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February 7th, 2021

Sunday Gunday: How to Find Great Rifles at Live Gun Auctions

David Buffington Live Auction Morphy Auctions
It’s easy to lust for those rare showpiece rifles at high-end auctions, but the author cautions readers to target the best deals, stick to your plan, and honor your monetary limits.

Buying at Gun Auctions — Be Crazy, Crazy Good

By Dave Buffington
“They’re crazy!” — You hear that all the time about live gun auctions. People love to rant about how people pay too much money for too many guns at too many auctions. It’s natural. And wrong.

I’ve been attending live gun auctions regularly for more than a decade — as many as 40 a year. I’ve learned that for every item that sells for a silly price, several sell for fair money and some — more than a few — have turned out to be great buys.

Just last summer, I bought a competition-grade STI 1911 in excellent condition for $670 at a live auction. Just this winter, at the height of the gun buying frenzy, I scored a highly desirable, rarely-found Anschütz 54.18 MSR in new-in-box condition for just $1,800. I then flipped that Anschütz for $3,000 just two weeks later. That $1200 gain represents a 66% profit — not bad for a little savvy shopping at an auction.

David Buffington SAKO L461 Vixen .222 Remington Leupold Vari-X II auction rifle
This beautiful SAKO L461 Vixen was a great auction buy … and it is half-MOA accurate as well.

Sweet SAKO L461 Score at Auction
Can you score an awesome deal at a live auction? Absolutely. Above is a .222 Rem SAKO L461 Vixen I got at auction for $1500.00 including Leupold Vari-X II 3-9x40mm scope. Note the highly-figured stock. My SAKO L461 is the “deluxe” model with rosewood forearm tip and grip cap. A similar .222 Rem SAKO L46 (below) with fairly plain wood (and no scope) is selling for $3995.95 at the Custom Shop, a Montana purveyor of fine firearms.* I got my SAKO for 38% of the Custom Shop price! SAKO fans will note that the L461 has an internal top-loading 5-shot magazine while the older L46 has a 3-round removable clip. And most folks believe that the newer L461 model (like mine) has a better trigger.

Compare the author’s $1500 Auction-purchased SAKO L461 (above) with this $3995.00 Custom Shop Inc. SAKO L46. This is proof that live auctions can deliver some impressive bargains:
David Buffington Live SAKO L46 .222 Rem Auction Morphy Auctions

Can you make a mistake? Yes, I’ve bought junk and paid too much for it. But I’ve learned that knowledge is the best vaccine against gun buying mistakes. That’s our next topic.

Know The Auctions
Finding live auctions takes a bit of research, especially during the pandemic. But estates still need to be settled, collections still need to be shrunk and so, guns still need to be sold. Read your local newspaper and shoppers guides. Use online auction search services like AuctionZip.com.

And once you’ve found an auction, know the auctioneer’s rules. Some do background checks. Some don’t. Some charge sales tax. Some don’t. Some charge a “buyer’s premium”. Some don’t. If you’re not sure, ask.

Know Your Targets — Stick to Your List and Avoid Impulse Buys
Especially at the all-gun auctions, it’s easy to be entranced by all the handsome-looking hardware, but some of my worst gun buys have been the impulse buys made at auctions.

So start with a list of guns you want — for target shooting, collecting, whatever — and stick to it. Get to know those guns, research them and for goodness sake, know the potential pitfalls. Some Winchester 52s are prone to the “crack of death”. Certain Brownings from the late 60s and early 70s are afflicted with “salt wood”. You need to know which ones.

Jay Ziegler Auction David Buffington Mauser K98k kurz Karabiner auction rifleKnow The Bidding Process
Auction newbies tend to worry a lot about how to bid. I know I did. But don’t. Remember, it’s the job of the auctioneer to get your bid, and once a good auctioneer spots you as a bidder, believe me, he won’t lose you.

