October 30, 2014
By Keith Wood
For decades, the SKS has been among the least-expensive centerfire semiauto rifles available in the U.S. But, as worldwide supplies dry up, prices on SKSs have crept skyward, and what was once considered little more than a throwaway gun is enjoying a growing demand. No one has ever declared the SKS as the "greatest battle implement ever devised," but, from a cost perspective, it may very well be the Garand of this generation in terms of mil-surp availability.
15 million SKSs (Simonov Self- Loading Carbine) were built from the time of its design in Russia during World War II until today. The AK47 and later AKM made the SKS nearly obsolete almost immediately after its adoption in the Soviet Union, but a large number of SKS variants were produced outside of Russia in places such as China, Romania and Yugoslavia. Since the SKS is among the last non-NFA general-issue shoulder arms produced in large numbers, it will likely be the last surplus firearm we'll see imported in en masse. CFR 922(r), which regulates the importation of semiautomatic rifles and shotguns, makes things even more complicated and prevents even semiauto FALs from being imported in their complete form. In short, unless the armies of the world turn back the clock of innovation and embrace weapons of the past, we will never see the mass importation of any military rifle designed after the 1950s. We're more likely to see the return of horse cavalry.
When I began hitting gun shows with my dad back in the late 1980s, I recall seeing crates of new SKSs, still in cosmoline, for sale at a mere $79 per rifle ($75 if you bought the entire crate). I don't recall the country of origin of those rifles, but I believe that they were Chinese Type 56s. Even though I probably had the money in my pocket from working odd jobs, the old man wouldn't let me take one home — "junk" he said (he has one now). Today, a Chicom SKS will run you north of $300. Even adjusted for inflation, the price has more than doubled in those 25 years. "Surplus is drying up" Jacob Herman at Century Arms International told me when I inquired about the overseas availability of rifles such as the SKS. As fewer guns become available, prices will climb — thus, $300+ SKSs.
Though over 6 million Garands were built, not all of them stayed in the U.S. to be sold as surplus. Garands were shipped to armies all over the world where they have sat in warehouses since later designs were adopted by the armies of those nations. For decades, the best place to purchase a Garand has been through the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) — many CMP Garands were sourced from these overseas stockpiles. CMP Garands start at $595 today, and wait times are as long as 9 months. If you don't want to wait for a CMP rifle, you can buy one off the used market, but be prepared to pay closer to $1000 for a serviceable example. With an executive order preventing many overseas M1s from being re-imported by the CMP, that price is certain to rise further as supplies diminish. Garands are fairly expensive today, but they weren't inexpensive rifles when they were brand new. The $85 price tag that the Department of War paid for the M1 in the 1940s calculates to almost $1400 in today's dollars, which means that Garands are actually less expensive today than they were seven decades ago. There was a time though, that Garands were dirt cheap. During the 1950s and 60s, M1 Garands and Carbines were available as surplus for less than the U.S. government paid for them in the 40s. Relatively speaking, the Garand was as available and inexpensive in those days as the SKS was in our recent past.
I know what you're going to say — a Garand is the supreme example of skilled American craftsmanship and precision (and French-Canadian ingenuity), how dare you compare it to Chinese garbage? Patriotic emotion aside, let's compare the two. Designed to be operable by hastily trained 19-year-olds? Check. Issued to a major army and tested in years of combat? Check. Non-detachable magazine holding more than five rounds of .30 caliber ammo? Check, kinda. Chambered for a widely-available cartridge? Check. Milled receiver, all metal parts and a hardwood stock? Check. Parts readily available for modification and repair? Check. Harder to get that they used to be? Check. Both rifles are serviceable, sufficiently accurate for their intended purpose, durable and easy to operate. Sure, the SKS is "clumsy" as Col. Jeff Cooper put it, but it does what it was built to do. I'm not trading you my Garand for your Simonov, but they're not as unalike as they seem at first mention.
The heart of the matter is pure economics. You have two rifles that were produced in seemingly endless numbers and sold as surplus for a song. As supplies constrict due to natural or regulatory factors, prices rise. We've seen it with Mausers, '03 Springfields, M1 Carbines, Garands and, yes, even SKSs. Barring unforeseen supplies or future policy changes that will flood the U.S. market with old military rifles, we will see prices of all surplus arms continue to climb. At some point, we'll likely look back at even today's high prices longingly as 'the good ole days.'
What do you think the future holds for SKS availability? Join the debate in the comments below!
