Tack Driving Target Rifles of Uncle Al Freeland
By Joel Kolander
When it comes to competitive target shooting, a name that one finds frequently is Al Freeland. He was known as an accomplished rifleman, but also as a respected major supplier for others who strove to be as serious about their competitive shooting as “Uncle Al” was. How serious was he? He won numerous small bore championships and set several world records. Furthermore, he custom designed many of the rifles he used. Beginning with BSA Martini actions, he would assemble custom rifles capable of surgical precision.
Freeland made his own barrels, modified receivers, made and bedded his own forends (hand-checkered of course), and used his trademark 3-position aluminum buttstock which would become a standard feature on later BSA Martini target rifles. Seemingly never satisfied, he even designed and sold many of his own accessories including a rifle case that became a standard for many a target shooter in the 1950s – 1980s. It was exactly this type of serious involvement and expertise that had BSA engineers reaching out to Uncle Al to personally discuss his recommendations and ideas. In return, they gave him sole importer rights until his passing in the early 1980s.
The name of Albin Freeland is one that deserves to be remembered among firearms enthusiasts. He was passionate about shooting, firearms, and quality. Equipment made decades ago still serves its purpose today. For a more complete look at the man’s life and his contributions to the shooting world, the biography Uncle Al: The Life and Times of Inventor/Marksman Albin Freeland is highly recommended.
Rock Island Auction Company is pleased to have several items that were the property of the late Uncle Al in our May Premier Auction. Those with an affinity for winning target shooting matches or had a love and respect for our shooting heritage should certainly take notice.
Al Freeland’s Prototype BSA Martini
First on the list is this prototype crafted in part by Freeland himself. It comes only one buyer removed from the Freeland estate and is believed to be the basis of the “Mark Series” by BSA. The list of custom features and modifications is extensive. Of significant note is the “8 star” Eric Johnson barrel, who was one of the premier target rifle makers throughout the 1940s-1960s. 8-star represents his highest level of quality and is almost never seen. Prototype components and a barrel as rare as moon rocks all combine to make this a supremely rare and historic BSA Martini single shot rifle.
Al Freeland’s Custom Hand Built Martini “Super Rifle” – One of 21 Ever Made
Before the BSA Martini “Mark Series” of rifles was developed, Freeland was making his own designs off their modified actions and marking them “Super Rifles” – a remarkably appropriate name. 21 such rifles were produced by Uncle Al, and this one bears the serial number 019. Like the previous gun listed it also bears an Eric Johnson barrel and was purchased directly from Freeland’s estate. This beautiful, hand-checkered custom rifle can be found on pages 129-130 of his biography and remains in excellent condition.
Al Freeland’s Personal World-Record Breaking, Championship Winning Rifle, “Mariah #2”
This is Al Freeland’s personal target rifle that he used for over 25 years to win most of his small bore championships and set world records from the mid-1950s through the 1970s. Built on the BSA MkII target rifle action, the remainder of the rifle is hand built and earned the nickname “Mariah #2.” The cool factor is through the roof on this piece of firearms history. But be forewarned, if you can’t bust a 10-ring with this rifle, you will be left with zero excuses.
Al Freeland BSA Martini Mk II Target Rifle, “Mariah #5”
You’ve already met Mariah #2, so now meet Mariah #5. Also discussed in his biography, this is a mostly standard BSA MkII with the exception of two things: a custom, deluxe wood foreend installed by Al and a small paper tag still attached to the rifle that reads, “Not for Sale, personal Property of Ted Freeland Mark II.” Ted was Al’s eldest son. It’s in great condition and links directly back to the Freeland family.
Custom Winchester Model 52B Target Rifle with A. W. Peterson Barrel
Now for something completely different. Well, not completely, but is the only non-BSA Martini rifle of the Freeland items being offered in this sale. Shown here is a Winchester 52B target rifle that been given a custom stock, handmade by Freeland, as well as an original, custom barrel by A.W. Peterson of Denver, CO. Peterson. Peterson is also a well-known name in his own right, learning his trade from a line of highly respected barrel markers – namely George Schoyen, who in turn learned from the famous Carlos Gove. That’s a lot of clout in one Winchester.
Late Production BSA Martini MK III 22 LR Target Rifle
If you want all the innovation that Freeland provided, but at a price that doesn’t involve his direct provenance, this lot is for you. It’s a BSA Martini Mk III in excellent condition with the fully adjustable trigger and over travel. This is the exact style of rifle that has been used by top smallbore match shooters at Camp Perry and other notable competitions across the country. It’s a tack driver just waiting to hit the range again.
Five 22 LR (BSA and Remington) Target Rifle Barrels and Uncle Al Freeland’s Autobiography Book
Looking to begin your own target rifle build? Our May Premier even has a lot with five BSA & Remington target barrels in 22 LR that were originally obtained when Freeland’s Gun Shop closed in the early 1980’s. If they were carried in his shop, you can be sure they’re of a quality that Al wouldn’t have been afraid to use himself, and that’s as gleaming an endorsement as any. In case you need additional inspiration for your own target rifle build there’s even a copy of Uncle Al’s biography thrown in for good measure.
While I knew that Uncle Al was based in Rock Island, Illinois, a fun fact I discovered while writing this article is that the location he used to hold shop was less than half a mile from where I attended college. I had ordered pizza from across the street and eaten breakfast at the greasy spoon across the intersection, yet had no idea the firearms heritage that was in my very midst. It’s the kind of thing that makes you wonder what else is out there and deserves our respect.
There is no shortage of target rifles in our May Premier Auction, but few come with the prestige, provenance, and proven excellence rightly associated with Uncle Al Freeland. All the rifles and items shown here will be offered this Sunday, so there is still time to place a bid on these high precision machines and their proud heritage.