Buying second hand could get you the air rifle you’ve always wanted at a knockdown price, but you’d be wise to follow a simple set of guidelines.
What to look out for when buying a used air rifle
For many, air rifles are a gateway to shotguns and rimfire or centre fire rifles. For many more they are a lifetime passion.
Practical factors, such as legal requirements and suitable venues upon which to shoot more powerful guns is the limiting issue for some. However, for many others, cost is the key consideration. Without doubt, air rifle pellets are the cheapest form of ammunition and are readily available, often without the need for any form of licence.
However, there is one elephant in the room. While airgunning is a cheap way of shooting in the long term, there’s no getting away from the fact that the initial outlay for a decent air rifle, not to mention ancillaries like a scope, can be expensive. There are plenty of budget options available, especially for spring powered rifles, and for blasting tin cans in the back garden they perform admirably.
But most shooters want their own ability to shoot to be the limiting factor to their success, not the quality of the equipment they use. As a result, before long many of us want something better, more accurate, something that is more capable than we are and thereby challenges us to achieve ever tighter groups.
So when the time comes to invest in a new air rifle, be it an upgrade or an addition to the collection, most of us have a choice; bite the pellet and buy new, or risk buying second hand to save a few quid.
Of course, we all like a bargain but the question most of us end up grappling with when buying a used air rifle is ‘how much of a gamble am I taking?’ The aim of this article then is to try and point out some things to look out for and consider to minimise the risk as far as possible. I have to say up front that I have bought many air rifles second hand and have never had an issue, but I know many others who have run into problems.
The simple fact is that buying second hand means rolling the dice, but there are a few simple things you can do to stack the odds a little more in your favour.
Why buy a second hand air rifle?
The obvious reason for being in the market for a used air rifle is cost; typically a good condition used example of a current model will sell for around two thirds of the as new price. And, of course, often that is reason enough, especially as many are sold with extras such as a scope, bipod and gun bag.
However, the second hand market also serves collectors who want to purchase a rifle that is no longer made, or those who simply want an older model air rifle for nostalgic purposes.
Who to buy from?
The vast majority of people selling used air rifles are perfectly trustworthy, but some aren’t.
Like most other things sold on the second hand market, there are many channels to explore. Most gun shops carry a healthy stock of used air rifles. And whilst they are unlikely to know much about the history of a gun beyond its last owner, you will be able to check details such as whether it has been serviced and what power it is producing. Most second hand rifles are not sold with any warranty, however, buying from a gun shop may give you some come back if an issue manifests itself soon after purchase. Of course, gun shops are businesses and will look to achieve a mark up on second hand guns they sell which means you are likely to pay a slight premium. However, don’t be afraid to haggle as most price tags will have some wiggle room.
The alternative to buying from a gun retailer is to purchase from a private individual. Although it’s fair to say that in doing so you are likely to be taking a bigger risk, once again there are some mitigating steps you can take. Wherever possible, make your purchase face to face. Not only does doing so give you a chance to inspect what you are buying, it also allows you an opportunity to weigh up who you are buying from and ask questions. If possible, arrange to test fire the rifle and ideally take a chronograph with you so you can not only determine if it shoots consistently but that it does so within the legal power limit. Always ask if a rifle has been serviced or tuned, and importantly by whom, and ask for paperwork. Steer clear if the owner tells you he has modified the rifle in any way unless they demonstrate a competence or qualification to do so.
Sometimes the ability to meet a potential seller in person just isn’t practical and many air rifles are bought unseen via online web sites. I know plenty of people who have purchased rifles successfully in this way, myself included. However, I’ve also known people who’ve run into problems. In my experience, far fewer people have had issues when buying via a specialist online gun sites like www.guntrader.co.uk and www.gunstar.co.uk.
