A 46-year-old Stafford County man, who held police at bay for nearly six hours, was shot to death by a deputy sheriff early yesterday when he emerged from his Northern Virginia town house carrying a sawed-off rifle.

Police identified the man as James Stricklin, 46, and said he had been despondent over a jail sentence he was to begin serving this week for making a threatening telephone call.

"He committed suicide. He just used us to do it," Lt. Curtis Correll told the Associated Press, adding that Stricklin had threatened to take his own life throughout the week.

Correll said that at about 2:30 a.m., after nearly six hours of the standoff, his officers fired tear gas into Stricklin's house in the Spring Valley subdivision north of Fredericksburg.

Stricklin came out, staggering and carrying a rifle, Correll said. "It appeared like he was drunk and unsteady on his feet," he said.

Correll said a deputy, whom he would not identify, shot Stricklin when he lunged at the officer.

"As he walked toward us we couldn't tell what he was going to do. I don't know if he was falling or bringing the gun down, but he was shot at that point," Correll said.

Stricklin apparently did not fire at the officers, although he reportedly had fired shots at about 9 p.m. Wednesday, which caused neighbors to call police.

Stricklin's estranged wife and daughter were brought to the scene and unsuccessfully tried to talk him into surrendering. "His wife said he had been planning something like this for more than a week," Correll said.

Stricklin was was scheduled to enter jail this week on a 1982 conviction of making a telephone bomb threat in Spotsylvania County. His jail sentence had been delayed because he underwent surgery for a heart problem, Correll said.