Choosing a Shotgun

One of the first questions you need to ask yourself, is what am I going to use my shotgun for?

Will it be game shooting in a formal situation? (I.e. driven pheasants, grouse etc.) Or rough shooting?

Will it be clay shooting at the local sporting shoot, or do you want to specialise in one of the many disciplines?

You see, each of the above could quite easily qualify for a different type of shotgun.

Most of us, when we start shooting buy an “All rounder”, so that we can try everything. A “jack of all trades, master of none”. We are also, probably, limited by budget.

This brings us to yet another question. Where shall I buy my shotgun from? There are always guns for sale at local clubs, or somebody knows someone who has one for sale, and, of course, if you know what you want and need for your sport, and if you have knowledge of guns regarding their condition and safety, then bargains can be found. However, if you are unsure, my advice is to always go to a recognised retailer.

Most retailers will offer you good advice, and will always offer a warranty on both new and second hand guns. They will also have checked the gun for safety and proof. When a gun is first made, it is stamped with a measurement taken internally 9 inches from the breach. Due to age, neglect or damage, the bore can become enlarged to the point where it is deemed to be out of proof. This can be very dangerous, and it is, therefore, illegal to sell a gun in that condition.

However, your own eyes will also tell you a great deal about a potential purchase. Look at the following points.

  1. Take the forend off of the gun and make sure there is no movement between the barrel faces and the standing breach face. If there is, it will probably require tightening, or even a full re‐joint.
  2. Look at the woodwork and, in particular, the chequering. Is it worn, smooth or full of dirt? Is there damage to the wood, chips, dents or even splits? Not only will this show how much use the gun has had, but can be very expensive to repair due to the time it can take. Good quality chequering and finishing cannot be done quickly. There is no such thing as a “quick good job”.
  3. Take the barrels off the gun; hold them up to the light. Are the barrels clean and shiny, or are there marks, pits or streaks? Depending upon the severity will depend on the cost of a repair.
  4. Is the blacking/blueing in good condition? Small areas of wear will nearly always be found, but look for pits or little dark speckles of rust. Once again, a little is no problem, but a lot shows neglect.
  5. While the barrels are off, look at the action. Check the breach face for rust. Look for accumulated dirt and old oil. Check around the top leaver and triggers. If there is dirt or a yellow/brown stain of old dried oil, it means the gun has not been recently serviced and will require one shortly.
  6. Lastly, if possible, arrange to test fire the gun. Most shops can offer this service. At the very least, put snap caps in the gun and make sure the ejectors work properly.

It is very tempting for me, at this point, to give my suggestions for what shotgun to buy for what use. I.e. side by side, over and under, 12 bore, 20 bore etc. Etc!!! But I am trying to focus more on gunsmithing in this site rather than general advice, especially when so much comes down to personal choice. However, what I would recommend is that if you are buying an over and under, look at Beretta, Browning, Miroku, and Perazzi. If you want to buy a side by side, look at A.Y.A and Beretta.

All of these makes, as a gunsmith, I have found to be very reliable and reasonable to repair with good spares back up from the importers. If, however, you have your heart set on a classic English boxlock or sidelock, then take care. There are some very good guns out there, but also a lot of rubbish. My advice is to always obtain a warranty, and then get it checked by a competent gunsmith. Most English guns are hand made and finished, which means they can be expensive to repair.

So, you have been introduced to Clay Shooting, maybe you have gone with a friend, or had a company day for team building, however it has happened, you are hooked and want to do more.

Maybe you have immediately applied for your shotgun certificate, gone to your local gun shop and bought the best that you can afford, or you have sought a reputable coach, and spent some time learning the basics before buying your own gun. Whatever the route into our sport you have taken, the chances are, at some point if you are wise, you will go to an expert gun fitter to ensure your pride and joy is pointing where you are looking.

Unfortunately, this is where the problems of” master eye” or “dominant eye” may be first noticed, although a competent coach should have picked this up in your first lesson.

A word of warning at this point. There are lots of gimmicks on the market which all profess to cure this problem. Some help, some don’t, but, in my experience, all of the following suggestions work. However, they can take a bit of getting used too; they won’t miraculously improve your shooting overnight and can feel positively “odd” to start with.

If you are right handed, when mounting your gun, your right eye should see up the centre of the rib. It is therefore the dominant, or master. If, however, you are looking up the left hand side, or you role your head over the stock to try and look up the rib with both eyes, then you have an eye dominance problem, which needs to be optically corrected. The problem can also be solved by merely shutting your eye when you mount the gun, but this is generally not recommended as you loose your peripheral vision which can be used to pick up direction, speed and distance.

This problem can also occur if you wear contact lenses or glasses, as opticians correct your vision in both eyes, which can upset your eye dominance. Until this is sorted, your gun cannot be made to fit you correctly, so, here are my suggestions for solving your problem.

Flo Laura Redwood of Greenwood Gunsmiths Tern Hill, Shropshire, UK

Let me introduce you to my daughter, Laura. She wears contact lenses, which makes her vision in both eyes equal, and therefore weakens the dominance of her right eye. Purchasing a pair of cheap shooting glasses, then applying a small dot directly over the pupil of her left eye solves this problem by eliminating her left eye central vision when the gun is mounted, but still allowing peripheral vision to pick up the speed and distance of a target. The same method will of course work if you have normal eye sight which doesn’t require optical correction, just a dominant left eye. Please also note, the glasses sit quite high in relation to the eye, so there is no interference with your vision in either eye as most targets are rising.

Shooting glasses - Greenwood Gunsmiths Tern Hill, Shropshire, UK

Should you need optically corrective lenses, it is very important you go to an optician who understands the requirements of “centre of correction” for shooters. The best man I have so far found for the job is a gentleman called Cliffe at Patrick Duff Opticians at Paddock wood in Kent.

He has now made numerous sets of lenses for some of our best shooters. The lenses in my frames are photocromatic clear to light bronze, with full anti glare coatings and are absolutely superb. He is also a really nice guy and willing to take the time to help us shooters cure our problems. In my case, he reduced the strength of correction in my left eye, leaving my right eye fully corrected and dominant.