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Military Surplus Collecting For Beginners—6 Guns Worth Knowing About

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Owning and shooting a real piece of world history in the form of a military-surplus firearm is one of the most exciting facets of gun ownership. It can also be the source of quite a bit of frustration. With these “antiques,” frustrating circumstances can arise for even the most seasoned collectors and shooters. That said, those who are brand new to military surplus firearms are at a greater risk of facing the consequences of an imprudent purchase. Some military surplus firearms lend themselves very well to introducing a shooter or collector to the hobby. Other guns may leave new collectors feeling remorseful over their purchase. The taste and goals of the collector will have a great effect on their purchasing decisions and, subsequently, their initial experience with the hobby.

Those looking for a piece of history they can enjoy both owning and firing at the range will find that there are some excellent options on the market, as well as some they should likely avoid. Keep in mind that all of the firearms below are excellent collectible pieces and may even be great shooters. Just because a certain firearm may not be the best choice for a new collector and shooter does not mean they are not worth owning for those more familiar with it. Also, ammunition availability will have varying degrees of effect on different collectors. The ownership experience may differ greatly based on if a collector can find ammunition or already has the means and skill to reload the often-obsolete cartridge.

Three Great Military Surplus Arms New Collectors Should Know About

The Mosin-Nagant M91/30
The Mosin-Nagant has been a popular gateway into military surplus firearms collecting for many years. The Mosin is a sturdy workhorse. It is a bolt-action rifle of Russian origin. The rifle has gone through several well-known iterations and variants, which played their roles with Russian troops in both world wars. It was used in countless other conflicts around the world and, unbelievably, is still being fielded by a handful of warfighters and militants to this day. This is all to say that the Mosin-Nagant has a fascinating history.

Right-side view Mosin-Nagant bolt-action rifle military surplus gun wood stock sling clip ammunition on black background

While not nearly as cheap as they were back when folks could buy them by the crate for less than the cost of a new cellphone, Mosin-Nagants have managed to stay well below the price of contemporary offerings. Online prices for all military surplus rifles are generally above average, but Mosins can be found for between $300 and $500. There are certainly cheaper military surplus firearms, like the Carcano M91, but for collectors who want to shoot, ammo availability must be a consideration. Like many others, Carcano ammo has, unfortunately, mostly dried up for the time being. The 7.62×54 mm R round chambered by the Mosin-Nagant has certainly risen in price, but it’s nowhere near to the extent of something like Carcano ammo. It also remains available to buy off the shelves of many local gun stores and large outdoor retailers.

When shooting, the recoil on the Mosin-Nagant is stout, and the muzzle report is hearty. Recoil is not so bad that it should keep a collector from enjoying the experience, but if that does happen to be the case, many companies produce rubber padding for the Mosin that can be slipped around the butt of the gun to reduce felt recoil. The Mosin is as easy to clean as it is to operate. The simplicity of the rifle is part of its charm. Between being easy to find, easy to shoot and easy to keep clean, the Mosin is a great introductory choice into military surplus.

The Swedish Mauser M1896
The Swedish Mauser Model of 1896 is a step up from the price of the Mosin. With this increase in price comes an increase in the quality of firearm being purchased. The Swedish Mausers are known for their excellent fit and finish. Even those like the one pictured, which has taken many dings and dents, maintain an undeniable aesthetic quality. The Swedish M1896, also known as the M96, is said to be one of the most accurate military surplus rifles ever imported. This makes it an obvious choice for new collectors who want a top-notch shooting experience with their first military surplus rifle. The Swedish Mausers have an intriguing history of their own, which I recommend new collectors look into, regardless of their choice of first purchase.

Right-side view of bolt-action m1896 swedish mauser rifle with ammunition box black background wood stock gun military surplus

The M96 chambers the 6.5×55 mm (Swedish) cartridge. Excellent ballistic performance and minimal recoil are both hallmarks of this round, and it happens to be a somewhat popular hunting cartridge here in the United States. This means that several manufacturers are producing ammunition for the M96, which a collector should be able to find at many local gun stores and large retailers. The performance of a well-preserved M96 with quality ammunition is great, even by today’s standards. The high build quality of the M96 paired with its ballistic performance make it an ideal choice for new collectors who want to squeeze the best possible accuracy results out of their surplus firearm at the range.

