Before You Buy a Used Rifle

Winchester 62A Rifle
Most used rifles are just fine, but there are certain things one must look for when considering a purchase,. Photo © Russ Chastain

Everyone knows that buying used products can be a good way to save some money, but not everyone knows how to go about it.

Anytime you buy something second-hand, there are many variable things to consider. Guns are machines, and you must be certain that the one you buy is in good working order, and at the same time ensure that you don't pay more than it's worth.

Decide on an Action Type

What kind of rifle are you looking for?

Bolt Action? Semi-auto? Pump/slide-action? Single shot? Lever action? There are many types available, and many models of those types. There's no need to narrow your choices down to one particular make and model - but there's nothing wrong with doing so, if you wish.

Decide on a Cartridge

What will you be using the rifle for? Some actions lend themselves to certain cartridges, so cartridge choice may determine the action type, and vice versa. For hunting deer, squirrels, or varmints, there are cartridge choices specific to each type of hunting, though some can be considered multi-purpose (good for both varmints and big game, for example). Other cartridges are good for high-accuracy target shooting, but not so good for hunting.

    Start Looking!

    This is when it pays to be patient.

    If you're in a hurry, you might as well find a good new rifle and buy that, because finding a good used rifle suitable for your purposes can take some time. Learn what to look for, and if you're in doubt, seek the advice of a gunsmith or a knowledgeable friend.

      Signs of Wear

      Wear is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can certainly affect a gun's price and sometimes its functioning.

      Look at the bolt; is it worn on the bearing surfaces? Does the action lock up properly when closed? External wear can sometimes be discounted if the mechanism is in good shape, but signs of abuse often point to a gun that hasn't been properly maintained, neither outside nor in.

        The Bore

        Take a good look at the rifle's bore. If there's fouling, it needs to be brushed or patched out, and is a sign that the gun hasn't been properly maintained. Once it's clean, eyeball down the bore and make sure it's not rusty or pitted. Ideally, the rifling will be clear, easily seen, and sharp. Get as close a look at the chamber as possible, to ensure that it's not pitted. A pitted chamber can mean extraction trouble, especially in an auto or pump.

          Consult an Expert

          If your friends can't help you out, and you're dealing with an individual, consider taking the rifle to a gun shop to have a gunsmith take a look at it. It is worth a few dollars to have it checked out, and the seller may be willing to reduce the asking price by whatever amount the gunsmith charges for his services. Another good investment is a book on Gun Values.

            Ask Questions

            What was the gun used for? Why did the owner buy it? Why is he or she selling it?

            Has it ever malfunctioned? Been customized or reworked in some way? Customizations may be good or bad, depending on the quality of the work, but they usually don't add much to a gun's value - and may even detract from it.

            Questions like these can be very important and may raise a red flag to warn you off from buying a gun that has a history of malfunction. Some folks won't tell you about problems unless you ask.

              Don't Pay Too Much

              Even if you pay attention to these signs, you may end up with a lemon, or a rifle that simply doesn't suit you. In that case, you'll want to replace it - and to get your money back out of it by selling - which is obviously easier to do if you didn't pay top dollar for it.

              Don't be afraid to offer less than the asking price - it never hurts to ask.


              These are some lessons I've learned over the years, and I hope they help you as you shop for a used rifle (or other firearm).

              Best of luck - and most of all, stay safe!

              - Russ Chastain