MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It was crafted by the skilled hands of a West Virginian and now the original muzzleloading rifle built and carried by the West Virginia Mountaineer has been sold for a price befitting the skillset of the true mountaineer who built it, the late Marvin Wotring.
The rifle sold at auction during the Bob Huggins Fish Fry for $125,000. Proceeds from the auction, per Wotring’s request, benefit the Holy Pursuits Dream Foundation.
“I don’t even have words for it,” said Kevin Turner with the Foundation. “We really had no idea what that rifle might bring, but we are humbled Marvin donated that gun to our foundation and our cause. That auction was about one man and one rifle and that was Marvin Wotring.”
Wotring built the rifle in 1978 to replace one of inferior quality which had broken. The hand crafted muzzleloader was then carried by eight Mountaineers over the next seven years until an unfortunate overcharge of powder damaged the action. Marvin agreed to fix the rifle, but in the meantime built another. Once repaired he kept the original in his shop from 1984 until 2018.
Turner and Wotring had a friendship which dated back 35 years. Turner owned several of Wotring’s rifles and called on him to build replacements for several of his personal guns which were lost in an unfortunate house fire. He noticed the Mountaineer rifle and made an offer.
“I saw it in his shop and I tried to buy it from him like a hundred other people,” Kevin noted in an appearance on West Virginia Outdoors. “It wasn’t for sale and Marvin just gave me that grin.”
Wotring’s family said he had been offered as much as $10,000 over the years for the rifle, but he held onto it. He seemed to realize it had a much larger value and purpose. It was almost as if he was waiting for the right time and the right cause. Wotring was a huge supporter of a lot of outdoor related organizations. He was active with the National Wild Turkey Federation and it’s JAKEs program and the National Rifle Association. He often made and donated knives and at times guns for charity auctions over the years to various organizations. But it was the Holy Pursuit’s Dream Foundation, founded in Preston County two years ago and still based there today, which apparently touched his heart the most.
“I had forgotten all about the rifle until last May when Marvin called me and told me to come down to his shop,” Turner explained. “When I got there he had it laying out on the counter and said, ‘Kevin, I want you to take this rifle and put it to good use for your foundation. You don’t owe me a thing, what you’re doing is a great thing.'”
During the same meeting, Wotring went to the wall of his shop and took down the faded and worn target of a turkey head with a perfectly placed and conspicuous hole. It was the original target used to test the rifle when it was built in 1978. There were five shots, fired off hand at 25 yards, which were all perfectly placed in the head and could have been covered with a half-dollar coin. The accomplishment was noted and dated in Wotring’s own handwriting.
The auction proceeds will be a huge benefit to the foundation which has grown by leaps and bounds just over two years after its formation. Turner, his son and daughter-in-law came up with the idea at a hunting camp in Illinois where his son is a guide. At the time, Turner explained, they were taking wounded veterans hunting and had some open dates. However, instead of adding more vets to fill the slots, Turner’s daughter-in-law, Hannah Strosnider-Turner wanted to give an opportunity to sick children to have an outdoors experience.
“Our goal was to take children who have or have had a life threatening illness into the outdoors. We want to provide some hope and healing to these kids who have spent so much time in a hospital room,” he said. “We want to give them an outdoor adventure through hunting and fishing.”
The organization has funded trips for children in 23 states. The trips have included New Mexico elk hunting, hunting trips in Wyoming and Illinois, and even deep sea fishing in Key West.
“All of our families thank us over and over, but I tell them, ‘Don’t thank us, we’re the ones being blessed,'” he explained.
The Wotring Rifle in Turner’s mind was one more blessing.
“He could have given that rifle to anyone he wanted to give it, but I think we held a special place in his heart,” said Turner. “I think Marvin was touched by what we were doing.”