The Nagant M1898 Revolver
When searching for a military surplus pistol with which to begin a collection, the Nagant M1898 is a solid choice. Much like the Mosin, it has a storied past in service to Russia through two world wars. It has been used in a variety of other conflicts over the years. The Nagant pistol is mechanically unique, but does share many traits with other revolvers of the late 1800s. It is also relatively easy to fieldstrip for cleaning.

nagant m1898 revolvers two guns opposing position rear revovler has suppressor silencer affixed to barrel wood grips vintage weather finish white background

The M1898 is chambered in the 7.62×38 mm R (Nagant) cartridge. This peculiar cartridge features a rebated bullet with a case mouth that extends beyond the projectile’s tip. Working in conjunction with a forward-moving cylinder that forms a gas seal with the barrel’s forcing cone when firing, the extended case means that there is little in the way of gas or particles to bother the shooter. This gas seal was designed to increase velocity but also notably allows the revolver to be suppressed effectively. The ammunition is not necessarily “readily available” at the local level, but it can easily be found online at about 50 cents a round, as of this writing. This price reflects factory-loaded, non-corrosive ammo. Buying surplus packages of corrosive ammunition will mean lower prices yet. A collector just has to be sure that they know how corrosive ammo affects their firearm and to clean it accordingly. The gun itself produces very little recoil and is quite a pleasant plinker, aside from its heavy trigger. Nagant revolvers are rising in price but can still be purchased for around $500 online, with some local stores selling them for less. The M1898 is a great way to start up a collection, especially if the collector wants to focus on handguns.

Three Military Surplus Arms To Avoid, Or Save For Later

The Mauser C96
The Mauser C96 is a pistol with an incredible history. It was used in myriad conflicts around the world, including both world wars. Known affectionately as “The Broomhandle” due to the layout of its grip, it has been featured popular media. It was famously modified to create an iconic blaster in the Star Wars franchise. The C96 can be a really great firearm to own and shoot, but that isn’t always the case. While a new collector might be attracted to such an iconic firearm, the C96 may not be the right way to get into military surplus firearms if the collector actually wants to shoot.

right-side view of Mauser C96 pistol semi-automatic white background fiocchi ammunition box foreground

While the C96 was a well-made pistol that held a good reputation when it was introduced, the years have not been kind to many examples on the market. With the value of C96s rising steadily, buying one without being able to fire it is a risky maneuver. An all-matching C96 in good shape can fetch thousands of dollars. There are so many little things that can go wrong in the many moving parts of the C96, and not many good quality replacement parts are available. Even with the parts, troubleshooting the C96 can be a long and arduous process, even for a more seasoned collector.

This is an issue with many surplus firearms, both popular and obscure. Assessing the rarity of important components is a crucial step of a surplus firearm purchase. Understanding the hurdles you might face, should the gun need repairs, will likely save you money and heartache in the long run. Every year that passes, parts for the majority of military surplus firearms become harder to find. Breakages and repairs are constant, so the demand will always be there. The C96 pictured has had hours of work and troubleshooting done and still has not returned to functioning condition. If a collector plans to bring their military surplus selection to the range, a gun like the C96 should not be a first purchase, unless the buyer is positive it functions. Even then, they should proceed with caution.

The Arisaka Rifles
Japanese firearms are some of the most interesting used in the Second World War. Portrayals in popular media like HBO’s “The Pacific,” have increased the appreciation many prospective collectors have for these firearms, especially the Arisaka rifles. The Arisaka rifles have appreciated greatly in value in recent years, with the Type 99 variant currently selling online for between $450 and $1,000 based on condition and variant. However, price is not currently the barrier to entry for the Arisaka rifles. Ammunition, both for the 6.5 mm and 7.7 mm variants of Arisaka, has become extremely scarce. Reloading components exist for the rounds, but many new collectors will not have the means to reload ammunition, much less the obsolete cartridges required to fire many military surplus firearms. Prices fluctuate, but 20 round boxes of factory manufactured 7.7 Japanese routinely sell for $3 a shot or more, when they can even be found. Very few, if any manufacturers produce cartridges for the Arisaka rifles at this time, so shooting them has become increasingly difficult for those who don’t have the means to reload.

