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A modern American collectible: the Wickliffe Rifle was an elegant, but short lived single shot.

This story really started about 30-years ago when I was a young police sergeant in Austin, Texas, with a wife and two small children. My funds for hunting were limited, but I had managed to save enough from overtime to purchase a new deer rifle. I have always had a love for single shot rifles. The Ruger No. 1 had been out for a few years and so had the Browning B-78, praised by the writers of most of the shooting mags. But there was a new kid on the block called the "Wickliffe" rifle. A falling block design, it was featured in several magazines, including the January 1979 issue of GUNS. Initial reports praised its accuracy, fit and finish.


I went to the largest gun store in Austin, a family-run store called McBride's. Shouldering each of the three single-shot rifles gave me an idea of how they would handle. I really wanted the Wickliffe, but my limited budget would only let me consider the Ruger No. 1 and I bought one. Ever since then I have regretted not getting a Wickliffe. By the time I could afford one, the Wickliffe Company had closed. For many years I searched gun shows in Texas and even had my friends looking for a Wickliffe to no avail.


Presently retired, I have plenty of time to check all the gun Web sites each day and found a Wickliffe for sale by a dealer in Ohio. The description said they were selling it for one of the original owners of Wickliffe, Tom Kocis. This was a double bonus day. I acquired it and the dealer got Mr. Kocis to give me a letter of provenience stating it was indeed his personal rifle.

The rifle came set up just like it had been for many years with a 6X Burris scope on Burris tings and mounts. It was a .222 Magnum, which I later found out was the only Wickliffe made in this caliber. The serial number included Mr. Kocis' initials. Now for the big test. I cleaned the barrel and went to the range on a day with hardly any wind. My 5-shot group, after a fouling shot, were all touching. The group would most likely be smaller if I used a high-power target scope, but I would not even consider the thought. The rifle would remain just as Mr. Kocis had set it up.


I really wanted to talk with Tom Kocis and he agreed to an email interview. In the 1960's he worked for a company called Triple S, a development/engineering company in Wickliffe, Ohio. Tom Kocis had always been a hunter, shooter and amateur gunsmith. He first designed and patented the "Choke-Matic"--an automatic acting shotgun choke.

Wickliffe Born

Next he decided to try his hand at designing a rifle. He started by developing a modernized and beefed up version of the Stevens 44-1/2 action, most of which was in appearance only. After hand making a couple of prototypes, he sent it off to a casting company to make a couple of actions, Tom took an action to the SHOT Show where Elmer Keith checked it over. After encouragement from Keith and J.D. Jones, Tom applied for and received 14 patents for the action and rifle. Production started in 1976. The barrels were made by E.R. Shaw and the stocks were from Fajen or Bishop.

The rifles were guaranteed to shoot 1" or better from the factory. Tom attributed their accuracy to a few features. First, they used premium stress-free barrels to prevent warping as they heated up. Second, the barrels were tightly headspaced. Third, the forearm was attached to the barrel with just one screw and two roll pins into the action, but left a bit shy of fitting tightly to the receiver. Finally, the scope was mounted to the barrel, not to the action.

In 1979 the Wickliffe Rifle Company and the parent company, Triple S Development closed their doors and filed for bankruptcy. This really had nothing to do with the rifle but more to do with management problems. Overall there were about 2,500 Wickliffe rifles manufactured. When the plant closed, some of the parts were purchased and sold as kits. There is really no way to tell these kit rifles apart from the originals by way of serial numbers.

The original Wickliffe was a fine rifle and it's a shame the company had to close. I have to wonder where it would have gone if it had stayed with us over the last 30 years.

RELATED ARTICLE: Tom Kocis hunts with Elmer Keith.

(The Wickliffe Company invited Elmer Keith and Bob Steindler to the YO Ranch in Texas to video a hunt for exotics with production rifles. Tom Kocis tells the following story.)

"Elmer didn't make it out the first day, so Bob and I took the rifles to the ranch's range and sighted them in to print 2-1/2" high at 100 yards. Then the video crew and I headed out with guide Tommy Thompson to try to find a nice blackbuck for Bob. He eventually took one at around 125 yards with a single shot, which we got on video.

"Elmer arrived the next morning, just t in time to get out hunting. The guides kept insisting he take the rifle to the ' range and sight it in himself. He turned to me and asked, 'How was it shooting?' I explained it was 2-1/2" high at 100 yards and printed a 3/4" group. He told the guide, 'That's good enough for me. Let's go hunting.'

"He was well into his 80s at the time and had difficulty walking the bush so the guides took him out in an old 1950's vintage Chevy pickup with the front windshield removed which I assume they used regularly for some of their handicapped clients. Well, we chased the blackbuck for most of the morning with no success, for some reason they were very spooky that day, so we returned for some lunch.

"After lunch we headed back out, with Elmer and his guide in the truck along with the video crew and me in the truck bed. All the while the 'pinkos' we hired to do the videotaping kept talking about what a lousy sportsman Elmer was and even compared him to a 'poaching road hunter.' I had to remind them I was paying them to video and not to add their comments to the hunt.

"About 2pm, we finally got to around 150 to 160 yards of a small herd that kept running at a pretty good pace. Elmer was getting a bit impatient at this time, leaned out the door and told me 'Tom, I think I can take that buck but I'm going to have to shoot real close to that doe he's chasing.' I told him I didn't care, take the shot if he wanted, we'd have it on tape. His guide reminded us that if he hit the doe, that was his animal and the hunt was over.


"Well, he took the shot and immediately the doe dropped to the ground, much to Elmer's dismay, but to the delight of the video crew. We went up to retrieve the doe, but could not find her. Walking up another 30 to 40 yards, the buck was down, a single shot thru the heart. No one could believe it and we searched for the doe for another 15 minutes before hauling the buck to the truck.

"The video crew was besides themselves laughing at how Elmer probably wounded the doe, only to leave her to die a slow death, at this point, I was ready to send them packing. After supper, we decided to review the tape and when we played it back in slow motion, you can plainly see the tail of the doe getting shot off and flying thru the air and the doe sitting down to rub her rump as the heart-shot buck leaped over her. She got up and ran off, tailless but otherwise unharmed. Elmer called that shot, he had told me he'd have to shoot real close to the doe's tail to get a heart shot on the buck, but he had not planned on hitting the doe's tail. I'll tell you that old man could shoot, don't ever doubt his stories.

"Charley Shreiner of the YO decided to give Elmer his buck and not charge us for it, so having some budget left, I went out the next day. Using Elmer's Wickliffe I shot a world record Corsican ram at well over 170 yards on the run with one shot."
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Title Annotation:A GUNS MEDLEY
Author:Johnston, John
Publication:Guns Magazine
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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