I started collecting military surplus rifles years ago, not
really knowing what I had stumbled into. I innocently purchased an M1 Garand
from a local gun shop. Like most male Americans of my age group and older, I
grew up seeing Garands and a plethora of other battle rifles filling the silver
screen. I think I watched every war movie ever made. I played “war” and “army”
with the neighborhood kids. Even my first BB gun was a copy of the
M1 Carbine. You could
say I was infected and did not even know it.
The first fix
I had always wanted an M1 Garand. I thought they
represented everything good about America. The first Garand I finally ended up
with had very little rifling in the barrel and when fired, sent rounds tumbling
down range, creating keyhole silhouettes in the paper targets. I sent it off a
couple of years later to have a new barrel installed, reparkerized, and just an
overall reconditioning performed. The day it returned was a day that lives in my
memories. It was beautiful! Everything about it was brand new; the look,
function, smell and accuracy. I needed knowledge and purchased one of Scott
Duff’s Garand books and read it cover to cover. I was hooked.
Oh, the history!
By the serial number I could tell it was manufactured in
1943. Maybe it had actually seen action in Normandy or even Iwo Jima? Maybe it
marched freezing with a GI in the Chosin Reservoir, in Korea, facing god only
knows what? It was just amazing to me to hold such a historical device in my
After a time, I purchased another Garand from the Civilian
Marksmanship Program (CMP) that was in surprisingly good condition. Next came a
German Mauser 98k, then a Yugoslavian M48, and then another, and so the story
I have different rifles with different histories, different
calibers to reload, and all kinds of facts and knowledge to learn and absorb.
Researching each rifle has become a hobby of itself. The internet and other
publications help greatly in this endeavor. For little to no cost, you can find
out the “when”, “where”, and “who” made your rifle.
You really need to learn how to properly disassemble and
reassemble your new friend. Even cleaning and oiling can be a differing task
from rifle to rifle. Operations and general maintenance are also other important
responsibilities you need to become proficient at. What I am describing is not
all that different from getting a new pet and having to learn to take care of
The dollars and sense of it
One of the primary reasons I gravitate towards military
surplus rifles is the availability and lower prices. What other rifle can you
purchase in almost 100% condition for $50 and up? Watching Shotgun News has
become almost a religion, in learning what is new and available on the market
and in great numbers. Today it could be a Finnish M-39 Nagant, tomorrow a
Romanian M44 Nagant Carbine, or a Yugoslavian SKS M-59. You never know what
lurks over the horizon, what gems are wrapped in cosmoline waiting in a
warehouse for some American importer to snatch them up and sell in the US for
some ungodly low dollar amount.
If you are going to collect firearms and wish to stay
married, then surplus is really the way to go. I don’t know about you, but it is
a heck of a lot easier to get a $100 rifle past the wife than a $500 one. If you
are anything like me then surplus is just simple marital salvation.
Are Surplus Rifles Junk?
A good question; some are, but most are examples of fine
engineering, excellent workmanship, marvels of modern manufacturing techniques,
and simplicity in form and function, all rolled into one mechanical device. When
I hold a Swedish Mauser m96 rifle in my hands, manufactured in 1921, I am amazed
at the quality of workmanship and overall fit and finish. These guys really knew
how to make firearms and they made them to last. The mere fact that there are so
many of them in existence today pays homage to their craft.
I have a friend who is an avid benchrest shooter and he
says, “They are all pieces of junk!” referring to military surplus rifles. I
understand his point to a certain extent; surplus rifles when compared to
benchrest rifles are probably pieces of junk. But, I would like to see someone
get teary eyed over a benchrest rifle. Where is the history, dignity, human
nature and conflict? Who ever died defending one’s country carrying a benchrest
rifle, and for what causes?
Last and final; I believe that military surplus rifles
bring newcomers to the sport. I have seen many a shooter at the range with a
Mauser or a Schmidt-Rubin that they picked up at a local sporting goods store
and are out at the range for the first time in probably a decade or more. All
because they just wanted a piece of history or just to get back in touch with
Out: Selecting Your First Military Surplus Rifle or Carbine