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My Gun Buying Adventure at the Grand American
10-6-10 - John Morgan

If you've ever visited the Grand American you know it's a fantastic place to find a new (or used) trap gun. (Take a look at our Guide to Gun Buying at the Grand.) There are literally thousands of trap guns on display and for sale from a myriad of vendors, dealers, and gun manufacturer showrooms. Pull up a chair, pour a cup of coffee, and enjoy the tale of how I bought my new trap gun at the 2010 Grand.

I visited the Grand American with two of the guys from my trap league team, one is my uncle and the other is his son-in-law, who has been a close and trusted friend of mine for several years. When we arrived in Sparta, I had no intention of purchasing, or even shopping for, a new trap gun. In fact, I brought my old reliable Remington 1100 Classic Trap along to have the forcing cones relieved and polished. So, you might be asking, "If you're happy with the gun that you have, why are shopping for something new?" That's a good question and I'm glad that you asked. It's a very sorted story.

When we first arrived at the Grand, we made a quick lap of the parking lot looking at the signs and advertisements for the various shops and vendors, just to get the lay of the land. Our initial plan was to visit the in-house gunsmith at the Browning store for some routine maintenance on a BT99 for another one of our teammates (my cousin, my uncle's son, my friend's brother in-law). Then, we were headed to visit the Country Gentleman (Todd Nelson, a premier gunfitter - for fitting sessions for my uncle's recently purchased Browning Citori Grade VII XT and my friend's customized, left-handed SKB 600. If you're paying attention, I think you'll start to see a pattern here. Everyone on the team has a MUCH nicer trap gun than my old Remington. I'm not complaining; I've shot some very good scores with the Remington. But, I was starting to develop a complex shooting with these guys.

While we were talking with the Country Gentleman, he recommended a good gunsmith capable of taking care of the barrel work on my Remington. So, I dropped it off with the Gunsmith to be worked on overnight. Meanwhile, my uncle and my friend made appointments to come back to see the Country Gentleman later for fitting sessions. Then, we set off to view the wares of the other vendors and stores along Vendors Row. Along the way we looked at, handled, and drooled over LOTS of beautiful and expensive trap guns. All the while, my companions were reminding me that I had the only 'belly button' (because everyone has one) gun on the team. When you're mom warned you about peer pressure, this is exactly was she was talking about. But, so far, I was just looking and dreaming. I mean, I'm just here to have some work done on the Remington, right? I'm not sure exactly when things changed, but at some point during the afternoon of our first day, all of the snide remarks started to creep into my subconscious. I began making a mental list of the features that I would like to have in a new trap gun. But, wait a minute; I'm NOT in the market for a new trap gun... Am I?

That night over dinner and drinks, we sat around and talked about all of the guns that we had seen and the shooting advice that the other two had gotten from the Country Gentleman during their fitting sessions. So, when we returned to the Grand the following morning, I picked up my Remington at the gunsmith's and headed off to see the Country Gentleman. Todd Nelson was nice enough to give me a few minutes of his time to take a look at my stance, gun mount, and gun fit. He told me that the Remington fit fairly well, but there was room for improvement. He pointed out a couple of problems that were most likely causing me to miss targets. He gave me an honest assessment of the value of my gun and the cost of the work that was needed to bring it up to snuff. He essentially told me that unless this was the gun that I wanted to shoot for the rest of my life, I should go shopping for my 'forever' trap gun before we begin the fitting process. Whoa, what just happened here? I'm not looking for a new trap gun. Honestly, I'm perfectly happy with my old one. Oh, never mind. I'm not buying that line anymore either.

As you can imagine, my scheming 'friends' smelled blood in the water. Even as we were walking away from the gunfitter, they began pointing out all of the trap guns that just happen to be for sale, all around us. OK fine, I might be interested in buying a new trap gun. But, there's a problem. Since I left for this trip with no intention of shopping for a new gun, I hadn't yet asked my better half for permission to start draining our savings account. So, I got on the phone and called my patient, tolerant, stunningly beautiful wife to do some major league brown nosing. I told her the story of visiting the gunfitter and how we should keep my old Remington for our son to 'grow into' some day. But, she wasn't fooled for a moment. She gave me some good natured ribbing about how she might enjoy a new car or a nice vacation. Then, she let me off the hook and told me to go ahead and start shopping. In case I didn't mention it earlier, I want the record to show that I have the BEST WIFE EVER!

So, the search was officially on. My uncle and my friend leaped into action. They scoured the event grounds for the fanciest, most expensive, most extravagant trap guns available and proceeded to 'recommend' each one as being too nice to pass up. Once they discovered that I was serious about buying, they were relentless. "Try this one." "Oooo, did you see this one?" "This one jumps right to the shoulder and it only costs $6500!" With friends like these... My uncle tried to convince me that a Beretta 682 Gold E Trap Combo set might be a nice choice. And, At one point, my friend actually handed me a $70,000 Krieghoff because he thought I might like the grain of the wood in the forend. Seriously, up until then, I was under the delusion that they were trying to help. But obviously their real intention was to talk me into buying the most ridiculously expensive trap gun available.

