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Gun show tips, tricks and mistakes

by B.B. Pelletier

I have to write this report while it’s still fresh in my mind! I had a table at the Dallas Arms Collector’s Show this past weekend and had another chance to study human nature and salesmanship firsthand. Some of the things I learned were priceless if you want to either buy or sell airguns, firearms and related things.

Know what you have
This seems obvious. Why would anyone put something up for sale if they didn’t have a clue what it was? And, to compound the error, they then demand top dollar for it! Oh, they could find out what the value was — they just didn’t bother learning anything else! Here are two examples.

I saw a zimmerstutzen on a table at this show. A zimmersutzen is a small-caliber target rifle used for indoor competition at 15 meters in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Until 10-meter air rifles came out in the 1950s, zimmerstutzens were the most accurate close-range rifles. I wrote a large article about them if you want to know more about the type.

So, here’s a zimmerstutzen. It’s a low- to medium-quality example, but it has the rear sight that’s often missing and the price is $1,200. If I really bargained, I think I could have bought it for $1,000, which it’s certainly worth. But, when I asked the dealer what caliber it was, he said it was a 4mm! All zimmerstutzens are 4mm, but that’s just a generic caliber. There are more that 20 different actual calibers of these guns, and it really matters that you get it right! It’s the same as asking the caliber of a Beeman R1 and being told that it’s a pellet rifle.

So, here’s a guy selling something for $1,200, and he hasn’t got a clue what caliber it is! Why isn’t this a $500 gun? What makes it worth $1,200? If I asked him that question, he might have responded that he found that was what people were asking for them when he looked them up online. Why didn’t he go the extra mile and find out what caliber it was? Oh, and he had two tins of ammunition for the rifle — both of which were in the wrong caliber, because we finally figured out that this was a No. 5 new-number gun, which is 4.2mm.

Well, he wasn’t really interested in that gun — he simply wanted to sell it. If you think that way, too, it’s time to adjust your attitude. When you have something valuable to sell, it’s your responsibility to know as much about it as you can. I know there are people who disagree with me about that, but they should expect super low-ball offers from me if they have anything I want.

Second example was a vintage Winchester model ’73 on a table behind us at the show. It was in .32/20 caliber — a caliber my gun buddy loves. The rifle had a $1,200 price tag on it, which is low but in line with the outer condition of this particular gun. My buddy asked what the bore looked like, and the seller said he had no idea! I believe him, because his bore light was buried in a box and took a long time to locate.

When he finally did look down the bore, the rifling was completely gone. Now, this always raises suspicion in the mind of the buyer. Why didn’t the guy just tell him the condition, and they could go from there? Well, believe it or not, this guy doesn’t care about the condition his guns are in! He cares about what he pays for them and what he sells them for, and nothing beyond that. What he didn’t know was that my buddy was loaded with cash and was ready to make a lot more deals if this one hadn’t gone sour!

Leave me alone!
I hate it when I’m looking at something on someone’s table and they jump on me like they have a quota and I’m just the one to fill it! If I want to see something closer, I’ll ask to see it. I don’t need to be dragged into a conversation about the weather, local politics, sport or how cute your grandkid/dog is. I avoid those tables that operate like a fraternity pledge rush.

Don’t get me wrong on this. I’ll carry on a short conversation with just about anybody on any topic. What I’m referring to goes way beyond that. At a show about a year ago, there was a knife dealer with beautiful Damascus knives for sale at unbelievable prices. But the guy had a motor-mouth on him that drove the customers away like a cattle prod. Every time he went to the men’s room and asked Edith and I to watch his table, we lined up five or six sales for when he returned. But after they were done, his mouth got started and the force-field around his table formed again. At the end of the show, he confided that this had been the worst show he’d ever attended. But I think they’re all the worst shows, because I have seen him in action.

Use a crowd-pleaser
At this show, I put a small educational display on my table. It was two Remington replica revolvers that had been “aged” to look vintage. I put a small sign with them titled “Made to Deceive.” That display stopped hundreds of people at my table! I can’t say that it brought me one more sale, but it certainly stopped people from rushing past my table altogether.

I told my gun buddy who had two tables next to mine what I was going to do, and he brought a kid’s ping-pong shooter from the 1950s for the top of his gun rack. It did the same thing as my display, and he did get a lot more sales as a result. I guess he’s better with people than I am.

The point is to have something unusual on your table to get the conversation started. I had about 20 offers to buy my display; but when I told them what I’d invested in the two guns, they knew the display wasn’t really for sale. Nobody got mad, and a couple guys even asked me how to age replica guns like mine had been aged. I wonder what was on their minds?

If you need it — bring it
The guys who know what I’m about to address don’t have to be told; and those who don’t, never seem to get it. Let’s say you’re going to an airgun show. What do you suppose you’ll find there? Airguns, perhaps? And what do airguns shoot? Pellets and BBs? So, why would anyone having a table at an airgun show, where it’s customary to be able to step outside and shoot guns safely, not know to carry ammunition for the airguns he intends selling?

