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January 28, 2008

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On Cheap Rifles

I recently got a plaintive letter (it smelled strongly of government cheese) from a young man who asked me to write something about cheap rifles that ordinary people could afford. Very well.

During my formative years as a shooter, I was as poor as a church mouse (actually, a church mouse was too wealthy to be me) and could only afford cheap rifles. The first centerfire rifle I bought was a Model 340 Savage in .222, and it was a true inanimate hideosity. It cost something like $50 used (in 1961), but it shot acceptably and went bang when you pulled the trigger.

My next rifle was also a Savage--a new Model 110 left-hand .22/250. It was a  better than the .340, but not much. It had a soda-straw barrel with a rear-sight bulge (but no rear sight), a stock that would have doubled nicely as a canoe paddle, and a 15-pound trigger with lots of creep. But it was cheap.

Eventually I replaced the stock and had the trigger stoned down to a dangerously light pull, but I still had a cheap rifle.

It was about this time that I met John Dewey, Larry Koller, and Russ Carpenter who, along with their other talents, were fine gunsmiths, and took the trouble to explain to me that a cheap rifle almost always had something major wrong with it, and would not allow you to do your best shooting (or in some cases, even acceptable shooting), and that no matter how you cobbled on it, it would never really be right.


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steve thompson

IF that 400 dollar REMINGTON is a semi auto it's not gonna be cheap when the s. o. b . jams and cost you a trophy . You get what you pay for , as far as cheap i'd go with a single shot 12 gauge good for small game and capable of shooting slugs .

steve thompson

PETZAL is right on target when he says sell it. If you have no confidence in the weapon it will never be right for you. On the other hand some weapons that might not be right for you, may well suit me.

WA Mtnhunter

Ralph the Rifleman

I think I have posted how I came by my .35 Whelen. I bought a new M70 Winchester .338 Win Mag for my first elk gun. While trying to get the damn thing to group better than 3" @ 100 yds, I bruised my shoulder to the point I could no longer fire it. Next day that kicker went back to the gun shop where I found the M700 Classic .35 Whelen that I should have bought in the first place.

That .35 Whelen shoots sub-MOA when I am doing my part and has been my go-to gun for years. It was used but like new when I bought it in 1989. And by the way, I ain't a skeered of them bears when armed with it!

Steve T.

The old autoloader Remington 742 of my father-in-law's has never jammed to my knowledge and any of us would be proud of the game it has put in the back of the truck. Perhaps your experience is different with Remington autoloaders.


I drive a 12-year-old Saturn.

I shoot a Savage Model 10 (with AccuTrigger, makes a difference).

While I admire the beauty of cars costing $50,000 and guns costing $2,000, my car and my rifle both do the jobs they were purchased for, and I can do other things with the leftover cash, like save for my kid's college. Oh, yeah, and pay the health insurance that costs more than my mortgage.

I would be tempted to put my "tax rebate" into a nice firearm, but I am afraid I will have to contribute it to the State of Connecticut, which will levy higher taxes to make up for the lost Federal revenue from the rebate. So I'll stick with the Saturn and Savage in the low-class rod and gun club.

Jim in Mo.

I love to go to gun shows on opening night and look everything over. If somethings nice but too much money I'll go back the last day and if the rifle is still there most dealers are much more willing to dicker with me on a price rather than pack another gun home.


I dont know about cheap rifles. I bought my first rifle two days after i got my PAL. It is a old coverted p-17 30-06 that has a big chip out of just behind the bolt and a ruined recol pad i also picked up a used scope. I replaced the recoil pad and gave the gun a good cleaning. So for 300 dollars total and a lot of time she doesnt look real pretty but she shoots less then a inch .

Most new shooters i find dont want to buy a used rifle just becasue it isnt brandnew. Thats fine in dandy for me casue i like older rifles. An example is my boss bought a Remington 770 over an old model 70 becasue it was used and had a few scatches. He spent 200 dollars more and got a rifle that doesnt shoot anywhere near that model 70. I bought it and then sold it to my brother It groups about an 1 1/2 .

If it aint new most people dont want it.

Jim in Mo.

The older ones are the pretty ones. Some stocks on new rifles in $600-750 range have a flat stain finish so you can't see the wood grain. My guess is their hiding a cheap Birch piece of wood like that used on my old inexpensive Savage 311 double.


