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.
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.
Just now becoming available from companies like Century Arms and AimSurplus for between $230 and $300, the Zastava M70 9mm pistol is one of the most practical choices among currently available surplus arms.
As a result, most are in “very good” to “like-new” condition. For practical shooting purposes, they mirror the classic German 98, but are a lot cheaper on today’s market. M48s shoot 7.92x57mm ammunition, commonly known as “8mm Mauser.” Ammo is relatively inexpensive, though like most it has gone up in price recently.
Widely available on Gunbroker.com, M48 rifles can also often be found at local gun shops that cater to surplus firearm buyers.
Chambered for the legendary .30-06 cartridge, the M1 Garand feeds via a true “clip” that contains eight cartridges and is inserted from the top of the action, functioning as a part of the action itself. Ammo for it ain’t cheap, because there’s little surplus left, but shooting an M1 Garand is an experience every American should have Owning one—or several dozen—is a must for vintage military arm collectors.
One of the coolest aspects of the M1 Garand is surplus rifles can be purchased by mail order from the CMP by any American citizen with a clean background. A background check is run by the CMP, then the rifle is shipped directly to your home. Imagine that—you can still purchase a gun by mail order and have the postman deliver it.
Another fun way to pick up an M1 Garand is to visit one of the CMP stores where you can browse to your heart’s delight among rifles that reek of historic prowess, pick the one you like best and purchase it.
Prices range from around $500 for a rack grade, up to thousands for rare sniper rifle configurations. Good-shooting, mixed-part rifles in very good shape can be had for around $1,000.
Chambered for the 7.62x39mm cartridge, the SKS actually predates the legendary AK-47 by some two years and is typically a more accurate rifle. That’s because is has a longer barrel, increased sight radius and the lesser wear seen on most surplus samples. Standard models hold 10 rounds in a fixed magazine. Ammo, while once available dirt-cheap by the pickup-load, is at a premium but can still be found.
Widely available on Gunbroker.com, in local shops and directly from importers such as Samco Global Arms, good Yugoslavian SKS’s currently bring upwards of $350, and really nice Russian-made guns can bring twice that.
The 7.65x53.5mm cartridge Schmidt-Rubin’s are chambered for a .306-diameter projectile, mirroring the 7.62x51 NATO in performance. Though several variations of the Schmidt-Rubin design are readily available from surplus firearm importers such as Century Arms and Samco Global Arms, ammunition can be hard to come by.
Hornady currently produces 8x56mmR ammunition, as do a couple of manufacturers overseas. Rifles can be found at online auctions, surplus importers such as Century Arms and at local gun shops.
According to vintage military firearms expert David Fortier, the Md57 is the pick of the 7.62x25mm litter. Available through Southern Ohio Gun and AimSurplus starting at $229.95, it’s a handgun that every good vintage military arms lover and shooter should own.
Ammunition that was once obscenely cheap and widely available is becoming scarce, but can still be found.
It was initially developed to be a lighter, more maneuverable rifle than the standard service M1 Garand, with more power and precision than the 1911 and M1917 handguns. It first served in the European Theater in the hands of various branches of the military, most notably among paratroopers, forward artillery observers, officers and ammunition bearers. Later, in a select-fire version fitted with an infrared scope, dubbed the “T3” variation, it did yeoman’s duty at night during the Okinawan campaign. Select-fire M2s were heavily deployed during the Korean War, where they gained a reputation for jamming and had inadequate stopping power in extreme cold.
The M1 Carbine fires a slender, straight-walled .30-caliber cartridge. Magazines typically contain 15 rounds, though 30-rounders eventually became available and popular. Current ammunition is readily available but is not cheap.
While various knockoffs can be had for under $400, correct, U.S.-made M1 Carbines bring closer to $1,000 and are rather hard to find. Gunbroker.com is a good source, as is the CMP, where you can peruse individual listings replete with photography and detailed description and purchase it auction-style.
Many experts believe that the K98 almost perfected bolt-action design, and will argue that most development since then has been fruitless. Strong, reliable, accurate and powerful—the 98K incorporates German engineering and manufacturing with the incredible history of a tiny nation that made a very determined, almost-effective effort to take over the world. How can you not own a K98?