Analyzing 4 of the Best Military Surplus Rifles for Survival
Would a time-tested, durable, dependable, reliable, reasonably accurate firearm at a low price interest you?
A firearm also tinged with historical significance?
Then I’ve got news for you: You’re looking for a military surplus rifle.
With the end of the Cold War, stockpiles of older Warsaw pact weapons have been making their way to our shores.
As nations like Russia seek to turn their old military surplus rifles into dollars.
To be fair, these older rifles no longer have much military value on a modern battlefield.
But, this shouldn’t detract from their worth to a savvy firearms enthusiast.
Which makes a military surplus rifle an excellent choice for survivalists, preppers, and hunters.
Today, I will be limiting this discussion to bolt-action military surplus battle rifles.
Why Invest In A Military Surplus Rifle
So why invest in a military surplus battle rifle versus a new Remington, Savage or Winchester? Let’s look for a moment at that brand new rifle.
There’s nothing wrong with a brand new Remington 700. They are wonderful rifles. Variants of which are still used by our own military. But then again, there’s nothing wrong with a 1903 Springfield.
When it comes to sheer power, bullet weight, and velocity, the older battle rifles are roughly in the .30-06 power range, the cartridge of the Springfield.
So the cartridge power and range are comparable to modern rifles.
If you need the .300 Win Mag (or another of the other popular modern rounds), then don’t bother with a military surplus rifle.
What About The Cost?
Some surplus battle rifles are cheaper than modern rifles, some are not. One thing all the battle rifles have in common over a modern rifle, though, is durability.
These weapons are stout, heavy, and for the most part easy on the recoil. Many are encased in wood all the way down the barrel.
Modern rifles are precision machined wonders. But for sheer durability in the muck, mire, rain, snow and sleet, give me a Soviet Mosin-Nagant.
A lot of the popularity of firearms is due to the fact that anyone can use them effectively, not only the strong and agile. The young, the old, men, women and child can take up firearms in defense of home and family and do so effectively.
How About Accuracy?
Here’s where the modern rifle does come out on top. If you’re looking to drive a nail at 200 yards, the Remington 700 or a quality AR-15 will beat most old battle rifles.
These old warrior rifles are designed to hit man-sized targets from 100 to 2000 yards out. (Of course, just because the rear sight graduations run out to 2000 yards doesn’t mean your Mark One Eyeball can see that far).
However, some of these old gems in scoped sniper versions can give the modern rifles a run for their money.
So here are the 4 military surplus rifles we’ll examine in detail today:
- Mosin Nagant 9130 – Russian/Soviet Union – 7.62x54R
- Mauser Model 98 – Nazi Germany – 8 mm Mauser
- Lee Enfield No 1 Mark III – England – .303 British
- Arisaka Type 99 – Imperial Japan – 7.7 Jap
1 – Mosin-Nagant 9130
The Mosin-Nagant was arguably the most prolific battle rifle ever manufactured. Over 17 million of these rifles were produced over a 50 plus year lifespan. Russia has been dumping these military surplus rifles on the market for the last twenty years.
The 7.62x54R cartridge it fires is currently the longest serving rifle cartridge still in front line service in a major military force. This round is still used in the famous Russian Dragunov sniper rifles.
It has a rimmed bottleneck cartridge paired with a boat-tailed, 148 grain, full metal jacketed bullet. It can reach speeds of up to 2840 feet per second.
The Mosin-Nagant 9130 holds five of these rounds in an internal magazine. Which can be loaded individually or using a stripper clip.
Surplus ammunition can still be found for this rifle. Though most have corrosive Berdan primers and require a thorough cleaning after firing. Otherwise, the chemicals will destroy your rifling and barrel.
The Mosin Nagant was first conceived in Imperial Russia during the 1890s. This is the result of an arms competition between Leon Nagant and a Russian Army captain named Mosin.
The Russian military could not decide which rifle it favored. So it took elements of both designs and combined them into the first Mosin-Nagant 1891.
The rifle was manufactured in standard infantry lengths. Shorter Cossack versions for use on horseback. Then later carbine versions such as the M39 and M44 variants.
In 1930 the Mosin Nagant went through a major upgrade to become the Model 9130. The rifle overall length was shortened down to a manageable 48.5”!
This is the most commonly found Mosin on the market today.
The rifle is both durable and heavy at 8.8 lbs. It is not a pretty rifle. It is solid and functional; very Russian.
The action is good with the firing pin cock coming as the bolt comes out of battery to eject the fired round. It cocks on opening, rather than closing the action.