right-side view Arisaka bolt-action military surplus rifle japanese gun black background ammunition foreground bullets

This is not only an issue with Arisakas, but with a host of other military surplus firearms. Certain rounds that were once available on the shelves of gun stores now rarely make an appearance, even in the online market. Buying the needed tools and components to reload opens up a lot of doors for military surplus shooters. For those who can’t load their own ammunition, it’s imperative to research and consider the current availability of ammo for a surplus firearm before taking it home. While an Arisaka rifle makes an excellent addition to a collection and is a joy to shoot at the range, the difficulty in acquiring ammo for many new collectors is a sign that they should steer clear unless they can produce the ammo themselves.

The Lee-Enfield Rifles
Lee-Enfield-pattern rifles are excellent military surplus firearms to add to a collection. They have a storied history of service with our allies in the United Kingdom. Many who are familiar with the Enfield rifles may be surprised to find them on this side of the lists. This surprise is not undue, as the No. 4 Mk I is a favorite among many military surplus collectors, and for good reason. It shoots very well, it cycles quickly and the .303 British round in which it’s chambered is still relatively available for purchase, at least online.

For new collectors however, the current market of Enfield rifles can be very difficult to navigate. First and foremost, Enfields were used in a wide array of applications over the course of their service lives. Information about its service can be deduced through the examination of its markings, as with most any surplus arm. The various markings and symbols represent things like the country the rifle served, inspection information, when it was issued and whether or not it remained under military ownership after that service. That’s just to name a few. Without knowing what the symbols mean, a collector could find themselves overpaying for something that isn’t quite what they wanted. For the multitude of markings that appear on Enfields, there are also things a potential buyer has to look out for, that may not be quite so obvious.

dynamic quarter view of lee-enfield bolt-action military surplus rifle black background shown with blue box of .303 British ammunition

Some Enfield rifles, like several other military surplus arms, were built or rebuilt for the purpose of training soldiers. These are referred to as drill purpose rifles. Drill purpose rifles were not built to the appropriate specifications to handle live fire with full-power ammunition. The weakened construction of drill purpose Enfield rifles means that attempting to fire a live round out of them could be an injurious or even fatal venture. In the vast majority of cases, research will supply a collector with the tools to identify drill purpose rifles. Problems arise when it comes to drill purpose rifles that can’t be easily identified upon inspection. Some Enfield rifles that have been pieced together from parts can possibly contain components of dubious quality or questionable origin. This however, is a pitfall of many different military surplus platforms, not just the Enfields. Headspace can also present a possible issue in all military surplus firearms, including the Enfield rifles. Having a headspace gauge and understanding how it works could help you to pick the right rifle when making a purchase. Some Enfield rifles, like the one pictured can be fitted with “numbered bolts.” There are a number of helpful resources on the internet to learn about how they work, but in essence they can possibly be used to adjust the headspace of an Enfield rifle.

The Enfield is truly a great firearm and having one in a collection is a very rewarding experience. It’s not that the rifle itself is bad to own or shoot, new collectors should give the platform some thought and research before purchasing. Both research ahead of the purchase and inspection from a competent gunsmith afterwards are great ways to avoid buyer’s remorse, or worse down the road. The Enfield rifles, like all military surplus firearms, should be examined by a qualified gunsmith before use. It only takes one instance of an unsafe firearm being fired to cause serious injury or death. While this is the worst-case scenario, it should always be given ample consideration.

Diving Into The World Of Military Surplus Firearms Collecting
At the end of the day, every shooter and collector is different and each enjoys and engages in the hobby and sport in different ways. A shooter’s or collector’s specific circumstances and taste in firearms will greatly affect what makes a “good” or “bad” first purchase. With a few ideas of some qualities and conditions to look for when selecting a first military surplus firearm, prospective collectors are better equipped to make good decisions that, hopefully, will allow them to enjoy collecting and shooting these mechanical pieces of history for years to come.



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