Between 1970 and about 1990, I was a dedicated collector of fine, wood-stocked hunting rifles. I didn’t have a lot of them, but what I did have was choice, and among the very best were four that were made by a North Carolina artist (now retired) named Joe Balickie. Joe was so thin that when he took a shower he had to hold a coat hanger in his teeth to keep from going down the drain, and his rifles were equally skinny—not an extra ounce of walnut or steel anywhere. He always came up with spectacular wood, and his work was always original—no two Balickie rifles looked alike.
But in 1978 I bought my first synthetic-stocked rifle and gradually acquired more plastic as the wood-stocked guns went on down the road. But I always wondered what it would be like should I see one again. This past weekend at the East Coast Fine Arms Show in Old Greenwich, CT, I found out. I was running a rheumy eye down a rack of rifles being offered by Amoskeag Auctions, when I spotted a dark-honey-blond stock that could have only belonged to a .270 Joe Balickie built for me in 1985 or so. And so it was. The rifle was absolutely mint. I had never shot it, and whoever owned it after me had kept its closet-queen status intact.
Once more I took in the wonder of century-old Turkish walnut, the perfection of Joe’s checkering, and silvery black of real rust bluing. I asked the guy from Amoskeag if I could buy the rifle for $73 and a laundry ticket, which is what I had in my wallet. He said sorry, no, and then quoted a price that was about what I paid Joe 20-odd years ago (left-hand rifles are hard to move, it seems). I thanked him, walked calmly out to the parking lot, and when I was sure no one was looking, bit a piece out of the whale tail of a Porsche Turbo.
(Epilog: If the rifle didn’t sell at the gun show, it’s coming up for auction on January 10. For a detailed description click on amoskeag-auctions.com, then “Items for Auction #69,” of which it is item number 56. I have no fiscal interest in this at all, but I’d like to see the rifle have a home. Trust me, this one is a jewel.)