How to Pick the Best Gun: Rent One!

Think of it as speed-dating...with firearms.

posted on August 15, 2022
several shooters on firing line engaging close targets

How many of us have purchased a new or used firearm without first shooting it? It's strange how frequently that happens, even though we'd never even consider buying a new or used vehicle without first taking it for a test drive. The good news is that many makes and models of new firearms are now available for rental at most large gun stores, and test firing one can save you from making a costly mistake. If you don’t, you could spend hundreds, even a thousand dollars or more, and still end up with a gun that is not suited to you.

For instance, let’s say you have never owned a handgun, but recently you successfully completed a concealed-carry course and are now considering buying a handgun for self-defense. So you make a trip to your local gun shop, only to be immediately overwhelmed by the dozens of handguns lining display-case shelves. Which ones are right for concealed carry? And more importantly, which one is right for you?

The store clerk—hopefully knowledgeable about handguns—should take the time to help you pare down the selections to two or three choices. After that, it’s going to be up to you. Ultimately, your selection should be based on several criteria: Is the gun capable of performing the job you expect it to do? How does it feel (fit) in your hands? Is it too large, too small or about right? And is the price within your budget?

But just as important is how the gun performs on the range when you actually shoot it. Is the recoil acceptable, and can you shoot the particular gun accurately? Only you can answer those questions, and that’s where spending a few bucks on gun rental becomes critical.

Whether you are looking to buy a new or used handgun, shotgun or rifle, the gun store where you are considering making the purchase should allow you to test-fire the make and model of the gun. This may not be an option at smaller gun stores—as many don’t have a shooting range—but larger ones often will. It may surprise you, after firing only a few rounds, that the gun you thought was your first choice is quickly ruled out...and the one you thought was only a marginal choice feels pretty darn good. 

Now that you’re hopefully convinced to try before you buy, let’s talk costs. Gun rental is not cheap, but again, it’s much more cost-effective than buying the wrong firearm. However, it's important to get a good idea of what to expect ahead of time. 

Recently, I went to four large gun stores in the central Ohio area that have shooting ranges associated with them. I planned to rent and shoot the same make and model firearm at each store, then compare costs. What I experienced at the various gun shops was eye-opening. 

The costs at the four stores varied widely ($29.13, $31.16, $41.49 and $53.12 respectively), and for various reasons. Two of the gun stores required me to purchase a box of their ammunition to shoot in their rental gun. In other words, I was not allowed to use ammunition I had brought from home even though it was new ammo, not reloads. Two of the stores also required me to purchase unlimited range time, rather than just the half-hour or so it would take to fire and evaluate the gun. At three of the four stores I had to purchase a paper target; one shop provided a free target with gun rental. Lastly, one gun store charged me three dollars for a Range Certification card, which exempted me from having to watch the range-safety video again should I return.  

The bottom line is that there may be hidden fees associated with renting a firearm that will drive up the price, so make sure to ask what the total cost will be up front. If you feel it’s too high, do some shopping around; another gun store in your area may provide the same or similar services for a considerably lower price.

If you’re really fortunate, you may have a shooting/hunting buddy who owns the exact make and model firearm you are thinking of purchasing, and he or she will allow you to shoot a box of ammo through it. If not, renting is your next best option. Either way, take your time, do your homework and try before you buy. Ultimately, that approach will help you choose the gun that’s right for you


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