Owning the newest rifles gets expensive fast.
But what if I told you that there was an entire group of firearms that are fun to shoot, interesting to look at and, best of all, that were generally much more affordable than the latest AR-15?
Sound too good to be true?
It turns out that you can add to your gun collection fairly cheaply by looking somewhere most people never bother: military surplus rifles.
These guns are battle-tested and make a great addition to any shooter’s collection. They are products of a bygone era, but they will still hit the target just as well as any modern gun…and they do it at rock bottom retail prices.
If you are new to the idea of owning military surplus rifles, or just interested in the topic in general, this article will cover a few of the best surplus rifles to own and what it is that makes them worth owning.
So Why Buy Military Surplus?
For new and old gun owners and collectors alike, the world of military surplus rifles and firearms is sometimes overlooked or considered to be only for collectors and not actual shooting enthusiasts. However, military surplus or mil-surp for short, rifles and firearms tick a lot of boxes relevant to anyone looking for a new rifle.
Fun to shoot? Check. Handsome to look at and display? Check. Budget-friendly? Check; well, sometimes.
Full of interesting history? Double check. Accurate? Well, you can see where I’m going with this.
The bottom line is that military surplus rifles are worth researching for any aspiring or experienced gun collector and make for excellent rifles for shooters of all levels of experience.
This applies even more so to hobbyist gunsmiths or those who enjoy tinkering with their firearms. There are plenty of projects that can be done to surplus rifles ranging from simple to complex, but that is an article for another day.
It isn’t unusual for an owner of a single gun to quickly find their collection growing as their budget allows. Owning guns is sort of like saying that you are just going to take one bite of your favorite food and then winding up eating the entire thing. One taste is just not enough.
However, the prices of guns can make it a challenge for a budget-minded gun owner to grow their collection at a fast enough rate to satisfy the itchy trigger fingers that are hungry for new triggers to pull.
Sure, a brand spanking new AR-15 with a full array of rails, accessories, grips, and sights, is a sight to behold and a joy to take to the range. However, that same AR-15 can also quickly soak up even an ample gun budget.
Not to mention all the ammunition that a semi-automatic rifle chews through at the range.
Searching for military surplus rifles and military surplus accessories can also turn into a sort of treasure hunt. I enjoy finding out of the way gun stores and military surplus stores and stopping by to check out what they have.
I have come across some great deals using this method. One memorable find was a few sealed boxes of match grade ammo for a Swiss K31 rifle that I found hiding in a dusty glass display case at a surplus store tucked in the back corner of an indoor flea market.
If you don’t want to hit up the flea markets near you, you can always pick up 480 rounds of some excellent match grade 7.5×55 Swiss (Schmidt-Rubin) – 174 gr ($270.00) for fairly cheap…at least for rifle ammo.
This aspect of military surplus firearm buying and collecting may not appeal to everyone. However, don’t be scared off by the mention of it.
Seeking out shops and stores like I this is entirely voluntary and not at all required to find and buy military surplus guns for decent prices.
Gun shows are pretty much a one-stop shop for most common military rifles and all of the ones I mention in this article are fairly easy to find.
That’s probably enough on the background of this stuff…let’s get into what you’re really here for – finding out more about awesome surplus rifles.
The Mosin-Nagant 91/30: The World’s Best $300 Rifle
The Mosin-Nagant is one of the most iconic and easily recognizable of all military surplus rifles.
It also happens to be one of the most widely available and affordable of all surplus rifles, which makes it a great choice for someone just starting out into the world of military rifle collecting.
The reason that the five-shot, bolt-action Mosin-Nagant rifle is so easy to find and cheap to purchase is that it is one of the most widely mass-produced rifles in history.
Since the design of the rifle in 1891, over 37 million individual Mosin-Nagant rifles have been produced.
Due to that immense amount of rifles, the prices on a Mosin today on the secondary market are extremely affordable. The typical advertised price on one of these bolt-action rifles is somewhere in the neighborhood of $300-350. Just a warning though, the prices of these are on the rise. A $200 rifle 5 years ago is often seen for $400+ now.
Not bad for an antique that helped defeat the Nazi’s is it?
Of course, they can also be had for even cheaper at gun shows and local gun shops that carry them. I have personally purchased Mosin-Nagant carbines at guns shows for under $100 and full-length models for not much more than that.
The beauty of buying military surplus rifles is that a dinged up stock or some other minor damage isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Unless you are strictly buying one to display, a damaged stock or another minor imperfection can lower the price, but won’t lower your enjoyment from owning the rifle.
In fact, I think that a little bit of damage or wear and tear only adds to the character of these rifles.
The year 1891 may seem like a very long time ago for a rifle to have been designed if it is to have any use to modern day gun enthusiasts and hunters.
However, the Mosin-Nagant, or simply Mosin as these rifles are sometimes affectionately called, stands out thanks to the simple and timeless design.
They were designed to fire when the trigger is pulled, send bullets where they are pointed and be easy to fix in the field. The Mosin-Nagant admirably meets all of those requirements.
There were also numerous variations of this rifle produced to meet almost any need on the battlefield.