My one major complaint about the action is its bolt is a tad short. Tho, I wouldn’t have noticed had I not owned other military surplus rifles to compare it.
Sometimes a cartridge swells during firing and takes a fair amount of force to eject the round and cock the firing pin. This often requires a smack on the bolt with the palm of the hand, rather than a smooth ejection.
Many of these hard to eject incidences occur when using commercial ammunition. I’ve never seen this happen with military surplus rounds.
The trigger pull of the Mosin is typical Russian. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t break near as easy as a Mauser or Lee-Enfield.
If you want accuracy, you have to consider trigger pull with this weapon.
Keep the rifle clean, oiled and practice, practice, practice. Here are a few interesting tidbits of trivia about the Mosin:
1. The rifle barrel is harmonically tuned to be fired with the bayonet in place. You will lose some accuracy with the bayonet removed.
2. The Mosin was designed to hit high from point of aim. Russian peasants were told to aim at the enemy’s belt buckle, this being a prominent point of aim. The rifle sights were set to his about 4-6” above this at roughly 100 meters. I’ve read this from various sources, but I own two 9130 Mosins and neither of them hit that high from point of aim. Of course, I don’t fire it with the bayonet attached, either.
During testing, I averaged within 2” from point of aim at 100 yards and within 2.5” at 200 yards. These results were with 50-year-old eyes and shooting military surplus, steel core ammo.
The front sight is a single post, protected by a steel loop. I don’t particularly like this sight. The post is about as wide as my target at 100 yards, not allowing for much fine aiming.
The rear sight is a notch sight on a slide with graduations out to 2000 meters.
Recoil. This rifle has it.
The Russians, in the typical sensitivity we expect from them, installed a thick, hard-edged, stamped steel butt plate on the end of this rifle.
This is more of a skull crusher than a butt plate. It absorbs no recoil. It transmits it beautifully into your shoulder.
Twenty rounds through this rifle with no add-on recoil pad will leave you bruised. It can be brutal.
That being said, I do like the kick in the shoulder and the blast of the round but I don’t like to be bruised in the process. Besides, it’s harder to control your shot if you know you are about to get hit in the shoulder with a Louisville Slugger.
Mosin-Nagant M44 Carbine
I also own a Mosin-Nagant M44 carbine. The carbine is several inches shorter than the full 9130. It has an integral, attached folding bayonet.
This little carbine is actually a little heavier than the full-sized battle rifle at 9 lbs even. This is due to the integral bayonet. It’s also a blast to shoot and I mean a blast.
The 7.62×54 R is designed for long range and uses the full length of the 9130 barrel to gain velocity. This means the powder is burning all along behind the bullet and the powder is completely consumed by the time the bullet leaves the barrel. This, in turn, imparts as much of its chemical energy into the bullet’s velocity.
However, the carbine is a shorter version, yet fires the same round. So the powder is not completely burned as the bullet leaves the barrel. This unburned powder produces a fireball of spectacular proportions (and a much louder boom).
It is loud and visibly impressive. The bullet is actually slower, but who cares, it looks and feels amazing to shoot.
Accuracy is also pretty decent with the carbine, though it does tend to shoot high in testing.
Also, the felt recoil from that blast actually feels worse than the full-sized rifle. This makes no sense since the rifle is heavier and the bullet has less kinetic energy. Still, the bruises don’t lie.
Mosin-Nagant Sniper Rifle
My last Mosin-Nagant is a sniper version – yes, like the one Jude Law used in Enemy at the Gates.
The little PU scope is a simple, non-adjustable 4 power scope.
Hitting a man-sized target at 300 yards would not be a problem and further kill shots were made by real Russian snipers in WWII.
Though I laugh at the movie where Jude Laws cuts a telephone wire at 155 meters.I don’t think you’d even see the wire in a 4 power scope at that distance.
The rifle itself is exactly the same; a 9130 only with a scope and side rail mount.
I’m told Russians did pick the best 9130s from the assembly line to be used as snipers. Especially the ones with a light trigger pull.
My Mosin sniper is far more accurate than a standard 9130. However, due to my aging eyes, I’d take my 1903 sniper over the Mosin any day.
To give you some idea of pricing, I bought my first 1942 Mosin in 2011 for $99. Then I picked up a 1933 Mosin in 2012 for $150. A 1942 sniper version in 2012 for $595 (yes, a $100 rifle with a five hundred dollar scope). And finally my M44 carbine in 2014 for $245.