Know what I’ve heard them say? “I thought there would be dealers here with pellets to sell.” Well, there are, but does the person who might be interested in your Diana model 25 for $100 really want to spend $8 to buy a fresh tin of pellets just to pop off three shots on the test range? Are you willing to pony up the $8 so he can try your gun? Duh!

You know what these people do? They go mooch pellets off the dealers who do have them. I’ve seen Scott Pilkington open a bulk pack of 5,000 Vogel target pellets, because Johnny Cheapskate couldn’t be bothered to bring 10 pellets for that $40 Crosman 130 pistol on his table.

Or, what about the guy who’s trying to sell a .50-caliber Dragon Claw and didn’t bring any means of charging it? You’ll see him floating around the room, trying to befriend everyone who has a scuba tank under their table.

Avoid the dogs
I saw something really sad at this gun show. A guy came up with a Winchester model 1894 rifle that had been made in 1896 in .25-35 caliber. The bore was perfect (it had been rebarreled by Winchester), and the outside of the octagonal barrel had 30 percent of the original blue remaining! But the gun had a broken tang that had been brazed back in place, and the saddle ring stud had been cut off flush with the receiver. The stock was also loose. So, now a $1,500 rifle wasn’t worth $500 to me. The guy said he really needed the money and had turned down $1,000 for it only two weeks before. I knew he needed the money, but just because he did, that did not mean I had to pay what I considered to be way too much for a wreck I could never turn around.

The lesson is that once a dog, always a dog. No amount of rarity or other features can overcome major detractors like this gun had. That guy will hear the same thing from person after person as he tries to sell that gun. And he wasn’t the only guy with something that was ruined. Another guy had a Colt Bisley revolver with what he said was the original factory nickel. Well, not only was it not original — it also wasn’t nickel. It was chrome! And no Colt Bisley was ever plated with chrome. In fact, only a very few firearms have ever been chrome-plated, but a lot of new collectors don’t know that. They hear about chrome-plated guns all the time, and they assume that it’s correct. What’s really happening is that people are calling nickel-plated guns the wrong thing. Does it matter? You betcha! A Bisley with factory nickel could bring $2,500, if it’s a good one. A chromed Bisley is worth about $400 as a shooter or a wall-hanger.

I’ll never forget the guy who brought to my table a Winchester model 92 in .25-20 caliber. It had maybe 30-40 percent finish and looked to be worth $800-1,200 — until the guy told me he had it rebored to .357 Magnum, because .25-20 ammo was just too hard to find. I told him no thanks right away. He had just turned his collectible rifle into a Uberti replica!

In other words, just because an FWB 300 is usually money in the bank, the one whose barrel has been cut off and whose stock has been shortened for kids is a dog that’s worth very little. Most buyers will cruise right on past it, looking for a better gun. There’s a reason you’re able to buy it for $250, and that’s about all it will ever be worth.

author avatar
Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)
Tom Gaylord, also known as B.B. Pelletier, provides expert insights to airgunners all over the world on behalf of Pyramyd AIR. He has earned the title The Godfather of Airguns™ for his contributions to the industry, spending many years with AirForce Airguns and starting magazines dedicated to the sport such as Airgun Illustrated.

16 thoughts on “Gun show tips, tricks and mistakes”

  1. Don’t know why comments were not allowed on this blog. The default is to allow comments. Thanks to Kevin’s alerting me, they’re allowed now..


  2. Some sellers won’t even take the time to check the actual value of what they are
    selling.They ask outrageous prices just because it looks old or collectable and most
    of the time aren’t even into guns. I see it all the time in our local paper when some
    sellers are asking as much or more as buying new.When it comes to older guns, firearm and air it
    really gets crazy you have to be aware and really shop around and walk the floor many times to get a feel of what’s on the tables.

  3. The Winchester 92 re-barreled to .357 Mag. would be a great gun to shoot in Cowboy Action Matches.
    I would buy one like that………..if the price was right. Like you said, it will always be just a shooter.


  4. Hi BB,
    I am sorry I missed the show. I think it would have been cheaper than my trips to Home Depot, Harbor Freight, and a Pet Store.

    I used to work the local gun shows with a friend of mine. My friend owned the guns and we had 3 or 4 tables worth of used guns out and I just helped him sell guns. We were very successful.

    One thing we did was to keep the guns clean. We were always wiping the guns off. We kept jewelry polish and rags with us and it was amazing what a little TLC can do to a blued or chrome gun.

    We were also alert to every gun that walked by. The money to be made at gun shows is in the buy, not the sell. It is easy to sell guns that you bought right. We sold the guns we bought at low markups. It was common to sell a gun for $10 or $15 more than we bought it for. We moved a bunch of guns and anytime you are selling a gun others slow down to see what is being bought, which created other buyers.There were not many guns that walked by that we didn’t get a look at. Most of the time, the guy wanted something else and didn’t have the cash so he brought something to trade. It’s hard to find dealers who will swap guns unless it is really one sided so we had the opportunity to buy a lot of guns at reasonable prices.

