GETTING OLD RIFLES SHOOTING
Handloader|February - March 2022
IN RANGE
Terry Wieland

If Rock Island Auction’s experience is anything to go by – and I believe it is – then interest in old rifles is at an all-time high. In October, the world’s largest firearms auction house held its third, three-day “sporting and collector” auction of the year, pulling in more than $8 million. Usually, Rock Island holds only two of these, where mostly second-tier guns are sold, to go with three “premier” auctions, which feature the top-quality stuff.

Obviously, there’s enough interest in selling guns to fill up three days’ worth of consignments, but there is also unprecedented interest in buying.

Many old rifles sold at auctions disappear into collections, where they bask in unfired glory, but a lot also go to people like me, whose main interest in owning an old rifle is getting it shooting again, to see what’s involved and what it will do. I don’t know one serious gun guy who’s content to just admire a rifle and not shoot it. Certainly, there are such people, I just don’t know any.

Even Robert M. Lee, the most serious gun collector of my personal acquaintance, who died six years ago and whose vast collection has come up for auction in bits and pieces ever since wanted to shoot most of the guns he owned. Bob once told me he believed guns were made to be shot, and that he were, unless one’s “collector” value relied on it being in factory-new, unfired condition, or it was so rare it was simply not worth the risk.

In some ways, a buyer of an old rifle in an obscure caliber is better off today, but in another way worse. The situation is worse because the one man who could get virtually any old rifle shooting again – Bob Hayley – died a year ago, and his (to me) priceless collection of dies, moulds, and most of all, original data and specifications, was dispersed in the worst possible way: bundled into vague lots with numbers attached and then auctioned off the back of a pickup truck.

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