An Argument for Milsurp Rifles


I’ve been reviewing old military rifles off and on, with the idea that they have uses for preppers. I’ve even had letters suggesting that I do these reviews. We recently published a very thoughtful letter from M.M. to the contrary. I wanted to address a few of the points he made and thank him for taking the time to write.

The first point is that I wasn’t very good at saying that we are looking for bargains in these rifles. My main goal was to help people realize that if they see a good deal on one, they ought to carefully consider it, particularly if it is a private sale. If it isn’t a good deal, walk away.

Next, I don’t think someone should put huge amounts of money into one unless it is for fun or a labor of love. I see these as being used for budget or backup rifles. I know some who buy Mosin Nagants to handout to neighbors should things go wrong. All you might want to do is make some improvements to sighting, and you can get scope mounts that don’t require a gunsmith. The Mauser I wrote about is going to wind up having $400 in it, which is probably more than I should spend, but I really like the rifle and am doing a couple of things I could get by without.

M.M. suggested the need to replace the stock, but I wouldn’t do that. If the stock on the rifle is bad, look for another one.

I also should say that there are some rifles that might not be a good idea, especially if they use odd, difficult-to-obtain cartridges. Rounds, like 7x57mm, 8x57mm, 7.62x54R, .303 British and .30-06, are widely available. Others, like 7.65x53mm Argentine/Belgium Mauser or 7.5mm French, are not so easy to find and probably best avoided.

M.M. is absolutely right that a lot of surplus ammo is corrosive, and that means a proper cleaning is mandatory. You should actually start before you leave the range. I push a few patches with a cleaner rated for corrosive ammo through before packing up, and then I finish at home. You don’t need ammonia, though, as M.M. mentioned, for corrosive ammo. Hot water will dissolve the salts used in corrosive ammo. Ammonia is used to remove copper fouling. Most modern bore cleaners will get copper out, and many (but not all) will take care of the corrosive primers; just be sure to check the label.

He correctly states that commercial ammunition is often downloaded a bit in these calibers in deference to the age of some the guns it may wind up in. I don’t think, however, that it makes much difference to the target.

I haven’t had issues using the S&K or Brass Stacker Scout mounts, but I make a point of regularly checking the fittings for tightness. Mounting the scope forward avoids the issues M.M. cited about having to bend bolt handles and not being able to use stripper clips. These mounts also allow you to return the rifle to original, should you desire.

M.M. prefers a fixed power scope, mounted conventionally; that is a matter of personal preference. I like both Scout and conventional scopes, and I generally use variable power ones in conventional mounts and fixed in Scout mounts. One point we agree on is that one should not use a junk scope. As he points out, junk will fail, but it fails whether mounted as a Scout or conventionally. I have had fine results with Burris and Leupold Scout and pistol scopes, and I think they can be relied upon, though anything can be broken. I also agree with M.M. that a fixed scope has fewer parts and should be more reliable, but variable power scopes seemed to have closed the gap over the years.

Another comment M.M. made was on the parallax issue with scopes and the importance to line the eye up with the sight. Scopes are usually higher than iron sights, so we need a higher cheek piece to properly use a scope. That is easily achieved with a cheek pad, such as the one from Brass Stacker that I mentioned when I reviewed their scope mount for the Mosin Nagant. Parallax issues and lining your eyes up applies to all scopes, not just forward mounted ones. Pistol scopes are often set to 50 yards for parallax, which is probably not optimal for rifles, but I haven’t found any serious problems. It is a lot more problematic to use a centerfire rifle scope with the parallax set at 100 yards on an air rifle or .22 at close range.

Some people find the forward mounted scope does not work well for them, so they should avoid them. Others like them. Another option is to go with a red dot sight, which can work well out to 200 yards. Those work quite well on forward mounts, and most have no issues with parallax.

I haven’t looked at the Swiss rifles M.M. mentions, largely because there isn’t much commercial hunting ammo available for them and the rifles are fairly expensive. They have a great reputation, but I don’t think you are going to be able to get much of a bargain on one. I would like to have one but mostly for hobbyist reasons rather than prepping ones.

A big plus for the commercial rifle is that it won’t require much thought or effort to set it up for hunting. The surplus rifle may wind up taking some energy and thought as well as a bit of tinkering. Personally, I enjoy having the knowledge I acquire from all of this and think it might be useful someday. Others may not have time for it.

One of the best deals on the market at the moment for a commercial rifle is the Savage Axis. I haven’t tried one, but they have an excellent reputation for value and are going for only $300 to $400 on Gun Broker. You have to add mounts and rings, but they will cost less than the Scout mounts for a surplus rifle. A decent quality scope will cost about the same for either rifle, regardless of it being forward or receiver mounted.

If you gave me a choice, however, between a nice surplus Mauser 98 with a good bore and the Savage for the same money, I would probably take the Mauser. I’m betting the Mauser would have a smoother action and be more rugged. The Savage will probably be a bit more accurate. Your choice could well be different from mine, but both of us would have good rifles. There is also the chance to find a good used commercial rifle at a good price. That’s a topic I need to explore in the future. That could be the best bet of all.

Thanks again to M.M. for the alternative and well-stated opinion.

– SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor, Scot Frank Erie

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