The moment you drive a new pickup off the dealer’s lot, its value drops like a barrel spilling over the edge of Niagara Falls. To a lesser degree, the same thing happens when you take home a new rifle. With even a moderate amount of use and wear, that $1,000 rifle is suddenly worth less–sometimes hundreds of dollars less.
The good news is that you can turn this lamentable fact to your advantage the next time you go shopping for a used rifle. Armed with the advice presented here (and a sharp eye), you’ll be able to spot the bargains that will go easy on your wallet and serve you faithfully on hunts for years to come.
Prime Condition: A rifle that has been trashed on the outside probably doesn’t look any better on the inside, which is why obvious signs of neglect, such as pitting, dents and gouges, should cause you to shy away, regardless of price.
There are also less obvious signs of misuse, such as marred screw slots, that indicate incompetent care and should give you pause before you make an offer. Conversely, a well-maintained rifle is one that warrants a closer look.
Chamber Check: A simple glance down the barrel of a rifle isn’t sufficient to determine the condition of the chamber and bore. Even a light coat of oil can hide serious flaws by giving the barrel a false “mirror bright” finish. Here’s where a pocket-size pull-through gun-cleaning kit comes in handy.
Wrap a clean patch around a bronze brush and work it inside the chamber to look for tell-tale smudges of brown rust. Then pull a patch or two down the bore to see whether the bore shows signs of corrosion or has been gunked up with excessive oil, a warning sign of either poor maintenance or an attempt to mask something more serious. Though you’re hoping to find a clean barrel, normal black-powder fouling is okay.
Taking Stock: Removing the stock from the action, when practical, is another way to find hidden rust in and around the trigger, receiver and recoil lugs.
With wood-stock guns, it can also reveal where oil has seeped into the stock (look for black stains), which softens the wood. Such maladies can affect performance and, in a worst-case scenario, lead to dangerous stock failures when fired.
Alterations: When it comes time to bargain over price, any alterations to the rifle work in your favor and drive down the value of the gun. Drilling extra holes into the receiver for mounting sights, cutting down the barrel, changing the length of pull–any or all of these actions will send a rifle’s resale value spiraling downward.
If all you’re looking for is a good hunting tool, you’re on your way to picking up a rifle for a song. Just remember that these non-original features will keep the price low should the day come when you decide to resell the gun.
Keep an eye out for signs that a rifle has been refinished–uneven or mismatched bluing are two giveaways. If you find this has occurred, you might want to keep your money, as it could be an effort to cover up a problem.
Right Cartridge: If you’re on a budget, think twice before purchasing a rifle in an exotic cartridge. More obscure cartridges, while fun to play with, can cost a lot more to shoot. When money is tight, it’s hard to beat tried-and-true calibers like the .308, .270 or .30-06. As an added bonus, these popular chamberings come in myriad bullet weights and styles, which makes it more likely you’ll find an accurate load suitable to the hunting you’re going to do with your “new” used rifle.