Clay shooting auction – getting the best bargains

Yes, you really can get a fantastic deal on your dream clay gun if you follow the advice of professional auctioneer Gavin Gardiner.

Auction houses are a good way to find yourself a new gun cheaper than the RRP

I have been selling guns at auction for over thirty years, and I am always surprised at just how few people will trust their own judgement and buy a gun at auction.

There are many genuine bargains to be had, and many great guns to found in great condition at every auction. There are also a few in poor condition, with problems that should be avoided at all costs. In this article I will give you a few hints and tips to help you bag that dream gun.

This is especially true with the modern over-and-under. Most sporting guns consigned at auction are classic English side-by-side shotguns, and relatively few modern over-and-under guns appear in a typical sale. As time is passing however, this is changing as more modern over-and-under guns enter the auction market. 

Competition shots can be fickle and will often own a gun for a short while, before trading for a newer model. Trends and fashions with stock style, barrel length, choke and weight change rapidly and as manufacturers constantly update their model ranges with new products, the older model soon becomes obsolete. These now obsolete models can often appear at a fraction of their original cost, and can represent fantastic value.

One commonly held misconception about auctions is that they are full of the guns that the trade does not want – guns that have problems and are being dumped on to the market.

While there may be an element of this, my own experience is that the vast majority of guns offered come from private individuals, and have been well kept and looked after. There are many older Browning and Beretta models out there that remain in excellent condition, and some will be little used.

Classic savings

The Browning B25 is a design icon and well deserved classic. Originally designed in 1925 by John M Browning, it was his last legacy and was brought to the market by his son Val in 1930. Ninety years later the gun has remained in continuous production with only the Second World War briefly interrupting that run.

For many years it was ‘the’ gun to own, and was used by 90 per cent of competition shots. It won every competition there was to win and it was not until the 1990s that it lost its place at the top of the pile.

There is an abundance of older Belgian Brownings in the market and the prices have never been cheaper. A new B2G model now is in excess of £12,000, and I see many used examples advertised around the £7,000 mark. A good used one at auction will typically sell for between £2,000 and £3,000. This represents a huge saving on the cost of a new one, and is still less than half what most dealers will charge for a used example. 

A 12-bore Browning B2 model single trigger over-and-under gun, sold recently for £750

Many of the older guns will have barrel lengths that seem unusual to us today; 26 and 28-inch barrels were the most popular lengths until the 1990s and it was only heavy Trap guns that were built with 30-inch barrels. While longer barrels are all the rage today, if you are prepared to fly in the face of fashion, you could find yourself a bargain if you opt for a less popular length.

There is a relative shortage of classic 30-inch barrel Browning Trap guns today, as so many of these have been converted into high bird custom game guns in the last fifteen years.

It was a relatively easy and profitable conversion that has been done countless times – you purchase a plain grade gun with 30-inch barrels, send the gun to Belgium to be engraved with custom scenes of your choice, then have the gun re-stocked to your desired specification. All of this to produce essentially the same gun as the Browning Custom Shop, but at around a third of the price.

Another classic that can be found surprisingly affordably is the Beretta 682. It is a model that has been around since 1984, and it is hard to believe that is now well in to its fourth decade of production. I remember its introduction well as I had a Saturday job in my local gunshop, and it was immediately popular.

I remember showing it to many customers keen to see the new gun on that first Saturday, and was disappointed the following Saturday when it had gone. It was several weeks before we got another; the first examples did not hang around for long and it achieved classic status almost immediately.

Over the years it has been produced in a number of models as the design has evolved, with a wide variety of specifications as the trends and fashions in shooting have evolved also. New examples start at around £2,000, while used examples typically trade around the £1,200 mark. A good vintage example at auction could sell for as little as £350 and represents superb value for money.

Perazzi is another well established brand, and one that is especially popular in the market today. As probably the most popular competition gun manufacturer today, the firm was established in 1957, and the classic MX8 model has a long history and many older examples will often appear in the market. A best game scene engraved model is priced at around £14,000 new today, but a vintage example is more likely to cost in the £5,000 region.

Do your homework

With all of these guns, it is important to understand that unpopular specification will reduce the value of any gun to bargain status. Be aware of this before you start your search and read the catalogue description thoroughly. A good catalogue description will give you an accurate description of the gun, its specifications and will highlight any faults or defects that the auctioneer has found.

You may then want to speak to the auctioneer to ask for a condition report; don’t be afraid to ask questions. You will need to register to create an account with the auctioneer, and provide identification and your shotgun certificate before you can register to bid or attend the auction.

Normally you would attend the auction in person, but during the pandemic auctions have been held entirely online

The condition report will give the barrel condition, bore diameter and minimum wall thickness and point out any faults or issues that the gun may have. Attend the pre-sale viewing and make sure to handle and examine the gun in person.

This will give you the chance to meet the auctioneer, discuss this lot and many others that are in the auction; you may have overlooked another gun that might suit you better. 

Look at the auctioneer’s estimate. This is a guide to what the lot is expected to sell for, and will reflect a range. This will be based on the auctioneer’s considerable experience. Bear in mind that an unexpectedly low estimate may well reflect the condition or specification of the lot.

It is important to remember that to refinish and restore a heavily used and worn gun to a good condition will often cost more than the gun is ever going to be worth. It may be cheaper in the long run to buy the more expensive example in the best condition, rather than the tired example that has issues.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions and listen to advice, and always set yourself a limit to what you want to pay. Remember that the auctioneer adds a ‘buyer’s premium’ of typically 25 per cent to the hammer price so factor this into your calculations. 

Make sure that you stick to your limit; it is all too easy to get carried away in the moment and bid higher than you originally intended. Having someone bidding against you may give you confidence that you are bidding on a good gun, but always remember your limit. I have often seen some old guns sell for about as much a new one will cost simply because two bidders ignored their own limits.

Buying online

One very important thing to remember however, is that you need to rely on your judgement and be aware that a bid is final and cannot be rescinded should you change your mind after you have bought a lot.

While a shop or dealer may offer a warranty in case anything goes wrong with the gun, a gun purchased at auction is sold as it is, and is not guaranteed except for its authenticity.

It is up to you as the buyer to satisfy yourself that the gun is accurately described and in a good condition. If you are prepared to do this, then you can make substantial savings and buy yourself a champagne gun for beer money.

In today’s world, all you need is a computer or smartphone and an internet connection to participate in a sale. Auction catalogues are published for free on the auctioneer’s website, you can view and request condition reports online and participate in the auction live in real time from the comfort of your own home. 

Because of the recent Covid-19 pandemic I recently conducted a very successful auction entirely online. Social distancing and government regulations meant that viewing in person was not possible, and that almost all client interactions were conducted over email.

Condition reports were requested, additional images supplied, advice given, absentee bids accepted, and the auction conducted live online only, to an empty room behind locked doors.

We have all had to rapidly evolve to survive the coronavirus, and as a result it has never been easier to buy a sporting gun at auction.

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