Gun shows can be intimidating places for a person new to the shooting sports. They are usually busy, loud, and attended by folks from all walks of life. But they can also be some of the best opportunities to meet other firearm enthusiasts and experts, ogle some cool guns, or buy a new or used firearm at a reasonable price.

General rules to follow:

  • Bring cash. You’ll need it to get in the door, and many sellers aren’t set up to take credit cards. Besides, ask a seller what concessions they’ll make on the price of their products if you’re paying cash, and you’ll likely see their eyes light up and the price drop substantially.
  • If you suspect you may end up purchasing a gun at the show, bring an inexpensive gun sock (below, right) that can fit in a pocket or a lightweight case along. You may otherwise be forced to buy one there to legally transport the gun home.
  • Respect the posted signs. If they tell you to check in a gun you’ve brought to sell or trade at the front gate, do it. If a gun seller’s sign says “for display only” or “please ask before handling,” pay attention. Nothing will anger a vendor faster than ignoring their signs.

Gun show buying advice:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for details. If you find a piece you’re interested in, ask the seller about how they came to acquire it (they may be able to shed light on the gun’s life with its previous owner, if it’s a used piece), if they’ve had any experience with this type of firearm and if they personally like it, if they know of any issues with it or others of the same make and model, etc. These folks sell guns for a living, and though they may be most interested in making money, they’re typically well-informed and knowledgeable.
  • Barter. Don’t be insulting in your offer, but don’t be afraid to go 15 to 20 percent under the the sticker price on your initial offer. If the vendor must have a certain amount for the gun, they’ll let you know. Some gun sellers are interested in trades, too; should you have a firearm you’d like to sell or upgrade from, bring it with.
  • Bring your own bore light if you’re considering buying a used gun. Use it to check for corrosion in the weapon’s barrel (often referred to as frosting and pitting) and the weapon’s chamber. Check the gun’s action or timing for function. Look for cracks, bulges, missing parts, and rust.

For those who have attended gun shows, what other advice do you have for a first-time attendee?