Your gun dollars go farther when you buy a used shotgun. Given reasonable care, shotguns last for generations. There are a lot of guns out there that have received reasonable care over the last 100 or 120 years. It’s not hard to find an older shooter with plenty of useful life left in it. Knowing which ones are the best buys is the hard part.
Rather than just name the usual, good-buy suspects—12 gauge Browning Superposed, Winchester Model 12—I asked Gregg Elliott for his suggestions. Elliot runs dogsanddoubles.com, a site that highlights good guns for sale around the country every week. He keeps his finger on the pulse of the used bird gun market as well as anyone. Elliot named five guns as the best choices right now, and they’re all good picks.
1. 12-Gauge British and European Boxlocks
Because Americans are smallbore-crazed, 12-gauge guns don’t get as much love from US bird hunters as they should. No one wants to lug a 12-gauge through the fields, so 12s don’t bring the prices that smaller bores do. But some 12-gauges won’t weigh you down.
All you have to do is pick up a British or European boxlock gun to see, well, to feel, the light. My Sauer & Sohn 12-gauge double weighs 6 pounds, 11 ounces, about the same as many 20s, and it’s trim enough that the clerk who first showed it to me thought it was a 16. To my mind, a light 12 makes the best bird gun of all. It’s easy to carry, easy to shoot, and it can be loaded down to 28-gauge levels for woodcock, or loaded up with 1¼ ounce payloads for long shots at pheasants.
There’s nothing special about my gun. There were lots like it made on the continent, and in Birmingham, England, and they turn up for sale all the time. Earlier this summer editor F&S Senior Editor Matthew Every scored a 1939 William Ford boxlock at auction. It’s a 6-pound, 14-ounce 12-gauge with 28-inch barrels and Improved Cylinder chokes. It came with a fitted leather luggage case and cost Every less than a new Citori or Beretta 686 would have.
Boxlock guns, in which all the lockwork sits inside the “box” of the action, were always less expensive than sidelocks, but they are reliable, durable guns, and many of them, like Every’s gun and mine, are very affordable.
2. Early Beretta O/Us
The Beretta 680 and now, 690, are among the most popular O/Us in the world for good reason. They have a low-profile action that makes them natural pointers, and they will shoot forever. From the 1950s to the 1980s when the 680 series began, Beretta made several different, but similar, precursors, starting in the 1950s: The S series, the BL series, the Snipe series, and perhaps others I’m not aware of all share the same action design of two pins that protrude from the breech face and fit into holes between the top and bottom barrels. The pins seat deeper as the gun wears, and the lack of a hinge pin makes the receiver very low in profile, which in theory lets the gun point more naturally. They are great, bombproof, lightweight bird guns. Some have ejectors, some have extractors, and most of them can be yours for under $1000.
3. Miroku O/U (Especially 20s)
One of the stipulations of Browning’s agreement with Japanese gun maker Miroku in the 70s was that Miroku would stop selling guns in the United States. Prior to that time, from about 1959 on, you could buy Mirokus here. Most were sold under the Charles Daly name, but you could also find them as Mirokus and “My Luck” (an attempted anglicization of “Miroku”) guns. Miroku guns are still made and sold under the Miroku name in many countries, and they are deservedly popular.
In the early 50s, Miroku’s designers used the Browning Superposed as a starting point, and the guns are very Browning-like. They are excellent guns, well-made, and decorated with deep hand-engraving that’s better than what you see on lower-grade Citoris. Yet, for whatever reason, they remain seriously undervalued, even in a twenty gauge. I shoot a 12-gauge Daly at sporting clays and my cousin hunted grouse with a 20-gauge Charles Daly skeet gun for years, and I can attest that they are nice guns and worth grabbing when you see them. Both are Superior grades, with great fit and finish, and the Blue Book lists that at $1500 in unfired, 100 percent condition.
I visited the Miroku factory in 2010, and even then, the fitting of action parts and regulation of the barrels was all done by hand, by skilled workers moving at incredible speed. There is a lot of old-fashioned gun making in any Miroku shotgun from any era.
4. Ithaca NID
Ithaca replaced its aging Flues model with the New Ithaca Double in 1925. Designed to shoot the most powerful contemporary ammo, the NID was state of the art for 1925, with the same lightning-fast locktime of the Flues, and with a stronger frame, stout coil springs, and a durable rotary bolt. It proved tough enough that when Winchester decided to introduce a new, 3 ½-inch 10-gauge magnum cartridge, they worked with Ithaca to build a gun for it, a 10-gauge NID. About 1,000 of those magnum 10s were made, and they turn up for sale from time to time, if you want to shoot your ducks and geese the old-fashioned way. NIDs were made in many gauges and grades until the gun was discontinued in 1948. While some have the excessive drop in the stock common to older American guns, many NIDs have fairly modern dimensions, making them easier for us to shoot. A lot of them were made as simple field-grade guns and can be found used for as little as $800 in a 12 gauge, although prices go up as the bore size decreases.
5. Browning BSS
Another Miroku gem to look for on the used market is the Browning BSS (Browning side-by-side) made from 1971 to 1987. It came in 12 and 20 gauges, in both Sporter and Field versions. The Field model had a fat beavertail forend, pistol grip, and gloss finish. The Sporter is the one you want. It has a slimmer forend, a straight grip, and a matte finish that might even be oil. That said, there were some Field guns made with 30-inch barrels, and I still regret not having the money for the one I once found, as it would have made a terrific side-by-side sporting clays gun. Both styles were well fit and finished, first at Miroku. Later on, the parts were made in Japan and assembled in Korea with no noticeable drop in quality. There was also a Grade II BSS, with a silvered receiver and game scenes. Back in the early 80s when I yearned for one—and I still low-key yearn—a Citori cost $800 and a BSS sold for only about $550.
Prices are higher now. As always, the 12 is the better buy. You can find them for $1500 or so, while the 20s command prices up to $2500. Even that isn’t a terrible price given the quality of the gun you’re getting. The was also a BSS sidelock, a true sidelock that sold for $1500 in the 80s, now brings four times that. It’s a good gun, but not a bargain. Look for a BSS sporter and take it hunting.