Mosin Nagant 9130 battle rifles can still be found for under $200 today. But, the prices are starting to creep upwards as the Russian stockpiles are running out.
If you wonder how good a $200 rifle could be, let your heart not be troubled, it’s a damn good rifle for $200. The price is $200 because they made 17 million of them. Supply outweighs demand.
If you are looking for quality, fit and finish, buy a pre-war version.
My 1933 Mosin is visibly superior to my 1942 version in machine finish and smoothness of the action. Although they shoot about the same accuracy.
Germany first produced the Mauser Gewehr 98 in 1898. It was a revolutionary design for its day. It includes multiple locking lugs on the bolt, a five round internal magazine, magazine cut-off lever and firing the 7.92×57 mm cartridge.
Earlier, the United States first encountered Mausers in its 7mm form in Cuba during Teddy Roosevelt’s ride up San Juan Hill.
The Spanish troops fired down at the Americans with a very high velocity, flat shooting 7 mm round. While the Americans returned fire with Krag-Jorgenson rifles firing ballistically inferior rounds.
The Mausers were deadly accurate; at a distance.
This led to the development of the 1903 Springfield to counter the Mauser. And it countered it very well since it was almost a direct copy. Even the courts at the time thought so and awarded Mauser a judgment for patent infringement. The payments were discontinued during WWI.
Like other major powers, early GEW 98s were long. This was intentional to take full advantage of the cartridge. To get every foot per second of velocity possible from the 8 mm round.
The Mauser evolved in through WWI with the Gew 98, eventually evolving into the shorter K98 of World War II in 1935.
The 8 mm Mauser round was almost as revolutionary as the rifle that fired it. It was a rimless design, copied by both the US and Japan for their rifle cartridges.
The 7.92x57mm Mauser was first produced in 1905. It’s often referred to as 8 mm Mauser and sports a bottle-necked, rimless design. It’s a .323” diameter bullet of 198 grains.
Velocities are around 2600 feet/second.
In general, the Germans opted for less speed and more heft in their bullets. However, there were some military ammo versions that could hit as high as 2700 feet per second with this massive bullet.
The good news is that the 8 mm Mauser is still popular among hunters and sportsmen. It’s also readily available online and in specialty gun shops.
The K98K I own was produced in Nazi Germany in 1942. However, at some time during the war, it was captured on the battlefield by the Yugoslavians. They refurbished it and placed in their arsenal sometime after WWII.
How do I know this?
1. A Yugo code on the rifle defines it as a foreign refurbished rifle from a factory known for this operation.
2. The words Mod 98 appear on the action. Only German rifles say Mod 98. Yugo rifles have a different designation.
3. I can see the “ghosting” in the metal of the original date of manufacture that has been removed—1942.
K98-Karabiner Mauser Pricing
In any event, I got a deal on this rifle.
Yugo Mausers are actually very good rifles. And they don’t cost nearly as much as a German manufactured version.
I got the German rifle for the Yugo price. Like I said a good deal.
Typical Yugo versions Model 24 and 48 go for $300-400. A true typical German Model 98s in the $400-800 range.
The rifle’s action is butter smooth. With a bent bolt, cocking on opening, like the Mosin-Nagant, but much smoother. Although the bolt is bent, the bolt rotation is still a full 90 degrees, like the Russian.
The rifle’s action is butter smooth. With a bent bolt, cocking on opening, like the Mosin-Nagant, but much smoother. Although the bolt is bent, the bolt rotation is still a full 90 degrees, like the Russian.
The trigger pull is firm, but breaks cleanly and is very easy to control. Accuracy is pretty good once you get the sights dialed.
One odd thing about my Mauser: I have to dial the rear sights out to about 300 yards to hit level at 100 yards. The sight graduations go all the way to 2000 meters. Left and right error are typically within 2” at 100 yards.
I fire from a rest, but not from a clamped vice like a Lead Sled. In other words, a lot of the error I describe for these rifles is most likely mine.
The rifle is solid and heavy; like all the other military surplus rifles.
It’s slightly shorter at 43.5” length, being designated a carbine or karabiner K98K. It’s also a bit lighter than its Russian adversary. At 8.2-9 lbs it is still a handful of steel and wood.
The barrel is protected in wood out to a few inches from the end of the barrel. The front sight is protected by a spring style steel hood.
One thing I like about the Mauser is the front sight. Unlike many old battle rifles with blade or post front sights, it comes to a point, which helps in fine aiming.
The butt plate is steel, but is curved and contoured, conforming nicely to the shoulder. Felt recoil is not as bad as the Mosin Nagant.
