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Air Guns Gun show tips, tricks and mistakes

Gun show tips, tricks and mistakes

by B.B. Pelletier

This report covers:

  • Know what you have
  • Leave me alone!
  • Use a crowd-pleaser
  • If you need it — bring it
  • Avoid the dogs
  • Summary

Years ago I had a table at the Dallas Arms Collector’s Show and had a great 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 were able to 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, there was a zimmerstutzen on this seller’s table. It was a low-to-medium-quality example, but it had the rear sight that is often missing. The price was $1,200. If I really bargained I think I could have bought it for $1,000, which it was 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. A .22 Winchester model 90 pump gun is a .22, all right. But it can be a .22 Winchester Rimfire (WRF) cartridge that’s no longer made. Back to the zimmerstutzen, there are more than 20 different actual calibers of these guns and if you want to shoot this one, it really matters that you get it right! 

So — here was a guy selling something for $1,200 and he hadn’t a clue what caliber it is! What made it worth $1,200? If I asked him that question he might have responded that when he looked them up on line he found that was what people were asking for them. 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 rifle was a number 5 new-number gun, which is 4.2 mm.

Well, the seller 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, but they should expect super low-ball offers from me, if they have anything I want.

A second example was a vintage Winchester model ’73 on another table. 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 for that model, but in line with the outer condition of the gun. So my buddy asked what the bore looked like and the seller said he had no idea! I believed him, because his bore light was buried in a box and took a long time to locate.

When we 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 of the bore 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, but nothing beyond that. What he didn’t know was my buddy was loaded with cash and was ready to make a deal, 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 are the Welcome Wagon with a quota to fill and I’m just the one to fill it! If I want to see something closer, I will ask to see it. I don’t need to be dragged into a conversation about the weather, local politics, sports or how cute your grandkids or your dog is. I avoid those tables that operate like a welcome committee for the local lodge hall recruitment program. 

Don’t get me wrong on this. I will carry on a short conversation with just about anybody on any topic. What I’m referring to goes way beyond that. At a different show I once attended there was a knife dealer with beautiful Damascus knives for sale at unbelievably low 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 me to watch his table I 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 ever attended. After seeing him in action I think they are all the worst shows.

Use a crowd-pleaser

At one airgun 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 passing me by altogether. You guys have seen those two firearms in past reports.

Made to deceive
I put these two fake Remington cap and ball revolvers and the sign on my table at a gun show. It sparked a lot of interest!

I told my gun buddy who had two tables next to mine at that same show what I was going to do and he brought a kid’s ping-pong ball 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 was better with people than I am.

The point is, 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 had invested in the two guns, they knew the display wasn’t really for sale. So 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 to do what I’m about to address don’t have to be told, and those who don’t know it never seem to get it. Let’s say you are going to an airgun show. What do you suppose you will find there — airguns, perhaps? And what do airguns shoot? Pellets and BBs? So, why would anyone have airguns for sale on a table at an airgun show, where it is customary to be able to step outside and shoot guns safely, and not know to carry ammunition for the airguns they intend selling?

Know what I have 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? No? Duh!

You know what these people do? They go mooch pellets off the dealers who do have them. I have seen Scott Pilkington open a bulk pack of 5,000 Vogel target pellets, because Johnny Cheapskate couldn’t be bothered to bring ten pellets for that $40 Crosman 137 pistol on his table.

Or, what about the guy who is trying to sell a .50 caliber Seneca Dragon Claw II who 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. And when he finds one — oops — he also forgot to bring the fill coupling!

Hunting Guide

Avoid the dogs

I saw something really sad at one gun show. A guy came up with a Winchester model 1894 rifle in .25-35 caliber that had been made in 1896. That makes it an antique, so no FFL dealers is needed to transact the deal. You just buy it for cash and you’re done.

The bore was perfect (it had been re-barreled by Winchester) and the outside of the octagon 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. The guy said he really needed the money and had turned down $1,000 only two weeks before. I knew he needed the money, but just because he did doesn’t mean that I had to pay what I considered to be way too much for a wreck I could never turn around.

