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January 08, 2009

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Petzal: A Semi-Painful Reunion

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.)


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O Garcia

It says left handed pre-64 Winchester Model 70 "style" action. That means it's not really a "factory" left handed M70, but something that Mr. Balickie (or someone else) built up in the pattern of a Winchester M70, right? I know M70's were strictly right-handed actions during the period described (year 1985). Am I correct?

No wonder it costs that much. He probably made it with a file.


so, what the heck? why did you sell such a sweet rifle, that was MADE FOR YOU , by an atrist, without EVER SHOOTING IT! i could understand if there was something you didnt like about the rifle, or if the accuracy was olny meiochre. but this guy put a peice of himself into this rifle FOR YOU. just seems to me like a slap in the face to me. i am not saying you should have taken this out through the woods, or let the airport gorilla's have their way with it. but to me, at least taking it out, and not even trying her out seems pretty disrespectful.


I agree, lefty rifles are hard to get in anything but 30-06, 270 and 7mm. I just bought a special run Ruger in 375 Ruger. It's basically a stainless left-handed Ruger Alaskan, with their laminated stock instead of the Hogue rubber-overmolded stock. I haven't shot it yet, as I didn't have time before I deployed last month. When I get home this spring, I will definetly shoot some prarie dogs with it to break it in. $3 per cartridge, this is going to cut into my ammo budget.
There is definetly some pent-up demand for left-handed rifles that are not the "big-three" above. I bought my rifle from my brother's gun shop, he sold four other rifles like mine, and could sell ten if he could get them, but I guess it was a special run and they're gone. I hope for Ruger's sake they make good on their plans to offer a short-action lefty too. I could use a good, short, stainless .308 rifle. Their Frontier compact would be outstanding if they offered it in Left-hand, I would buy one.

Scott in Southern lllinois

Man, what a piece. Dave, you give new meaning to flossing your teeth...
I understand the words on never shooting one of these "closet queens", but probably would be just like Gritz. I'd pop its cherry just for the sake of it being mine to pop..and pop it on a nice whitetail to boot. Hell, the first thing you do with a new truck is haul a load of rock right??

WA Mtnhunter

That big old elk laying underneath my rifle in the trophy photo is the REAL art to me!

Duck Creek Dick

Well said, Dr. Ralph, but shooting this fine rifle would give it more virtue, not less. A few slight marks from a B.C. sheep hunt would make it complete, giving it both function as well as beauty.


I'm a righty and too poor for production guns right now! But WOW! really nice wood (from what I can see in that little pic) 400px × 88px is too small for proper appreciation, do ya got a link to a better pic? The one on the auction description but still smallish, the forend is sorta plain but the butt is wonderfully figured!

I thought you were smarter than that!

The 2 I really miss are a Universal M1 Carbine that I had loads of fun with straifing the local dump when I was younger and a TC Hawken 50 cal Muzzleloader a friend gave me years ago. Neither have much monetary value, but the sentimental value makes them special to me. Lost both a few years ago due to needing an attorney for a legal problem.
Was short on money and had to let go of several guns as payment, also including a 10 inch SS Dan Wesson 44mag revolver, and several 22's including an Ithaca X-15 Lightening that was deadly accurate, several SKS's, including one made for AK mags. I miss them all I guess..........

I've still got a 50cal ammo box full of 30 carbine ammo and clips hoping to get another M1 one of these days! Ain't seen one at a reasonable price.

WA Mtnhunter


I carried a M-1 .30 carbine as a jeep rifle in SE Asia. Never shot anything but a couple of rats with it, but I sure would like to have another one.


You have no soul, nor poetry within. Reference the elequonce of Dr. Ralph,
above. On the pracitical side, the only two actions that I have never, under any circumstance of dirt, rain, sand, snow, abuse, neglect, misadventure, falls, ducking in the creek, or any of the other mischance that happens to hunters had fail are:
1. bolt actions
2. break open single or doubles with hammers.


Bolt guns are as reliable as an anvil. Also, it is akin to having a 1967 427 Corvette with a 4 speed. Autos are nice and smooth, but for sheer enjoyment...

WA Mtnhunter


You can almost put Remington 870 pump guns in that category. That's why military and police love them.

But if it has to absolutely function everytime, all the time; make mine a bolt action rifle. You can also use it for a boat paddle.


WA Mtnhunter-

Scott in Ohio


The shot show is nearing and I trust (and hope) you will provide us with a "photo update" on the State of the booth babes...


Dave, you said you never shot this rifle, You know nothing more about this rifle except it's builder and once owner. Like a bottle of Ky. moonshine, you don't taste, you have no Idea how it would.. No really what I can see ,it sure looks like it would do the job...I'd sure like to try it on one of these Ky. elk...


If I had it, I would sure shoot it.


"Plastic has no sole" nice quote Bernie K,, I have a feeling plastic rifles and the short mag family are a passing fad.


crm3006: I don't like poetry -- or bolt guns! But I've got lots of soul!

Rich C.


I was looking for current info on Joe Balickie and came across your article on this .270 you had built by Joe in 1985. I can't believe that you sold the gun. To make a long story short I was at the auction today simply to see this gorgeous rifle. Well after I looked at it I knew it needed to come home with me which it did. I have looked at having a custom rifle built on more than one occasion but not been exactly tickled with what $4000 to $6000 would buy me. Today I paid a fraction of that for a rifle that is an absolute work of art, better than anything I previously considered. I am wrestling a bit with the shoot it, or not issue but things could be worse. It really looks like it needs to go on a mule deer hunt to me. If you would like to own it again let me know, I'm always open to new possibilities.

Jim in Mo

Rich C.,
Congratulations. You dang better let us know how it shoots.
Wish I could have been there just to drool.

Rocky MtnHunter

People collect all types of collectables, with me its firearms. Hd i had the $$$ 40 yrs ago, I would need a vault 100 x 50 to display them in. I have many guns 50 ys and older that never been fired, many yet have the tags the mfgers use to attach. Guns to me are by far better than $$$ in the DOW or banks these days. I have guns I hunt with and those I wipe and clean. As for beautiful wood, forget it, now we only find what the mfgers sweep of the floor. AS for Plastic/LAminated, they will be all thats available in short order. Gun Mfgers are down to cutting all the corners they can to meet the meager price most of us can afford these days. I have 2 700's , one a 06 the other 25-06, both classic custon shop purchasees. Both go with me when I go west, but for her at home on my 4 wheeler and truck, I use Syn stocked duplicate calibers as the 700's. Laminated it coming fast, and if the price hold steady, that will be the firearms or the future. If you desire a fine wood stocked firearm, you better latch on to it fast like. The old estates hae all been sold that had the famous guns around, and now they in collectors hands and not available for any price. My collection will stay in the family, as the family knows my feelings of firearms. Never wanted all the firearms, just one of each that I liked. Shoot-um-straight and often. The Old Southern Gunslinger and his 44-40 CC weapon. I bet l/2 the population of gun owners never heared of a 44-40. If you find one, in good condition, please advise me on this blog + has to be A+ condition as like NIB

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