7 Military Surplus Guns Every American Should Own
Matt Korovesis 03.16.15
The first gun that I ever bought was a Soviet Mosin-Nagant rifle made in 1942. It was also the first gun that I ever shot, which is probably why I had a flinch for quite some time after that (let that be a lesson—get some proper instruction and supervision if you’re a first-time shooter). For many Americans, military surplus guns or “milsurp” firearms are a gateway into the rabbit hole of the shooting sports and gun collecting in general. Many surplus rifles and handguns are cheap, simple, and collectable.
Regardless of where your overall gun interests lie, chances are that you’ll end up picking up a milsurp piece at some point or another. Old military guns are both fun to shoot and fascinating artifacts that can serve as gateways to learning about the past. I’ve compiled this list of surplus firearms that are still widely or intermittently available from major retailers or other groups. Read on to see how many you can check off your list.
1. A Lee-Enfield rifle
The British Lee-Enfield series of bolt-action rifles was prolific throughout World Wars One and Two, and variants of the design were produced well beyond 1945. Most all are chambered for the rimmed .303 British round which, while you probably won’t find it at your local sporting goods store (unless you live in a former Commonwealth nation), is still easily found online. Enfield rifles chambered in .303 were notable for their large-for-the-time magazines with 10-round capacities.
There are endless variations of the Enfield, all of which have suitably British names. The SMLE (Short Magazine Lee-Enfield) MK III and Rifle, No. 4 Mk 1 are some of the most common variants. Shortened “Jungle Carbines” are highly sought-after, when they are proven to be legitimate pieces. Enfields rarely make it into larger retailers’ hands these days, and they typically sell for at least $400 to $500 and up.
The Indian-made series of Enfields in 7.62x51mm NATO are known as Ishapore rifles and are less valuable.
2. M1 Garand
It’s hard to find a gun from World War Two that’s more iconic than the M1 Garand. It was the first semiautomatic rifle to be adopted wholesale by a nation’s military, and its reputation for accuracy and reliability were well-earned. Anyone who’s shot a Garand knows how satisfying it is to blast through eight rounds of .30-06 and hear the rifle’s signature en-bloc clip go flying.
Over six million of these American rifles were made at a number of different facilities between 1936 and 1957, and many were supplied to allied nations during the Cold War.
The Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) is the most reliable source for fairly-priced Garands. CMP Garands are almost always mixmasters when it comes to matching numbers, but they’ll work. Expect to pay at least $630 for an entry-level rifle, and over $1,000 for excellent-condition examples with original parts.
3. Mosin-Nagant M91/30 or M44
What would a list of must-have milsurp rifles be without a Mosin? The Mosin-Nagant series of bolt-action rifles and carbines practically defines the modern American military surplus gun market. Though they used to be available for less than $100 each, they’ve steadily climbed in price over the years. Nowadays it’s hard to find a full-length rifle (M91/30) under $150 or a carbine (most commonly M38 and M44 models) under $250.
More than 37,000,000 Mosins were made by Imperial and Soviet Russian facilities alone. Several million more were made on contract in the United States, France, and many other Eastern Bloc nations. You could probably fill a couple of gun safes with different variations of the Mosin and still not have an example of every single one out there.
Soviet-made M91/30s and M44s are some of the most common Mosins out there. They’re both chambered in 7.62x54mmR (like almost all other Mosins), which is still plentiful and cheap. Just be aware that surplus 7.62x54mmR is corrosive, and clean your rifle accordingly after shooting. The muzzle fireballs produced by Mosin carbines can bring a smile to even the most despondent shooter’s face.
4. Finnish Mosin-Nagant m/39 (or any other Finn Mosin)
Once you get yourself a cheap Soviet Mosin, you should upgrade to a Finnish one.
Since Finland borders Russia (and used to be part of the Russian Empire), most of their small arms are based off of Russian designs. However, the Finns have never been content to just take their neighbors’ guns and use them as-is—they like to make them a whole heck of a lot better. Such was the case with most of the Mosin-Nagant rifles the Finns captured, bought, and otherwise acquired throughout the early twentieth century.
The Finns sunk a lot of effort into remanufacturing their Mosins. They never built their own receivers, but they adhered to much stricter tolerances when they reworked the rifles they acquired abroad and on the battlefield. Finnish Mosins are generally regarded as more accurate and well-made than a standard Soviet or Russian rifle. The Finns were using hand-picked Mosins as target rifles well past the end of World War Two.
The most common Finnish Mosins are of the m/39 variety, and can be found at several online retailers. Examples in good condition will generally run at least $350. Rarer variants can reach into four-digit numbers.
One of my most prized rifles is an American-made Mosin m/91 that was reworked by the Finns at some point in its life. You can read about that gun here.
5. M1903 Springfield
The M1903 Springfield is another classic American military rifle. The bolt-action M1903 was the Garand’s predecessor, though it too was chambered for the powerful .30-06 round.
Based off of the Mauser action, the Springfield is what many people think of when they hear “bolt-action military rifle.” The gun was used in World Wars One and Two, and saw limited use in Korea and Vietnam in sniper roles. They’re capable of surprising accuracy and are fascinating pieces of history.
The only negative thing that could be said about M1903s in today’s market is that they’re rare and pricey. Expect to pay at least a grand for an original one in good condition, and a bit less than that for a “refurbished” model.
I recently included the Swiss K31 on my list of guns you should buy with your tax refund, and for good reason. The rifle features a very unique straight-pull action, a rarity among bolt-action service rifles. K31s are chambered in the potent and affordable (if you buy online) 7.5 Swiss cartridge, which is similar in performance to .30-06. I know of several sporstmen who use K31s as hunting guns.
Swiss surplus rifles are almost always in excellent condition, which can’t be said of every Mosin pulled out of a musty crate. I recently purchased a K31 made in 1934, and aside from a few knicks in the stock, I could swear it was made under a decade ago.
As with almost every other milsurp gun on the market, K31s have steadily increased in price over the years as supplies dry up. AIMSurplus seems to have the largest batch available right now, with prices ranging from $300 to $330.
7. Nagant M1895 revolver
My final choice for this list is almost more of a “why not” entry than a “must have.” They can still be found online for under $200, though they’ve started drying up as of late.
The Nagant revolver (designed by the brother of Emile Nagant, whose work was incorporated into the Mosin-Nagant rifle) is another unique design from the late nineteeth and early twentieth century. This Belgian design was manufactured en masse by Imperial Russia and later the Soviet Union, and saw wide use in both World Wars. The M1895 is chambered in 7.62x38mmR, itself an oddball cartridge (albeit one that is still available online).
The revolver’s cylinder moves forward when the gun is cocked, eliminating the gap between the cylinder and barrel—few other contemporary revolvers featured such an action, and perhaps even fewer do today.
What are some of your must-have milsurp guns?
Note added 3-23: This article’s text has been corrected regarding Enfield terminology.