The lesson is, 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! 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, when what’s really happening is people are calling nickel-plated guns the wrong thing. Does it matter? You betcha! A Bisley with factory nickel could bring $3,500, if it’s a good one. A chromed Bisley is worth about $700 as a shooter or a wall-hanger.

Bisley
Most Colt Bisley’s are blued like this one. A nickel-plated one is rare.

I’ll never forget the guy who brought a Winchester model 92 in .25-20 caliber to my table. 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. 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 is a reason you are able to buy it for $250. That’s about all it will ever be worth.

Summary

I know today’s report has mostly been about firearms, but the truths still hold for airguns. If you are attending an airgun show or displaying and selling at one, know what you have!

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.

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

      • Halfstep,

        No need for embarrassment! Occasionally i know the slang term of the moment. I gave up long ago trying to keep on top of it, LIKE when Cool became Kool and Hep Cat became Hip and like was not just used to tell someone how you felt about them.

        The non Polish shootski…

  1. B.B.,

    Bring some easy targets and a box filled with rubber mulch just in case the show organizer forgot good backstops.
    Errata: in the paragraph just before: Avoid the dogs “Or, what about the gun(guy) who is trying to sell a .50 caliber Seneca Dragon Claw II who didn’t bring any means of charging it?

    For the Readership
    not hip to Yogi’s Slang: fun tickets
    Is CASH not intended for things you need…just for things you desire.

    shootski

      • CKChevrolet.

        I went online and see that it is indeed available. HOWEVER — CCI has loaded the only round they make with a jacketed bullet that’s guaranteed to wear out the barrel of a vintage rifle in short order. But Winchester still loads it with a lead bullet — and the price is reasonable! I sold my model 90 decades ago because ammo wasn’t available. I must have not looked hard enough.

        Thanks for your comment.

        BB

        • The cartridge was also called the 22 Remington Special, at least by Remington on the rifles and ammo made by them. I have a Remington Model 12 pump chambered for it. Octagonal barrel, curved butt plate, take-down. Bought it long years ago with a box and a half of Remington shells, and over the next decade or so managed to gather up a few more boxes, all Remington brand.

          Then (seemingly) all of a sudden ammo was being made for it again. I bought a whole “brick” of Winchester WRF commerative boxes from Midway or Cabela’s. And since it’s been pretty commonly available from someone somewhere.

          Strangely, during the pandemic when rimfire ammo of any sort was hard to come by, the 22 WRF stuff was still available. Having a few 22 WMRF firearms I couldn’t find shells for, I was comforted by the old 22 Rem Spl’s.

  2. My one and only gunshow purchase was an m1 carbine when I was still in high school. I’d been hearing the media go on nonstop about the “gun show loophole” and decided to try it. Of course I got a mild scolding from the seller and had to call my mother to come make the purchase, but I did get my carbine. Seems like now gunshows consist mostly of overpriced food and tazer phone cases, maybe they’ll come back around one day or I’m just attending the wrong ones.

  3. I have so enjoyed attending airgun shows. It is an opportunity to see the latest and greatest next to true antiques. I have seen all of the mistakes and techniques that BB speaks of. Probably the most important point from BB is to know what you are buying and selling. With such knowledge, I have been able to make some incredible deals and more importantly, I have known when to walk away.

    Another side benefit has been that I have met and gotten to know some of the folks who we find on this very blog. It has been my privilege to meet with those who have bothered to journey to far off places like Roanoke and Newton.

    I have also been blessed with the opportunities to get to know some of the “great” names in the airgun community such as BB, Lloyd Sikes, Larry Hannusch, Mike Reames to name but a few.

    Will I be attending other airgun shows? You betcha. Even if I do not add to my “collection” at RRHFWA, I will add to my knowledge and experience.

  4. Fun read, good tips for all To Whom It May Concern, both browsers/buyers and exhibitors/sellers. Here is another type that never fails to turn FM off: the anxious, jittery seller who is more concerned you might handle his prides and joys without permission and/or improperly and who displays “Do Not Touch!” signs all over his display tables. Uh, we get it, dude. Some of us are actually grown-ups who understand the related protocol and etiquette involving interactions with other’s property. Likely, that fearful and untrusting attitude will cost them a sale, or two…or three.

