Buying your first gun will be one of the most exciting days of your shooting career! But there are a few things I recommend you do first including a bit of homework before you actually go shopping. Otherwise you may end up either not buying a gun at all or worse still buying the wrong gun. The good news is that you can do most of this whilst you are waiting for your gun licence to be processed, so you don’t waste any time.

But let’s take it step by step….so, before you embark on your shotgun shopping spree, you will need the following:

Licence to Kill! 

It should only take 12 weeks to obtain a new Shotgun Certificate and cost £79.50 from your County Police, but in some areas, it is taking months.  There have been delays in the grant of new licenses due to Covid 19 so I would apply as soon as you know you want to buy a gun, and preferably before!!  It will involve a visit and interview from the Firearms Licensing Officer (FLO) so be prepared for a few questions.  

Cupboard Love!

A two gun cabinet will cost around £100.  The FLO will need to see its location and installation, so if this is done before they visit it will save time.  To keep your beloved gun safe and well, fit your cabinet out of sight and avoid damp corners of the house!

Stay Safe!

There is no formal requirement for a safety test or to have lessons before acquiring a license or a shotgun.  My view is you ought to be 100% with your gun safety and gun handling before buying a gun.  If you aren’t then have some lessons, practice and learn!  Never shoot unsupervised until you are confident you know what you are doing.  You can’t be too careful and you can’t afford to have an accident!  I have seen some real horrors out there; please don’t be one of them. Pride yourself in your gun safety.

Double Indemnity!     

Check that your new gun is covered by your household insurance.  You will need Public Liability Insurance too, which comes as part of the membership of the CPSA, NFU, GWCT, BASC or the Countryside Alliance.  I suggest you select according to your requirements or allegiances but check the terms for your circumstances.  Subscriptions cost £80/90 pa.

Shiny Happy People Have Shiny Happy Guns!

Once you have your gun, you need to look after it!  You can buy cleaning kits for £30/40 or you can make up your own.  In addition to gun oil and spray, lubricant, rods, patches and brushes I have a box full of oily rags, cotton buds, old tooth brushes, those green kitchen scrub pads, penknife etc; anything to get in to those awkward spots!

Have Gun, Will Travel!  

You will need a gun slip for carrying your gun and travelling purposes.  For £30 you can buy a smart canvas gun slip; a posh leather one will set you back a bit more!  A hard case is essential if you are travelling abroad with your gun and it’s easier to secure.   New guns often come with a case or a slip.

Once you’ve done all that, time for some homework!

Easy on the Eyes!

Ensure you understand which is your dominant eye; this is essential information to know before buying a gun.  A good coach can explain this to you.  It relates to how oyur eyes are wired to your brain and not to you eyesight prescription.  I don’t know of any other situation in life where this matters in the slightest, but it does for shooting!  Many more women are left eye dominant than men; I am not sure anyone knows why. 

If you are cross dominant (ie right handed and left eye dominant or vice versa), have you considered carefully which shoulder you are going to shoot off?   Caution: do not just accept that the only answer is to shut your dominant eye or use a patch and shoot off the same shoulder as your handedness.  It may be easier initially, but I recommend swapping shoulders to allow you to keep both eyes open; a great benefit for shotgun shooting and worth the effort.  So you see, this important decision determines whether you need a left-handed or right-handed stock; not a minor detail in buying a gun! 

What Gauge?  What Gun?  What Purpose?  What Fun?!

The gun needs to be appropriate for you.  What gauge do you feel comfortable with?  20 bores are often described as a “ladies’ gun” as they are smaller, lighter and easier to handle especially for a novice; they suit many ladies exceedingly well.  But lots of ladies shoot very happily with a 12 bore; and lighter 12 bores are now available too.  I shot a 12 bore for 20 years, but just recently I bought an O/U 20 bore for game shooting as I no longer want to carry a heavy gun around the field and I’m loving it!

Decide on the purpose of your shooting; what discipline do you want shoot ie sporting, trap, skeet, game or general purpose.  This will define some of the features you might look for in your new gun ie the type of rib, chokes, barrel length, forend and fit.

You may also have a brand in mind that is determined by budget, reliability, balance, handling and what feels good to you; all valid factors to consider.

Try Before you Buy!

Take the opportunity to handle and try out as many different guns as you can to give you an idea of what feels right in terms of fit, weight, balance, 12 bore vs 20 bore.  The more experience you get with different guns, the more you will learn what you like.

Money, Money, Money!

Decide on your budget.  Depending on the make and model, you can buy new guns from as little as £600 or £700 upwards.  The second-hand gun market starts at a few hundred pounds.  The baseline is a safe and reliable gun; thereafter you are paying for a higher grade wood, engraving, machine vs hand-made/finished.  A good benchmark is a basic model of the Beretta Silver Pigeon; brand new is £1500 or good condition second hand will be £1,000 – £1250.  It comes down to what you can afford.  Bear in mind for resale, that a well looked after second-hand gun can really hold its value.

