MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — What could be described as the “holy grail of Mountaineer memorabilia” will soon be available to the highest bidder. The very first WVU mascot muzzleloader ever built by late Morgantown gunsmith Marvin Wotring will be auctioned Friday.
Joe R. Pyle Auctions will sell the rifle as the final auction item at the Bob Huggins Fish Fry at the Mylan Park Event Center. The sale will benefit the Holy Pursuit’s Dream Foundation, a Preston County-based organization that takes terminally ill children on hunting trips.
“Mr. Wotring said he had many people try to buy the rifle over the years, but he decided this was the way he wanted it to be sold,” said Ethan Moore of the auction company. “He donated it to the foundation under the expressed understanding the proceeds would go to benefit their purpose and the children.”
Wotring built the rifle in 1978 as a replacement for one carried by the Mountaineer from a prefabricated kit. Wotring had been asked to repair the old rifle, but realized it wasn’t of high quality, so he decided to build his own. The custom-made muzzleloader echoed off the seats at Mountaineer Field for seven years in the hands of eight mascots before it was damaged.
“In 1985 there was an overzealous Mountaineer who damaged it and they took it back to Wotring to make repairs,” Moore said. “He said in the meantime he’d make them a new one. He built the new one and kept the original in his care until May 2018, when he gave it to the charity.”
The item’s sentimental value to WVU fans causes Moore hesitation when considering just what the final sale price might be.
“I’ve been scared to even offer a price. It’s something so unique you can’t set a comparable to it. The sky is the limit,” he said. “There’s never going to be another one just like this, so I can’t put a pre-auction estimate on it.”
There is an added piece of memorabilia that adds to the lore. Accompanying the muzzleloader will be the original target Wotring used to test fire the rifle. It’s authenticated in Wotring’s own handwriting. The hole in the turkey’s head on the target is a clear indication Wotring not only knew how to build them, he also knew how to shoot them.
“The target is marked in his hand, ‘WVU Mountaineer rifle five-shots off-hand 7-23-78.’ It would appear to be five shots you could cover with a 50-cent piece,” Moore said.
Only those buying tickets to the Bob Huggins Fish Fry will be qualified bidders during the live auction, though absentee bids can be made at the Joe R. Pyle website through Friday.