For the size and power of the round, this rifle is a pleasure to shoot. No additional recoil pad is required.
To be fair, the Russian butt plate would be a better choice for crushing your opponent’s skull. However, for a pleasant day at the range; I’ll take the Mauser thanks.
Lee Enfield Number 1 Mark III
The British Lee Enfield Number 1 Mark III was the main battle rifle of the British Empire through World War I and well into World War II.
Like the other military surplus rifles I am reviewing, this rifle is heavy and durable.
In fact, this rifle takes barrel protection to a whole new level. It’s encased in wood all the way out to the tip of the barrel, making this rifle a little heavier than its peers. The overall length comes in at 44.25”.
The action of the Enfield is also extraordinarily smooth. It cocks on closing, unlike its German and Russian contemporaries.
The bolt rotation is only 60 degrees. So in the hands of an expert, allows for quicker bolt manipulation and a faster rate of manual fire.
This was hailed as revolutionary at the time of its introduction. Some even claiming two Enfields firing was equal to three rifles with 90 degree bolt actions.
Indeed, the world record for rapid, accurate fire from a bolt action rifle was set in a Lee Enfield. However, it is a stretch to say an Enfield is the equivalent of two other rifles.
The trigger of the Enfield, in my humble opinion, is the best of the lot. It’s smooth with a very clean break.
The front sight is a blade side protected on both sides by guards integral to the end cap of the rifle. The whole end cap assembly bolts to the front of the rifle. Which in turn holds the front wood handguards, bayonet and front sight guards in place. This is good and bad.
It makes for a very durable design. But also means you can’t adjust your front sight without removing the whole end cap. Of course, one the front sight is adjusted and locked down you may never have to do this again, so it’s a minor annoyance.
The one thing I don’t like about the front sight is that it’s nearly the thickness of the two vertical sight guards. It is very easy to look down the barrel, cocked a little sideways, and pick up one of the guards instead of the blade.
One day at the range, I shot three rounds into the weeds. Puzzled by my Enfield’s sudden lack of accuracy, I discovered I was sighting on the right sight guard instead of the the sight itself. Of course. I felt like an idiot; with some justification.
The Number 1 Mark III Enfield’s rear sight is a notch design with graduations out to 2000 yards. Later model Enfields used in World War II came with aperture sights, like the 1903 Springfield and M1 Garand.
The Enfield fires a uniquely British cartridge, the .303 British. This round is similar in appearance and power to the Russian 7.62 x 54R.
It’s a rimmed, bottle-necked round with a 174 grain, hollow-point, boat-tailed bullet. Riding out front at a sedate 2500 feet per second.
This round can still be found from time to time in sporting goods stores, for a hefty price. Better to buy cheaper European commercial ammo online, or even better reload your own.
I invested in several boxes of ammo and a reloading die and now I reload all the ammo my Enfield digests.
Most Lee Enfields were produced in the United Kingdom. However, some were produced in Australia and India. Don’t be afraid of these. I own an Indian Enfield manufactured in 1916 and it looks and shoots beautifully.
The Enfield’s produced in India during British rule have the same quality standards as any Lee Enfield.
After liberation in 1948, the Indian government continued to produce Enfields into the early 1960s.
Abandoning the .303 British for the 7.62 NATO round. The quality of those rifles may be adequate, but I can’t confirm that.
The Lee Enfield Number 1 Mark III is a pleasure to shoot.
I don’t attach the additional recoil pad when firing this rifle. The recoil is firm, but more of a shove than a slam. I admit, as durable a rifle as mine is, I look at it more like a treasured heirloom than a rifle to take into the woods.
In an emergency, you will also be hard-pressed to find .303 British ammo anywhere.
Arisaka Type 99
This military surplus rifle has been the biggest surprise of all my battle rifles.
The Japanese Type 99 in 7.7 Jap was designed to replace the Type 38 in 6.5 Jap. However, both rifles were produced in large quantities during the war. And the pre-war supply of Type 38s was too valuable to throw out.
Since they fired non-compatible cartridges, this presented an ammunition logistics problem. The simple solution was to assign the two rifles to different theaters of combat. That way they didn’t have to supply two types of ammunition.
It also eliminated confusion for the soldiers, sailors, and marines who would worry about using the wrong ammo.
The Type 99 fires a rimless, bottlenecked cartridge, like the 8mm Mauser, with a 150-grain 7.7-millimeter bullet riding out front. It moves at a leisurely 2600 feet per minute.