Despite their best efforts to lead me astray, my shopping companions were actually very helpful. They pointed out a lot of features that I wouldn't have thought to look for and, once given a little direction, they helped sift through the vast array of guns on display to find what I was actually looking for. Based on what I had seen over the previous two days of 'window shopping', I knew I was interested in a Browning Citori XT. These guns are pretty common in the trap shooting world, so finding one wasn't a problem. The challenge was finding one that hadn't been customized to look like something out of a sci-fi movie or had rattled loose from shooting several million rounds of trap. I could have purchased any number of new Brownings, but that would have meant paying the 'new car premium' for a gun that I knew I was going to have to customize anyway. In the end, the decision came down to two potentials; a used Browning Citori XT and an old design Winchester 101 Diamond Grade. The two guns were essentially equal in fit, finish, and design because they were both manufactured by the same company at the same factory in Japan. If they were the same age, they would essentially be the same gun. The Browning already had an adjustable comb and butt plate. It had been well maintained, but the action showed obvious signs of a lot of use. The Winchester 101, on the other hand, looked like it had spent most of its life in a gun safe. It was completely factory original and in almost mint condition. As a bonus, it came with all the original paperwork and an original Winchester Diamond Grade hard case.

I started my negotiation with the dealer who had the Browning. I pointed out the wear and tear on the action and he pointed out the custom stock work and the little Browning dear head logo. I thought his price was a little high, considering the condition of the gun. So, I offered a couple of hundred less than his asking price. He in turn laughed and walked away. After a few minutes, he came back and said that he could meet me in the middle at $100 off the asking price. I felt OK about that price, but I wasn't overly excited. So, we headed back to the dealer who had the Winchester. When we got there, I made a bee line for the Winchester and gave it another quick once over. My friend, who actually spent some time as a used car salesman, grabbed my arm and drug me back outside. He pointed out that I was acting like an impatient kid looking at a shiny toy that I just had to have. Not exactly the impression that you want to give when going into a negotiation. We went back inside and I did my best to tone down my enthusiasm a bit. I made the same $200 under asking price offer based on the relative age of the gun. Although, this was a dealer, the gun was actually a consignment sale. So, the dealer had to call the owner and relay my offer. I could hear the laughter through the phone. I never realized I was so funny... Eventually, the owner came back with $100 under asking price. Sound familiar? I think I need to work on my negotiating skills. I told the dealer that I would have to think about it.

At this point, I was really on the fence. Both deals were pretty equal. The Winchester was in better condition than the Browning, but would need more customization than the Browning to make it fit. The Browning had more miles on it than the Winchester, but already had some of the customizations that I would have to add to the Winchester later on. What to do, what to do... So, we headed back to the dealer with the Browning for another look. Did I mention that these two dealers were on opposite ends of the three and a half mile shooting complex? Anyway, all three of us were beginning to get a little worn out by all of the back and forth. When we arrived, the dealer had a big S*** eating grin on his face. He asked, "So, you came back for that Browning, huh?" It was more of a statement than a question. That was the moment that I made my decision. He doesn't know it, but his smarmy attitude probably just lost him a sale. I looked the Browning over one more time to cement the decision in my mind and we headed back to see the Winchester dealer. The salesman there was much more laid back and just gave me a better feeling about buying from him. I got the feeling, right or wrong, that I could trust him. So, we sat down and started the paperwork. It might seem like my story is coming to a close. But wait, there's more!

As we filled out the paperwork, a couple of important, and expensive, details came to light. Thanks to the great state of Illinois, there was enough sales tax and fees to bring the total price back up to, and a little over, the original asking price. So much for my master negotiating performance. And, thanks to Illinois gun law, there is a 24 hour waiting period for shotgun purchases. This was our last day at the Grand so I had to come up with another way to get the gun home. Then I had a thought; one of the other guys from our club was shooting in competition later in the week. He could pick it up and bring it home for me. No dice. Illinois requires that the actually purchaser, whose name is actually on the paperwork, must take possession of the gun after the waiting period. Oh come on, this is getting ridiculous. I live two hours away and now I have to wait at least 24 hours and drive right back to Sparta just to sign a piece of paper before I can take my new trap gun home. Luckily, my family and I were planning a trip later In the week to visit my wife's grandmother. A side trip to Sparta should only add two hours to an already 14 hour drive. That should be easy to explain to the wife, right? OK, that problem was solved. But, there was another hitch. Many of the vendors at the Grand are not setup to take credit cards and since I had no intention of buying a gun on this trip, I didn't have enough cash and no checkbook. ARRRGGG! My uncle just happened to have an emergency check in his wallet and agreed to write a check that I could void later, when I picked up the gun. After all of his cajoling and ribbing, my uncle wasn't about to let me out this deal over such a minor detail. The mark of a true enabler.

All in all, I was happy with the deal I got and with the gun itself. My scores have already begun to improve, even before a proper fitting. I chose the Winchester over the Browning because it was in such good condition and the price was slightly lower. The only drawback to buying the Winchester is that it will eventually need an adjustable comb and butt plate. But, that just gives me a good reason to visit Vendors Row again next year! Besides, everyone has a Browning, right? How many mint condition 101 Diamond Grades have you run across lately?

My advice to anyone who is visiting the Grand American is that you should pretty much assume that you will, at some point in your visit, be in the market for a new gun. Take your checkbook along, plan to stay a couple of days, and leave your teammates at home! Seriously, a couple of extra sets of eyes can be handy, but remember that your friends may actually be a bad influence on your wallet. Use your head instead of your emotions, but have fun and enjoy the ride. After all, you only get to shop for your 'forever' trap gun once. At least until next year...

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