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Surplus Military Rifles
Subject: Surplus Military Rifles

Posted By: ML - Registered User

Posts: 245

Posted At: (2/19/02 5:49 pm)

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Some thoughts on surplus rifles.

Here we have a Forum member who brings up an interesting topic. For an entire generation of Americans, foreign and domestic surplus military rifles provided state-of-the-art centerfire rifles at a bargain price. So now we come to the question: Are foreign military surplus rifles a good choice today?

Mausers, Enfields, Mosin-Nagants, and more are available in numbers not seen since the late 1960s, and often at attractive prices. If you know how to weld, run a metal lathe and a milling machine, and accomplish detail-oriented woodwork--or are willing to pay someone who can--you can still turn these rifles into first-rate sporters. If you can’t, these rifles often still can provide much service in their stock (albeit often heavy) original military trim, or you can hack away at them and create a "kitchen-counter" sporter with little more than a hacksaw.

Our original posting contributor lists his criteria as follows:

1. Reliability

2. Caliber availability

3. Price

4. Simplicity (No Schmidt-Rubins)

I think my criteria would be a little different:

1. Condition

2. Suitability of caliber for what I intended to shoot

3. Original design of action

4. Availability/Price/Weight/Ergonomics/Ammunition availability

Let me explain in slightly greater detail.


Military surplus rifles available today have generally been produced between 1871 and about 1950. If we’re talking about bolt actions, make that about 1888 to 1950. After 1950, most new-production military arms were selective-fire (semi-automatic and full-automatic), and, as such, are unavailable in any large numbers to the present civilian public. Even the most mathematically challenged Forum members should realize that this makes these guns between 60 and 129 years old. An old, old rifle may have been through two world wars, a far-east "Police Action" or two, and the hands of God-only-knows how many guerillas. On the other hand, one may also find newly released Yugoslavian M48 and M48 A Mausers which are virtually new, and other rifles (some of the Enfields come to mind) which have been recently arsenal rebuilt. It is impossible to recommend any older rifle without speaking of its condition first. Some rifles may be so worn or corroded as to be patently unsafe; many have been assembled with mix-and-match bolts and need to be headspaced for safety, and finally, even if a weapon is safe, it may be so abused (particularly the barrel) as to preclude any semblance of accuracy.


This is a little easier, as almost all of these rifles in question were designed to kill or injure human-sized targets, and as such offer medium-caliber performance. As such, none of them are an optimal choice for ground squirrels, nor are they optimal for heavy game such as the major bears. But if you’re looking for a medium, the choices abound.

Original design of action

Here, you’ve got to set some priorities. All of these actions tend to be robust compared to their civilian sporting counterparts. Some offer more advanced safety features. Most (but not all) field-strip readily. Some rifles (early-serial-range M1903 Springfields, the small-ring Spanish-made Mausers) are afflicted by metallurgy which renders them questionable, unadvisable, or unsafe.

Availability/Price/Weight/Ergonomics/Ammunition availability

Availability and price are pretty transparent issues. Weight, as well, is easily understood, although it may be reduced in the sporterizing process. Ergonomics, especially stocking, may also be influenced by sporterizing or restocking. Finally, ammunition availability may be an issue with certain designs, although in general if one can find a rifle today, one can find brass or loaded ammunition as well. There are few valid excuses for not handloading other than laziness or a self-imposed ignorance, although even I’ll admit that for casual shooting, if one places only modest importance on accuracy, the plethora of cheap surplus ammunition (presently available) on the market may make reloading for a particular weapon unnecessary.

So where does that leave us? Here are some of the major choices:

The Mauser Gew 98 family, usually in 8 x 57.

The "Swedish" Mauser M96 family, usually in 6.5 x 55.

The "Spanish" M1893 Mauser family, often in 7 x 57 or .308 CETME.

The Lee-Enfield (SMLE) family, usually in .303 (some in .308 Win.).

The Mosin-Nagant M91/30 family in 7.62 x 54 R.

The M1903 Springfield family in .30-’06 Springfield

The P-14 or P-17 Enfield rifles in .303 British and .30-’06 Springfield, respectively.

The MAS 49/56 in 7.5 x 54.

The M38 Carcano family in 6.5 x 52.

The M1896 Krag and subsequent variants in .30-40 U.S. (Krag).

Looking through my vast armory, I can find at least one example of each and every one, and can speak with some small authority.

The Swedish Mausers, particularly the shorter M38 versions, are a favorite, although many shooters will want a larger caliber. The are becoming a bit more difficult to find, and a bit more expensive. Some shooters will point out that the earlier M96 action lacks sophisticated gas control features of the Gew 98 weapons. This is true, however with modern commercial brass, pierced primers are less of an issue. Too, bolt disassembly is slightly easier, with fewer small parts. An M38 in "pseudo-scout" configuration is one of my favorite winter cross-country-ski rifles.

The M1903 Springfields (either ’03 or ’03-A3) are of course a great choice, although they are clearly more costly than some of the other options.

So I think, were I to advise most people out there, I’d direct them towards the Gew 98 Mauser family. This includes the Kar 98k of the Second World War, the "Turkish" Mausers on the market today, the VZ22 and VZ24 Czech Mausers, the M48 and M48A Yugoslavian Mausers, and many more.

Hope that is of interest,


Of all the things I've lost, I think I miss my mind the most.
<img src='<#EMO_DIR#>/cool.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt='B)' /> I sure like my VZ22 Czeck Mauser. It is fairly accurate and surplus ammo is cheap. Most of the ammo is corrosive, but I have no shortage of elbow grease for cleaning the thing. My favorites however, are the SKS variants--cheap gun, cheap (noncorrosive) ammo and cheap spare parts. Does it get any better?
A mauser k98 re-barreled to .308 win. with peep sights. Used to have one sold it shouldn't have, was done by the Israelies, exceptional shooter, dumb ownerSad

just a thought
Lee-Enfield No.1 mk III and a Lee-Enfield Mk 1 NoIV, both in .303...beautiful. Another great one was a Mosin Nagant M44 Carbine variant of the Model 91, new in grease from Factory 11. These were all used for years, and the snow never bothered any of them. Unfortunately they were quite susceptible to a housebreaker who made off with all three. (sigh) Anyone want to get rid of a Nagant?
"Did anyone actually see him eat the coffee grounds?

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Remote Areas Emergency Medicine and Survival
I like the M1A, needs shoulder pad.

.308's a pretty good caliber.

What follows is an opinion, and I don't want to offend anyone:

I take all associated talk about grains and weights and velocity loss due to barrel length/muzzle brakes, etc., as just so much hokum.

Get a good weapon with a good and proven load. Zero it at an effective mid-range for the particular weapon (+/-300 yds on a .308). Practice at that setting for eyeball shooting at 100, 200, 500, 800 yds or so. If you do that, if you learn your weapon, then grains, velocity, etc. won't matter. If you're an assassin it might. In survival situations it won't. You use what you have.

If someone handloads powder with a tweezer and balances all rounds to 1/10,000th of a gram, his or her success differences will be negligible when compared to yours if you both work within your limitations.

You'll hit your target because you know and maintain your weapon. That simple. Your weapon will do what it should if (1) it's quality is up to standards, (2) you have taken the time to adapt to it, and (3) you have maintained it and know it with an intimacy that would make your wife blush. No weapon comes with a "successful use" guarantee if your weights and velocities are all topped out. You can still miss, even if you know your stuff inside and out. Just do it right and do it well with something you have learned competently. That's my opinion.


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