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May 31, 2006

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The Guns I Own: The Earl Butz Commemorative .280

Back in the early 1970s, I was pals (still am) with a gunwriter who has since become enormously wealthy and famous, and who has considerably ability as a gunsmith. (I can’t mention his name because he writes for one of our competitors, and to reveal who he is would be sedition, or treason, or something). I offered to trade him a pair of Leitz binoculars for a .280 rifle that he would build on a left-hand Remington 700 action.

The project took 4 years as I recall, and I received the rifle in October 1976, on the very day that President Gerald R. Ford forced Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz to resign for telling a non-p.c. joke where reporters could hear it. So the rifle has been called the Earl Butz Commemorative ever since.

The rifle has a 22-inch barrel that was cut-rifled by Bill Atkinson, and in its original form it was a hefty tube indeed. The stock is a near-perfect copy of those turned out by the great custom riflemaker Al Biesen, and is carved from English walnut that is undistinguished in color and figure but as hard as flint.

As it came to me, the .280 weighed 9 pounds with a scope, which is way too much, so I took it to Griffin & Howe and had the barrel turned down and the stock hollowed out. That took off over a pound, and put the weight right where I wanted it.

From the day I got it until the mid-1980s, this was my main big-game rifle. I used both 140-grain Nosler Solid-Base 140-grain bullets for deer and the old-style 160-grain Partitions for elk. I used it so much that it’s been reblued at least twice and the stock refinished three times.

It’s been retired for some years, superceded by synthetic-stocked guns, but it’s still ready to go, and as fine a working rifle as you’d want.


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Jeff Nelson

Dave, with your permission, I'll take the part of traitor. The writer in question is, of course, Jim Carmichael. As fine a writer as he is, Jim may have missed his true calling. His stock work is excellent, although he's always been a bit self-deprecating about it.

By the way, do you still have the Balikie (sp) .270? The one that caused "weeping fits and incontinence" in your circle? A gorgeous rifle!

Dave Petzal

Well, you got me. It was Jim, and he claims he checkered the stock with an old rooster claw. No, I don't have any of my Balickie rifles anymore. I didn't have the nerve to take them hunting, and the incontinence part got to be a real annoyance. Joe is retired, but he was a great, great riflemaker.

Jeff Nelson

Just for the record, and for those who are really interested, the Earl Butts Commemorative rifle is featured (along with several of Mr. Petzal's other fine LH rifles) in a splendid article by our host in the 1989 Gun Digest. DP laments having to sell most of his beautiful walnut-stocked rifles, being forced to hunt with ugly (but efficient) synthetics. All of which is related with Dave's typical acerbic wit. It's a great read!

O Garcia


Was there really a time when OL and Field & Stream were under one company, or did I just imagine that?

Anyway, it's nice to know you're friends. A little rivalry is healthy, and the connection to old Lefty and Jack is obvious.

I'm sure (OK, I hope) there's some dry-weather hunt where you can take the old rifle out and fire it at game one more time. Wait, why settle for one? May you hunt with it many more times.


Mr. Petzal,

Your anonimous friend inspired me to make the .280 my first deer gun that I bought with my own money. (I inherited my first from my grandfather) That .280 may have weighed as much or more than yours as it was built on a P14 or P17 action. I no longer have it, but I do own a synthetic stocked A-Bolt II in .280. Your anonim...oh..looks like Jeff Nelson outed him.... Well then.... Mr. Carmichel also inspired me to ruin a perfectly good factory rifle (what...you say no such thing???) that was showing a lot of field experience on a dealer's "used" shelf. I took it home to administer some tender love and care with the aid of Mr. Carmichel's gunsmithing book that he put out a good while back. A friend of mine has that "customized" rifle. I sold Mr. Carmichel's book along with some other gun editor's "Encyclopedia of Guns" book to the local half price book chain :)
When are you going to get around to talking about your Guide Gun and your big Ol' Weatherby?


Yeah, I like the writing and humor of Jim C. of that “other magazine”. I think the contemporary writers [Dave P included] are just as tasteful as Page, Whelen, and O’Connor…and can spin a yarn like Hemmingway and Ruark when they have the fit. I do miss Gene Hill’s writing in F&S. Back to rifles….

Where did all the Mauser actions go? I tried recently to find a Mauser action to build a rifle on and came up dry unless I wanted some very rough finished Balkan manufacturing.

Remington is putting out a rifle model built on Mausers. Where are these actions coming from, Dave?


Dave Petzal

To O Garcia: Field & Stream was purchased by Times Mirror Magazines in 1987. TMM also owned Outdoor Life. The man who engineered the deal died of cancer a few days later. I took this as a sign from Above. We are still joined at the hip, although we are now owned by Time/Warner.

To Mark: I don't know where Remington is having them built, although I assume it's some depressing middle-European country with people whose names are all consonants. Roughest actions I've ever handled.

John Iacopi

Al Biesen rifles....are a direct link to O'Connor....Al's shop is something that is awe-inspiring. His rifles shoot and are things of beauty and amongst my finest of possessions. God Bless him.


As a queer, I love my firearms. I think firearms are necessary for the protection of all our rights including my right to love a man who might love me. We ought to open up weapons stores in queer neighborhoods and teach 'em to shoot and be responsible for their weapons. Bloomberg, who cares. Arm everybody in Greenwich village. Sure, there will be one or two problems from time to time...but if somebody thought queers might shoot bashers to protect themselves, it would be a more peaceful world. A polite community is an armed community.
Republicans, Democrats...who cares. They'll sell out anybody including gun owners when it suits them. But if everybody owned guns...what are they gonna do? I like that small town that requires a homeowner to own a gun. A homo-owner ought to own one, too. And we all know that New York has alot of our kind. Make 'em pink, blue, green, mauve and a light shade of olive. Guns for everybody, guns for progress, guns for peace, and guns for freedom. Tell your local weapons dealer that Big Fag sent ya.

Kristi Kocsis

I was reading one of your entried where you mentioned Bill Atkinson. That's my grandpa. I just found it interesting that you had a gun that was cut-rifled by him.

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