Do your research beforehand and speak to the seller over the phone to ask questions. Ask for photographs, even if there are plenty on the ad, ask if the buyer has any more he or she can send you. Be suspicious if they will only deal with you over email or if a deal seems too good to be true as it often will be. And don’t be afraid to have a more knowledgeable friend on the phone with you. The more questions you ask and the longer you chat, the more likely any issues or concerns will come to light. Online forums are also a good resource and it’s worth spending time poring over them as any routinely dodgy sellers will often be outed on them.
There’s no getting away from the fact that the biggest risk when buying from someone you don’t know, especially if you are doing so remotely, comes when you have to part with your money. Private individuals are unlikely to accept credit cards which leaves you in a classic rock and hard place scenario; the buyer has something you want and won’t let you have it until you send them the money. At some point, having done all the due diligence you possibly can, you have to make a leap of faith.
Sending cash by post is never a good idea. You could send a cheque, but the seller is going to want to make sure it clears before sending you the rifle. Often that only leaves a bank transfer which for sure is a secure method of payment, but you can’t get away from the fact that you are trusting that the buyer will send you the rifle. All you can do is take the steps previously mentioned to minimize the risk as far as possible and feel as confident as you can that you are dealing with someone reputable.
Finally, get a receipt. It may not be legally binding, but it’s always better to have than not. And make sure the seller signs and dates it and that you do too.
What to look for
Like anything else you’d buy second hand, it always pays to be as thorough as you can in terms of inspecting a used air rifle. Clearly it’s easier to check over a rifle in person, but even if you’re buying remotely, don’t be afraid to ask for additional pictures, or even video of parts of the rifle you may have concerns about.
It goes without saying you need to set appropriate expectations; an old rifle is likely to have seen some action and a few marks are to be expected, which is fine if the price being asked matches the condition. However, whilst signs of misuse, such as dents, scratches and rust are easy to spot, look closely at screw heads and allen bolts for signs a rifle has been taken apart too often which could indicate an underlying issue.
Second hand pre-charged pneumatic and Co2 air rifles
It won’t always be immediately apparent, but check the fill gauge on a PCP for any signs of an air leak.
With pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) and Co2 rifles, listen closely for any escaping air or gas and if you’re able to spend any appreciable time with the buyer, make a close note of the fill pressure when you first arrive so you can spot a major air leak. It’s always a good idea to make sure the bolt action or side lever cycles smoothly and pellets transfer from the magazine to the breech properly. The trigger too should not be loose. I always like to give any rifle I’m looking to buy a good shake – let the seller know first – to see if anything rattles. If the rifle has an adjustable stock, make sure all the fixings are present and take a few allen keys with you so you make sure everything moves as it should.
Second hand spring rifles
Make sure the barrel locks up firmly on break barrel rifles.
In some ways, due to their mechanical nature, spring rifles are easier to check for major issues. Cock the action a few times to make sure there’s no graunching or scraping in the mechanism and check the safety catch works; if it’s supposed to come on when the action is cocked, make sure it does so. The locking mechanism on some break barrel rifles can be a weak point. Make sure the barrel returns solidly once cocked and there is no movement. Any misalignment as a result of a worn or faulty locking mechanism will result in accuracy and power issues.
Take a close look at the breech seal for any signs of wear or damage and, as with PCPs and Co2 rifles, take a few test fire shots where it is safe to do so. The majority of springers will recoil and make some mechanical noise, but it’s good to make sure there’s nothing excessive going on.
Second hand gas ram rifles
Many of the checks you’d want to do to a used spring rifle also apply to gas rams in terms of making sure the barrel locks up properly and safety catches operate as they should. Gas rams compress a sealed compartment of gas instead of a spring to release the pellet. Check that none of the gas has escaped over time, ideally by carrying out a chronograph test to make sure power levels are where they should be.
Second hand telescopic sights
Second hand scopes may look perfect on the outside but still have a problem so it’s always best to try before you buy if at all possible.
Scopes are relatively delicate devices and whilst dents and scratches are obvious to spot, some damage is less obvious. Other than being dropped or hit, most damage to scopes occurs when users are over zealous when it comes to tightening the screws on mounts. Any slight crushing of the tube is likely to render a scope useless.
