Your First Gun
Written by Brownbear
The first thing to be aware of is the legal difference between a
shotgun and a firearm. Shotguns are smooth-bore guns which fire a load
of pellets, and hold up to three shots in the chamber and, if it is
magazine-loaded, the magazine. A shotgun like the Benelli semi-auto
holds three shots, but this also applies to pump-action and bolt-action
An over-and-under shotgun
Firearms are rifles, pistols (now mostly banned with a few
exceptions), and shotguns which hold more than three cartridges, such
as the big Benelli pump-action gun which I use for work.
Benelli Nova pump-action
One has the right to own a shotgun unless the Police can show a
reason why you cannot have one; in the case of firearms the onus in on
the shooter to show that they have a need to own one. ‘Need’ can mean
membership of a shooting club, or ownership of land with a pest species
that needs dealing with.
Some rifle cartridges
The firearm needs to be suitable for the quarry, so if you have rabbits
you can have a .22 or .17HMR rimfire rifle; if you have a fox problem
you can apply for a .222, .223, .22-250 or a .243 (these are heavier or
faster loads, used in 'centrefire' rifles as opposed to the 'rimfire
loads in the .22 Long cartridge); if you have deer you can apply for
.243 upwards. To demonstrate ‘need’ for a high-capacity shotgun you
have to show that you have a ‘serious avian infestation’.
Benelli M2 semi-automatic 8-shot FAC shotgun
When applying for a certificate, you need some passport photos, and if
it’s a firearm, land or access to land (a Letter of Authority to Shoot
from a landowner with a pest problem), or a membership card for a
shooting club. You need references from a ‘person of standing’ such as
a doctor, teacher, lawyer or analogous person who has known you for
more than two years and who will vouch that you are of good character.
One reference is required for shotguns, two for firearms (for firearms,
there will also be a Special Branch background check). People with a
criminal record for violence are unlikely to be granted a certificate,
but other offences, depending on the circumstances and the period of
time since the offence, are often not a bar - nicking sweets from the
corner shop when a kid is unlikely to stop you; duffing up people in
pubs will, rightly, ban you for life.
They will also check that your doctor is happy for you to have
access to a gun - if you're being treated for depression, or are an
alcoholic, or suffer from an ungovernable temper, you will not get a
certificate until the doctor thinks you're better. But this doesn't
necessarily stop you joining a shooting club and using the club guns -
though you should be honest about your circumstances when applying to
Not really the way we do things over here, old chap
You will also need security – a gun cabinet. If you are applying
for firearms, you need a separate secure storage point for the
ammunition and the bolts of the rifles (you can get cabinets with an
internal lockable compartment). The cabinet must be securely fixed, to
a solid – ideally internal – wall or floor, using metal bolts rather
than screws and rawlplugs. Thunderbolts are ideal for this, Rawlbolts
are OK but take a lot more fitting. A Police Firearms Enquiry Officer
will call to check/advise on your security, and will give you a rating
for the number of guns you may safely store. This will partly depend on
the cabinet size, on the address you live at, and your level of
security. In Devon and Cornwall, I had to have an alarm fitted in order
to keep more than five guns at home.
"Putting your gun away dirty is a sin!"
The FEO will also ask, even if it’s a shotgun not a firearm, where
you intend to use it. Although this is, in law, none of their business,
it's as well to tell them that you intend to join the clay club, or
that you are joining a shooting syndicate, or whatever.
For shotguns, there is no age limit (though you have to be at least two
to get the reference), but obviously parental consent is an issue for
some. The shotgun certificates, from application to grant, can take
anything between a week (as in Devon and Cornwall) and six months in
some areas. There's not a lot you can do to hurry them up other than to
recall that it's the squeaky wheel that gets the oil. Firearms Certs
tend to take a minimum of a month as the Special Branch check and
medical records check can take a while.
Then you need to buy your first gun. Don’t listen to people who tell
you you ‘need’ this or that gun depending on what is in vogue at the
moment. Over-and-under guns with enormously long barrels are ‘in’ at
the moment, so there are excellent bargains to be had on side-by-sides
of 26”-28” barrels. Guns whose chokes can be removed and replaced with
other chokes are also in. My big work pump gun has removable choke, but
I have no idea what choke is in there at the moment, and have never
changed them around. Money is better spent on shooting lessons than on
You need to find a gun that ‘fits’ you. This will depend on your
height, the angle of your shoulder, the length of your arms etc. If you
have fifty thou. to spend, go to Hollands and have one made. If you’re
a normal person, then go around second-hand gunshops and look at the
stock until you find one that’s right. It has to be comfortable. A
heavy gun will recoil less, but your shoulder will get used to recoil
before your arm gets used to elevating a man-portable howitzer. ‘Game’
guns weigh less than ‘sporting’ and ‘trap’ guns designed for
clayshooting. Personally, I prefer to go for a lighter, shorter gun
that I can shoot more easily, and if recoil is bothering me I’d use
Don’t assume that a 20-bore will have less recoil than a 12-bore:
putting 28g. of lead through a 12-bore tube will generate less recoil
than putting 28g. of lead through a narrower, 20-bore, tube. Remember
that you can fit a recoil pad to a gun, or have one fitted. Stocks can
be lengthened or shortened to improve fit.
There are lots of people – most of whom couldn’t hit a pig’s arse with
a banjo – who will tell you absurd things like “longer barrels are more
pointable”. I have often tried fruitlessly to make some sense out of
this gibberish. The gun you shoot best with is a comfortable gun, that
has a good ‘feel’ to it, that fits your build. A £100,000 Purdey (even
if gold-plated and engraved with nude ladies, as was one noisome object
the owner once showed me with pride) is not inherently more accurate
than a £150 second-hand AYA or Baikal. The more expensive guns are
usually better built and will last longer, but at first, start with
something cheap and find out what suits you. My own preference would be
for a shortish English side-by-side, but that’s just me. The best gun
for you is the one you shoot best with. If anyone tries to tell you
differently, just smile politely and offer them a stoat.
"Take a lesson" says the Marksmanship Stoat
It’s a very good idea to join BASC or some other shooting
organisation. Membership should include public liability insurance –
just in case. BASC’s is £10 million of cover.
Finally, an old bit of poetry – or doggerel if you prefer – on safety,
written by Mark Beaufoy of Coombe House, Shaftesbury, Dorset, England,
in 1902, on presenting his eldest son, Henry Mark, with his first gun.
A FATHER'S ADVICE TO HIS SON
If a sportsman true you'd be
Listen carefully to me. . .
Never, never let your gun
Pointed be at anyone.
That it may unloaded be
Matters not the least to me.
When a hedge or fence you cross
Though of time it cause a loss
From your gun the cartridge take
For the greater safety's sake.
If twixt you and neighboring gun
Bird shall fly or beast may run
Let this maxim ere be thine
"Follow not across the line."
Stops and beaters oft unseen
Lurk behind some leafy screen.
Calm and steady always be
"Never shoot where you can't see."
You may kill or you may miss
But at all times think this:
"All the pheasants ever bred
Won't repay for one man dead."
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