My 5 Favorite Surplus Firearms

I’m a sucker for surplus firearms. I bought my first one, an M1908 Brazilian Mauser, for $150 back in 1987. That was when such firearms were cheap and plentiful. Unfortunately, I was poor back then and unable to capitalize on those conditions. Plus, who thought prices would skyrocket like they have? Anyway, I still have that rifle, it still shoots great, and it pains me to leave it off this list. Such is life.

Military Surplus Firearms
Top to Bottom: Yugoslavian M48 Mauser; Madsen M1947/58 Lightweight Military Rifle; Walther P1 Pistol; Mosin-Nagant M44 Carbine; Underwood Typewriter M-1 Carbine; IBM M-1 Carbine. (Author’s Photo)

I’ve since accumulated a fair number of surplus guns, though I’m hardly a collector. I buy what appeals to me and I refuse to pay ridiculous prices for obsolete technology that’s often well-used anyway. It’s all about the fun for me. I love all my surplus guns, but several stand out. So, here are my top five surplus weapons that I personally own. They are covered in alphabetical order since my favorites change with the weather.

M-1 Carbine

The M-1 Carbine is my newest surplus obsession. I bought my first one 18 months ago and was instantly smitten. I now own two, both of which are featured here, but same basic model, so it counts. My list, my article. My other MILSURP rifles are rather heavy, so the Carbine’s svelte 5.2 lbs. immediately grabbed my attention. It’s just like picking up a Ruger 10/22, which, itself, was patterned after the Carbine.

Most of you probably know the Carbine was conceived to replace the M1911 pistol for rear-echelon troops just before World War II. Its benefits were soon exploited by paratroopers, commandos, officers, and even front-line infantrymen. The United States produced over six million Carbines during and immediately after the war, more than any other firearm. In fact, so many were made, that the government never made any more, despite the Carbine’s widespread deployment in Korea and service in Vietnam’s early years.

M-1 Carbine
My IBM-built Carbine still has the old-style rear sight, bolt, and lacks a bayonet lug. (Author’s Photo)

Winchester designed the Carbine, but demand was so high that numerous companies produced it under contract: IBM, the Underwood Typewriter Company, the Rock-Ola Jukebox Company, General Motors’ Inland and Saginaw Divisions, National Postal Meter, Quality Hardware, and Standard Products. Irwin-Pedersen and Union Switch & Signal were subcontractors. A few were built by Commercial Controls Corporation, which was formerly National Postal Meter. Inland produced the most of any company, including Winchester, with 2,632,097 Carbines.

IBM built my first Carbine and Underwood Typewriter the second. They were both made between February and April of 1944. Despite their dates being so close together, they are different. The IBM has the original-style flat bolt, rear aperture flip sight, and lacks a bayonet lug. My Underwood Carbine has an updated round bolt, elevation-adjustable rear sight, and it does have a bayonet lug. The barrel bands are also different. This either indicates different manufacturers being equipped with upgraded parts at different times, or that my IBM Carbine was never upgraded after the war. Maybe it’s both. Since I have no way to know where these rifles served, it’s impossible to say. But I suspect my IBM traveled a more roundabout road before landing in my safe.

Both these rifles are light, handy, and unbelievably fun to shoot. So much fun that I run drills with them, just like with my AR and AK rifles. The rotating bolt is very cool. The .30 Carbine ammo is a little expensive and not always available, but there is very little recoil and I just love them both. They can be a little pricy, with even a beat-up Carbine often fetching $1,500, but replacement stocks are easily found, and I don’t regret either purchase. I got the Underwood at a very attractive price by being in the right place at the right time. Sometimes people don’t know what they have. Don’t criticize. I let him name his price and I paid cash.

M-1 Carbine
My Underwood Typewriter Carbine has all the upgraded parts, including the bayonet lug. Whether they are original to the rifle, or factory refurbished, I don’t know. (Author’s Photo)

Madsen M1947/58 “Lightweight Military Rifle”

The Madsen is often referred to as “the last bolt action battle rifle.” Seems that Danish firearms manufacturer Madsen believed a market for bolt action military rifles still existed after World War II. They based this belief on the perception that developing nations could not afford modern semi-automatic rifles and marketed their new firearm accordingly starting in 1947.

