Surplus Firearms

What are they and Where Do They Come From?

Over the years as military technology and tactics have changed some weapons have become obsolete. The U.S. and Foreign Governments have sought to recoup some of their investment by selling these firearms on the open market. This has provided many Americans with the opportunity to purchase well made firearms at bargain prices but a few words of caution are in order.

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  1. Many foreign firearms have quirky or awkward designs which for a collector are part of their charm but for a target shooter or hunter may not be optimal.
  2. Most military firearms on the market are used and often abused.
  3. Rarely will there any sort of warranty.
  4. Parts may be hard to find or expensive and ammunition be hard to find as well.
  5. It is generally best to regard military surplus guns as shooters and not collector items regardless what a seller might tell you.

    Firearms that are truly collectible must be in almost perfect condition with the original finish or they must be very rare. The presence of an importer's mark(s) will often detract from its value as a collectible, so too will non matching parts. Many military firearms that have long been in use will have been arsenal rebuilt at least once. As a result some of the original parts have been replaced with new parts or those salvaged from other guns and very likely the metal parts will have been reblued or otherwise refinished.

    The Military Surplus Weapon as a Hunting Rifle

    If you are looking for a hunting rifle, some military rifles will serve the purpose quite well particularly at distances under 150 yards with the original sights. However, I believe that it is generally a mistake to try to sporterize a military surplus rifle although many people have done it in the past with varying degrees of success. From a purely practical standpoint, the cost to replace parts such as the stock, barrel, trigger assembly or to mount a scope is often considerably greater than the cost of a good sporting rifle. The end result will often depend on the skill and ingenuity of your gunsmith. Unfortunately good gunsmiths are hard to find so at the end of the day, you may find yourself stuck with a rifle that doesn't meet your expectations both in appearance and function.

    Surplus Military and Police Handguns

    Handguns are another common item on the American surplus firearms market. Some are trade ins from American police departments and many more are from foreign military and police forces. A word of caution though if you are thinking of using a military surplus handgun as a concealed carry weapon. Any firearm selected for that purpose must function all of the time not just most of the time with an appropriate hollowpoint defensive round not just full metal jacket military ammunition. Stoppages, misfires and failure to feed are all indications that you should reconsider your choice of handgun. Another thing to consider is that many foreign military pistols lack a reliable mechanical safety. While this is not really a concern when target shooting at a range where the gun in either loaded or unloaded with the action open, it is certainly important if you are carrying a loaded semi automatic pistol on your person. In that situation, an accidental discharge would at best be embarrassing and at worst deadly to either yourself or some innocent bystander.

    Deciding Whether or not to Purchase a Surplus Firearm

    Unfortunately good objective advice on many surplus guns is hard to come by and there seems to be so much conflicting information that it often takes a bit of effort to sort through it. An example of that is detailed below.

    Some years ago I purchased a Model 1916 Spanish Mauser chambered for 7.62 x51 Nato in a pawn shop for 50 dollars. The stock was a little dented but it had a good bore with no visible pits and it appeared to have been well maintained. It was in its standard military configuration with a weight of only 6 1/2 pounds and a steel butt plate. With standard ammunition I found gun's recoil to be fairly severe but otherwise it was a good rifle. I had thought that I had gotten a good deal until I came across a copy of the 1987 Guns & Ammo's Complete Guide to Surplus Firearms. In that publication there was an article on pages 84-86 by Robert Shimek in which he evaluated several models of rifles based on pre 98 Mauser actions. Regarding the Spanish model 1916 he wrote;

    The M-1916 Short Rifles rebarreled to .308 were not actually intended for 7.62 Nato/.308 Winchester ammunition, according to my sources. What they were intended for was the unique Spanish dimensionally identical to NATO spec .308 CETME round, which operates at somewhat lower pressures than the NATO effort. These guns should not be fired with the 7.62 NATO/.308 Winchester ammo! As for the shooting qualities of the surplus Spanish Mausers, I must begin by describing my hopefully not irrational prejudices with regard to these arms. Thanks to the 93/95 action's inability to properly handle powder gases in event of case-related failures, I don't recommend Mausers based on the mechanisms as shooting pieces. Enjoy your Spanish Mauser for the fine collector's item it is , and select a well-preserved M-98 Mauser for a 7mm or 7.62 NATO caliber shooting rifle. Sure, the 93 was a superb service weapon in it's day, and countless thousands have been shot without incident, but why not have all the safety you can have?

    What was said by the above quote was reinforced by the advice of a guy on the range who saw me firing the gun one day, so now it appeared that I was left with a fifty dollar wall hanger. I wrote to the importer Samco Global Arms asking their opinion and they sent me a reprint of a September 1987 Gun & Ammo article on the 1916 Spanish Mauser by Garry James. A section of that article was highlighted by them and is printed below.

    As there was some concern about the gun's safety, the importer, SAMCO Enterprises, Inc., sent some of these rifles to the respected H.P. White Laboratory, Inc. for a thorough going-over. White put some pretty hefty loads through the test guns, successfully running pressures in excess of the SAAMI max of 55,200 psi for .308 Win. In fact, the guns were tested to destruction only after exceeding 98,000 pounds per square inch.

    After doing some research, I decided to use the gun rather than to hang it on the wall. Shimek was correct when wrote that the .308 CETME round operates at lower pressures than the 7.62 NATO round. However I believe this was done because of design deficiencies in the Spanish CETME rifle when it was first introduced into service and not as a result of a desire to accommodate the use of obsolete service rifles. At that time, full power 7.62 NATO ammunition caused extraction problems in the then new automatic rifle which sometimes resulted in the extractor ripping the rim off of the cartridge case and leaving the case lodged in the chamber. For more detail about this please see 12th Edition Small Arms of the World.

    Regarding "the 93/95 action's inability to properly handle powder gases in event of case-related failures", Model 1916 rifles manufactured after 1928 were equipped with a gas vent as mine is. Note that presence of a gas vent on a on rifle is no substitute for wearing proper eye protection when shooting.

    I have fired many hundreds of rounds of 7.62 NATO through it without incident. Does this mean that all Spanish Mausers will be safe to fire, not necessarily. As with all military surplus firearms condition can vary greatly and often it is not a bad idea to have a gunsmith take a look at it before you fire it.


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