You folks need to know the Bible says, "Beware the man with the price of a dog in his pocket!".

Cheap rifles!

Well, knew a guy that went by an old TG&Y back in the early 70's to pick up a BB gun for his son. The gun was like $12.95. He argued with the clerk that the Mod 94 Winchester was not a BB gun. Well, about 5 minutes worth of arguing and the clerk finally won. BJ walked out with a .30-30 for $12.95 + tax.

The NEF Handi-rifle is tough to beat for cheap. It's really hard to cram "cheap" and "good" into one sentence. NEF does about as good a job of it as anyone else!



Since we are discussing cheap guns we might as well include deals that people have stumbled into. A friend was shooting pool with another guy not to long ago. During the evening the conversation changed to handguns. The other fellow told my friend that he had an old pistol he would sell. He said he bought the baby Browning new many many years ago, that it was in excellent condition in the original Browning leatherette case and manual, with a box of Remington .25 ACPs missing about 5 rounds. Stan went to the guy's home and sure enough it was as described. "What do you want?" The guy replied "I paid about 50 bucks for the pistol and a few dollars for the ammo, so I won't budge off $50.00 for all of it". SOLD!!!!


Hey GMan, long time no read!
It never occured to me to look at new guns. A good quality used firearm will last a lot longer than me. What scares me more than anything else is having to buy online. A month or so back, somebody posted that they had a problem with a seller on one of the gun sites. It wasn't the site, it was one of the vendors.
I wish I knew more about buying online.

SD Bob

One day while buying bait to go ice fishing I made my normal detour through the stores firearm area. Along with the 2 dollar tub of wax worms I added a 300 dollar model 700bdl in .243. That was 4 years ago. The gun truely loves 95 grain ballistic tips. Turns out the gun was on consignment from a poor chap who was going through a divorce and needed money fast. I was the first one in the store and the only one to look at the rifle rifle. There truly are gems out there for great prices

Scott in Ohio

First, I assume most of the comments that mention “cheap” are referring to “low-cost” or “inexpensive” prices for money spent on a cheap (i.e. poor quality) gun is money WASTED. Cash-strapped college students take note! Many of us have learned that the hard way.

Looking back on the prices I’ve paid for used rifles over the past decade I note they ranged between $280 and $400 (no glass). These have all been shooters with honest wear that did not need repairs except for stock touch-ups. They included two M-141s, a M-760 and a M-700 BDL Remington, two Savage 99s, a Marlin 336 and a39A, and a Browning BLR and A-Bolt.

I’ve never bought a gun from a pawn shop but on the high praise from the members of this blog I may start to visit some of those soon. I’ve had luck at gun shows, independent gun shops, and Cabelas and Gander Mountain stores. The time between Christmas and tax time (April 15) is great time to pick up quality, used guns.

On a closing note to DP; my grand mother used to get government cheese; a mild cheddar heavy on the butterfat. Best damn “cheap” cheese I ever ate.


I notice the Remington 742 has made it into the discussion. This gun seems to be one that people either love or hate; I fall into the latter category. I have never seen one that did not jam or break.

My father has one that he received as a Christmas present the first year Remington manufactured them. Apparently it jammed from the moment he got it. He sent it back to Remington on multiple occassions, but they never managed to solve the problem. Finally, a machinist my grandfather knew took the gun apart and honed and polished every part of it. The hone and polish solved the jamming problem, but did nothing to address the fact that the best group the rifle will shoot is about 6 inches at 100 yards. He still has the gun--sentimental value I suppose--and I have tried every conceivable load possible trying to improve the groups; I finally gave up.

Had this been my only experience with these rifles, I might be willing to chalk it up to a lemon; unfortunately, it is not my only experience. My best friend in high school had one that jammed at least once every clip. One of my uncles won a new one at a firehouse auction; he managed to shoot it four times before the bolt broke off the carriage that it slides on.


I am amazed that Dave failed to mention that other than inheriting money, a college age person could marry money. It is just as easy to fall in love with a rich girl as a poor one. I know, I tried but it didn't work out for some reason.

On the other hand, many good used rifles can be found in "shotgun only" states like Illinois or Iowa. I found a gem of a Ruger RSI, tang safety, in 250 Savage for less than $450. I forgot to mention it had a Leupold compact 2x7 scope on top.

