A primer to collecting military surplus guns

You’ve played Battlefield or Call of Duty on the platform of your choice. You’ve watched and rewatched Enemy at the Gates a thousand times. Perhaps you’ve just inherited Grandad’s old hunting rifle built upon a Mauser he brought back from Europe after World War Two and you want to experience what it’s like to shoot that rifle in it’s original configuration. You’ve discovered you want more; but where to start.

Let’s start with the most obvious criteria; Space.
The amount of free space in your domicile will determine how many weapons you can collect; you may want to “catch ’em all” but, unlike Pokemon, rifles take up real space and your space may be at a premium especially if you live in an apartment. Homeowners may dedicate an entire room or two to house their collection and gun safes but extensions to the house will necessitate contractor and local building fees.

This brings us to our next consideration: Cost
When I was a child in the 1960s I would accompany my father to the local surplus store and there were still barrels full of military surplus rifles on the showroom floor for bargain prices. A common Mosin M91 would be priced at $15, roughly the same for Enfields, Arisakas for $10, and Mausers at $20. Even as late as early 2012 Big 5 Sporting Goods stores were advertising Mosin-Nagant 91/30s under $100 and Lee-Enfields at $200. The panic buying, fueled by the fears of new gun bans under President Obama drove prices for both guns and ammo to heady levels; The most inexpensive AR 15s crested over $1000, magazines blasted from $10 to over $100 in some cases, and .22 caliber ammo skyrocketed from $16 to over $50 for a brick of 500 rounds. Prices have since leveled off and dropped a bit but I expect them to rise again the closer we get to the election. The surplus market was affected as well. Now, even the modest Mosin is hanging around $200 when available from dealers and most everything else is relegated to the secondary market. Depending upon condition,rarity,and desirability one can spend as little as $50 to tens of thousands for a particular gun.
Ammunition is another consideration in this area. How available is it and how much can you afford. Unless you are shooting 7.62 NATO/.308 feeding your gun can get pricey; this is especially true if you are shooting an odd caliber; PPU (Serbian) ammo is quite available for 8mm Mauser,.303 British. 7.62x54R is readily available from sources such as PPU as well as several Russian manufacturers. All are around $15-18 for a box of 20 rounds. If you are shooting Japanese Arisakas or Italian Carcanos, for example, you will be paying more of a premium. So you should factor in ammo prices into your cost analysis and total budget.

Next step: Focus and Purpose
What type of collection do you envision? Are you just a gatherer/hoarder or is there a sense of direction where you wish to take your collection? Are you a curator who demands pristine examples in which each weapon has all matching numbers and parts and they become safe queens, or are you a “living history” type who just wants shootable examples? There are so many variables here. I know collectors of all stripes; I’ve purchased a few from a gentleman who is now 86 years old and has been collecting since he was 14 and has collected at least 1 example of almost everything from each nation. I know others who focus on only one type of rifle and have amassed a huge collection due to the different manufacturers and variations; these people tend to become very well versed experts on a particular rifle make. Only you can make that decision.

How much is my gun worth?
This is a common question asked by those new to the game, especially millennials who have upgraded from sports and Magic:The Gathering cards. To those people I give the same answer: it’s worth what you or someone else is willing to pay for it. Having said that I recommend a good price guide. My choice is Standard Catalog of Military Firearms:the Collector’s Price and Reference Guide 8th Edition by Phillip Peterson. This can be ordered from or and is invaluable when trying to pin down an approximate price. Remember price guides are just that, guides. They are not hard and fast prices but give you a general sense of prices.

There is so much more to the hobby of collecting milsurps but those are best left for another blog. As with most collecting hobbies, it’s not so much the acquisition but the thrill of the hunt. Happy hunting.