Madsen failed to account for the millions of available surplus semi-automatic rifles as the major powers drew down their wartime forces. Nor did they foresee the emerging Cold War, in which the United States and Soviet Union raced to arm their proxy nations with those same firearms. The US was giving away M-1 Garands and M-1 Carbines, while the Soviets cranked out the SKS. And if those nations wanted bolt guns, British Lee-Enfields, Soviet Mosin Nagants, and German Mausers were there for the taking.

Madsen M1947/58 rifle
The Madsen M1947 is a great rifle. It just came about 15 years too late. Note the integral muzzle brake. (Author’s Photo)

It’s really too bad, because the Madsen is a great rifle. It was just 15 years too late. At 8.13 lbs., the Madsen is lighter than any standard-issue wartime bolt action rifle, just edging out the K98 Mauser. The bolt is a 3-lug design, with two lugs located at the bolt’s rear and the bolt handle serving as the third lug. The action is smooth, though the bolt handle is further forward than seems natural. If you’re accustomed to Mausers, Enfields, or standard hunting rifles, you’ll find yourself reaching for the Madsen’s bolt handle. The safety reminds me of the Mauser three-position safety, though it only has two positions. But it’s nice, with an easily manipulated spring-loaded catch.

Madsen offered the rifle in just about any chambering the end user desired, eventually including 7.62×51 NATO. Mine is chambered in 30.06 Springfield, on which I will elaborate in a moment. The recoil is quite manageable for a 30.06 since the rifle has a soft, thick rubber butt pad and an integral muzzle brake, which is super cool. It’s easily the most pleasant 30.06 I’ve ever fired. It doesn’t even beat me to death from the bench.

The sights are perhaps the coolest thing on the rifle. The rear sights are an elevation and windage-adjustable aperture. Elevation is controlled with a slider marked at 100-meter intervals. Saying that battle rifles are windage-adjustable is usually superfluous since the adjustment is too much trouble to actually fool with in combat. Kentucky windage rules the day.

But the Madsen has an easily manipulated knob with windage markers right in the rifleman’s vision. It’s very cool, though Kentucky windage is still probably more convenient. The front sight is a simple hooded post, but the rear sights, coupled with relatively low recoil, make the Madsen very easy to fire accurately. Even the aperture itself can be fine-tuned.

Madsen M1947/58 action and sight
The Madsen’s rear sight is very nice for a military rifle. Note the bolt handle’s forward placement. You have to reach for it. (Author’s Photo)

Despite making a cool rifle, Madsen soon discovered that no one wanted it. The only substantial sale the company made was to the Colombian Navy in 1958, hence the M1947/58 designation. The Colombians ordered the rifle in 30.06, so that’s how almost all of them are found. Even so, only 6,000 or so were produced, so they aren’t exactly common. But if you can find one, it will almost certainly be in great shape because the Colombians never issued them. They eventually went straight to the surplus market.

I got my Madsen via my uncle. He had several firearms and when he passed away. My Dad bought them from his widow, and the Madsen was among them. Knowing I liked surplus guns, my Dad gave it to me. I have no idea where my uncle got the Madsen. But it’s a very nice and very cool rifle. I like having something that’s almost unique. My son even killed his first wild hog with it.

Despite being rare, the Madsen rifles aren’t very expensive since they don’t have a service record that attracts serious collectors. They can sometimes be found online if you keep looking. I can say that I love mine.

Mosin-Nagant M44 Carbine, AKA “Thumper”

Normally, a Mosin-Nagant would not make this list. Like many folks, I have several because they were so cheap and so inexpensive to shoot. I say “were” so cheap because I see them going for well over $500 in some places, which is just ridiculous for those guns. I hardly shoot my M91/30 anymore, but I keep it because I bought so much cheap ammo, and the Zombie Apocalypse will eventually come. I blame Iraq Veteran 8888 and Nut’n Fancy.

Mosin-Nagant M44 Carbine
The M44 Carbine is a cut down Mosin-Nagant M91/30. It still fires the full size 7.62x54R cartridge. It’s awesome. (Author’s photo)

But the M44 Carbine, despite having a rough action and kicking like a mule, is just too cool to leave off my list. The M44 is simply a cut-down M91/30 infantry rifle, still chambered in the full power 7.62x54R cartridge. The Soviets also attached a wicked folding spike bayonet to give it some reach.

