Surplus firearms have been the lifeblood of on-a-budget American shooters for nearly a century. We’ve all heard the stories of M1903 Springfield rifles for sale—literally barrels of them—for $5 apiece. Our grandfathers purchased them, modified and sporterized them, and fed their families for decades with them. My first high-powered rifle was a sporterized Springfield 1903—as was my brother’s—and he still hunts deer and elk with it.
However, the days of inexpensive, American-made surplus firearms is drawing to a close. M1 Garands—the legendary battle rifle of WWII—can still be had through the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP). There’s also a scant trickle of M1 Carbines, M1917 Enfields and once in a great while a 1903, but all are becoming rare and desirable.
Do surplus buyers have a future? You bet they do. Foreign surplus arms are still relatively inexpensive, as is surplus ammunition. The classic Mosin-Nagant M1891/30 rifle—think of the Russian rifles in the film Enemy at the Gates—is becoming our generation’s Springfield 1903. Yugoslavian Mauser-design M24/47 and M48-type rifles are readily available and make great shooters, as well as a great foundation for custom rifle projects. Even surplus semi-auto handguns—such as the Serbian Model 57—are available.
How do you find them? Aside from local gunshops with an affinity for surplus guns, good sources to shop are Shotgun News, the CMP, Samco Global Arms and Century Arms. The following 10 military surplus guns earned their way into this article, virtue of current availability and pure, got-to-have cool factor.
- Without a doubt the most common, useful surplus arms available today, Mosin-Nagants are good, solid, no-frills rifles that served Russia through two World Wars and several other countries in major conflicts in decades since. Thousands were arsenal refinished and put into storage long ago. Now being sold as surplus and exported to the U.S., they are usually in good serviceable condition. Most are the longer 91/30 rifles spotlighted here, though the shorter M38 and M44 carbines can be found on occasion.
Good rifles can be had for around $100, and very nice samples for $150 to $200. If you want to score the best of the breed, look for Finnish-made versions.
Mosin-Nagants are chambered in 7.62x54mmR, a rimmed, bottleneck rifle cartridge that approximates the .308 in power. Iron sights are very usable, consisting of a post front and notch-type rear with considerable elevation adjustment. Mounting an optic is rather a chore, due to the action design.
Ammo is typically widely available and inexpensive. However, like most surplus munitions, primers are usually corrosive, so you’ll want to clean and oil your rifle after every shooting session.
Personally, I like my vintage guns in original condition, but for those who like to modify them to fit their personal tastes and needs, there are quite a few aftermarket accessories for the Mosin-Nagant.