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An Unusually Well-documented 1946 Model 70 Super Grade Hornet
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January 6, 2023 - 3:15 am
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After drafting our lates blog post, I realized a number of my friends here will find it interesting.  

Enjoy!

Justin

An Unusually Well-documented 1946 Hornet Super Grade – pre64win.com

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“I would hate like all h–l to sell it to some clod who would think of it as just another gas pipe”

-Ned Kailing to Dr. William Wuester, August 1947

This is the story of an uncommon Winchester rifle, a rifle with just two owners since new. The first of these owners – a surgeon from New York named Dr. William Wuester – features prominently in the story below.

The rifle in question is serial number 56087, dating it to 1946 when it began life as a Super Grade .22 Hornet – Winchester catalog symbol G7051C. At the request of a client, a Winchester dealer in Milwaukee named Ned Kailing (owner of The Kailing Company) sent the rifle while still new in the box to Lysle Kilbourn in New York for rechambering into his new wildcat cartridge – the Kilbourne Hornet. The client had asked that the rifle be built to the highest standards and to be produced with the greatest possible accuracy. Kilbourne rechambered the rifle and returned it to Kailing for the balance of the work. Kailing bedded the action into the stock, test fired the rifle for accuracy, then re-bedded the action a second time before he was satisfied with the accuracy, which Kailing described as “exceptional” and “splendid”. Kailing concluded the rifle was more accurate than the best of shooters, writing “It is our humble opinion that the gun will shoot better than the best holding”. In the end, the accuracy of the rifle was no match for post-war economics: the original commissioning client fell on hard times and backed out of the rifle purchase, leaving Kailing holding an expensive and customized rifle with no buyer.

It is unknown how Kailing in Milwaukee made the availability of this rifle known, but Dr. Wuester of New York became aware of it and ultimately purchased it in September of 1947.  All of the original correspondence between Kailing and Wuester has been preserved. It’s an interesting story and one we hope our followers will enjoy.

First, the rifle as we received it, along with many of its original shooting and reloading supplies.

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The story of this rifle is contained in the original correspondence between Kailing and Wuester, which has been miraculously retained with the rifle.  As Kailing and Wuester worked through their questions and negotiations, the picture of a remarkable gunsmith and salesman comes to light, doing his thing to sell an expensive rifle to a well-heeled buyer.

It seems there is an original letter missing, which would be the inquiry Wuester sent to Kailing about the rifle. Perhaps the rifle had been listed for sale in a publication, which led to the original inquiry. Whatever the case, it appears the first thing Kailing sent to Wuester is a detailed breakdown of costs for the purchasing the rifle and associated accessories, as well as some history for the rifle and its modification. The letter is not dated, but presumably is in late summer of 1947 (the notes added by hand clearly belong to Dr Wuester and will make more sense later).

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It seems we are likely missing an intervening note in reply to Kailing from Wuester, in which Wuester asks some clarifying questions about price, as well as questions about reloading for the wildcat Kilbourn chambering. Regardless, our dialogue picks up on August 22, 1947 when Kailing writes back to Wuester. The tone is different here. After answering Wuester’s questions, the letter gets much warmer and Kailing shines through as a salesman of the highest order, going in for the kill on this sale. He praises the accuracy of the rifle, its weight, and almost anything else he can describe as truly perfect. His coup de grâce line is worthy of note:

“Like the Strad is to the fiddle business, this rifle is to the shooting fraternity. I would like to see someone own this gun who has a true appreciation; and I would hate like all h–l to sell it to some clod who would think of it has just another gas pipe”

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Dr Wuester responds on August 27, 1947, and on hospital stationary. The letter is written via dictation to a secretary, which is likely how he retained a copy. His questions are around the price of the rifle and specifically about the retail price of catalog symbol G7051C and why Kailing is asking $156.00 for the original rifle when the retail price published by Winchester is $147.15. Based on a prior purchase of Wuester’s, as well as knowledge of wholesale and retail pricing for the Winchester catalog, Wuester believes the price quoted is in erro, stating “If you straignten this matter out, I will take the entire lot”. Wuester also provides some interesting insight or at least a theory that Winchester distributers were cutting dealers out of the loop and selling directly to the end-user, capturing more margin for themselves – an explanation why dealers were having so much difficulty obtaining rifle inventory from Winchester.

