Picking up a surplus military rifle for hunting and collecting

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This Turkish 8mm Mauser, dating back to 1938, is an inexpensive and collectable rifle that is still more than capable of taking almost any medium to large game on the North American continent as-is.

With millions of old (and cheap) retired military rifles out there, it is easy to see why owners of these hardy and nearly indestructible veterans would want to take them in the woods in search of a harvest. The good news is, there are still a good many out there that fit the bill and, buy picking up one of these martial rifles, you can have a both a collectable piece of history and a tool to put meat in the freezer for generations to come.

When looking to buy surplus military rifles, there are a few steps to keep in mind. Begin with identifying what you are going to use the rifle for, then progress through finding the right fit for your needs. In the end, buying the appropriate weapon while adhering to the proper laws and ordinances can give you your very own piece of history.

Step One

Identify whether you want a “wall hanger’ or a “shooter.” A wall hanger would be a rifle that is basically for display only and may or may not be functional and safe to shoot. Wall hangers are used to accent rooms as mantle pieces, part of a shadow box honoring military service, or some other theme. A “shooter” would be a rifle that is still capable of firing safe modern rounds for target practice, competition matches, self-defense, or hunting.

Step Two

Identify potential manufacturers and variants that best suit your needs. If you are looking for a wall-hanger, older weapons that take obsolete cartridges no longer in production would fit the bill nicely. This category would include for instance the Remington Rolling Block and Mauser rifles made for in the late 19th century for Latin American countries as their uncommon sized (and often black powder) rounds are generally not available.  If a shooter is being sought out you then rifles such as the British Short Magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE) in .303 and the US Springfield 1903 in 30.06 would be ideal as these rounds are still commercially available and can be bought at almost any big box sporting goods chain.

Step Three

Now let’s move onto the acquisition of the rifle type and make of your choice. Older weapons made before January 1, 1899 can be bought in the United States by anyone over 18 so long as they have no prohibition against them owning a weapon. These ‘pre-1899’ weapons are listed as antiques and are not even considered a firearm under federal law. A Federal Firearms License (FFL) is not required to buy or sell these weapons and they can even be sent through the mail.

More modern surplus rifles have to be bought through a FFL holder. Many local gun shops carry a selection of these weapons moldering away on the racks. Mail order is also an option through various distributors such as J&G, Centerfire Systems and others however; they still have to be shipped to your local FFL who would in turn pass them on to you often for a nominal fee. A new development has been the advent of online sites such as Gunbroker and Gunsamerica that enable you to purchase individual weapons online. Like traditional mail order, these online purchases of course still have to go through your local FFL if it is a modern weapon.


-Be sure to check all local and State laws pertaining to the purchase and possession of firearms. Some localities such as New York City have very strict regulations even on ‘antique’ weapons.

-If buying a rifle for shooting purposes, be sure to have the weapon carefully checked by a competent gunsmith familiar with the type before using it.

-Remember to store any weapon properly and safely unloaded.

-To retain the value of pieces in your collection do not modify the weapon with aftermarket accessories. On some collector’s pieces anything other than standard weapons cleaning with destroy the value of the weapon overnight. Sure, the old military sights are taxing on the eyes and aren’t as efficient as a nice Leupold Vari-X III, but they are still capable, especially in the case of U.S. martial rifles such as the M1903/1917 and M1, which have excellent peep sights.

However, can they get the job done?

Hunters have been putting meat in the pot since the time of the pilgrims with surplus military rifles and will likely continue to do so for centuries to come. For example, in Rockingham County North Carolina, as reported by NC Sportsman, Lance Gunn, 51, just splashed a B&C contender. The 190 5/8 gross typical buck was taken last Saturday at just 20 yards with a Enfield .303 bolt-action rifle dating back to World War II-- using peep sights.

“He’s a toad; he’s the biggest buck I’ve ever seen, and I’ve hunted all over. The trail-camera photos don’t do him justice," said Gunn's son Evans.

And its likely Evans will get that old Enfield himself one day and keep the tradition alive.


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