    Case in point: at a show held at the Fairgrounds in W Palm Beach FL two or three years ago, there was one of these jittery types manning a table mostly consisting of WWII artifacts and documents. He did have a very nice German .22 single-shot bolt action military trainer – can’t remember the manufacturer but it was not Gustloff Werke – that even included the cleaning rod which is often missing in these. FM approached with hands behind his back to signal “do not touch signs read and acknowledged, hands put on safety” and merely leaned over to take a closer look at the gun. Almost immediately, Mr. Jittery jumped up to warn FM “to be careful and not touch the metals!,” to which yours truly responded, “have no intention of touching or picking up the rifle, sir; thought it looked nice and was surprised to see it included the cleaning rod.” At this he proceeded to give an unsolicited dissertation on “how nice his rifle was and yes, most don’t have the rod and these are not easy to find and my price is very reasonable.” Actually, his price was very reasonable given the good condition the rifle was in, but by then the seller’s jumpy and grating behavior had turned FM off and it was time to walk away. “Thank you sir, but already own one in comparable condition and I’m confident a cleaning rod will be found for it or maybe I’ll even have one made.”

    FM spotted the guy at a couple more shows after that. The .22 trainer was still on his table. Do hope to see more airgun tables and displays at future shows down here; one of my friends said there were several airgun vendors and/or exhibitors at the last one.

  5. BB,
    I used to work the DFW gun shows with a friend of mine. These were big shows with over 1000 tables. We felt that we did much better by engaging the customers walking the isles than by just sitting back and keeping our mouth shut. It did help that we were very familiar with the types of guns we sold. If one person stops to look at guns on your table, others will also stop. At a big show, getting anyone to slow down enough to actually see what you have for sale is important. We also asked to see guns customers were walking around with and often bought these guns. We had relationships with other vendors which were buyers for guns that didn’t fit our table. These guys were a wealth of information for us.

  6. B.B.,

    “The force-field around his table formed again.” I chuckled out loud!

    Here’s one: CASH CASH CASH CASH! If you are looking for a $2000 to $3000 air rifle, bring $4000 CASH.

    Michael

  7. I like to look at all the tables first to see the goodies without much conversation unless I know someone. Then I go back to whatever tweaks my fun tickets. I don’t touch anything without asking and never touch metal parts unless I’m shooting out back. Holding your hands behind your back is a good signal to most vendors.

    I will add that vendors at the 3 Newton shows I have talked with have been helpful and knew their table offerings.

    Deck

  8. This is a good article. Whether airgun shows or firearms shows this advice translates.

    The problem with many sellers is that they don’t know “WHAT THEY HAVE”. If this is the case, ask the seller how long have you owned it and how many gun shows has it been to on your table. If you’re truly interested in their ware, share the facts about their item they don’t know, but do it respectfully and slowly. The problem most sellers/owners have is that they purchased their item at a price that is now the “floor” of what they will take. It’s tough to melt their imaginary value of their item based on what they paid since you are now eroding their perceived profit.

    Here’s what I do……tell them to digest what I’ve told them are the facts, let them know that I will be at the gun show for another 30 minutes and if they want to make a deal to call me on my cell phone. If they don’t call I will circle back to their table and give them one more chance to make a deal.

  9. My biggest pet peeve is the person that figures when they have a table, it means that they don’t need to come down on their price for someone in the aisle. And then tell you how good of a deal it is. (Even if the price is not totally unreasonable, everybody starts high. I’ve walked away from a $500 pistol that the seller wouldn’t drop by $5. It wasn’t an unreasonable price, but the seller’s attitude about it was.) This is the same person that won’t bat an eye at truly low-balling on anything that they see on offer.
    If you’re going to play the game, please be willing to play it.
    Bill

  10. “I’ll never forget the guy who brought a Winchester model 92 in .25-20 caliber to my table. 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.”

    BB, good thing I’m not a judge; I would have that guy locked up for criminal behavior, LOL!!! 😉

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