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Again, we seem to be missing a reply from Kailing, but the trajectory of the deal is sealed. In this final September 3 letter, Wuester and Kailing have settled on a price of $343.80 for the rifle and associated items and Wuester encloses a check for $347 (an extra $3.20 to cover shipping and insurance!). This sum is non-trivial, equal to $4,338.31 in 2022 dollars. Wuester finishes his letter with a concession his friends were already teasing him about his newest purchase…

“PS: I trust you won’t mind if I show that sales letter to my friends. One of them suggested I needed a good gun like this because now I won’t have to aim.”

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After the rifle purchase, Dr Wuester sent the rifle to well-known gunsmith Roy Vail who installed the Unertl target scope #802, and also tuned the trigger to Dr Wuester’s specs. The rifle remains in this Roy Vail configuration today.

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Dr Wuester used the rifle intermittently from 1947 to 1957 for hunting small game. We do not have a record of how many rounds were put though the rifle, but we speculate it may have seen 400 rounds. We base this on both the condition of the bore, as well as the fact there are 1200 S.P. Sisk 45 grain bullets remaining out of the original 1600 delivered with the rifle. The subsequent and only other owner of the rifle was a family friend of the Wuester’s and did not shoot the rifle. 

When we took possession of the rifle, we received with it everything which Kailing originally delivered to Wuester, including all of the reloading equipment and what remains among the reloading supplies which came with the rifle.

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In the end, perhaps Kailing’s first words to Wuester say it all: “This rifle was built up by a gun crank for a gun crank”.  While were always disappointed to see a scarce rifle rechambered or otherwise modified, this one has a story which helps give some meaning and make some sense to what usually seems like the senseless molesting of a rare rifle.

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January 6, 2023 - 4:25 am
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Really, a phenomenonal collection; without the documents, just another customized 70.  Rather hard to believe that the wooden cartridge boxes, “neat” as they are, cost more than Kilbourne’s chambering work AND the dies he provided!

As you’re probably aware, Unertl chose Lyman mounts before he began producing his own.  His former employer, J. W. Fecker, was “just down the road,” but Unertl bore some grudge against him that he never forgot. 

I’ve never heard of the Kailing Co; would have thought a prosperous MD in northern NJ would have been doing business with G&H in NYC.  But, maybe he was; what other guns did he own?

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January 6, 2023 - 5:28 am
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My only question, is how much will it cost me to buy it tomorrow?  I already load and shoot a Winchester rechambered for the K-Hornet, so I would want a 20% discount on all of the reloading stuff Laugh

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January 6, 2023 - 4:19 pm
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Hi Justin-

That is really an exceptional rifle and history!!!  No doubt that if you’re going to own a pre-64 M70 in K Hornet, the one to have would be one converted by Kilbourne himself!!!  Is the barrel stamped by Kilbourne?  I’ve seen one, a late M54 NRA Standard Rifle, where the barrel was neatly stamped by Kilbourne at the time it was rechambered.  Sorry but I don’t have a picture of his cartouche…  

I think Bert ought to get that one…  It’s about time he joined the ranks of shooters using those “newfangled” repeaters instead of having to reload after every shot!!!  Laugh

Lou

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January 6, 2023 - 5:09 pm
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Louis Luttrell said
Hi Justin-

I think Bert ought to get that one…  It’s about time he joined the ranks of shooters using those “newfangled” repeaters instead of having to reload after every shot!!!  Laugh

Lou

  

Well said!!!

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January 6, 2023 - 5:49 pm
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Here you go, Lou.  I believe this is the stamping you are referencing.

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January 6, 2023 - 6:21 pm
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It is hard for me to fathom Lysle Kilbourne rechambered the rifle and the reloading dies to K-Hornet for $10… less than Ned Kailing charged for 6 small wooden ammo boxes. 

Beyond provenance, what the documentation does is give us a glimpse into post-war prices in the gun world. Kilbourne charging $10 to rechamber the rifle and the reloading dies, as well as restamp the barrel is the 2023 equivalent of $152.83. By comparison, Ned Kailing charged $12 for 6 wooden ammo boxes with custom “K-Hornet” name plates is the equivalent of $183.39 today. As cool as the boxes are, I can’t help but wonder at the apparent injustice of Kilbourne’s relatively low reward for the superb and skilled work he put into this rifle.

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January 6, 2023 - 7:15 pm
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pre64win said As cool as the boxes are, I can’t help but wonder at the apparent injustice of Kilbourne’s relatively low reward for the superb and skilled work he put into this rifle.
 

  

Actually, workmanship of the boxes is “OK,” but nothing to rave about–a quality cigar box shows more careful construction.  But why they would be more handy or useful than a leather cartridge box in the field, or a wooden box with individually drilled holes for bench shooting, is not apparent to me.

