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.