    We tried to strike up a conversation with everyone who walked by at least long enough to slow them down enough to look at the stuff on our tables. That might have turned you off but it worked for us.

    I really enjoyed those days at the gun shows but it was easier to do it when I was single than it is being married with kids at home.

    • David,

      Yes! Buying and trading guns at a gun show it great business. And I didn’t mean to imply that I don’t like to talk. It’s just that some people are overbearing motormouths, and won’t let you go until you have heard their life’s story.


      • B.B. we all know the types!!

        But buy’n and sell’n, boy do I love it. Where I live right now, I’m on a pretty busy 5 acres and the owner of it (owned by it?) is off sailing around the South Pacific so I’ve been busy taking care of everything, plus doing some EPA lab work for the guy, so I got out garage-sale’ing ONE Saturday. But I got a hee-yuge solar panel and a quality one, for $20. And several hundred syringes for $20. And some other interesting stuff. But we’re talking, spend $40 sell for $400 the standard markup.

        The *other* Saturday I played hookey for, my car died and it was tow truck city. At least it was only a few miles from home. The guy I got the car from is coming by this afternoon to help me swap out the fuel pump. Yeah I could do it myself but… he won’t let me pay him but I’ll buy him a good lunch, to get ‘er done. Really good guy, I say, buy your bikes at the local bike shop and your cars at the local bike shop.

        But the buying and selling, Oh what a sport! It’s very misunderstood. As an example, I had an HP-16C calculator for sale on Craig’s List. A very collectible, and not really, these days, practical machine. What a find. I’d gotten it for $1 at a garage sale because it was “small”. I had a guy ready to drive over from quite a distance away, to buy it for $200 to use in surveying, maybe taking his exam. I did a little research and told the guy this calc was NOT right for him, and in fact he can buy Model A or Model B from HP for less, one “legal” for the exam, one used by practicing surveyors. I told him *not* to buy this calculator from me because it would not be right for him. An acquaintance I told this story to was blown away that I’d not just take the money and run, since I eventually sold the 16C to a sharp collector for $150. He was flabbergasted. And that’s the difference. If you are fair and good to the people you buy from, and sell to, you can make your part and be liked and respected. I’m sure you’re the epitome of this.

        • Hi Flobert. We were selling at a large meet one Saturday. A man who was obviously not comfortable with bargaining asked shyly if I would sell him my $70 pottery kiln for $60. I’m sorry, I told him gravely, I can’t let you have it for more than $50. Then I watched as what I told him sank in. He was happy, I was happy, and doing little courtesies like that made me very pleased to give someone an unlooked for gift.

          • Better one than that Joe. A fellow was looking for help after he left his lights on his car all day. He ran up to me and asked “Do you happen to have a set of jumper cables?” I replied “No…,” waited for him to turn and then finished “I carry them on purpose.”


  5. Loooove crowd-pleasers. At swap meets I bring a box of “thank you” bags and hand ’em out not only to any of my customers who need one, but anyone I see walking by who’s struggling to carry stuff. Weird, huh? I figure for every bag I give out, I’m probably making $1 more in sales. Just plain old good will.

    I’m swamped, just did an overnighter to get some lab work done, whew I mean blahhhhh…..

    But a bright spot (not for him though) is a shot a possum with my faithful and beloved Daisy 880 last night. Now, this was after he was in the hav-a-hart trap and he was making noise so I wanted to calm him down a little. But I didn’t want to shoot a .22 at 2AM. So I used a pointed pellet in the heart/lung area and darned if it didn’t work! In fact dare I say, about as quick a death as I’d have gotten with the .22. This possum is smallish, bigger than a squirrel but a bit smaller than a cat. But the buggers have always seemed to be so tough that anything less than a “magnum” airgun, fuhgeddabouddit. But with my airguns I tend to use pellets like RWS’s “Hobby”, target-type wadcutters. Instead this was an RWS “Superpoint” and essentially, this is the same kind of thing the archers try for: Make a hole through their heart/lung area and they’re probably going to get all leaky inside and go to sleep. Gorey but useful to know if you have a pest that needs controlling and don’t want to make the neighbors nervous.

  6. A lot of times people don’t know what they have. Remember when you (tom) bought the little spring round ball shooter at a flea market and the guy said it was a squirt gun! You bought it for $5 and Edith sold it for $500!

  7. Pete in California,

    I had to remove your very passionate comment. Unfortunately, you used some words that are not allowed on this site. If you like, you can repost a new version. Please don’t use XX or anything else to replace certain letters in offending words. We’re trying to keep this a G-rated site.

    I hope you understand my position.


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