Pretty clear, from the eqpt. he ordered, the doctor was not hand-loading before he bought this rifle.  $15 for an electric primer pocket cleaner?

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April 9, 2023 - 5:11 am
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OK, I brought that rifle home (added it to my collection) today.  The wife is sleeping on the couch tonight while I cuddle & fondle my first Model 70 rifle KissCoolKiss

Bert

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Bert H. said
OK, I brought that rifle home (added it to my collection) today.  The wife is sleeping on the couch tonight while I cuddle & fondle my first Model 70 rifle KissCoolKiss

Bert

  

Congrats, but 4 months to make up your mind?  4 seconds would have made up mine…IF wishing were convertible into legal tender!

Scope probably older than gun, because Unertl began making his own mounts in late 1940, before then using Lyman.  Though it’s possible Vail, or someone, fitted a later scope into Lyman mounts he already owned, a not uncommon practice; in fact, I once did the same thing because I dislike aluminum. 

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April 9, 2023 - 1:44 pm
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Bert H. said
OK, I brought that rifle home (added it to my collection) today.  The wife is sleeping on the couch tonight while I cuddle & fondle my first Model 70 rifle KissCoolKiss

Bert

  

Bert, Welcome to the “other side”.

Steve

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April 9, 2023 - 2:07 pm
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Avery good thread Gentlemen.Smile

Antonio

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April 9, 2023 - 2:23 pm
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Congrats Bert!!!

That’s a good one. Laugh Now find one of these to go with your M70 and M43 Hornets:

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Best,

Lou

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April 9, 2023 - 2:28 pm
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Great gun Bert. Congratulations.

Al

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April 9, 2023 - 4:56 pm
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clarence said

Bert H. said

OK, I brought that rifle home (added it to my collection) today.  The wife is sleeping on the couch tonight while I cuddle & fondle my first Model 70 rifle KissCoolKiss

Bert

  

Congrats, but 4 months to make up your mind?  4 seconds would have made up mine…IF wishing were convertible into legal tender!

Scope probably older than gun, because Unertl began making his own mounts in late 1940, before then using Lyman.  Though it’s possible Vail, or someone, fitted a later scope into Lyman mounts he already owned, a not uncommon practice; in fact, I once did the same thing because I dislike aluminum. 

  

It did not take me 4-months to make up my mind, but it did take some time to put together all of the scratch needed to pay for it and also arrange the time to go pick up the rifle.

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April 9, 2023 - 4:58 pm
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seewin said

Bert H. said

OK, I brought that rifle home (added it to my collection) today.  The wife is sleeping on the couch tonight while I cuddle & fondle my first Model 70 rifle KissCoolKiss

Bert

  

Bert, Welcome to the “other side”.

Steve

  

I will bring it out to Cody with me so that you too can “fondle” it.  

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April 9, 2023 - 5:03 pm
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clarence said 

Scope probably older than gun, because Unertl began making his own mounts in late 1940, before then using Lyman.  Though it’s possible Vail, or someone, fitted a later scope into Lyman mounts he already owned, a not uncommon practice; in fact, I once did the same thing because I dislike aluminum.   

The scope is the Unertl Small Game 6X with S/N 802.  I do not know much about it, or when it might have been manufactured, but am assuming that it is period to the rifle.  It would be nice to find some good literature for it.

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April 9, 2023 - 5:03 pm
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A little off the subject but,  I am not a Model 70 collector but have been thinking of buying a copy of Roger’s book.  Would I be OK with the paper back copy for reference?

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April 9, 2023 - 5:11 pm
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Louis Luttrell said
Congrats Bert!!!

That’s a good one. Laugh Now find one of these to go with your M70 and M43 Hornets:

M54-Hornet-Ad-1933-copy.jpgImage Enlarger

Best,

Lou  

Funny you should bring that up… I mentioned to Andy yesterday that would most likely be my next rifle to acquire.  I might as well give in now and set my sights on a complete collection of Winchester 22 Hornet rifles, but it is really hard to give up on my beloved Single Shot rifles!

On a side note, I was quite impressed with Andy’s shop, and we talked “shop” for a good hour or so.

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April 9, 2023 - 5:14 pm
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Chuck said
A little off the subject but,  I am not a Model 70 collector but have been thinking of buying a copy of Roger’s book.  Would I be OK with the paper back copy for reference?

  

Sure, but I don’t know if I have ever seen a paperback copy of it anywhere?

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