September 15, 2023
By Kurt Allemeier
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No matter what is in your gunsight, whether it’s varmints or big game, there are plenty of classic hunting rifle options available at Rock Island Auction Company.
While the AR platform has grabbed all the attention in recent years, it's seldom a substitute in the field for a lever action or bolt action hunting rifle. If you are looking for something new to carry into the woods or across the savanna this fall, Rock Island Auction has the guns, often in multiple calibers available in the Oct. 4-6 Sporting & Collector Auction. Do you want to run the bolt or work the lever before deciding to bid? Attend our Preview Day Oct. 3 to check out your next classic hunting rifle.
Why not start with a legendary bolt action? The pre-64 Winchester Model 70 was the gun of choice for outdoorsman and author Jack O’Connor, and author Roger Rule wrote a book on the gun, with the title declaring it “The Rifleman’s Rifle.” Wayne R. Miller, writing for the Ohio Gun Collectors Association, concluded “The pre-64 Model 70 Winchester certainly must be included in the top 10 greatest firearms ever produced for sporting purposes anywhere in the world.”
While the modern Winchester Model 70 is a fine gun, the pre-64, manufactured from the 30s to 1963 except during World War 2, was known for the beauty of the wood stocks and the hand-fitted parts that showed an amazing degree of craftsmanship. As the 1960s dawned, many of the craftsmen were starting to retire and more machines were brought into the manufacturing process making the degree of workmanship evident.
The guns manufactured before World War 2 didn’t have a scope mount, but that changed when production resumed after the war.
The pre-64 Winchester Model 70 could be found in multiple chamberings from the .375 H&H to take on African safari to the .257 Roberts for varmint hunting and the .270 Winchester. This rifle, manufactured in 1955, is mounted with a Leupold Vari-X II 3x9 scope.
Jumping to modern guns, consider the straight pull bolt design of the German-made Blaser R-93 and its reputation for accuracy. The modular R-93, designed in 1993, has a proprietary scope mount that allows an optic to be mounted on a quick-change barrel. About 200,000 of the R-93 were manufactured before it was discontinued in 2017.
This Blaser offered in the upcoming Sporting & Collector Auction is chambered in .270 Winchester, a classic cartridge that debuted in 1925 for Winchester’s Model 54 bolt action rifle. The round is based on the .30-03 round for the Springfield Model 1903, and gained popularity as a hunting cartridge after World War 2. Jack O’Connor, who was mentioned earlier, praised the round in “Outdoor Life” magazine as did fellow outdoor author Townsend Whelen, who was a proponent of the .30-06. Despite his dislike for O’Connor, legendary outdoorsman Elmer Keith couldn’t disagree with his rival’s assessment of the .270 round.
This Blaser R-93 has engraved scenes on each side of its alloy receiver – a bull moose and an angry bear on the left, and a pair of big horn sheep on the right. A Leupold Vari-X III 2.5x8 scope is mounted on the gun.
Ed Brown hung up his shingle as a gunsmith in 1968 on a part-time basis and also became a championship shooter along the way. He incorporated his business in 1992 focusing on manufacturing M1911-style pistols and conversion parts, but also making rifles.
When making rifles, he made his own bolt actions and built the guns on computer machining equipment to meet the specifications of custom orders for the right- or left-handed shooter. The gun isn’t flashy, with its utilitarian synthetic stock, but it shines in accuracy. Plus chambered in .300 Win Mag, it is terrific for at taking long shots at pronghorn antelope in the desert and brings adequate power for tackling larger game like moose.
Manufactured from 1920 to 1980, with 125,419 produced, the Model 52C was known as “the King of the .22s” and is a classic gun for rabbit, squirrel, pests, or plinking. The “C” model was made from 1947 to 1961 and had a reputation as accurate and reliable with its redesigned and fully adjustable, vibration-free, short movement trigger. When first introduced, Winchester advertised the Model 52 as having the same feel as the Springfield Model 1903 to attract World War 1 veterans.
During design of the Model 52, Townsend Whelen, an Army officer assigned to the Springfield Armory who would go on to be an outdoor author, wrote to a Winchester official, “Your rifle is so efficient and so suitable for the purpose that in my opinion it is bound to become at once the standard rifle for gallery practice in the National Guard, Schools, Colleges, and Civilian Rifle Clubs.”
