General Advice On The Purchase of a Gun - Part I

Shotguns and Shotshells

Cheap v. Best Guns, With General Advice on the Purchase of a Gun 
By Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey

Part I

Few recognize the skill and completeness exemplified in a modern gun; and many shooters, I really believe, would never do so unless they were condemned to shoot for a season with the weapons of their forefathers. There is a class of shooters who merely look upon a gun as a machine to kill with, and do not in the least realize the care, expense, and anxiety bestowed on its construction. These are the people who declaim against guns being needlessly expensive if they cost over a very moderate sum. Knowing nothing of the outlay required to produce excellent workmanship, they fancy a cheap gun of 15£ is, or ought to be, as good a weapon as one of 45£, and, making no allowance for first-class material, clever, and therefore costly, artisanship, they cannot see why the lower-priced article should not be as good as that which costs double, and vow it is ' that rascal the gunmaker' who pockets the balance. 

To the casual observer there is hardly any perceptible difference in appearance and handling between a fairly well turned out gun and a really first-class one that costs nearly, if not quite, double. Such a man puzzles his brains as to wherein lies the superiority of the expensive over the cheap weapon; for the one apparently works as well, shoots as well, and looks as handsome an article, as the other.*

* The real truth of the matter is, that the majority of men who patronize cheap guns rarely give them such a test of endurance as would determine their merits, if any.  A cheap, rough gun may last for many seasons if it is put to no more severe strain than 300 or 400 shots a year entail. For this reason a 15£ gun may meet all the requirements of the sportsman who uses it; and the latter is quite right to purchase his gun to suit his purse and his sport, but is not justified in swearing by all his gods that, because his 15£ gun suits him, and stands without damage a small amount of wear and tear, it is equal for all practical purposes to a high-class weapon. If the 15£ article experienced as much work as is usually bestowed on a best gun, it would soon be evident which was the better of the two! 

That there is a great and important difference is at once evident to those who have a knowledge of what a gun should be; and any ordinary mechanic trained to gun-making, or even a well-versed amateur, would soon point out a score of details evincing either excellence or the reverse.
The simplicity of a good gun and its fewer parts form one of its strongest recommendations; for it is usually in cheap guns that we see complications in the fastenings, many pieces doing the work which one piece ought to do.
A first-class gun is always handsome, though useless embellishments are frequently omitted. It balances beautifully, works smoothly, and invariably feels light and handy, as compared with an inferior weapon, when put to the shoulder; the latter being good qualities which are among the chief recommendations of first-class work, as well as some of the most useful attributes that a maker of repute is able to bestow on his guns.
Take, for instance, a cheap gun. On a cursory examination, its screws and pins and springs and pieces seem, to all outward appearance, sound and good—and so they are for very ordinary use; but the same parts of a high-class gun are, practically speaking, thrice as excellent, for they are far better in design and material, and have had much more care and harder tests applied to them during their manufacture and fitting.
As an example, in the rough work of wildfowl shooting afloat I am always obliged to use a really good gun—one on the minutest parts of which I can depend. And I find it is true economy to do so; for it is quite a mistake to imagine that a cheap, rough, strong-looking gun will stand hard usage as well as a highly-finished, though perhaps a more delicate looking, weapon.
I have often tried cheap guns for wildfowl shooting; but a little rust from salt water, or a tumble or two in a boat, and crack goes a screw, or snap flies a spring. The gun is then sent to the maker, who writes word: 'These accidents will happen even with the best guns' but, for my part, I do not find that they do, or at all events very seldom, and in nothing like the same proportion.
Now as to penetration. A cheap gun will, for a time, shoot nearly as hard as an expensive one; but it will not retain its power, the quality of the metal in its barrels not being good enough to enable it to do so. It is, however, in the matter of regular shooting and a properly spread pattern that the good weapon has such an advantage over its cheaper rival, besides being so far superior in lasting powers; for though the strength and balance and finish of a first class gun are as perfect as may be, these are not its only advantages, as its shooting qualities are also of the same high standard of excellence.
Cheap guns are usually sold to suit the pockets or fancies of a certain class of customers who cannot or will not give a high price. Well and good; money is a consideration to most. But this does not equalize a cheap and a costly gun in the matter of value and merit.
A sportsman who purchases a cheap gun is not generally one who gives it hard work in regard to the number of shots he fires. The man who can afford to buy an expensive weapon can generally enjoy good shooting; and he may, likely enough, fire 3,000 to 4,000 shots or more a year from one gun. A very well made article, you may rest assured, does he require for such wear and tear as this—a trial of endurance that few, if any, cheap guns could stand without necessitating repairs.
We do not grudge an extra 20£ for a good horse; and if we knew that additional sum would give us as reliable an animal for the required purpose as money could buy, we should gladly pay, and consider the bargain a fortunate one. Then why not so with a gun, if we can afford to act in a similar way? Yet I know rich sportsmen, whose surroundings in the matter of horses, pictures, and other belongings are as costly as they can obtain, and as perfect as money can buy, who would on no account expend over 20£ on a new gun; because, for some reason best known to themselves, or, at all events, which they cannot explain, they say ' a gun ought not to cost more.'
Cheap guns are made by the hundred, and sold by the hundred. The artisans employed in their manufacture are inferior craftsmen. Among thoroughly clever workmen there is an esprit de corps which forbids them from having anything to do with second class guns. A workman who is really accomplished in the art of gun-making does his work slowly, and with extraordinary care. I have watched such a man by the day; he will not allow himself to be hurried by his employer, or by anybody else, as good work does not admit of haste, for this reason an unlimited number of best guns cannot be turned out by any gunmaker, however large his staff of employes. At most, but a few of his men can be trusted to look to the finishing of best guns, as firstclass workmen of long experience are always in demand, and few gunmakers can boast of more than three or four on their premises. This is one of the reasons why a good gun takes so long to complete after the order for it is received; for its parts are not turned out by the dozen, as is the case with guns of cheap make.

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