4 great guns that got away

THIS HISTORY it’s about guns that I sold for one reason or another and have since regretted selling. I admit I did a similar piece for him Weapons overview in the early 1980s, except instead of writing about my own guns, I wrote about the firearms that my fellow gun writers had sold.

Back then we used telephones and my first call went to John Wootters, asking him if he would ever leave one that he wished he had kept. There was a long, long silence, and then John said, “Do you have the rest of the day?”

The rifle John regretted selling the most was a Winchester Model 88 lever-action .308 that he called the Jumper because when it was time to shoot, it seemed to jump on target. He got the Jumper in 1953 when he returned from Korea and showed it in 1962 for a Remington 700 in 7mm Remington Magnum. The Jumper was the best deer rifle he ever owned, and he sought it out until he gave it up in 2013.

This time, I will write about my errors of judgment.

1. Colt Python .357 Magnum

This was a 1960’s Python with blued steel and a 6 inch barrel. It was mint; I doubt if the owner had shot it more than a few times. I think I paid $500 for it in 1992 and only used it for one thing: shooting NRA standard bullseye matches at 50 yards. I fed it Federal .38 wadcutters, and it performed like a champ. The Python came all original, but I replaced the factory iron sights with something more visible and the factory grips went in favor of Hogue grips. I kept losing the original sights and grips and the factory case over the years, which, for a gun like this, rates about a 10.5 on a silly scale of 1 to 10.

Everything you’ve heard about the old Pythons is true. They were, for the most part, hand-crafted and exquisite firearms, built to a standard equaled only by the old Smith & Wesson Model 29 and Triple Locks. Bluing was Colt Royal Blue. The action was brilliant as glass. Pulling the trigger was poetry. (The only such thing today is the Korth, a German DA revolver that is built entirely by hand and sells for $5,000 to $10,000.)

In 2010, I had to face the fact that I wasn’t as consistent as I used to be and wouldn’t be again, so I stopped shooting bulls-eyes at 50 yards and then reflected that the Python was worth a lot. more than i paid for it. So I sold it for a very good price—and have regretted it ever since. The money is long spent and Python is gone.

2. Remington 700/Fajen/Churchill .270 Win.

I’ve been a southpaw all my life, and while there are now a large number of left-handed shooters, for many years the bad shooter’s way was difficult. If you were a fan of the bolt action, you could choose between the Savage (cheaply made, weak triggers, but they shot OK) and the Weatherby (just awesome, expensive, magnum cartridges). There was no middle ground.

So in 1973, when Remington came out with its left-handed Model 700, I got one of the first. But I did what many shooters who wanted something a little nicer than a factory stock did back then. I purchased a left-handed barrel stock in .270 and had gunsmith Russ Carpenter send over Reinhart Fajen for one of his classic stocks. (Fajen, Bishop and Herter’s sold stocks with about 70 percent work done, and gunsmiths wanted them.) Fajen sent a nice French walnut stock of a higher grade than they paid me.

Russ did the final inlay and finish, and then the stock went to engraver Winston G. Churchill, who made perfect checks. The finished product wasn’t a true custom rifle, but it was still a great, hunt-anything, go-anywhere .270 that Jack O’Connor made a career of. I’ve shot Nosler Partitions with 130-grain bolt action in such a hot load that I occasionally had gas leaks around the primer.

Around 1978, F&S comedian Ed Zern saw me shoot it, and being a fellow lefty, he got very carried away with the rifle. Whatever powers of reasoning I had removed from his brain I sold to him. Then, a few days later, when the full horror of what I had done became clear, I begged him to sell it again. He did, and he wasn’t happy about it. Then came the part I still don’t understand. Within a month, I sold it again.

I have been looking for that rifle ever since and I know I will never find it.

3. Ed Brown Custom Model 702 Ozark 7mm/08

In July 2006, I was scrolling through the rifles at the Cabela’s Gun Library when I saw one that made my glassy eye drop to my core. It was a lefty of the kind you come across as often as asteroids wipe out major cities. Ed Brown is known for very expensive 1911s of a quality that is as much higher than the average 1911 as hell, and for a few years in the early 2000s, he made rifles that were just as good. .

The Ozark was Ed’s lightweight short-action model, though this rifle was no lightweight. It had a Shilen 21 inch stainless barrel that was at least contour #2, and possibly #3. Based on the gorgeous Brown Model 702 action, the rifle was fitted with a fiberglass, heavy muzzle and fired, my records show, groups measuring .600 inches. It was one of the two or three nicest deer rifles I’ve owned, and I’ve owned a bunch of deer rifles.

What got me to sell it, back in 2013 or so, was the Ruger Gunsite Scout .308, which was also short, handy and accurate and had good auxiliary iron sights and fed from 3 detachable box magazines, 5 or 10-round capacity, making it tactical. Whymy so called reasoning went, carry an expensive rifle like the Ozark when the Scout would do the exact same things? And so I let it go. The problem is, money isn’t worth everything, and you don’t sell something this good unless you have a head full of owls. If it ever comes up I will buy it again.

There is some hope for all this: I still have two Ed Brown .338s, one running and one spare. I don’t need a backup, but I haven’t sold it and I won’t. Eventually, and at great cost, we sometimes think.

4. Westley Richards Droplock Double rifle

photo of double rifle
A new Westley Richards Droplock double rifle. Westley Richards

I never had it. The price, in 1980 when I looked it up, was $24,000, including barrels in .300 H&H Magnum, .375 H&H Magnum, and .458 Winchester. For me to buy something so expensive at that time would have been devastating. But it’s a rifle that haunts me to this day.

This Westley Richards was commissioned by an Indian maharajah sometime in the 1960s. This gentleman was rich to the point where money didn’t matter, and he was also left-handed and a fan of American firearms. So his rifle was stocked American style, for a lefty, and each set of barrels was stocked with an IER scan, which I have never seen before or since on a British Best rifle. As far as I can tell, the gun was never fired. The rarity of such a device is beyond my ability to describe.

How much is it worth today? I can’t even guess. If you order a new Westley Richards Droplock double rifle, the price is $118,000. Add two more sets of barrels, IER scopes (or a more modern equivalent), and a completely non-standard stock, and your guess is as good as mine. You can’t shoot with something like that; it’s too valuable to risk if you can’t afford to replace it. But it occurs to me that if I had raised $24,000 back then and bought the gun, it would be worth 10 times that today. More? Who knows? As the Amish say, we grow old too soon and wise too late.

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