There are way too many to list in this article, but the most common one is the Model 91/30 which is the rifle famously used by Soviet sniper Vasili Zaitsev during the Battle of Stalingrad during World War II. (Check out the movie Enemy at the Gates if you haven’t already)
That means that it can easily be used to hunt most big game if a cheap and effective hunting rifle is your goal.
The one downside…the weight.
This thing is heavy.
The Mosin-Nagant weighs about nine pounds when fully loaded and features a top loading five-round magazine that can either be loaded by hand round by round or via stripper clip for a much quicker full reload.
In comparison, a typical AR-15 with some accessories and a full magazine are generally a few pounds lighter when chambered for similar calibers.
Even if you only take it to the range every so often for a little throwback shooting action, this rifle is, in my opinion, a must own for any firearm enthusiast and surplus rifle collector.
Make sure the gun functions without any issues and you should be good to go. Mosin-Nagants are so durable that it would be surprising to find one that didn’t work!
Also, shooting one is dirt cheap. You can get 500 rounds of 7.62x54r ($240) for super cheap.
Turkish 8mm Mauser: Venerable, Cheap, Easily Modifiable.
The first rifle I ever bought for myself was an old beat up 8mm Turkish Mauser. Even though the day I bought that rifle was over a decade ago, I still remember it quite vividly.
After doing a lot of research, I got my dad to take me to a local gun show. When I walked out a couple hours later, I was the proud owner of a slightly battered Turkish Mauser and a couple boxes of surplus ammo.
The thing that I also walked out with and didn’t realize until multiple mil-surp purchases later was my new obsession with military rifles.
Similarly to the Mosin-Nagant, the Mauser is not just a singular military rifle. There are a lot of different variations from a lot of different countries, but they all have one thing in common: the venerable Mauser action and safety system.
One of best-designed actions in firearm history, you can find an iteration of the Mauser company that still sells brand new rifles to this day.
Mausers tend to really vary in price between different models. A Turkish Mauser like I have isn’t going to win any beauty contests, but it always goes bang when I pull the trigger and the cheaper price made me less concerned with doing things like refinishing the stock.
Turkish Mausers can easily be found for under $200 while other types like the Swedish Mauser and the German Mauser K98 can be significantly more expensive with some K98 Mausers crossing the $1000 price point.
Of course, the point of this article is to show you military surplus rifles can let you add to your gun collection without breaking the bank.
So with that in mind, I’ll recommend the Turkish Mauser as the ideal choice in this case. Ammo for this beauty is the cheapest you’re going to find other than pistol or rimfire ammo.
You can get 720 rounds of 8mm Mauser – 170 Grain FMJ ($330) which will probably last you for years.
The Swiss K31: Precision Swiss Craftsmanship on a Budget
Out of my entire personal gun collection, my Swiss K31 straight-pull bolt action rifle is one of my most prized rifles.
Everything about the Swiss K31 appeals to my personal tastes in a military surplus rifle and it is one gun that I could never see parting with.
The Swiss K31 bolt-action rifle or the Karabiner Model 1931 was the standard issue rifle of the Swiss armed forces from 1933 through 1958. It is chambered for the 7.5x55mm cartridge which is ballistically similar to the .308 Winchester.
This surplus rifle also features a six-round detachable box magazine. The Swiss K31 is well-known for being of a high quality and being quite accurate due to the tight tolerances used during manufacturing and a free-floated barrel.
The Swiss K31 is not your typical bolt action rifle. Instead of the usual up and over method of racking a new round into the chamber, the Swiss K31 action requires a straight pull back and a second push forward to chamber a new round from the magazine.
This straight pull action can greatly decrease the time it takes to chamber and fire and new round which makes for quicker follow up shots.
The straight pull action also lends itself well to keeping targets in the sight picture more easily thanks to the lack of lateral movement required to work the action.
A two-stage trigger is standard on the Swiss K31 which means it has a long take up before the trigger will engage the sear.
The trigger was designed this way with the goal of reducing unexpected firing during high-adrenaline situations.
In fact, the accuracy of the Swiss K31 easily rivals modern bolt-action rifles being manufactured today.
One other exciting feature that can be found on some K31s bought on the military surplus market is a small placard found behind the buttplate of the rifle that shows the rifle’s former Swiss government user.
In some cases, owners of surplus Swiss K31s have even been able to contact their rifle’s former owner.
This article doesn’t even begin to cover the huge variety of surplus firearms that are available to collectors and firearm enthusiasts.
The bottom line is that military surplus rifles are a great way to further enhance the hobbies of shooting, gun collecting, military history, hobby-level gunsmithing, and hunting. With all of the new rifles and firearms being produced brand new these days, military surplus rifles are often overlooked by people and especially by those who are new to firearm hobbies, shooting and gun collecting.
It is my belief that everyone who enjoys owning and shooting guns should own at least one military surplus rifle. Just don’t be surprised if you set out to add one such rifle to your collection and wind up with a new interest that quickly has you stalking gun show floors for more pieces to add to your collection.
Do you own any military surplus rifles? If you do, tell us about your collection in the comments section below. If not, does the idea of owning one appeal to you? We can also answer any questions you may have about finding, purchasing, and caring for these awesome (and functional) pieces of history.