By Joseph Robertia
Silver-haired, breathing through a tube that runs from his nose to an oxygen tank nearby, and a face showing the wrinkles of experience, Clinton Coligan, of Soldotna, is not the man he once was. Gone are the days of breathlessly scaling mountains to hunt sheep, but his memories of pursuing the fleet-hoofed animals and other big game species around the state and the world are as crisp and clean as the rifle he used to bring them down —a pre-1964 Winchester Model 70 Featherweight in caliber 30.06.
“It was one I favored to shoot for a lot of years. I’ve hunted with it in Africa, New Zealand, all across Montana and Wyoming, and of course here in Alaska. It was a very special gun,” he said.
Yet, on Saturday, Coligan parted ways with the firearm he held in such high regard. It was a bittersweet moment. He was happy to see the rifle go to a new owner who paid a decent price and knew exactly what he was a getting — a rifle that, for many years, was called “the world’s most perfect repeating gun.”
As an avid Winchester collector for more than 60 years, Coligan was also sad to part with one of his prized possessions.
“I’ve had that particular rifle for 25 years. It’s like selling one of my kids. I really hate to see it go,” he said.
The rifle was one of many he and other vendors sold during the first-ever gun show at the Sterling Senior Center, an event that organizers hope to make an annual occurrence after the success of this weekend’s event.
“We don’t have a lot of extra income from the cities so we do a lot of fundraising. It had been about 12 years since there was a gun show on the peninsula, so we thought this would be a good time,” said Mike McKinley, second vice president of the senior center.
Within the first hour several hundred people paid the $5 admission fee and passed through the show to peruse the weapons from 27 different vendors, such as Coligan.
To those who asked why he was finally letting go of the rifles he had hung onto
with pride and white knuckles for so many years, Coligan said it was part of facing a harsh reality.
“I’ve had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and it’s not getting any better. I may only have a few years left, and I’ve got no sons to leave them to, and my wife and two daughters have no interest in this,” he said.
While it pained him to do so, he opted to sell some of his rifles. But he wouldn’t let them go to someone who didn’t appreciate what they were getting.
“There’s so much history lying here in front of me,” he said, waving his hand over half a dozen rifles. “I can’t sell them to just anybody.”
While Coligan was starting to give up some of his long-held rifles, Leonard Diehl, of Anchorage, was adding a new one to his collection. From a vendor a few stands away from Coligan, Diehl made several passes by a Remington Nylon 66 in .22 caliber, first introduced in 1959.
“I came knowing I’d be going home with something, but I thought it would be a pistol,” Diehl said. “Then I saw this Nylon 66. They don’t make them anymore, and I had one as a kid and always liked it so I decided I’m getting it.”
While many vendors came to sell their wares, Bill Bailey wasn’t quite ready to give up any of his. Still, he wanted to show some of the vintage Colt handguns he has spent more than 40 years collecting.
“Antique guns are a lot like a house on the Kenai River,” he said. “If you don’t already have one, you probably can’t afford one.”
Many people stared longingly at some of Bailey’s guns from the Civil War and other eras, particularly his most-prized piece — a 1925 Colt SAA .44 Russian and S & W Special.
“Some gun models they made tens of thousands of, but less than 100 of these left the factory,” he said. “I’ve seen them for sale for as much as $12,000.”
Bailey said that, including his own collection, the senior center gun show offered something for every firearm enthusiast.
“There’s a good combination of hunting rifles and shotguns, vintage handguns and long guns, and there’s even a few assault weapons,” he said. “It’s just a really nice selection.”