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The Bird Hunters Guide to Buying a Vintage Shotgun

Looking to pick up an old side-by-side, semi-auto, or stackbarrel; here's what you need to know to confidently make your purchase.

The Bird Hunters Guide to Buying a Vintage Shotgun

Shotgun expert Lars Jacob breaks down the important questions to ask when shopping for your first or next vintage shotgun.

For me and for many upland bird hunters, our entries into this enamored pastime are often catalyzed by eagerly reading through the pages of classic upland literature from notable upland forerunners like Burton Spiller, who carried a Parker shotgun. Or maybe over time we simply slide up the ranks on the “evolution of a hunter chart” where our motivations turn from thrill and kill to the finer points of the pursuit, such as advanced methodology and experience-based stages. No matter what brought you here, if there’s a time-worn shotgun from yesteryear on your wish list, there are some important considerations when it comes to making the most of your purchase—for both functionality, and more importantly, safety.

As someone considering adding a new armament to my arsenal, I reached out to a local shotgun expert, Lars Jacob of Wild Surroundings. Lars has nearly 50 years of experience as a gunsmith, shooting instructor, gun fitter, and Orvis gun department manager, among other qualifications. So, if you’re like me and looking to purchase your first, or perhaps your next vintage shotgun, here is some advice and direction to help you navigate the process.

Watch the video above for the FAQ's of buying a vintage shotgun!

Commonly Asked Questions When Buying a Vintage Shotgun

GUN DOG: For someone that is interested in purchasing a vintage shotgun with the intent to shoot and hunt with it, as opposed to someone just collecting, what are some of the basics that we should know?

Lars Jacob: It’s a great time to be interested in vintage guns and it’s a buyer’s market right now. There’s a lot of them out there, both American and European well-made guns from decades ago that still function so well now. We have these wonderful guns that can still be used that are dying to get back out in the field. It’s hard to make a gun today like they did in the golden era of gunmaking, so you’re getting a fantastic, beautiful piece of work. They carry delightfully light, respond very well, and are just a wonderful bird hunting gun.

What you have to look for in older guns is how they were maintained. Look for any aftermarket work that may have been done, that may have been done not as well as it should have and could have harmed the gun, or any aftermarket work that may be covering up damage. The barrels are also the most important part to inspect. If the wood looks great but it’s not quite to your dimensions, that’s an easy fix. If there’s an ejector hanging up, that’s an easy fix. But if there’s something wrong with the barrels, there’s nothing you can do about it. Check the barrels inside and out to make sure that the gun is safe—that is the most important thing when looking at vintage guns. It can also be helpful to utilize a micrometer and other tools to make sure the barrels are safe to shoot.

GUN DOG: After we’ve identified our particular action of choice, or maybe our favorite gauge or manufacturer, where can we get started to find these vintage guns available for purchase?

Lars Jacob: That’s a good question because everything is done on the internet now, and that’s difficult to do. Anyone in their search is welcome to use me. Send me something you’ve found on Guns International or Guns America, and I’ll tell you if it’s right for you or not. You can buy online, and they all should give you a three-day inspection period so you can work with your gunsmith or trusted expert, and if it doesn’t fit or suit you, you can ship it back.

It can be better to take the time and go to a game fair. That way you can physically see the guns and have them in your hands with a one-on-one contact with the individual selling them, and they should have the gun’s measured specifications. There are several shows throughout the year, including one in North Carolina, two in Pennsylvania, the Orvis Game Fair, and others.


GUN DOG: What are some ballpark price points on these vintage shotguns?

Lars Jacob: The American vintage guns like the Parkers, Foxes, Lefevers, and Smiths are going to be more expensive, with the super high-grade guns in very excellent condition drawing large money—those are the ones the collectors are after. A lower grade American gun can be less expensive, starting around $2500, but you may still need to invest in things like stock work to get the gun to fit you. The American guns were made with dimensions based on speculation, that anyone who entered the hardware store could pick one up and shoot it, so there may be some additional work after you’ve made your purchase.

On the other hand, the UK guns were tested and proofed prior to being sold to the customer. These guns were built per order and have stock dimensions that more closely fit the wingshooter. We’re starting to see these guns come across the pond starting at around $1500, and more than likely, it’s already going to have the wood dimensions suited to today’s shooter.

GUN DOG: Once we begin shooting and hunting with these vintage guns, are there any considerations for cleaning and maintaining them so they’ll last another hundred years?

Lars Jacob: The gun design hasn’t changed much over the generations of gunmaking, so very similar to how you would clean and maintain your modern-day break action guns. If there are any issues inside or in the locking mechanism, it’s best to have a gunsmith take a look. For the most part, you’re just going to break the gun down into its parts (fore end, stock, barrels), clean the bores with brushes, and wipe down the gun with oil. Where technology has advanced, is in our gun care products. With nanotechnology in modern cleaners, we can easily do a really great job at protecting these guns.

Check out Lars Jacob on social media and at www.wildsurroundings.com for more information about buying/selling/trading vintage guns, proper gun fit, gun care, and other wingshooting and instructional services.


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