The process of purchasing a used or custom shotgun online can be nerve-wracking, but it doesn’t have to be
During the pandemic, we are all relying on Internet-based tools to help us work, go to school, shop for groceries, and do pretty much anything other than toss bumpers for our retriever in the front yard. Logic would suggest, then, that hunters spending time on the internet will inevitably stumble upon some potential deals on shotguns while shopping online.
Shopping for and purchasing a shotgun online can be challenging, intimidating, and rewarding all at the same time. Nothing replaces walking into your local gun shop, placing your hands on your potential prize, and chatting with the clerk about shotguns and this year’s quail hatch. Sometimes, however, shopping at your local gun shop just isn’t possible.
Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years from purchasing a dozen firearms online, which will hopefully help someone considering their first online purchase of that new bird gun.
Where to start when looking for a shotgun
First and foremost, establish your budget and stick with it. You know what you can afford, so this step will be your initial filter when you begin shopping. Best to have that in mind before you lay your eyes upon a dream gun.
When I started my first online search for a 20-gauge youth shotgun for my oldest son, I first tried a handful of local gun shops in the region but came up empty. A friend suggested checking the classified forum on Shotgunworld.com. Long story short… a few weeks later and after many searches through online classifieds and auction sites, I hit the bullseye.
Check out a few of these websites to get started:
- Online auction service for third-party sellers to connect with buyers
- Very good search functionality including manufacturer, model, price, etc.
- Online gun classifieds site with thousands of listings
- Good, filterable search functionality
- Another online classifieds site
- Has a search function, but not as user-friendly as other sites.
- An online community for shotgunners
- Forum members are open and helpful to newcomers
- Has classifieds sections for buying and selling firearms
- Classifieds are divided by action type, e.g., pump shotguns, over/under, side-by-side, and so on
How to find a shotgun online
Running an effective search for a used shotgun on any site can be akin to the proverbial needle in a haystack. Here are a few tips on running successful searches:
- Start off generic. You can always filter your initial search if too many hits leave your head spinning.
- Try searching for the exact make, model, and gauge that you want. The rub here is that this sometimes produces fewer hits, but often they will be closer to the bullseye.
- Most online auction and classifieds sites have an advanced-filter function that allows for pre-filtering by manufacturer, model, gauge, and even barrel length.
Consider the bespoke route when purchasing a shotgun online
A new and unique option comes courtesy of Upland Gun Company. The brainchild of Jerry Havel and Dan LaFond, Upland Gun Company provides double gun enthusiasts the ability to design their own custom or “bespoke” side-by-side or over/under.
From aspects as simple as barrel length to fine tuning the length of pull or choosing the specific piece of wood for the stock and forearm, there is almost no detail too small.
After hitting dead ends trying to work with a couple of gun manufacturers in Europe, Jerry and Dan decided, “… to heck with it, we’ll just do it ourselves.” So they reached out to RFM Arms in Italy and formed a partnership to create custom double guns for clients in the United States. They solved the language barrier by engaging Jerry’s daughter, Olivia, who lives in Italy and speaks fluent Italian, to serve as their liaison and interpreter.
Wearing his other hat as owner of Pineridge Grouse Camp, Jerry saw modern hunters seeking classic double guns by Parker, L.C. Smith, and others. The challenge is that those classic doubles have dimensions from the early 1900s when shooting styles and the average dimensions of hunters were very different from what they are today. Those classic doubles simply do not fit all modern hunters as well as the more contemporary shotguns do.
“We fit the shotgun to you, instead of the other way around,” Jerry emphatically claims.
Here’s the kicker, though. One would expect that a completely customized double gun would be unaffordable for the average bird hunter. Negative. Upland Gun Company can get a shooter into their entry-level Zeus model for under $2,000 while still customizing it to the shooter’s specifications. And that’s just the way Jerry and Dan want it: bespoke double guns within reach of the average bird hunter.
Most of the purchase can be completed online by selecting barrel length, single or double triggers, chokes, and more. Within 36 hours of an online order being submitted, Upland Gun Company will call the buyer to confirm options and discuss any other aspects of the shotgun. After it’s all dialed in, the order is sent to RFM to build the shotgun.