If the Shoe Fits….! 

Think of a gun like a pair of shoes; it needs to fit you properly and do the job in hand.  You wouldn’t buy size 4 tennis shoes if you are a size 6; you wouldn’t be able to walk let alone run in them, or you might, but very badly and it would very probably hurt so you wouldn’t enjoy wearing them, however much you liked them!  When it comes to buying a gun, the same thing applies; the most important thing is it fits you correctly or if it doesn’t, can it be altered to do so?  Gun fit is crucially important so that you can get the best out of your gun and your gun can get the best out of you!  Equally, shoes need to be fit for purpose.  You wouldn’t buy high heels for hiking in; so in the same way I wouldn’t recommend you buy a trap gun for game shooting or skeet.

Many guns shops, sad to say, will be happy to sell you any gun whether or not it fits or is appropriate to you and your needs, just to get a sale.  Therefore, I strongly suggest you take someone with you who knows about shotguns and preferably gun fit.  

Guns Fit for Ladies

Beware! Shooting is still a man’s world; consequently most off the shelf guns are designed for men.  Ladies usually need not only a higher comb and a shorter stock then men but also a wider comb, different pitch and cast, and a smaller radius of grip.  The good news is there are now some guns on the market such as the Browning Liberty, Beretta Vittoria, Blaser F16, Caesar Guerini Tempio Syren designed more for ladies and some are a little lighter too.  They’re a good starting point but may still need alteration.  Look out too for guns with adjustable stocks that go a long way towards achieving a better fit.  They are a desirable feature when it comes to reselling the gun too.


Be prepared to have your gun altered to fit you.  Simple alterations such as shortening the stock, changing the pitch, raising the comb, fitting an adjustable comb or even bending the stock for cast will cost you in the region of £75 – £250. 

Another alternative is to have a bespoke stock; a real luxury but worth it. I suggest waiting a little while for this, until you have honed your gun mounting skills and found your favoured discipline and not to mention saved a few pennies!

Just Let Me Shop and No One Gets Hurt!

I recommend going to a reputable gun shop or gun dealer.  If you go to a shooting ground with a gun shop, you will be able to try out second hand guns or demo guns; it is better to try the gun first so you can really feel what it is like to handle and shoot.  The gun shop should be able to advise you on a suitable gun for your needs and also on gun fit, but this is not always the case; I’ve plenty of clients who have been sold wholly inappropriate guns for them and ones that nowhere near fit, which is regrettable.

You can of course buy guns privately but you need to be savvy about what you’re buying and the value.  Always try out second hand guns to check the fit and that you like the feel of it but also that they function properly.  Look it over carefully; the more dinks and scratches the more use the gun has had.  Look closely for cracks in the stock and the overall condition of the gun and metal work.  Does it need re-bluing, is it rusty, are the barrels pitted?  Take it apart (stock, forend, barrels I mean, not the whole trigger system!) and see how clean it is and what condition it’s in.

Added Extras!

Barrel Length: It depends what you are shooting and your experience but as a novice lady, 28” will do just fine for most disciplines; maybe 30” for trap, but longer barrels are a little harder to control and heavier.  Remember, you want to enjoy your shooting!

Wood and Engraving: The higher the grade of wood and more intricate the engraving the more expensive the gun.  Nice to have but neither make you shoot better!

Adjustable Trigger: this is useful, especially if you have small hands or short fingers.

Detachable Trigger: Handy for safe storage if you’re away from home.  Just drop the trigger unit out and take it with you whilst you leave the gun discretely secured in your hotel room or out of sight in the boot of your car.  It makes for easier maintenance too.

Butt Pads:  These come in different materials (rubber, plastic or wood); different thicknesses can help you get the length of the stock right.  If the rubber pad catches on your shooting jacket, cover the end with insulating tape or swap it for a wooden one.

Multi Choke: This is a good option too, depending on the purpose of the gun.  It gives you flexibility for shooting different disciplines or different targets.  On the downside, chokes are another thing to stress about when shooting and they are a pain to clean!

The Final Result!

Good luck ladies and enjoy the journey and your new gun!  If the worst does happen and you end up with the wrong gun, you will have learned a lot about what you don’t want for next time.  You can then just trade your gun in and have the whole “new gun shopping experience” all over again!   Oh and don’t forget to give your new gun a name;  my Perazzi is called Percy!

By Nicki Wakeford

Freelance Shooting Coach, British Shooting Talent Pathway Coach

APSI Member, ISSF C Licence Coach, CPSA Safety Officer, Lantra Loader