How to Buy a Used Gun

Dave Petzal's tips for finding a bargain. PLUS: 10 ways to identify a lemon

David Lawrence

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.

Buyer Beware

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 (

10 Things You Don't Want to See

[BRACKET "1"] A dirty bore, or a bore with copper streaks. Who knows what lies beneath?

[BRACKET "2"] Chips or dings at the muzzle. They ruin accuracy, and the barrel must be recrowned.

[BRACKET "3"] Rust, anywhere, in any amount. Inexcusable.

[BRACKET "4"] Cracks in the stock.

[BRACKET "5"] Pits in the bolt face. These come from blown primers, which means that someone was firing injudicious handloads in the rifle.

[BRACKET "6"] A rifle that fires when the bolt is slammed forward and down. There's not enough sear engagement, which is dangerous.

[BRACKET "7"] A trigger that is heavy, creepy, or light, or shows signs of having been tampered with.

[BRACKET "8"] 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.

[BRACKET "9"] 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.

[BRACKET "10"] Rifling that's scorched toward the rear of the barrel. The gun is near the end of its useful life.