The key is to get spotted. So don’t be shy. The auctioneer will likely start the bidding at some reasonable number. As a matter of theater, he’ll then start going down until someone actually bids. Then he’ll start going up again. When you’re ready to jump in, raise your hand and make sure the auctioneer spots you. If you’re not sure, shout something. (“Here!” works fine.) After that, don’t fuss about technique. Just nod yes or no the next time the auctioneer looks at you. (Ziegler Auction photo by Nathan Merkel)

Do understand one small but important detail: The price the auctioneer calls is the price he is looking for, not the price he has. For example, if you’ve bid $250, you’ll then hear him calling for the next increment up — such as “$300, $300, do I hear $300?”.

Misunderstanding that process can lead you to bid against yourself. 99% of auctioneers won’t let it happen, but as I can attest, it’s still embarrassing.

David Buffington Live Auction Morphy AuctionsKnow Your Price Limits
Auction fever is much like buck fever. You’re struggling to be still while you’re heart is doing its best rendition of “Wipe Out”. So you must, absolutely must, agree with yourself on the maximum price you’ll bid for a gun before the bidding starts. And be sure that maximum price reflects the true purchase cost, including sales tax, background check fees, and the buyer’s premium, if any.

Sticking to that limit is critical. First, because you don’t want to end up spending the mortgage money, but also, because there’s always another opportunity around the corner.

For example, on a cold, damp day last fall, I went to a small outdoor auction in hopes of getting a good buy on a Mauser-made, numbers-matching K98k. Ha! Despite the fact there were fewer than 50 bidders braving the drizzle, the gun sold for a whopping $3,200. (I bailed at $1,500.)

David Buffington Mauser K98k kurz Karabiner auction rifle
Is this the K98k that sold for $1,200? Or $3,200? The Karabiner 98 kurz (German for “carbine 98 short”), often abbreviated Kar98k or K98k, is a bolt-action rifle chambered for the 7.92×57mm Mauser cartridge.

But just two weeks later, I went to a warm, dry indoor auction with more than 200 bidders in the building. Yet I still managed to get a Mauser-made, numbers-matching K98k for just $1,200, a difference of a whopping $2,000. Crazy? Yes… Crazy good.


*Custom Shop, Inc. is featured on the Outdoor Channel’s “The Gunfather” TV Show. Located in Hamilton, Montana, Custom Shop has hundreds of rare and collectible guns — high-end rifles, pistols, and shotguns. In addition to used guns, Custom Shop, Inc., is also an Authorized Colt Dealer.

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February 2nd, 2021

Seeing History … Through a 100mm Unertl Spotting Scope

Unertl 100mm Team Spotting Scope Dewy's Classic Scopes

This story is about the purchase of a super-sized spotting scope with a notable history. Forum member David Buffington explains how he located a rare Unertl 100mm-objective spotter that had served Team USA in international competitions.

Seeing History … Through a Spotting Scope

by David Buffington in our Shooters’ Forum

It is a rare pleasure to acquire a gun with a history. It is simply extraordinary to acquire a scope – in this case, a spotting scope – that has quite literally seen some of the best shots ever taken. The scope is an Unertl Team Spotting Scope, a beast of a 100mm scope especially made for long-range shooting matches. (For technical details, see: http://unertl.alexweb.net/100team.htm.)

And recently, I was pleased and proud to become its custodian …

In the AccurateShooter Forum Classifieds my friend, dgeesaman, found an ad for an Unertl “Team” spotting scope, a 100mm beast built by the famed Unertl company specifically for long range shooting spotting. I had tried to find one years earlier, but I had no luck. This time I struck gold. The Unertl Team was being sold by an accomplished shooter, Mike Dunia, and was in excellent condition complete with all the goodies, including the monster travel case you see above.

Now, because of its sheer size – about 60 pounds with the case – this scope is definitely NOT practical for casual spotting, but the image, well, it’s like being there. The image is extremely bright and sharp edge-to-edge with no hint of chromatic aberration. And once you get the beast to where you want to be, setup is remarkably simple, with a tripod, mount and scope all beautifully machined to move smoothly and easily.

Unertl 100mm Team Spotting Scope Dewy's Classic Scopes
Vintage Unertl optics can be purchased from Dewayne (Dewy) Greiner in MN, Classic Unertl Scopes.

