From Soldier to Deer Slayer

Finding a deer rifle from a military surplus weapon in the offseason

In those warm summer months, when the local Whitetail are all off getting fat and taking stock of who didn’t make it through the winter, what is the deer hunter to do? Build a new project rifle before October!

Why a surplus rifle over a new model

When looking around the racks at your local gun store or big-box sporting goods store you see entry-level firearms by Remington, Winchester, mostori Ruger and others lining the racks new-in-the-box for $300 and up. These firearms typically are synthetic stocked and come drilled and tapped for a scope mount and sling swivel posts. Heavy barrels, wood stocks, detachable magazines, and other options can rapidly double the price of these entry-level guns rapidly.

A surplus rifle however, can often be had for under $100. Granted these are sometimes very well used examples of oddball manufacture and questionable reliability. However, with a little thought, time and attention you can choose an economical and reliable deer rifle from an old soldier.

Caliber choices

For whitetail and the occasional big coyote or hog in Mississippi, any caliber from.243 to 30 calibers is more than adequate. In a military weapon, this leaves you wide-open with the smaller calibers. In metric terms the.243 Winchester sporting round is about 6.2mm. This is comparable to 6.5mm round used in the Swedish Mausers, akunprothailand Italian Mannlicher-Carcanos and Japanese Arisaka often found on the surplus market. At the upper end of the scale, you have the old standby US government 30.06 caliber, which was a standard military cartridge for a half century. Its near cousins; the British 303 Enfield, German 8mm (actually 7.92x57mm) Mauser and Russian 7.62x54R are all ballistically similar.

All of the seven above- mentioned caliber choices are still in manufacture by modern factories today. This allows the hunter to not only buy and shoot affordable surplus ammunition at the range, but also to buy quality soft-point ammunition made for hunting purposes. This is an important factor when it comes to choosing a surplus rifle you can actually shoot. For instance, you can buy an Austrian Steyr for about $90 right now, but finding any 8x56mm ammunition to fit it made since Hitler took a dirt nap is next to impossible.

Popular models

In terms of price, after survey of market publications seems to be a running tie between Turkish made M38 Mausers (in 8mm) and Russian Mosin-nagant models. Either of these weapons can be acquired for $60-$80 on average. One thing to keep in mind on both of these models however is the extreme length of the barrels on these two weapons. Designed before World War 2 when the weapons use as a bayonet to storm trenches was more important that marksmanship, they were made with full stocks covering barrels up to 30-inces long. If you are looking for a handy brush gun, you may want to look at the M44 and M59 model Mosin-nagants that run about $20 more but are a foot shorter. Of particular warning with these weapons is that they have been in arsenal storage since Sputnik and you have to clean decades of thick cosmoline out of every nook and cranny before even attempting to shoot them.

German Mausers, Italian Mannlicher-Carcanos, Japanese Arisaka and British Lee-Enfield’s are often to be found in the $100-$200 ballpark. Long known around the woods as reliable shooters, many a deer have been taken by these models. The author for instance, killed his first whitetail in the foothills of the Smokey’s with a Mauser relic bigger than he was. One note of caution however when picking out and Enfield is that often the 10-round magazines of these British commonwealth rifles are prone to excessive wear and made need to be replaced before you head to the woods.

At the top of the food chain as far as surplus rifles go are the American-made weapons. US Springfield 1903s, Remington P17s and the M1 Garand are sometimes seen for as low as $300 but well-preserved specimens costs several times as much. For more info please visit these sites:-

Where to get a surplus rifle

The back of the rack at your local pawnshop, gun store and sports emporium are a good place to start. You can often find items that were parted with by owners who were moving up, or just moving on for bargain prices. Another safe bet is to order online using your local gun shop as a transfer FFL.

Speaking of FFL’s almost all of these weapons mentioned above are on the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives list of items that are considered a “Curio and/or Relic”. For a nominal fee ($30), some paperwork including a photo and a signature from your local police chief, and about a three-month wait, you can get your own “C&R” license and order from many online vendors such as J&G and Center-fire Systems direct to your home.


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