How to Document Your Gun Collection

There are three reasons I can think of why documenting your firearms collection is important. The first is for insurance reasons, where it could come in handy in valuing the collection in case of fire or theft. The second is to aid your family in knowing what they have when you’re gone. The third reason is for you. It is a way to enjoy and treasure your collection that goes beyond shooting.

Putting everything in a spreadsheet can come in handy to document the monetary value of your guns. However, you also should have a way to record the history behind the special guns in your collection. Some guns should stay in your family, simply because they would never have the same value to someone who doesn’t know the gun’s history.

Young man holding a LeFever 12 gauge in his left hand and a 16 gauge Winchester Model 12
The author’s grandson holding shotguns owned by the author’s grandfathers. In his right hand is the LeFever 12 gauge that belonged to the author’s maternal grandfather. I got this shotgun as a senior in high school, the year “Pop” died. In his left hand is the 16 gauge Winchester Model 12 that belonged to the author’s paternal grandfather, R.M. Freeman. He was given this shotgun by his father when in the 5th grade.

Personal History

For example, in the back of my safe are two shotguns — one originally belonged to my paternal grandfather. The other one originally belonged to my maternal grandfather. The first is a Winchester Model 12, 16 gauge built in 1946. The Blue Book of Gun Values lists it as a $400 gun. To me, however, it’s priceless. Not just because it was my grandfather’s gun, but it was also the first gun I ever shot, and the one I hunted with throughout my teenage years.

The other is a Lefever 12 gauge, side by side. Lefever is the company that first made a hammerless breakopen double-barrel shotgun. I have no idea what this one is worth, because I can’t match it up with the Blue Book descriptions for various models. Values run from $600 to $16,000 or more.

No one in my family has ever owned anything at the top end. So, I’m fairly certain this one is not up there with the $16,000 guns. Most likely, it is one of the $600–$1,000 guns. Either way, it needs to stay in my family.

In the early 1980s, Ruger built a New Model Blackhawk revolver in .357 Maximum, a new caliber designed primarily for hunters and long-range steel plate competition. I was working in Cheaper Than Dirt’s IT department (around 1999–2000) when there was a gun store attached. Walking through the store one day, I noticed a beautiful revolver in the used gun cabinet that had a 10.5-inch barrel, which made it look like a Buntline Special. The price was $300. Pretty gun, great price… I bought it.

The guy behind the counter wanted to make sure I knew it was a .357 Maximum. I didn’t care, so long as I could shoot it. With a little internet checking, I located some .357 Maximum ammo. I loved the gun, but after shooting and carrying it, I wanted it to have a shorter barrel. It was just too nose heavy.

Ruger New Model Blackhawk revolver chambered for 357 Maximum after the barrel was cut down
The author is probably the only guy in history who has cut a “Buntline” barrel down in length, but he did. He doesn’t shoot steel plates at 1,000 yards with a handgun, so he wanted this .357 Maximum revolver better balanced and easier to carry. The story is in the book.

I checked into ordering a barrel from Ruger and learned it had issued a recall on the .357 Maximums due to a problem with top strap erosion. All the pundits said if there was erosion or burning, it was caused by handloaders exceeding SAMMI specs in their desire to outdo one another pinging steel plates at long range.

My gun had no erosion. In fact, it looked brand new. But you know Ruger. It’s super careful about the reputation of its firearms and wanted all the Maximum revolvers back. Ruger wouldn’t send me a barrel for it. If I sent it back for barrel replacement, Ruger wouldn’t return it. Instead, it would offer me credit toward some other gun in its lineup.

A few years passed and a friend helped me with the barrel length problem. Using his Diamond Saw, we cut the barrel back to just a little over six inches. We coned and rounded the end of the barrel using a Dremel tool, and JB Weld to add a new front sight. Using a Birchwood Casey Perma Blue kit, I did a fairly decent job of rebluing the new sight and end of the barrel. Just recently I re-blued the entire gun with a can of DuraBlue from Houts Enterprises LLC.

S&W revolver in a leather holster with a badge, ID, and Mississippi Game & Fish arm patch
Though the author’s father was a Fisheries Biologist and spent his 30-year career with the State of Mississippi as Director of the Fisheries Division, he had Game Warden authority to enforce the laws. He obtained this Model 10 through a state contract, but never carried it. He thought it was in his sock drawer, but very often it was with the author on camping or fishing trips, horseback riding, or just wandering in the woods.

Now, who could appreciate a gun like that outside of the family? And where else could you get a gun to teach the effects of ammunition on recoil like this one does when you load it with two rounds of .38 special, two rounds of .357 Magnum, and two rounds of .357 Maximum? Especially when someone shoots all six rounds— bang!, bang!, bang!, bang!, bang!, bang! They get it.

