on safe, pull the trigger, and then throw the safety to the off position.
 A chamber that is worn out of round. This comes from the poor use of a cleaning rod and means the rifle will not shoot accurately.
 Rifling that's scorched toward the rear of the barrel. The gun is near the end of its useful life.