I love taking the M44 to the range because EVERYONE knows you have it. Even if they don’t notice beforehand, all you have to do is fire it once. It sounds like an artillery simulator went off on the firing line. And anyone with 15 feet feels the shock wave hit them in the shins. It’s awesome. Not to mention the footlong flame shooting out the muzzle.

As noted, the M44 will beat the ever-loving crap out of you. I call it “Thumper” for a reason. But it’s just too much fun. I wouldn’t shoot it from the bench because of that, but it’s not all that accurate anyway. This is my stereotypical Appalachian-American redneck gun. Yeehaw.

Mosin-Nagant M44 Carbine
The M44 in its natural state: bayonet deployed. Yeehaw! (Author’s Photo)

Walther P1

My Walther P1 is a postwar version of the Walther P38 pistol. As Adolf Hitler rearmed Germany in the mid-to-late 1930s, the German military adopted the P38 to replace the famous P08 Luger. The Luger was and is a fine pistol, but it was expensive, and its tight tolerances made it unreliable in the field.

The P38 turned out to be excellent in its own right. Chambered in 9mm Luger, it was far more reliable than its predecessor, and its falling block locking system was years ahead of its time. That system, along with the cut-out slide, takedown lever, and safety/decocker, directly influenced later designs like the Beretta 92 series. The original P38 featured a steel frame and slide, but the later P1 has an alloy frame, making it a bit lighter. Capacity is limited to 8+1 thanks to the single stack magazine and the heel magazine release, which precludes extended mags.

Walther P1 Pistol
The P1 is a post-World War II, alloy-framed Walther P38. This one served with the West Berlin Police in the 1950s and 1960s. (Author’s Photo)

My P1 was built in the mid-1950s and is stamped “Made in France.” “How can that be,” I thought when I first bought it. Well, immediately after the war, West Germany was not allowed to produce weapons of its own, but the new police forces and, beginning in 1955, the new Bundeswehr, needed a sidearm. The plethora of P38s still around, plus the proven design quality, made the choice of that sidearm very easy indeed. The initial production run of new pistols was marked “P38” but, for reasons unknown (at least to me) the firearm was reclassified as the P1 in 1956.

An interesting batch of P1s was made for the West Berlin Police. Those pistols were produced under contract in France by Manurhin. At least, that was the story to satisfy the Soviets, whose occupation zone surrounded Berlin. They were dead-set against any German-manufactured weaponry being used by West Berlin institutions. Of course, the Russians of the 1950s did have a pretty good reason to still be upset at the Germans. So, the frames were made by Walther in Ulm, West Germany and shipped to France, where the Manurhin markings were applied. They went to West Berlin from there. No doubt the Reds knew all this, but it kept up appearances. The West Berlin police sidearms carried a small rosette stamped on the trigger guards. Mine has that rosette. I like knowing where the gun served.

Walther P1 Pistol with holster, surplus firearms
The P1 is my favorite pistol that I own, bar none. (Author’s Photo)

I picked up my P1 at a Texas gun show for $350. I didn’t know anything about it at the time, but I was passing by, thought the gun was cool, and bought it on a whim. It also included an authentic leather flap holster. I’ve never regretted my impulse purchase. It’s fun and it shoots beautifully. My P1 is my favorite pistol that I own, bar none. If you ever buy one, just remember that these guns are NOT rated for modern +P ammo.

Yugoslavian M48 Mauser

I had to include a Mauser here, even if it wasn’t made in Germany. The Mauser 98 action, despite being 125 years old, is the apex of bolt actions. You cannot convince me otherwise. And the M48 Yugo may be the 98 action’s best military iteration.

Part of Germany’s post-World War II reparations payment to Yugoslavia included the tooling and equipment to make Mauser rifles. The M48 was not, however, a carbon copy of the German K98. The barrel is a bit shorter, as is the bolt. The bolt is a Mauser 98 design, but it’s 1/8 of an inch shorter than the K98’s bolt, as was the earlier Serbian-produced M24 Mauser variant. That was no doubt intentional since the bolts on those two rifles are interchangeable, though they cannot be swapped out for standard Mauser 98 bolts. Like the K98, the M48 is chambered for the hard-hitting 8mm Mauser cartridge.