The scope was sold to me by Mike Dunia, an accomplished marksman who served with the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit and represented San Francisco’s famed Olympic Club in competitions around the world, for example, winning the British Columbia Target Rifle Championship in 2002 and the California Palma Championship in 2003. Dunia has had a notable 50+ year shooting career, starting in college when Dunia was Captain of the Stanford University Rifle Team. The scope was owned by Dunia’s friend, Larry Wilkins, who also served in the U.S. Army, was also an accomplished marksman, and also represented San Francisco’s famed Olympic Club.

Below is a photo of the USA Palma Team in 1995 with multiple Unertl 100mm spotting scopes:

Unertl 100mm Team Spotting Scope Dewy's Classic Scopes

The names of the individuals in this 1995 photo were provided by tool-maker Alan Warner, who was there that day many years ago. In the same Shooters’ Forum thread, Alan posted: “Far left, white shirt and hat, squatting is Burt Rallins. Prone — close left with small scope is me, Alan Warner. Standing in team jacket is Ken Erdman. Next in background is Mike Dunia. The Coach, sitting, is Bob Jensen. The Next coach is Eric St. John. Can’t make out the other coach or shooters. Last coach is Bill Meek.”

Here is just a bit of the vaunted history of the San Francisco Olympic Club (click photo to read full screen):

Unertl spotting scope 100mm San Francisco Olympic Club

Although I do plan to use the scope, I feel an obligation to preserve as much of its history as I can, including, most importantly, the stories of the shooters who used it before it came to me. I should also mention that Wilkins served with the famous “Task Force Smith” at the start of the Korean War. If you’re not familiar with that horrific story of courage, do look it up.

Unertl Spotting Scope Original Cost … And in Current Dollars
What might this line of 100mm monsters have cost back in the day? Well, I’ve tracked down an Unertl price list from sometime after 1963 — we know that because it has a ZIP code in the address — and the price then was listed as $450, but another price list, dated 1994, puts the price at $2,200.

Of course, that’s $2,200 in 1994 dollars. That would be $3,842 in today’s 2021 money, according to USinflationcalculator.com. So the seven Unertl Team scopes seen here would cost $26,894 at present! — David Buffington

100mm Spotting Scope Operation
Were these scopes used to see bullet holes? Actually that was not their primary purpose. Shot locations on target were shown by shot markers placed by pit workers. But the scopes did serve important purposes, as explained by Forum member Dave Marshall: “You won’t be able to see any bullet holes past 300-400 yards with those scopes. They usually used a fixed 24X eyepiece. I don’t think there is a scope in existence today that can see bullet holes at 1000 yards. [It is possible — but only under very rare, perfect conditions. That said, spotting scopes ARE used all the time to see 1000-yard shot markers and thereby record scores. — Editor]

The main reason those scopes were used [in addition to seeing shot markers] was for better ability to read mirage and the larger objective made it possible to see bullet trace at longer ranges. Once the trace leaves the field of view due to steep trajectory, you can’t see it when it comes back down into the field of view.”


Description of Unertl 100mm Team Spotting Scope by Classic Unertl Scopes
The Unertl 100mm Spotting Scope is a large instrument which was designed to meet the requirements of team coaches to enable critical spotting of long range big bore matches. The coated prismatic optical systems, with a 100mm aperture objective and four element orthoscopic oculars is critically tested and hand-corrected so that the final system will yield matchless resolution. The objective cell has a sunshade which can be extended about 5″ when required and the eyepiece is screw focusing with a fast over-running push-pull travel. Dust covers are provided for each end. Workmanship is of the highest quality and the majority of the instrument is made from aluminum alloy and finished in a light gray wrinkle. The yoke mounting enables easy insertions and removal of the telescope from the yoke and tripod. By tensioning the binding screws the scope can be fixed by locked in position or so set to per-mit scanning of a series of targets. The lower portion of the yoke fits the cylindrical column of a floating action metal tripod. Within the tripod ram is a helical spring which counter-balances the scope and it can be raised or lowered with ease. A wooden carrying case of substantial construction houses the telescope, yoke, tripod and extra interchangeable eyepieces. Standard oculars are 6X, 24X. and 32X.

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