Buying a Second-Hand Stalker
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- Last updated: 23/07/2019
Buying any firearm can be a tense time, especially that once entered on your FAC, it’s yours and will require disposing off and getting a variation for another, if something was wrong. With second-hand guns, it’s vital to check everything is safe and sound. I have seen some shocking examples, but also some real finds too. Buying from a reputable shop is often better, even if the price is higher, as the item should be checked over. Going private, means that you can haggle over the price more, but with no real guarantees of anything. Remember, they want to get rid of it for many reasons; good or bad has to be determined.
Calibre choice is a whole different article but pick something sensible; for that, read readily available, unless you want to reload. Top choices are 223 Remington, 243 and 308 Winchester, 270 Win or 30-06 if you want a bit more power. Going metric can be problematic, but the 6.5x55 Swedish is always a good bet.
You should set yourself a budget (and stick to it), as that might have to include a scope/mounts and probably a moderator too. That’s not to say you cannot find a quality bargain, as you might be pleasantly surprised what £400/500 can buy, especially as it’s a buyer’s market! Apart from the classified adverts, go online, as there are a number of selling sites, or even try the auction houses. So, let’s see what you need to know to stop you buying a dog?
Don’t be fooled by the external finish; internal quality is paramount to performance. It’s amazing how many people can ruin a rifle by neglecting to clean it properly, whilst older examples given the proper TLC can be used but immaculate. There are three key areas to inspect; the chamber, bore and muzzle; the problem is seeing what you are looking at and a small, high power torch will help.
If the bore looks dull and full of crud, it needs to be cleaned, so that you can inspect it. Chances are, you will already know the calibre, so bring along a suitable bore snake or cleaning rod etc and ask if you can clean it. If the gunsmith or owner says no, then be suspicious, as dirt can hide a multitude of problems. Now, look closely at the chamber for any scratches, rings around the circumference, gouges; they’re all bad and usually caused by damage from cleaning rods without bore guides or poor reloads and neglect.
Next, look at the chamber throat where the rifling begins; if the lands look very shallow, irregular or worn, it’s likely the gun has had a lot of rounds through it, so be cautious. Also, check to see any roughness or dark spots or raised areas and pits along the length of the bore, again an indication that fouling after shooting has not been cleaned and corrosion has started. Even when clean, inspecting the bore is not easy without a borescope, but with a good light you should get some idea.
Very importantly, inspect the muzzle and the crown where the bullet exits. There should be no damage around it, which will/ might affect accuracy. If it is threaded, fit a moderator to see it is cut correctly and concentric with the bore. It’s also worth asking the gun’s history, approximate number of rounds etc. to give an idea of actual usage. VIP, check to see that the gun has been proofed or re-proofed, certainly one that looks to have been modified.
Again, a very crucial part of any rifle, not only for handling, but more importantly to support the action. A sloppy fit, or the barrel not central in the channel can spell accuracy problems. Check for obvious signs of cracks or repairs and, if you can, hold the stock against a hard surface and try to flex the forend and look to see if any cracks or hair line splits open up. External dings are usually cosmetic and should not cause alarm but can be used as a bargaining point to lower the price, as can poor metal finish!
Ask if you can take the action out, as rust can build up if the gun has got wet and was not properly dried out. Equally, inspect the action void (where the receiver sits) for cracks etc and see if it has been synthetically bedded, if it has, that is potentially good. If there is no bedding, try to get a fingernail in between the metal and wood to see if it is still hard; if the nail goes in easily, it’s probably because oil has seeped into the wood stock and made it spongy, not good! However, be wary if you cannot remove the action, or the owner/seller says no, best to walk away. A synthetic stock does not mean it is impervious to abuse, even plastic can split or warp; so, treat the inspection as you would a wood version.
Rounded off action and mounting screws are clear signs of misuse and you have to ask yourself why has the action been taken out of the stock so many times; was there a problem? Again, a worn, blued finish to the action is not necessarily a bad thing, rust and deep scratches are though. Truth is, some actions smooth up after a few years use! Bolt operation should be smooth and easy, if it’s stiff/hard it could be because the bolt might have been damaged. Check that the locking lugs locate correctly, by looking for even wear marks at their rear, indicating they contact concentrically.
Also, check the bolt face does not have too much brass from the rear of the cartridge deposited on it, which can be a headspace issue, hot ammunition or general neglect. Use a snap cap (dummy round) to check that the action feeds, extracts and ejects correctly, as problems are soon shown up.
These are two areas that need close inspection. It’s amazing how people can bodge a trigger or adjust it too light, which makes it dangerous. Although dry firing (empty chamber) should be discouraged, as there is no resistance as the firing pin falls, if you do not have any snap caps you will have to do it a couple of times regardless. Look out for excessively heavy or light pull weights, also pay attention to the travel and if the pull exhibits creep or roughness, it can be sorted and again is a good bargaining tool. Also check sear integrity; cock the bolt and bang the butt on the floor (pad under the butt is recommended) to see if it trips, it should not. If buying from a shop, get them to sort it as part of the deal, if they say no; so, do you.
The same applies for safety catches, check they are easy to operate, also safe. A good test is to cock the action and apply the safety then squeeze the trigger, nothing should happen. Now, take off the safety and it should not fire, sounds logical, but it has happened to me. I once tested a rifle that would fire if the trigger was pushed forward, seriously! Also, does the rifle have a set trigger. More common on European makes, which can be adjusted for a ridiculously light pull, fine on the range but an accident waiting to happen in the field.
There are three basic feed systems, blind box (top loading/unloading only), hinged floor plate (fills from the top and unloads through the base when the floor plate is opened) and detachable box (en-bloc load/ unload). All have their pros and cons and it’s down to you to see if they suit. Whatever, they all need to feed reliably, which must be checked using snap caps, unless on the range, where you can substitute live rounds if permissible. With box mags, you need to check for dents and cracks and its secure engagement in the well. With the other two, check the platform rises freely, and that the spring has enough effort to push the rounds up.
If you go to a gunsmith and do these checks, it also shows the trader that you know a bit about what you want, so less likely to be sold a dog. It’s not just about getting a bargain; it’s about getting a useable and safe rifle. There is a lot of good second-hand kit that has been little used and sold as the owner wants a change. Below are some points
1, It’s a buyer’s market
2, A little knowledge puts you in a powerful position
3, Be prepared to negotiate (see point 1)
4, Find out the gun’s history and, if possible, what the owner knows
5, If the vendor won’t let you strip or clean the gun, walk away
6, Check for proof marks
7, Consider calibre; a nice 300 Win Mag at good money, might be far too much gun
8, See what else is on offer, an extra £100 might get you a scope, bipod, moderator or even ammo
9, Bring some basic tools and cleaning kit and a light for a full inspection
10, If buying from a shop, try and get some sort of guarantee
Norman Clark Gunsmiths guns, reloading cleaning kit 01788 579651
F A Andersons s/h guns 01342 325604
Holts Auctioneers s/h guns www.holtsauctioneers.com
Sportsman Gun Centre Bore light and kit 01392 354854
Brownells gunsmith kit www.brownells.com
Donaldson’s Gunsmiths s/h guns 01908 377144