Milsurp Condition: What Does That Mean?

Milsurp. Military Surplus. When many of us hear that phrase, we automatically think, “Bargain!”

But is this always the case? Let’s take a look at what we might expect when we buy milsurp magazines, ammo, and other gear. What implications are there when we’re buying milsurp items?

In this article, we’ll take a quick peek at a few of the popular items that are out there and frequently offered in milsurp condition.

Caveat Emptor

Before we go too far, though: Buyer beware.

Purchasing military surplus mags, parts, ammo, and gear will almost always save us some of our precious greenbacks. And these days, every dollar counts. But there’s an inherent risk when purchasing milsurp gear as not all military surplus guns and gear are created equal. Further, when purchasing something that’s in surplus condition, it’s likely been heavily used or stored for long periods of time. Don’t expect to get factory-new quality when it comes to military surplus gear; you’ll be sorely disappointed. Let’s delve into that a bit more.


Most places seem to offer used or surplus products in “Good” condition. Which is to say that they might have some surface blemishes, but should otherwise be functional. They may not be pretty, but they should at least function well.

There might be some surface rust, scratches, worn finish, etc. The inside of the magazine, including the spring and magazine follower, should be free from rust or other gunk that would shut down a smoothly functioning magazine.

Unfortunately, sometimes we see those conditions (rust, etc.) inside the magazine. If so, we can go through the trouble of disassembling the magazine and trying to clean out the corrosion. It can be difficult to clean the spring free of rust, though. Keep in mind that people who are issued gear sometimes do not take the best care of it. If they’re military mags, they were very likely dropped in wet, sandy, and other hazardous environments, often bouncing off the ground and/or concrete repeatedly. The same goes for law enforcement surplus gear.


Various sellers have grades that they use to classify their military surplus products. These grades seem to be loosely equivalent, but not necessarily standardized. The following seems to be a very vague approximation as to how assorted sellers categorize their gear:

  • New/Unissued – Item has not been issued or used, and may or may not be in original packaging.
  • Used/Excellent – Item(s) is nearly unused. Possible minor marks from use or storage.
  • Used/Very Good – Item has obviously been used, however, despite marks or signs of wear, it still has lots of life left.
  • Used/Good – Item is well-used with marks, stains, scratches, surface rust, dings, or repairs, but still functional.
  • Used/Fair – Item is very used with marks, stains, scratches, minor rust, dents, or repairs with some life left.
  • Used/Poor – Item is heavily used and will have staining, scratches, tears, rust, dents, and repairs, but still useable with some life left.

As I said, these are very general and do vary between sellers. Most sellers will give their own description of the condition of whatever products they are selling.

Every now and then, we get extremely lucky when purchasing surplus firearms or magazines. Some militaries, when they store firearms or magazines long-term, they pack them in cosmoline, which is a heavy, greasy substance. Items can be preserved almost indefinitely when packed in this stuff. However, cleaning it off of rifles or magazines can be a real pain.

Buying surplus doesn’t necessarily mean the items will be all beat up, but it often does. Sometimes we hit the lottery and get shiny, newish items though. It’s really a roll of the dice.

AR Mags

Magazines for the AR-15 can sometimes be had for good prices when going the milsurp route. Standard aluminum magazines are often available at bargain basement prices.

When originally invented back in the day, M16 magazines were really intended to be single-use affairs; they were never intended to be used over and over. Things just turned out that way – we use them repeatedly. And so does the military.

An extremley beat up M16 Magazine.
This is an example of a magazine that’s been ridden hard and put away wet. It’s been beaten pretty hard. Most of the finish is worn away. Most people should pass on this type of deal. Photo courtesy of

One nice thing is that aluminum does not rust, so the bodies of these mags are safe from corrosion. However, the springs inside are susceptible to rust.

The mag bodies can also be dented, which can be an issue because it can interfere with the spring and follower inside the magazine. And if they’re dropped on their feed lips, the lips can become bent, cracked, or broken. Damaged feed lips mean one thing for AR-15 magazines: death. They must be thrown out in such cases.