Currently, custom builds are completed—on average—in three to four months. Finished shotguns are shipped by RFM to UGC’s facility in Traverse City, Michigan, and then to the Federal Firearms Licensed (FFL) dealer of your choice.
Simple, customized, affordable…and ready to create memories afield for years to come.
How to spot a lemon when buying used shotguns online
One of my mentors used to say, “Kid, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”
Shopping online for a shotgun doesn’t come without a level of risk. There are folks out there who are simply looking to make a buck (or $500) from someone who is only trying to find a good, pre-owned shotgun.
The first thing I look at is the price. Your gut will tell you if a price is unrealistic. For example, if you see a listing for a 1930s vintage A.H. Fox side-by-side with a sale price of $150, you may as well start stirring your lemonade.
I also recommend running a reverse image search on Google. This will help find where an image appears online. If you run a reverse image search of a used shotgun you’re drooling over and see it on 25 different websites, chances are someone is trying to pull off a scam.
Proactive communication with sellers is key
I’ve found that proactive, courteous communication with sellers is invaluable when purchasing a firearm online.
I recommend contacting the seller by phone prior to making a purchase. Email and text messages are convenient, but much can be learned from actually speaking with the human with whom you are planning to spend a large sum of cash. I usually email the seller to request a convenient day and time for a brief phone call.
Listing the specific shotgun you are inquiring about helps the seller quickly identify which gun you are interested in, especially if they have multiple firearms for sale.
Ask the seller for a few additional photos if there is some aspect of the shotgun you really want to see. Most sellers are happy to provide them and it’s a great way to open a line of dialog between you and the seller.
Lastly, do not waste people’s time. If you are truly interested and have the budget, then by all means, engage in a conversation with the seller. But if you really have no intention of making the purchase, please don’t waste their time.
How to receive a shotgun after purchasing online
An FFL transfer is the legal method of transferring ownership of a firearm from seller to buyer. Contact your local gun shop to ask if they will complete an FFL transfer for you.
FFL transfer fees can start at $20 and go up from there depending on the shop and your relationship with the staff. It’s good to know what that fee is prior to making a purchase so that you can factor it into your budget.
As for the type of payment accepted, this is dictated by the seller. Individuals typically ask for either a cashier’s check or money order. Businesses will usually accept major credit cards and/or cashier’s checks or money orders.
Gregg Elliott’s tips on buying shotguns online
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Gregg Elliott, founder of dogsanddoubles.com, a guru of used/vintage shotguns, and a frequent contributor to Project Upland. Gregg has a wealth of knowledge about pre-owned shotguns, so I asked him for his advice to someone who is in the online market for a used shotgun for the first time.
“Find a gunsmith you can trust, who knows what they’re doing, and can give a professional assessment,” Elliott said. “Ship the gun directly to a gunsmith before you put your hands on it.”
A quality gunsmith will likely charge a fee for an assessment but, should they find something wrong, it will cost much less to pay for the assessment and have the gun shipped back to the seller rather than paying hundreds of dollars for a firearm that cannot be safely used.
Next on Elliott’s list is a simple equation: bad barrel equals bad gun.
Barrel defects or damage is challenging to detect by anyone who is not an experienced gunsmith, so again, having a trusted gunsmith assess your shotgun is a wise move.
Finally, Elliott offered another reminder.
“It’s a buyer-beware market,” he said. “Go to the market with that in mind and you are less likely to be disappointed.”
It’s easy to get swept up in the moment, but if you ignore your gut, then there’s only one person to blame if it goes south. Overall, remember the Golden Rule and treat people as you want to be treated yourself. Do your homework and happy hunting!
Brad Stefanoni grew up hunting quail and waterfowl in southeast Kansas, where for the past 20 years he’s been passing on what he learned to his wife and their two sons. His diverse background includes work as a biologist, a science education center director, an outdoor writer and a developer of public/private partnerships. With a degree in wildlife biology, Brad’s current work-in-progress is transforming his family’s 80-acre farm into a living laboratory of upland and wetland habitat. His passions include spending time with his family and black Labrador retriever pursuing waterfowl and upland birds, and fly fishing.