In my university days I spent the majority of my free time working the gun counter at a hunting store, this was primarily to have extra money to spend on frivolous things like food and rent. It was a good job, and much like hunting, I began to spot patterns. In this case it was in customers and their approach to purchasing. A common question from customers was “What do you have in a 308?” my response, depending on the customer and how much I had been able to sleep the night before, was often either to simply turn around and face the large wall covered with rifles and sarcastically say “these”. Usually, I would explain that we carry a wide variety of rifles in a variety of calibers and then proceed to ask about other sought after features to narrow the search field. The problem is simple, most people know, more or less, what they are after it just doesn’t seem that way because they go about it almost backwards. Its an easy mistake to make but one that low paid employees working early weekend mornings during the busy season lose patience for. Gun shops typically sort their inventory by type of firearm, then brand, then model, then calibre. So I have decided to try and lend a hand to help everyone get what they want faster.
It is important to first know what you want the gun to be used for: is it for hunting, defense, target practice, long range shooting? From there break it down farther: what kind of hunting? What distances? From there it’s a good idea to have features in mind such as wood or synthetic stock? Blued or stainless barrel? Next suggest brands that you like or would like to avoid. Within this previous criteria be clear on which features you are or are not flexible on, there might be the exact gun you want except it will be blued and not stainless would that be ok? From there if you have a price or price range in mind say so. Many retail stores have a strict policy where employees are not allowed to ask this because it’s a bit too personal of a question. But knowing this can really help the salesman get you something reasonable and spare you the awkwardness of them digging out a top of the line HS Precision, when you are more in the market for a Mossberg (Both fine rifles in their own way). After all that, suggest a few calibers that you would be interested in, keep in mind with a hunting rifle most calibers are pretty similar performance-wise within 300 yards which is a pretty far shot for most hunting situations. If you do have a specific calibre in mind, that’s not a bad thing, but it will be helpful to explain why, otherwise the salesman might suggest other calibres that are equally suitable but more available at that time ex: “I’ve had a lot of luck with it”, “I already have most of the reloading equipment for that calibre”, “me and my hunting friends decided to all get the same calibre so we can share ammo in a pinch”, “Me, my son, wife, or daughter have shot this calibre before and found the recoil to be manageable.” These are all reasons I have heard and respected.
From there it’s just a matter keeping a few small tips in mind. First always try to be polite, the quality of service you receive in ANY business is really proportional to how nice or rude you are to the staff. Its also not uncommon for salesmen to give slight discounts to polite customers, I know I’ve done this more than once. Also keep in mind that not every gun in every calibre will be available especially in smaller shops. If there’s something specific you want you may have to order it, even if it’s common (common usually means a lot of people are buying them).
Don’t be afraid to ask other customers their opinions of guns and calibres, they are there because they are into guns. Make sure to ask the employees their opinions of guns and calibres because these are the people that hear about the success and failures of equipment from customers coming back, they also process any warranty issues and can tell you which companies are having a bad run of guns. Keep in mind, from both customers and employees, you often hear opinions which are easily, and often, bias. I once worked with a man who felt Weatherby brand rifles were the only ones worth owning.
Lastly make sure you hold every gun you are considering buying to make sure that the fit, finish, and feel is there. Every gun feels a bit different to every person and you want to be sure before you buy because most shops won’t take a gun back based on not liking the look or the feel, especially if it has been fired.
Below is a checklist I have made that might be helpful. Also, here is a downloadable version (gun buying checklist), you can print it, fill it out, and take it in with you next time. Hopefully its helpful. Make sure to comment below and let me know what you think, what I should add, and what I should change?
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