I’ve invested a lot more of me in this gun than it’s worth. It should stay in the family. Hence, another need to have the collection documented.

Creating a Record

The easiest method I found when first documenting my collection was an annual subscription to the online version of the Blue Book of Gun Values. Not only can you look up the value of your firearms, but the subscription includes the ability to create and maintain an online record of your gun collection. As you enter your firearms, the information is stored along with Blue Book’s description of the gun, historic values and even pictures, augmented with your own comments if desired.

loose-leaf binder with sheet protectors documenting the firearms in the author's collection
The author found a loose-leaf binder with sheet protectors ideal for housing his gun collection documentation.

I did this for a few years, until concern arose within my family that no matter how secure Blue Book is, the government could get access to my gun collection if it wanted it. To give my family peace of mind, I exported my online inventory to Excel and deleted it from the online Blue Book, or as they say, “the Cloud.” Now, a list of which firearms I own only exists in the book I keep in my safe.

I know, many collectors keep a spreadsheet or a record of receipts for their gun collection. However, I wanted to do something that would make it easy for my wife and family to understand what they have when the time comes that I’m out of the picture. I used PowerPoint.

For those of you who have never worked in an office or had to make a presentation, PowerPoint is part of the Microsoft Office family. It is used to create slide show presentations, but the individual slides can be printed along with the notes you make about the slide. Using PowerPoint, a 3-ring binder, and a box of sheet protectors, I created a book of my collection.

The main headings I selected are: Semi-automatic Handguns, Revolvers, Shotguns, Rifles, and Combo Guns. If you decide to do something like this, choose categories that make sense to you (or just list your guns alphabetically or by date acquired). One thing I did, since I’m using categories, is to start each category on a new page. That makes it easier to add new acquisitions at the end of any of the categories simply by inserting pages as needed. I do periodically reshuffle and reprint the entire document to get rid of guns no longer around and to provide room for new acquisitions in a logical order. Using sheet protectors to hold the pages makes that a fairly simple process.

If you want to add pictures, that is a lot easier to do than you might think. While editing your file, open a browser and for each gun, do a Google search for the make and model displaying the results in the Image tab. Chances are one of the first images that shows up will be a manufacturer’s image, or an image prepared for an online auction. Right click on the image, copy it, then paste it in your inventory document at the correct location.

PowerPoint printout of the Colt M45A1 Marine Corps pistol
Each page in the book is a printout from PowerPoint of the page including notes.

I create the PowerPoint pages with as good a photo as I can find that represents my gun. If I can find it online, great. If not, I take a picture. Then, I add information about the gun in the notes for the slide. Usually this starts with the manufacturer’s or the Blue Book description, edited as applicable to my particular gun, and with any personal comments I want to add.

Below the picture, I place a table which includes the action type, caliber/gauge, finish, serial number, date purchased, purchased from, purchase price, and estimated value. For the estimated value, I use the Blue Book information, which is why even if you don’t keep your inventory online with Blue Book, that annual subscription is valuable.

In the back of the book, I post articles and advertisements about my guns when I find them. I simply tear the article from the magazine and insert it into the page protectors. If I find a better article, I may replace what I previously posted. That’s another reason using sheet protectors is handy.

Additional books, containing ads and magazine articles about the guns in the author's collection
The back of the book and as the author’s gun collection grew. Additional books, contain ads and magazine articles about the guns in the collection. Imagine reading this type of information about one of your dad’s guns from 40–50 years ago.

I keep the book in my safe, which should afford it the same protection from fire as the guns and makes it easy to find when needed. For me, this has become something more than just documenting my collection for insurance purposes or making sure my heirs know what they’ve inherited.

Pouring over the book on a cold, rainy evening is almost as much fun as pulling out the guns to look at them — easier on me and the guns, because I can’t seem to pull one out and put it back without bumping it on something. I enjoy re-reading the descriptions and articles, and mulling over the history behind the guns.

Have you documented your gun collection? Do you have a tip for other readers looking to document their collections? Share them in the Comment section.

  • View inside the author's gun safe
  • Additional books, containing ads and magazine articles about the guns in the author's collection
  • Sample pages in the author's firearm collection documentation book
  • PowerPoint printout of the Colt M45A1 Marine Corps pistol
  • loose-leaf binder with sheet protectors documenting the firearms in the author's collection
  • S&W revolver in a leather holster with a badge, ID, and Mississippi Game & Fish arm patch
  • Ruger New Model Blackhawk revolver chambered for 357 Maximum after the barrel was cut down
  • Young man holding a LeFever 12 gauge in his left hand and a 16 gauge Winchester Model 12

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