Buying your First Shotgun


Buying your first shotgun is an exciting endeavour, but with many options available to you, it can also feel a little intimidating.

To help you get a better gauge of what to expect and what you should be thinking about when you look to purchase you first shotgun, CPSA Instructor and Musto Ambassador Max Tarr shares with us his guide and top tips to help you best navigate your first purchase. 

What to think about when buying your first shotgun

How much should I spend?

This is a common question when buying your first gun as a beginner I always advise spending anywhere between £500-£1000 for your first gun, then what most people do is sell it and reinvest into a more expensive gun second time round. I'm not an advocate of spending excessive amounts of money on guns. Instead, I encourage people to spend less so then they can use that money for clays, cartridges, and lessons. Everybody’s budget is different, so only spend what you feel comfortable spending. 

What type of gun should I buy? 

It all depends on what type of shooting you’ll be doing, so it pays to be flexible and choose a gun that you’ll be able to shoot the different disciplines with. 

There are different types of shotguns, but clay targets are usually shot with a gun known as an "over-and-under" with two barrels arranged one above the other, instead of a 'side by side'.. This is because there is just a single trigger and a narrower sighting plane down the single top barrel. The standard size is known as a "12 bore".

Once you’ve decided on an over and under you have the option of a “sporter” or a “game” gun. There’s not a huge difference but they do vary slightly. Usually, game guns are lighter for faster handling, have smaller ribs and are usually fixed choke. The “Sporter” version is designed specifically for clay shooting. I recommend going for multi-choke for flexibility depending on the discipline you’ll be shooting. Be sure to ask either your instructor or gun shop about  the chokes best suited to your type of shooting. You quite often see shooters changing choke on each stand depending on the clay, it’s not something that I recommend but it’s nice to have the option.

Buy new or secondhand? 

You know exactly what you're getting with a new gun. It will be brand spanking new, unused and it'll come with a nice warranty, so if anything goes wrong you can send it back to the manufacturer- but this obviously comes at a higher price. 

My first two guns were bought used, both in mint condition, one of which I knew that I would not have been able to afford at the brand-new factory cost.

It always comes down to budget, what type of shooting you’re doing, and how often. You can have full confidence in buying second hand from gun shops, a dealer won’t sell you a bad gun as it is illegal to sell a gun that’s unsafe. A dealer will advise from both their new and secondhand ranges, and if you don't mind it being second hand and you find something that you like, and it comes within budget, then why not?

There are guns both new and second hand to suit every budget.

 Should I go for a well-known brand?

If you ask someone to name a brand of shotgun, most will be able to name Browning, Beretta and Purdey for example. Purdey’s will most likely being over budget for a first shotgun, so that leaves you with Beretta and Browning to think about. Beretta is a fantastic gunmaker, but it would be very easy for a salesman to lead you down that path simply because you have heard of the brand, but would it be the best gun for you and still within budget? Potentially, potentially not, everyone is different. We all want different things, heavier, lighter, longer, or shorter etc., but it might take you time to realise these features. So, it pays to do your research. 

Have a few different shotguns from different gunmakers in mind that you’d like to try out on the day as each manufacturer offers a different fit and handling. The dealer at a gun shop will ask about the type of shooting you’re going in for and how often, and with this information they can help pick out the right model 

Gun fit, how important is it? Will a gun shop sell me a gun that fits? 

Gun shops might unintentionally sell you a gun that doesn’t fit. It’s important to wear the clothes you’d wear when trying guns, because if you add or subtract multiple layers it’s going to alter the gun fit and you’ll be left wondering why you’re missing clays you’d usually hit. When trying guns, you need to be as consistent as possible, including your stance and where the gun is in your shoulder; if you are not confident in those things it’s going to change the gun fit each time. As an instructor I try to be there for the first gun purchases of those I teach, so I can double check the gun fit and that the holding position is correct so we can help guarantee the best experience possible. So, if your instructor can be there and help then don’t hesitate to ask. 

Gun shops have had to adapt to give a better gun buying experience, and often have someone capable of fitting guns and give good instruction when necessary.

Far too many people have learnt to shoot a gun that doesn’t fit and then when they’re handed a gun that does fit, they will start missing. This often leaves the shooter disheartened, as the mental pictures they’ve been taught and collected of how to hit certain clays no longer suit their shooting; meaning they must relearn techniques, or they’ll continually be disheartened. Having your gun fit is a crucial part of the initial learning experience and is important going forward, so you need to get it as best as you can initially, to limit the need for any major adjustments going forward.

Do I shop around, or just go to my local shop? 

Gun shops stock often depend on the size of the shop for how many guns they keep but will usually have roughly the same stock of new guns, but their second hand may vary. If they’re an exclusive stockist of a particular brand they might have a bigger or wider a selection of that brand. 

Gun shops embedded within shooting grounds are becoming increasingly common, they’ll have plenty of demo guns you can take out onto the ground, so you can try before you buy, to help make a firm decision. They’ll also tend to have a wider range of second-hand guns available to try and take out.  

It pays to do a bit of research just so that you have a rough idea of what to look at, especially at guns within your budget. There are lots of content and articles online that you can read or watch, whether searching for guns for 'beginners' or 'ladies' or 'best guns between this price' etc. 

Shooting safety and law

Only shotgun or firearms certificate holders are able to purchase a gun. It is important that you either have your licence granted before you start your shotgun search, or when you start looking for a shotgun, apply quickly as it can take weeks or even months to get your application accepted.

You will also need to install a solid lockable gun cabinet , that is preferable fixed to a wall at home, to securely store you gun. 

To make sure you are up to date with shooting safety and law, you can attend a CPSA Shotgun Skills Course to support your knowledge by covering personal and range safety, shotgun types and use, cartridges, and chokes. CPSA membership also provides shooting insurance along with many other benefits, which is always recommended.

What questions should I ask when buying my first gun? 

Alongside addressing the above points, I have compiled these questions from my own experience talking to people who are new to shooting, and wish they had asked at the time of their first purchase: 

  • How do I clean the gun and what do I need to do so? 
  • What chokes are currently in the gun and what’s the difference between them all?
  • What is this behind the top lever i.e., barrel selector? (I come across so many people who have no idea what it does) 

Top Tips:

  • If you don’t know ask! The more questions answered, the more you know, the better you’ll feel
  • Don’t be blinded by brands
  • Try before you buy (if you can)
  • Spend what you feel comfortable spending, make the investment worthwhile
  • See if you instructor can attend with you or be present for your fitting
  • Do your prior research
  • Don’t rush, take your time 

But most importantly - Go out there and enjoy!

Max Tarr