Simply looking through a scope isn’t always an indication of such damage as often the glass will be superbly clear only for any issues to manifest when you try to adjust windage and elevation and find you simply cannot make sufficient adjustment. The only way to truly be sure is to use the scope and try out the adjustment turrets for yourself.
Although many hundreds, if not thousands, of scopes are sold privately each day without any problems, difficulties in terms of come back in the event of an issue shouldn’t be overlooked. For that reason, unless you have the ability to field test a used scope, it’s best to stick to respected sources such as retailers.
Second hand air bottles
Compressed air bottles are best bought from certified outlets. If you have to buy privately, check the test date stamp is still current.
Compressed air is a dangerous thing and the transportation of them should be left to specialist carriers. In the UK, airgun air bottles must be tested, usually every five years, and are date stamped to indicate they are passed as fit for purpose. Buying a used air bottle is best done through a gun shop. If you intend purchasing one from a private individual it is something best done in person so you can inspect the test date, along with the general condition. Steer clear of bottles on which the test date has expired.
Second hand air rifle stocks
Buying a second hand stock means you can use your rifle in the field without worrying about damaging the original.
For many people, the aesthetic appeal of an air rifle is just as important the way it performs. In a lot of cases, a rifle’s stock is its most visually important component. As a result, manufacturers are giving us increasingly beautiful walnut designs, not to mention expensive laminates.
However, air rifles are meant to be used and be it on the range, in competition or out hunting, there’s every chance that gorgeous piece of wood will get bashed or scratched. Many hunters in particular take a more pragmatic view and see such damage as part and parcel of their sport. However, many others will try to avoid such incidents at all costs. As a result, there is a healthy market for second hand stocks for those who prefer to replace that sumptuous piece of tiger striped walnut with a planer handle for everyday use.
Bear in mind that many second hand stocks exist because they have some damage, which of course may be fine given why you’re looking to buy it in the first place. Even if the stock is advertised as ‘perfect’ the chances are it has come off a gun that is far less than perfect.
For some manufacturers, updates to rifle models are subtle and in many cases, stocks from older models will fit newer lines. However, it is always worth checking that the handle you intend to buy will fit your rifle.
Most popular second hand air rifles
The second hand air rifle market has plenty to offer for those looking for a cheaper way to own a current model as well as those looking to add an older model to their collection.
Unsurprisingly, the best new air rifles make the best second hand air rifles and brands such as Weihrauch, Daystate, BSA, FX and Air Arms are readily available on the used market. The additional benefit is that there are usually plenty available, making it easier to compare prices and find the exact specification or model you require.
Make sure that you know exactly what model you are buying. Some manufacturers refresh their ranges frequently and the second hand market is full of models that have been superseded and advertisements can sometimes be deliberately vague on details. So make sure you know exactly what model you want and ask the buyer exactly what they are selling.
Conversely, some models have been in production for many years without any significant change so ask how old a rifle is as you should expect to pay less for an older example.
How do I take delivery of a second hand gun I’ve bought?
Check your local regulations to be sure which carriers will accept air rifles. In the UK, Parcel Force 48 Hours Express is an excellent service.
Purchasing a second hand air rifle from a gun shop is no different to purchasing a new rifle. However, when buying from private individuals, especially remotely, there are a few things to consider.
In the UK, it is perfectly acceptable to purchase a sub-12 ft. lbs. air rifle from another individual face to face as long as you meet all the legal requirements for ownership of an air rifle. You will need to make sure that you take your new purchase home legally – by ensuring it is contained in an appropriate gun bag or case for example. And, for obvious reasons, transactions are best carried out in private rather than public places.
When it comes to an air rifle that has been purchased remotely and therefore needs to be transfered, you should impress upon the seller the need to use a courier or postal service that acknowledges receipt of air rifles. Always check regulations regarding the transportation of air rifles in your country. In the UK, Parcel Force is the only delivery service authorised to carry air rifles, and then only through its 48 Hour Express service. Trying to sneak an air rifle through any other service risks it being discovered and destroyed. You need to be aware however, that you may need to pay for additional insurance to cover any damage to your purchase in transit. If you’re receiving a PCP rifle ask the seller to ensure the air cylinder or bottle is empty.