I’m surprised nobody has addressed cheap versus inexpensive. Not to split hairs but these are different topics and I’ve seen plenty of cheap rifles that cost a nice piece of change. Slap on a composite stock and no-name scope and you’ll be amazed how great a piece of crap can look from 10 feet. The old lipstick on a pig routine.

Buying a gun is not where you want to practice false economy. If you don’t know what you’re doing, waiting until you can find someone willing to help that does.

Bernie Kuntz

Dave is right--most good gun stores have a used rack where you can stumble upon some good deals.

I had the incredible good luck of having a father who bought a Sako Forester .243 for me at age 12, and a 7mm Weatherby Magnum at age 16. This was in the 1960s. I still have both rifles, although the 7mm is on its second barrel, has been refinished several times, and the .243 has been restocked.

I had my .280 Rem. built in the winter of 1967-68 when I was a college student at North Dakota State U. I had an Ackley barrel put on a Sako action and a Fajen stock with AA American black walnut. (I remember choosing the AA instead of the AAA because the former was $60 or so cheaper.) In late '68 I quit college and enlisted in the Marine Corps. After I got out in '71 I sprang for a Reinhart-Fajen oakleaf checkering pattern in 22 lpi on that .280. Cost was $65. I still own the rifle. So it can be done.

Today, for a fellow who has never made a lot of money, I own an impressive collection of firearms. However, I don't own a boat, snowmobile, motorcycle, ATV, and I drive a 14-year-old pickup.
One has to set his priorities.


Chad Love,
I have one of those rifles that you would not mix paint with. I guess I got lucky because it groups sub MOA at 100 yards and once it was broke in. I.E. I put some rounds through it the action was not so stiff any more and the trigger breaks nice and clean at 4 pounds.
I bought it as a mercy purchase before my favorite gun store closed their doors and auctioned every thing off the next week. Customer Loyalty and Appreciation.


That's where i went wrong -my motorcycle! i think there are two kinds of cheap and only one has to do with the price. I recently bought a model 94 at a gun show for $325 dollars with a bushnell 3x9 scope mounted on it.In new rifles i would think one of the better deals out there for the money is the weatherby vangaurd. more rifle for the money than a lot of the used rifles that are being mentioned, its no beauty queen but who cares?


Cut your self some slack on the motorcycle driving. In the summer 45 to 50 MPG versus 16 to 18MPG means you can afford to buy a new or used rifle at the end of summer in time for hunting season. I drive a vintage 1982 Honda Magna V45 that gets 50MPG my 1997 Chevy Blazer only gets 17. Besides the who needs air conditioning when you have the open air at 60MPH.


to anyone interested:

i bought a mossberg 500 combo set (smooth bore barrel and a rifled barrel) for under $300 new. look at Dick's sporting goods for sales. match that with a nikon prostaff scope 3x9 - 40 for about a $100 and i absolutely love it! my brother owns 3 of them and not a single problem.

Clay Cooper

30-30 Marlin, affordable and reliable

Clay Cooper

Mini-14 most overpriced rifle on the market!

Black Rifle Addict

Buying used guns at a GREAT price does depend on dumb luck and good timing. I have seen a ton of used guns for sale at the Gander Mountain store chain and they are not a "pawn shop price", which I was told by one of there former manager's is where they buy some of the used guns;Pawn shops!
Unless you happen upon someone strapped for money, or the gun is tolen, most avid shooters KNOW what a gun is worth or can find out rather quickly with a check on the internet. To me, buying new makes sense to avoid any warranty, or safety, issues and unless you really stumble into a great deal you don't save a ton of money buying used. As Dave as pointed out, people sell things "cheap" for a reason.


Hey Yooper,

I live online. I buy a lot of stuff online, but I just couldn't bring myself to try to buy a firearm over the Net.

It's one of those things you gotta heft and look at real close before you pull out your wallet.

Ralph the Rifleman

When I sold guns, the 710 was appealing by price, but once a customer looked it over it was a hard sale to make! Having said this, I don't recall this gun being returned for factory service, on average, more then any other rifle we sold? Some customers had similar results as you had, while many sold them off as soon as possible!( the Dave Petzal sell and run process) Either way, Remington has responded by dropping this model for a slightly improved 720.Let's see how this model fares out. Me personally, I would have purchased a Savage model in the same price range with a better reputation on the shooting range and afield.
Just my humble ole opinion..

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