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Collecting Surplus Military Rifles on a Budget
Surplus military firearms are often over-looked by gun enthusiasts. Our culture often assumes newer is always better, but with firearms this is not the case. Many older guns feature excellent craftsmanship rivaling or even exceeding modern guns, and with proper care and maintenance they can continue to perform exceptionally long after their owners have passed on. The most readily available older guns are surplus military firearms, which you can purchase from most gun stores and a variety of Internet-only retailers.
Some surplus military firearms are highly sought-after collectibles with hefty price tags to match; however, governments mass-produced many firearm models during World War I, World War II, and the Cold War, rendering them relatively cheap. Prices have increased throughout the past decade due to tightening gun laws and global unrest, but they still provide a tremendous value for budget shooters. Novice and veteran shooters alike should add one (or several) surplus military firearms to their collections. While there are many excellent surplus guns, these five are excellent choices for shooters on a budget.
1. Mosin-Nagant 91/30
Many collectors consider the Mosin-Nagant 91/30 model the ultimate budge curio & relic rifle. The Russians developed this variation of the original Mosin-Nagant Model 1891 in 1930. It served the Soviet military during World War II, who continued to use it throughout the twentieth century despite ceasing production in favor of the semi-automatic SKS. Mosin-Nagant 91/30s provide solid accuracy (see the video below) and are extremely durable. Even today--more than 80 years after the first bolt-action 91/30s were issued--you can still find these weapons on the battlefield in such conflicts as the Syrian civil war and the Russian/Ukrainian border conflict in Crimea.
Due to the 91/30's widespread use on the battlefield--the Russians produced millions of these rifles--they remain among the cheapest curio & relic rifles. Prices have increased in recent years--they used to sell for less than $100--but the patient collector can find them online or in a local gun shop for $175 or less. Surplus 91/30 ammunition is quite cheap as well; the widely used 7.62x54r cartridge, which provides sufficient power for deer hunting, can be purchased in surplus 440-round tins for less than $100. A word of caution: surplus 7.62x54r cartridges have corrosive primer, which will rust a rifle's bore if you do not clean it immediately after your shooting session.
2. Swiss Karabiner K31
While not quite as cheap as the Mosin-Nagant 91/30, the Swiss Karabiner K31 is one of the best budget curio & relic rifles. Featuring precise Swiss craftsmanship, this unique straight-pull bolt action rifle delivers a level of accuracy unprecedented in the sub-$500 price range. Once used by the Swiss to prepare for a Nazi invasion that never came, the K31 is now an excellent choice for collectors interested in competition shooting or deer hunting.
Need more proof? Watch Hickok45's review of the K31 below.
K31s are a steal at the $300 most importers sell them for. Less than 500,000 were produced for the Swiss army, and dealers say imports are drying up. Once they do, expect prices to increase dramatically. Surplus 7.5 Swiss ammunition is not as cheap or readily available as the 7.62x54 or 7.62x39 cartridges, but it provides match-grade accuracy while still costing less than quality .308 Winchester ammunition. If you do purchase a K31, make sure to check under the butt plate; many rifles contain a slip of paper with the name and address of the Swiss soldier who used the rifle.
3. Mauser Model 98
Many military surplus rifle collectors consider the Mauser Model 98 (M98) the best bolt-action rifle ever produced. First produced by the German Empire before World War I, this rifle saw action in both World Wars. Modern hunters still revere the M98's hunting prowess. Many hunters use rifles chambered in the original 8mm Mauser cartridge, although many rifles have been rechambered to conventional hunting calibers (and some have even been converted into shotguns). M98 prices vary based on condition and country of origin. Yugoslavian M98s are usually readily available for less than $275.
4. Chinese Type 56 SKS
There aren't many semi-automatic rifles available for the budget curio & relic collector, but the Chinese Type 56 SKS fills the role nicely. Manufactured and used by the Chinese Communist military, most of these rifles have seen lots of battlefield action and exhibit moderate wear and tear. However, beneath the dings and scratches lie excellent battle rifles. They feature a non-detachable box magazine and a folding bayonet. These rifles shoot the cheap 7.62x39 cartridge, making them a great option for volume shooters. The United States government blocked importation of SKS rifles in the 1990's, which inflated prices. However, collectors can still nab Type 56s in fair-to-good condition for less than $350.
5. Mosin-Nagant M38 Carbine
The Mosin-Nagant 91/30 was designed for combat at long distances; however, the Soviet army realized most combat was taking place at shorter distances. Thus, they replaced the 48" 91/30 with a similar 40" carbine version, known as the M1938 (M38). Though not quite as accurate at long distances as the 91/30, the M38 is much more portable, making it an excellent battle rifle and a great choice for deer hunters who hunt in areas with thick brush.
The M38 was later replaced by the M1944 (M44)--which included a side-folding bayonet--but most collectors prefer the M38 because it was produced before World War II and thus had higher quality standards than the M44, which was produced during wartime. The M38 shoots the 7.62x54r cartridge, which is convenient for collectors who plan on purchasing multiple Mosin models. When fired, the shortened M38 barrel releases an eye-catching firebolt sure to make you the talk of your local rifle range. M38s are not quite as easy to find as 91/30s or M44s, but diligent collectors can find them in the mid-$200s.
Save Money With a Curio & Relic License
It's always nice to inspect a gun personally before purchasing, but online retailers often offer prices so low it's worth the gamble. However, the United States restricts gun transfers to licensed dealers/individuals; you must have your guns shipped to your local dealer and pay a transfer fee, which varies based on the dealer but usually ranges from $20-35. If you're on a budget, this transfer fee is certainly an unwelcome expense.
Thankfully, the U.S. government has made a provision to allow firearm collectors to become licensed Curio & Relic (C&R) collectors. For $10 a year (paid in 3-year increments) and an ATF background check, you can acquire a license allow you to ship military rifles manufactured more than 50 years ago to your home. This saves you from having to pay transfer fees every time you purchase a firearm from an Internet retailer. Acquiring a Curio & Relic license is a no-brainer for any collector who plans to buy at least two surplus military firearms within a several-year period.
What is your favorite budget surplus military firearm? Comment below!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Donna from East Yorkshire, UK on January 30, 2018:
No idea, but I know some guys who might so I will share this :)