When Bill Ruger introduced the modernized falling block, single shot No. 1 in 1967, he considered naming it the “Victorian” as a nod to the Farquaharson rifle of the 1870s. Though it was chambered in numerous calibers, the first rifle left the factory in .308 Winchester.
Ruger wanted the gun’s action to be compact so the hammer and spring moved inside the receiver. Along with a compact action, the gun could handle heavy rounds and shoot them accurately. With no bolt involved the gun could be used by both right- and left-handed shooters. Lenard Brownell, who was involved in the stock design, has said he tried to blow up the gun during development but never succeeded.
The John Moses Browning-designed Winchester Model 1894 was the first lever action rifle put on the market for smokeless powder cartridges, the .25-35 Winchester and the .30-30 Winchester. About 7.5 million of these Winchester long guns have been made. It's commonly said that hunters have taken more whitetails with Model 94s in .30-30 than any other gun/cartridge combination.
The .30-30 is a classic American caliber and with more power than Magnum handgun cartridges. First appearing in 1895, it is the most common chambering in lever action rifles, and the Model 1894 is a huge reason why.
The Marlin Model 1895 rifle fires using the same system as the 1893 but had a larger receiver, barrel, and magazine for the larger cartridges it was designed for. Marlin manufactured 18,000 over 22 years of production.
The most powerful lever action rifle when it was released in 1965, the Model 444 was meant to hunt game across North America. It shares the same lever action as the Model 336 but was modified to handle the .444 cartridge that was developed from an unfinished .30-06 cartridge case loaded with a .44 Magnum bullet. In later years, the bullet loading weight was upped from 240 grains to increase the round’s potency.
The Ruger Model 77 is all things to all people, with multiple cartridge chamberings and numerous variants, ranging from the Safari Magnum, to the Varmint Target, and the Compact. Based on Mauser’s bolt, this bolt action rifle was released in 1967, just a year after the No. 1.
This gun is chambered in .416 Rigby, a cartridge designed in London in 1911 for big game hunting. Fast-burning Cordite, only patented in 1889, serves as the propellant for taking down thick skinned animals like the Cape buffalo, elephant, or rhinoceros. The cartridge fell out of vogue until the 1960s when it was revived. A strong action like that of the Model 77 was needed to handle the pressure put on the gun by smokeless powder rounds like the Rigby. The Rigby matched the performance of Nitro Express and led to a reconsidered interest in big game hunting when it waned after World War 2.
This classic rotary magazine gun has a squared off breech block and a cocking indicator. The revolving five-round magazine with one in the action was known for its reliability. The rifle was renamed the Savage 99 after World War 1.
Without a tubular magazine it could fire aerodynamic spitzer rounds that were faster and flatter shooting. The rifle was made to handle the pressure from smokeless powder and were originally chambered in .303 Savage but eventually were configured for more than a dozen different cartridges.
This lot of a Savage 99 (top) and a Savage 1899 (below) offers different chamberings. The Savage 99, with a Leupold M8-4x scope, is in .358 Winchester, offering power and reach based on the .308 Winchester case. The Savage 1899 is chambered in .25-35, originally created for the Winchester Model 1894 as one of the first smokeless rifle cartridges. It is capable of taking deer, moose, and elk.
Looking for an accurate and potent firearm for the woods, mountains or savanna? Rock Island Auction Company’s Oct. 4-6 Sporting & Collector Auction is the place to find it, from the high-powered Ruger 77 to the plinking Winchester 52c, they are all here. Classic hunting rifles, often with optics already in place and a variety of chamberings, are on offer for the very selective hunter to find that gun they need to harvest their quarry.
Marlin Firearms, A History of the Guns and the Company That Made Them, by William S. Brophy
Collecting Winchester Pre-64 Model 70 Rifles, by Wayne R. Miller, Ohio Gun Collectors Association
Winchester Model 52: Still Sweet after 100 Years, by Jerry Lee, Gun Digest
The Classic .270 Winchester for Modern Use, by Craig Boddington, rifleshootermag.com
Musing the Ruger No. 1, by Stan Trzoniec, Rifle Sporting Firearms Journal
An Ode to the Ruger Model 77, by Philip Massaro, American Hunter
Anyone thinking about dipping their toe into the world of firearms collecting should visit one of Rock Island Auction Company’s Sporting & Collector
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