AK Mags

AK-47 magazines can be ridden hard and put away wet, and survive for quite a while. Typically, they are made from heavy-gauge steel and are amazingly durable (just like the AK).

Some very used AK magazines.
Steel AK magazines can rust. For these magazines, it’s not that big of a deal as long as it’s surface rust. With good internals, these mags will last for decades. Just because the finish is worn, these magazines may very well function just fine. Photo courtesy of Gun Deals.

Frequently, milsurp AK mags will have some surface rust on them, as most have been in circulation for a long time. Fortunately, for an AK mag, surface rust is really a non-issue, as they’ll still probably function. You might, however, want to open up the magazine and make sure the inside is cleaned out, as well as the spring.

G3/HK 91 Mags

G3 magazines are another popular milsurp magazine, and they’re akin to AK magazines, in that they’re pretty durable and made from steel. They can take a goodly amount of abuse and still keep on ticking. Like most steel mags, they could very well have surface rust.


Springfield Armory resurrected the M1A, the civilian version of the military’s M14. Although the M14 enjoyed a very short military career, there were thousands of magazines made for it, and they still are in circulation. Back then, they made things to last, and these mags are on par with AK magazines as far as quality and durability are concerned. Although milsurp supplies seem to be dwindling, M14 magazines can still be found occasionally.


Likewise, ammunition can sometimes have cosmetic blemishes and tarnishing, but should otherwise be functional. It’s a good idea to inspect each round to make certain that the primers are properly seated, as well as the projectiles.

Some highly corroded ammo.
Some ammo (such as this example), we shouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. Photo courtesy of NRA Blog.

I’ve seen ammunition that I would have been afraid to run through my firearms because it had extreme corrosion on the outside of it.

Overall, though, I’ve been very lucky when buying military surplus ammunition. Some of it has been WWII issue, and I even fired some dating back as far as World War I!

.308 ammo from 1964 that's like new.
The author found this bandoleer of 7.62 NATO ammo on stripper clips at a gun store. It was made in June of 1964 and looks practically brand new. If ammo is stored properly, it will last for many decades. Photo: Jim Davis.

The key to ammunition quality is how it is stored. If it’s been kept in a cool, dry atmosphere, it can last for decades upon decades.

Some of the surplus 5.56mm ammunition I’ve purchased over the past several years has been so nice and shiny, it appeared to be fresh off the production line. Sometimes you get lucky like that. I got a few ammo cans of green tip ammo that were just spectacular during the Great Ammo Famine that hit during Covid. It wasn’t cheap, but it was minty!

5.56mm ammo, green tip.
This 5.56mm NATO ammunition (green tip) is surplus. The author found it at his local gun shop. It looks as if it just rolled off the production line. Photo: Jim Davis.

.308/7.62x51mm ammo is often available as milsurp, and I’ve had some pretty good luck in purchasing this caliber, scoring some very clean ammo.

Surplus 7.62x39mm ammunition has been a hot item, and I’ve purchased a lot of it over the decades. I can honestly say that everything I’ve bought has been good quality. It didn’t all look pretty, but all of it functioned very well. It is shipped into the country from a variety of other countries. 7.62x54R ammunition can also be found in milsurp status pretty often, and it’s usually a good buy as well.


We’ve just touched on a small portion of what’s out there in the milsurp world. The bottom line is that, when buying military surplus products, don’t expect the items to be new. At best, they’ll normally be in decent condition with a good amount of life left in them. If you’re really lucky, it will sometimes be like new, in which case, your score will be even sweeter.

If you have the opportunity, closely examine the items before taking possession of them. Remember that items such as magazines will have often been used roughly and will have received minimal care. Do your due diligence and inspect your products thoroughly before taking them to the firing line. It can be a lot of fun hunting for those military surplus bargains and buying them when you find them. It’s amazing what governments will discard; quality items that have plenty of service life left in them. It’s a shame. But hey, their loss is our gain!

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities. He is a dedicated Christian and attributes any skills that he has to the glory of God.

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