Buying a Used Shotgun

Shotguns are possibly the best all-around multipurpose firearm the sportsman can have. They fill a variety of assignments from clay shooting, to taking small game such as squirrel and rabbit, to waterfowl, turkey, and deer. The off-season is always the best time of year to get a good deal on a used shotgun. Following a few simple tips can help you separate the great deals from the rack of choices.


Shotgun stocks are either wood or synthetic but both need to be checked on any used scattergun you are looking at. The amount of recoil generated by full power loads in shotguns wear out stocks on these firearms out faster than on rifles. Look for multiple splits, cracks, or repairs. Loose buttstock or forearms can lead to big problems in the future and costly repairs and replacements. It is best to stay away these warning signs unless you are looking for a project.

Metal parts

Scan the shotgun once over and look for screws and pins. If you have some missing or stripped out, odds are there has been some sort of repair done to the firearm by an amateur.

Likewise, if you notice heavy rust, pits, or oddly colored metal parts on the surface, you may be looking at a firearm that has spent some time underwater. Odds are the inside looks even worse.

Test the safety and the trigger while the firearm is unloaded. Both should be crisp and smooth and function properly.

Most modern pump guns take replaceable screw-in end barrel choke tubes. Make sure the tubes are present, preferably alongside the special wrench used to remove them. These can turn into expensive little items to replace if you do not have.

Finally, look inside the barrel and check for rust and pits.

Besides these checks, each type of shotgun needs to have its action inspected.

Pump actions

The pump, or slide action, shotgun was invented in 1882 and has been a hit with shooters since then. Used models found anywhere could be split into two types, single-arm, and double-arm. This refers to the number of arms connecting the pump to the bolt. Older designs used just one, which can lead to reliability issues and should be avoided unless the price is right, or you are just feeling nostalgic.
Single arm shotguns include those by Savage, Stevens, and Fox.

Most modern pumps, such as the Winchester 1200, Remington model 870, and MOSSBERG 500 SHOTGUN are double arm, hammerless designs. It is best to stick with popular models made by major US-based manufacturers as you can readily buy aftermarket accessories and replacement parts.

When pricing used pumps, an appropriate range for most basic models is between $125-$200 as a new gun can be had for any more than that. The main things to look at are that the slide action itself is functional. This can be tested with safe snap cap dummy rounds that you can buy for just a couple dollars. Ask for permission before you just load it up and start cranking away, you will make more friends that way.

Auto loaders

With semi-automatic shotguns, the most important item to check is the magazine spring. Remember, many auto loaders can be very old. The Browning Auto 5 was introduced in 1905. The Remington 1100 in 1963. The magazine spring that pushes shells into the chamber will eventually fail. To inspect it on a used gun, take down the assembly with permission and remove the spring carefully. If it is kinked up like a ruined slinky, beginning to break at the touch, or unwind at the ends, odds are that is going to be a problem. While they are easily replaced and not very expensive, it is something that changes the value of what you are willing to spend.

Double barrel

These are tricky. Some double barrel guns you run across are 19th century fowling pieces with Damascus steel barrels. These were meant to shoot black powder, not modern smokeless shells and are dangerous to fire. Likewise, check to see if the barrels are dented or bulged. Many old side-by-sides was exceptionally long (up to 32-inches) so check to see if the barrels have been shortened. Also, check and make sure the barrels do not have too much play when the action is open. That is a sure sign of a worn out piece.

Single barrel

These are the most entry level of all shotguns. A good single barrel, or hinge-break type of shotgun will run $80-$100 new in the box, so be sure to keep that in mind when looking at any used one you find. These firearms are light and handy but many shooters shy away from them due to excessive recoil, especially with high-brass shells. Any single barrel shotgun you look at should break cleanly open at the hinge. Test the action while it is closed to make sure it does not pop open without pressing the lever.

Be sure also to check the barrel length. Many owners cut their down for home protection or boat use. In a cylinder bore barrel, this will also eliminate the choke and widen the spread a great deal. A single barrel shotgun that has been cut down to 19 inches is going to pattern all over the place and be useless as a hunting firearm.