Last week I made my first visit to the nation’s largest firearms auction, the Rock Island Auction ( in Rock Island, Illinois, which holds its biennial “premiere auctions” in April and September. I went on preview day when all the guns are laid out for prospective buyers to look at before the sale starts. Among the many sporting, historical and military wonders of the auction was this Ruger M77. It’s a totally ordinary-looking, slightly dinged up, stock .243 except for some Arabic writing engraved on the barrel. But, it belonged to Saddam Hussein and was taken from his palace during the war by an Iraqi militia and later turned over to the CIA. The Agency presented it as a retirement gift to their Baghdad station chief. It was expected to bring anywhere from $7,500-$15,000 and I hope it winds up in a museum.

Me, I was much more interested in the guns of Winchester’s John Olin. There were 13 of Olin’s shotguns that he had kept at Nilo Farms, Winchester’s preserve. They all had his initials “JMO” engraved in the stock medallions. Like many of the guns at the auction they were surprisingly affordable with most were expected to bring under $2000. You didn’t have to look far to find lots and lots of nice rifles and shotguns that would make great, classy shooters in the $1,000-$2,000 range. There were also many high grade guns like a gorgeous MacNaughton bar-in-wood action that will sell for much, much more.

The best part is, not only are all these guns in one place, on the preview day you can touch them all. As a friend of mine who goes to the twice-yearly premiere auction said: “I visited the Cody Firearms Museum and I was kind of disappointed. All the guns were behind glass. At Rock Island I can pick up any gun I want to.” So, having a chance to pick up Saddam’s rifle, I did. However I did not bid on it. Would you?