Buying Your First Shotgun

Why should you talk to Sporting Targets about buying your first shotgun? We differentiate ourselves to others in a number of ways all of them important considerations for the first time buyer.

Get Advice from the Experts

Our gun shop staff are fully qualified professional instructors, either through Clay Pigeon Shooting Association (CPSA) or British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC). This means they are fully trained to advice you on gun fit and appropriate gun for you.

Our gun shop staff have a combined experience in excess of 100 years, so no matter whether you are shooting clays or game, purely a social shooter or looking to compete in competition, we can advise you as to what we feel would suit you  and meet your goals.

We are a CPSA Premier Plus rated shooting ground and as such are not looking for just a quick ‘one off’ sale; we want to see you week in week out, so we can see that the gun you buy from us is suitable for you and continue to help your progression with it.

And mainly because we want you to enjoy the purchasing experience as much as the shooting experience, we therefore do our best to select guns that suit your needs and your pocket. A Happy and Contented Customer is one that returns to us for advice and to discuss future needs for the years to come, as many of our customers do.

It can be quite bewildering with choice of shotguns that are available on the market place and buying your first shotgun, with the amount of advice that is available out there, some good some bad, it is important that you choose one that fits and suites you, to fit your budget and that is best suited for what you want to shoot with it, for instance clays or game.

The Types of Shotgun You can Buy

Essentially there are four different styles of shotgun; Side by Side; Over and Under; Semi Automatic and Pump Action.

Side by Side Shotguns

Side by Side Shotgun. Buying your First Shotgun

Side by Side Shotguns are generally considered the “traditional” shotgun and predominately used for game shooting. The barrels of the gun, as the name would suggest are next to each other as opposed to one sitting on top of the other (over and under). Typically they will have two triggers, to operate each barrel and an auto safety. After prolonged use this style of gun will become very warm, if not hot, making it uncomfortable to hold unless gloves are worn. You could also be limited to the type of cartridge that you use, as the cartridge chambers tend to be smaller, in length, this is especially the case for “Old English” Shotguns. The barrels of these guns tend to be, by modern standards on the short side, typically 28” and tend to be lighter in weight, so they can be more easily carried, this in turn generates more “felt recoil” than a heavier gun. A typical weight would be in the region of 6llbs. Modern shotguns have the advantage that they have “Multi-Chokes” making them more versatile, side by side do not typcally to have this option.

So a Side by Side, for a first time purchase, because of the lack of flexibility the complexity of two triggers is probably not the best buy, and perhaps something that could be considered later on.

Over and Under Shotguns

Over and Under Shotgun, Buying Your First Shotgun

Over and Under Shotguns, ironically designed before the side by side, but at that time the technology was not available to make them work reliably, so designers changed the configuration to side by side with two separate firing mechanisms and two triggers, thus the side by side was born. The over and under only became a reliable gun in 1925, introduced by Browning. This is now the most popular configuration and the most versatile. They can equally be found shooting game as well as clays, and because of the design, after heavy use, are less prone to passing on the heat of the barrels to the shooter. Over and Under shotguns are often designed as “sporters” all round guns, essentially suited for all situations. However, some are designed with a bias, such as shooting game; skeet or trap. They will, typically come with a multi choke system, making them more versatile for the beginner. Unlike some side by sides they are built to take pretty much any cartridge and designed for heavy use, in other words they tend to be more robust.

For the first time purchaser, this configuration with its versatility is probably the better option.

Semi-Automatic Shotguns

Semi Automatic Shotgun, Buying Your First Shotgun

Semi-Automatic Shotguns differentiate themselves immediately from the Side by Side and Over and Under by having only one barrel, the 2nd cartridge being fed from a “magazine” into the barrel, immediately after the first cartridge has been shot. The mechanism which feeds that 2nd cartridge is operated either by the recoil of the first cartridge or the gas pressure emitted from that cartridge. This can limit the type of cartridge you can use with this style of gun, usually to “heavier loads”, as “lighter loads” are not sufficient enough to make the gun “recycle” that second shot into the barrel. The barrel itself cannot be “broken” unlike either a Side by Side or Over and Under, which can introduce additional safety issues. This style of gun would be frowned upon if you where to take on a “game shoot”. As with modern day Over and Unders they come with a multi-choking system, but because you only have one barrel, you are limited in setting the gun up, with two barrels you can set up the chokes differently in each barrel. Semi- Automatics need to be cleaned more meticulously as they are more prone to dirt, because of the way they work, if it become dirty they can cease to operate and recycle that second shot. As a general rule, they tend to be cheaper than either of the aforementioned.

Is it a good first time buy? Well it may suit some, particularly if weight and felt recoil is an issue, but good experienced advice is important here; remember they are not accepted on the game field, so best suited for clays.

Pump-Action Shotguns

Pump-Action Shotguns in essence are very similar to Semi-Automatics. Apart from the fact that the 2nd cartridge is not automatically loaded into the single barrel after the first shot, you have to operate the recycling system yourself, after each shot. This does have the advantage, that you can use “light loads”, as the recycling system depends on you and not the cartridge. This is also a disadvantage because you have to do more work and can take your attention away from target. Like Semi-Automatics, these are not accepted on the “Game Field” but can be an excellent choice for both vermin and pigeon control.

This style of shotgun is unlikely to be a good first time purchase and probably left for retail therapy once you have gained some experience of shooting.

What is Gauge and what does it mean?

All guns, irrespective of their configuration come in different calibres, known as “gauges” or “bores” the most common being 12 gauge, however, there are also smaller gauges most commonly 20, 28 and 0.410. The latter being the smallest and the measurement being the diameter of the barrel in inches as opposed to being referred to by the gauge. So what does gauge actually mean? It’s a fraction, when shotguns were standardised they took a pound of lead rolled it into a sphere, 1/12 of a pound of lead rolled into a sphere is the diameter of a 12 gauge barrel and so on. Using the same calculation a 0.410 would be a 67 gauge; however, you will find it quoted as being 36 gauge in most other cases – just to complicate things.

What differentiates one gun from another?

In simple terms shotguns are tubes of metal and either wood or plastic. So makers differentiate them selves by making guns in slightly different shapes, fortunately, we as human beings are also different shapes, so one make or model will be a better fit than another. It is also important that you hold the gun correctly, if you don’t then what appears to fit, may not.

Like cars now a days all new guns are very reliable, irrespective of the amount you pay for them, so there is no such thing as a bad gun, or put it another way it is rare to buy a new gun that goes wrong, most come with a comprehensive guarantee, it is however vital that the shotgun is suited to you as mentioned above.

The cost of guns varies dramatically with new guns being sold for under £400.00 and going up to, well the skies the limit. The price of the gun will not generate any more hits, this is down to you and a good fitting gun. Essentially anything over £2000 you are buying better wood and engraving, it’s the aesthetics that change, and to a certain extent the “balance”.


The long and short of buying your first gun is good advice and guidance. So give us a call on 01234 708893.

Need to know how to apply for your shotgun licence? Click the link for more info.