Like the Madsen, the bolt action M48 was obsolete, but Yugoslavia made them anyway at the Preduzece 44 facility, which is part of Zastava. Preduzece 44 was later known as the “Red Banner” Plant. Communists. Most M48s went unissued for the same reasons that Madsen couldn’t sell their rifles. Most of the 1.2 million examples went unissued, but they were well-cared for. The Yugoslavian Army placed them in storage, then pulled them out on a rotating five-year schedule, cleaned them, and repacked them in fresh cosmoline. That went on until they were sold to the surplus market. So many M48s are available in like-new condition with all matching serial numbers, as mine was. Some M48s served in the Balkan Civil Wars of the late 20th century.

Yugoslavian M48 Mauser, surplus firearms
The Yugoslavian M48 Mauser variant is my favorite of my surplus rifles. (Author’s Photo)

The stock is just beautiful, and covers the barrel all the way back to the receiver, unlike the German K98. M48 stocks were made from elm, birch, beech, or walnut. There’s some stuff out there claiming the stocks are teak wood, but that’s not true. Zastava confirmed that a few years ago.

Like any Mauser variant, the action makes the rifle. Paul and Wilhelm Mauser’s design features two forward locking lugs, with a third lug in the rear for extra strength. The 98 action is so robust that, when made with proper materials, it can withstand up to 100,000 pounds of pressure and still operate. It couldn’t stand that much pressure for long, of course, but it’s impressive. The standard World War II 8mm Mauser load produced about 45,000 PSI.

The action, of course, features the powerful Mauser claw extractor and three-position safety. The bolt handle also differs from the K98, being canted at approximately 45° instead of bending straight down. I prefer the M48’s angle to the K98. The bolt‘s underside is also shaved flat for easier manipulation. Of all my bolt action rifles, this one has the best action, including my commercial hunting rifles. The two-stage trigger is also very good, with a short take-up to a firm wall, then a clean break. It’s hard to believe it’s a 1940s-era military trigger.

Finally, there are different versions: the M48, M48A, M48B, and M48BO. Those are listed in order of preference for collectors, as the later models featured a few stamped pieces, where the original M48 was all milled. Mine is an M48B, which is stamped as an M48A. But even so, the only stamped parts are the magazine floorplate and trigger guard. No big deal. All three of those models feature the cool Yugoslavian crest on the receiver, along with the date 29 November 1943, which was the date the Anti-Fascists established the “Republic” of Yugoslavia, which was, of course, Communist. The M48BO was for export only and has no crate. It’s also least likely to have a nice stock.

I love all my surplus rifles, but if I had to pick a favorite, this is it. It’s just a sweet, sweet rifle. I love the Madsen, and both rifles are like brand new, but the 98 action is clearly superior and thus the difference maker.

Yugoslavian M48 Mauser action and crest, surplus firearms
The Mauser 98 action is second to none. Note the cool Yugoslavian crest on the receiver. (Author’s Photo)

Final Thoughts

As I said before, I love surplus firearms. I’m a military historian by training, so that’s the main impetus. But many of those old guns are cool in their own right. I like seeing how the technology progressed and thinking about how soldiers or police would have used them. I always wonder where they’ve been and what they’ve seen, though that’s almost impossible to ascertain. I’ve only held one whose full provenance I knew. You can read about that in my article, “Two Tours in France: The Colt Army Model 1901 Service Revolver of Colonel James Draper,” here on the Mag Life Blog.

Unfortunately, YouTube has driven up the prices of MILSURP firearms, simply by making people aware of them. It’s great that these old guns are getting their due, but the market is just ridiculous now. Again, I blame Iraq Veteran 8888 and Nut’n Fancy. Ian McCollum too. I actually love those guys, so I’m just kidding.

Finally, my beloved 7mm Brazilian Mauser came in at number 6, even though it’s a far better firearm than the M44 and the 98 action is superior to the Madsen’s. Alas, it was a victim of variety. I still love it.

William "Bucky" Lawson is a self-described "typical Appalachian-American gun enthusiast". He is a military historian specializing in World War II and has written a few things, as he says, "here and there". A featured contributor for Strategy & Tactics, he likes dogs, range time, and a good cigar - preferably with an Old Fashioned that has an extra orange slice.

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