The previous round, the 6.5-millimeter was deemed too small and the 7.7-millimeter was viewed as an upgrade to more power.
The rifle itself screams simplicity. Although actually a half inch longer than the K98K, it feels shorter to its dimensions and weight. The woodwork is adequate to protect the rifle but is both lighter and smaller in diameter. The rifle feels thin and lightweight, which it is at 8.4 lbs.
The front sight is a simple blade, which can be drifted right and left. The rear sight is an aperture with graduations out to 1500 meters.
On some Type 99s, the rear sight actually folds up with two wings that extend outward. These wings have speed references on them and act as primitive anti-aircraft sights.
The trigger pull is surprisingly light with a crisp break, nearly as good as the Enfield and not a liability.
The action is okay, with a straight 90 bolt turning to 90- degrees to chamber and eject the round. The firing pin cocks on closing.
Type 99 has an integral 5 round magazine, like most other WWII battle rifles.
I don’t know if it’s a function of the aperture sights or what, but this is my most accurate WWII battle rifle. Especially when it’s fired off-hand or standing.
The weapon is light and easy to keep on target.
I’ve always heard the aperture sights were the best for accuracy. And this sight is best suited to the human eye and how it focuses. When tested I could hit within a 1-2” from point of aim at 100 yards with the Type 99.
Arisakas were never imported to the United States in huge numbers. But there were a lot of GI bring them back from WWII. So there are still lots of them on the market. Though nowhere near as many as the Mosin-Nagants or Mausers out there.
When the Arisakas were in the Emperor’s arsenal, they engraved a chrysanthemum (“mum”) on the receiver. Most Arisakas had the “mum” ground off, though a few out there still have an intact engraving. A rifle picked up off the battlefield likely had an intact “mum”.
Having the “mum” intact raises the value of the rifle a few hundred dollars for its historical accuracy.
Rifles physically taken from a Japanese soldier or captured “off battle” will likely be missing the “mum.” The “mum” is a symbol of the emperor and designates the rifle as his property. Out of respect for Hirohito, Japanese soldiers ground off the “mum” if they knew the rifle would fall into Allied hands.
Type 99s with an intact “mum” can go for $400-$600, depending on condition. My Type 99 has the “mum” ground off. I paid $240 for the rifle a few years ago.
It’s an early version manufactured at the Nagoya arms factory in the first quarter of 1941. Pre-Pearl Harbor.
Early Type 99s have a chrome-lined barrel, a neat option that was eliminated as the war progressed when both time and money became critical.
Other Arisakas known as “Last Ditch” rifles were produced late in WWII.
These rifles do not have near the machine work or detail of the previous rifles. Gone is the chrome-lined barrel. The butt plate is wood, rather than steel. The aircraft sights are gone. The knurled knob at the back of the bolt was replaced with an awful-looking welded knob.
These rifles got a bad name because, frankly, they look bad.
There is no evidence, though, they were made of inferior metals or are dangerous to fire. US GIs did have a series of deaths and injuries in the days immediately following WWII while firing “Type 99” rifles. It turns out many of these accidents occurred because the GI wasn’t firing a Type 99.
Instead, it was a training rifle or color guard rifle that looked like Type 99s.
These replicas looked like the real thing. Even chambering their ammo and using real bolts and firing pins. They also blew up in some GI’s faces.
These “accidents” gave the Arisaka, and particularly the Last Ditch versions, a bad name. In fact, the Arisaka has one of the strongest actions of any WWII battle rifle. After the war, it was tested to over 112,000 PSI before failure.
So Of These Four Military Surplus Rifles, Which Is The Best?
- Which should you buy?
- Which is the best deal?
- Which offers the most utility?
All good questions. So here’s my final analysis:
While the Enfield is fantastic, the ammo isn’t prevalent enough. Plus, the rifles are a little pricey due to supply and demand.
While the Arisaka is a pleasure to shoot, very accurate and easy to lug through the wilderness due to its light weight; the ammo is too rare.
The high quality but more expensive runner-up is the K98 Mauser (or Yugoslavian variants which are a little cheaper),
The best military surplus rifle for price, availability, acceptable accuracy and price of ammo is the Mosin-Nagant 91/30.
PS – If you think the violence and turmoil in our country over the past year have been bad, just wait for what happens next. We’re likely to see increased chaos, looting and possible anarchy in some American cities…
This will no doubt lead to ammunition shortages and possible limited access to firearms. That’s why it is important that you start planning your long-term firearms survival plan now!
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