Closet Queen Rifles

“Closet queen” has very different meanings depending on whom you’re talking to. Its primary definition is probably a gay person … Continued

“Closet queen” has very different meanings depending on whom you’re talking to. Its primary definition is probably a gay person who pretends he is straight.

I’ve heard musicians refer to a particular guitar as a closet queen. “Paid a fortune for my pre-war D-45, but it’s too valuable to take on gigs, so now it’s a closet queen.”

Shooters refer to rifles that sit, gathering dust behind a (hopefully) locked door, as closet queens.

Some rifles arrive at this sad destination because they were once users, and now they’re either obsolete but hold too many memories to be sold, or because they’re too valuable, or irreplaceable, and their owners can’t bear to risk them. I have two that come under that heading. Both date from the early 1970s. One is a very ornate Griffin & Howe 7mm Weatherby magnum that went everywhere and killed everything, but then lost its accuracy and got retired. The other is a .300 Weatherby Magnum, restocked by the great engraver Winston G. Churchill, that also had a highly adventurous career, and cannot be replaced either.

Two using rifles became closet queens because they spooked me. One was a nearly perfect .280, a marvelous, dead-accurate rifle that was unlucky. Also, its bolt knob tended to unscrew until it met up with Old Mister Loc-Tite, and it would not feed the first round out of the magazine. After several years in the closet, it went down the road. The other, a heavy, equally accurate 7mm/08, never saw the light of day because it was also a harbinger of misfortune, and weighed far too much for a rifle of that caliber.

I have a Winchester Model 94 NRA Commemorative Musket in .30/30 that I won at a trap shoot and have never fired. What would I shoot it at? There is an S&W Model 41 .22 handgun with a red dot sight that was put together by a gun dealer friend against whom I used to shoot. The last time we competed was on a Saturday. The following Tuesday he had a heart attack and died. I hardly ever shoot that pistol any more.

There is an Ed Brown Savanna in .338 that I got just as the company was shutting down its rifle operation. When I saw how good it was, I called and asked them to build me a spare, which they did, more or less out of leftover parts. The spare is what I’ve been using, while the first one, which is the nicer gun, sits waiting in reserve. You can’t have too many .338s.

In the early 1980s, Seeley Masker, a roofer who was also a talented builder of benchrest rifles, made me a .220 Swift that, in its original form, was the ugliest rifle I’ve ever owned. I did a lot of shooting with it, and a few years after I got it from Seeley I had it in Montana, where the late David Gentry, a gunsmith who worked in Belgrade, saw it and after throwing up, said he could improve its looks. Which he did. Its next trip was to Virginia where I got into a field that was infested with groundhogs, more than I’ve ever seen in one place. Let’s say I shot too many and let it go, but whenever I pick up that rifle I remember that field, and so the Swift stays in the closet.

Behind every closest queen there is almost invariably a story. What are the ones your guns could tell?