Saturday, August 15, 2009

What steps can I take to make sure I get the right rifle at the right price? (question from

What steps can I take to make sure I get the right rifle at the right price?

Buying a Double Rifle

Cal: I read with interest your column on double rifles and my desire is growing to purchase one (or two). What steps can I take to make sure I get the right rifle at the right price?

Glad to hear from you. With more doubles being made and sold now than ever before this is important information for the first time buyer. Over the years I have developed a series of steps to make sure the rifle I buy is right for me. Here is what I do:

1. First, the rifle must appeal to me. This is each individual’s taste. For me, the rifle must be from the UK--either England or Scotland. European arms just don’t cut it for me. They are well made and an excellent value for the money, dependable, but the lines have never found favor with me, personally. Second is the caliber. This is based on what I want to do with the rifle: to collect to appreciate in value, to shoot at targets for pleasure, or to hunt. If bought for hunting then it need to determine just what critters I am to bring to bag. A small caliber such as .240 to .300 flanged for plains game, the all-around .375 or 450-400, the big game calibers of the .450 to .475, or the ultra powerful .500, .577, or .600. For shooting the smaller calibers are less punishing and for a collection the caliber does not matter except for rarity.

2. Next, I look at the price. Don’t bother with the “Blue Book of Gun Values”. The prices therein are outdated too fast and the double rifles are either so uncommon or so individual that setting a firm price is next to impossible. Do look, however, at past selling prices from auctions, Guns International or Guns America (on the web), the major sellers such as Champlin Arms, or the makers themselves. Remember the price rises with rarity and as the caliber increases. Trust me on this. I bought a .600 Wilkes a few months ago (as this is written 1-08). In identical condition but in .450-400 caliber, the price would have been 1/5 of what I paid for the .600. For what it is worth, a double that is priced too high today will be priced right tomorrow, and will be a bargain the day after that. If you want it, buy it!

3. Does the rifle come with a case (leather, canvas, or the best oak and leather), accessories in the case, ammunition, brass, reloading dies, etc.?Any or all of the above will add to the value of the rifle.

4. Can the owner provide a history of the rifle in question? A letter of origin from the factory is a good start. This will tell you if the rifle has had any alternations to it from the original specifications. Also, it is exciting to have the name of the original owner. If it is someone of note, the value will rise drastically. (Recently James Sutherland’s .577 double was sold at auction. The estimated price was $30,000. Because it was owned and documented by a famous hunter, it sold for well over $100,000)!

5. Targets and accuracy documentation should be provided. If not available from the owner, request a trial shoot during your inspection period. This is most important if you plan to shoot and or hunt with the rifle. If the rifle won’t regulate either load development or reregulation is the answer.

6. Refinish and overall condition. It is not blasphemy to refinish a double rifle as it is in the US to refinish a Colt or Winchester. If redone, it should have been documented by a competent gunsmith or firm. The only thing that can’t be fixed is the bore condition. If the bores are rusty or pitted, or just plain worn out, you have to live with it or have it rebored or sleeved. Other than that, everything can be repaired, touched up, etc. I look at the overall condition, check to see if the rifle is tight on the face, the hinge pin is solid, and the barrels ring true. A quick look can tell me about the stock finish, checkering, bluing, recoil pad, sights, etc... and a letter of origin can tell me if the current specifications are original. A quick look at the wood will tell me if it has been restocked. If restocked, the wood should be of a type of walnut period to the rifle as well as the lines and checkering. Last of all, I may ask to take the locks out to check for rust.

8. Does the rifle fit you? This is only important if you plan to shoot or hunt with the rifle. If the stock is too long, a short trim or a smaller recoil pad will solve the problem. It it is too short, a longer pad or extension will take care of that. If the fit is drastically off, a restock may be in question but this is expensive and takes away from the originality of the rifle. Of course, the original stock can be saved or a resale, too.

9. With all the above to your satisfaction, enter into negotiations. If similar doubles have been sold in the recent past, you can use those figures to bring the price down to a reasonable level. Don’t get too picky or stuck on one item that will cause you to miss the sale. I have seen rifles and shotguns in the five-figure price range remain unsold over an insignificant gripe. Don’t let a little thing get in the way. A rare double that you want to too valuable not to have for some insignificant detail.

Good shooting!