If you’re buying from a private individual who is not a Registered Firearms Dealer (RFD) it is legal for you to conduct a transaction. However, many private sellers prefer to conduct delivery through an RFD, or gun shop. This will usually involve a charge at both ends – the seller will need to pay his or her local gun shop to send the gun, something they may want to pass on to you, and your local gun shop will require you to make a payment upon collection. RFDs can only send air rifles to customers they know directly through previous purchases, or by establishing your identity at the point of delivery.
What’s the best way to sell my air rifle?
Several online websites specialise in the sale of new and used air rifles
Unless you have a super-rare, discontinued or limited edition air rifle, you need to acknowledge that several other people are likely to be selling the same rifle you are looking to move on. It’s therefore important to be realistic when it comes to the price you set. Spend some time online and looking through classifieds to see what others are charging and pitch your price accordingly. As a general rule of thumb, you should expect to realise approximately two thirds of what the rifle, and any accessories you are selling with it, cost new.
Probably the quickest and most convenient way to sell your air rifle is to see if your local gun shop wants to buy it. Be aware though that they will want to make a mark up so be prepared to settle for a little less cash in return for a quick sale.
If you plan on selling privately, the best resources are online sites like www.guntrader.co.uk and www.gunstar.co.uk. Once again, be conscious of the fact that you may be competing for buyers’ attention alongside many other similar guns. Take the time to write a detailed description of your air rifle – make, calibre and power levels at a minimum – but also include information such as how long you’ve owned the rifle, how often you use it and why you are selling it. Information, along with supporting paperwork for any repairs, services or tune ups is helpful as well. It’s important that you’re honest too. Point out any knocks on the stock, patches of rust or operational issues so any buyer makes a purchase in full knowledge. And pictures. Very few people will buy a rifle without seeing decent pictures. Take plenty of them and make sure you cover the entire rifle, including close ups of any problem areas. If you can, use a clean, uncluttered background and make sure the photos are clear and in focus.
When you finally get a call from a prospective buyer make sure you’ve thought beforehand if you are prepared to do a deal and how far you are prepared to drop. Remember also that you may want to factor in postage costs, or RFD charges if you plan shipping your air rifle via your local gun shop to a gun shop close to your buyer. And be prepared to use postage/shipping costs as part of your negotiation. Many buyers are happy to pay the full asking price if you offer to swallow the postage or RFD charge on your end.
Assuming you have a decent rifle that people want to own and are asking a price that is consistent with others being advertised, it’s important to be patient. Don’t be disappointed the phone isn’t ringing off the wall. Trust that the calls and emails will come. And if they don’t take a look at what competitive sellers are doing. Are you really sure you’re not asking too much?
Used Air Rifle FAQs
Do I need a license to sell my air rifle?
In the UK you do not need a license to sell a sub 12 ft. lbs. air rifle or sub six ft. lbs. air pistol that you have owned. Be aware though that if it is construed that you are buying air rifles in any significant number with the intent of passing them on for profit, you could be considered as an unlicensed and therefore, illegal dealer.
Can I buy a second hand air rifle on eBay?
No. You can buy many airgun accessories via eBay, but not air rifles or air pistols.
Can I buy a used FAC air rifle?
As long as you have appropriate certification, it is possible to purchase used FAC air rifles. However, to ensure legal compliance it is advisable to purchase via an authorised and licenced Registered Firearms Dealer rather than private individuals.
Like any other second hand purchase, buying a used air rifle involves more risk than buying new from a respected retailer. The incentive for taking that risk is being able to buy a rifle at lower cost, or an antique or collectors item that is not otherwise readily available.
However, by following these suggestions and using everything life has taught you along the way, you can minimise those risks and stand every chance of owning the air rifle you’ve always dreamed of.