German K98 Mauser
While honest German Mauser K98 rifles have become rather difficult to find on the surplus market, they are still a legendary part of both world history and the history of the surplus firearm realm. Surplus import houses still occasionally offer them; Century Arms has a batch of arsenal-refinished K98s. You'll pay through the nose, but owning one of these lovely examples of military art is worth it. Samples in all types of conditions can be found online at Gunbroker.com
, where you'll see Nazi-marked K98s in premium condition, or with documentable history bringing spectacular prices.
Many experts believe that the K98 almost perfected bolt-action design, and will argue that most development since then has been fruitless. Strong, reliable, accurate and powerful — the 98K incorporates German engineering and manufacturing with the incredible history of a tiny nation that made a very determined, almost-effective effort to take over the world. How can you not own a K98?
Though it has unfortunately become one of the most expensive and elusive surplus arms, it is — without doubt the most magnificient. This is the rifle Gen. Patton dubbed, 'The greatest battle implement ever devised. ' It was the first semi-automatic standard infantry arm to be fielded by any nation, and is said to have had a significant effect on the outcome World War II.
Chambered for the legendary .30-06 cartridge, the M1 Garand feeds via a true 'clip ' that contains eight cartridges and is inserted from the top of the action, functioning as a part of the action itself. Ammo for it ain't cheap, because there's little surplus left, but shooting an M1 Garand is an experience every American should have Owning one — or several dozen — is a must for vintage military arm collectors.
One of the coolest aspects of the M1 Garand is surplus rifles can be purchased by mail order from the CMP by any American citizen with a clean background. A background check is run by the CMP, then the rifle is shipped directly to your home. Imagine that — you can still purchase a gun by mail order and have the postman deliver it.
Another fun way to pick up an M1 Garand is to visit one of the CMP stores where you can browse to your heart's delight among rifles that reek of historic prowess, pick the one you like best and purchase it.
Prices range from around $500 for a rack grade, up to thousands for rare sniper rifle configurations. Good-shooting, mixed-part rifles in very good shape can be had for around [imo-slideshow gallery= 165],000.
One of the only historic U.S. military firearms still somewhat available, there's really nothing else quite like the M1 Carbine. It was initially developed to be a lighter, more maneuverable rifle than the standard service M1 Garand
, with more power and precision than the 1911
handguns. It first served in the European Theater in the hands of various branches of the military, most notably among paratroopers, forward artillery observers, officers and ammunition bearers. Later, in a select-fire version fitted with an infrared scope, dubbed the 'T3 ' variation, it did yeoman's duty at night during the Okinawan campaign. Select-fire M2s were heavily deployed during the Korean War, where they gained a reputation for jamming and had inadequate stopping power in extreme cold.
The M1 Carbine fires a slender, straight-walled .30-caliber cartridge. Magazines typically contain 15 rounds, though 30-rounders eventually became available and popular. Current ammunition is readily available but is not cheap.
While various knockoffs can be had for under $400, correct, U.S.-made M1 Carbines bring closer to [imo-slideshow gallery= 165],000 and are rather hard to find. Gunbroker.com is a good source, as is the CMP, where you can peruse individual listings replete with photography and detailed description and purchase it auction-style.
Mosin Nagant 91/30
Without a doubt the most common, useful surplus arms available today, Mosin-Nagants are good, solid, no-frills rifles that served Russia through two World Wars and several other countries in major conflicts in decades since. Thousands were arsenal refinished and put into storage long ago. Now being sold as surplus and exported to the U.S., they are usually in good serviceable condition. Most are the longer 91/30 rifles spotlighted here, though the shorter M38 and M44 carbines can be found on occasion.
Good rifles can be had for around $100, and very nice samples for $150 to $200. If you want to score the best of the breed, look for Finnish-made versions.
Mosin-Nagants are chambered in 7.62x54mmR, a rimmed, bottleneck rifle cartridge that approximates the .308 in power. Iron sights are very usable, consisting of a post front and notch-type rear with considerable elevation adjustment. Mounting an optic is rather a chore, due to the action design.
Ammo is typically widely available and inexpensive. However, like most surplus munitions, primers are usually corrosive, so you'll want to clean and oil your rifle after every shooting session.
Personally, I like my vintage guns in original condition, but for those who like to modify them to fit their personal tastes and needs, there are quite a few aftermarket accessories for the Mosin-Nagant.
Steyr Mannlicher M95 Austrian Carbine
Designed by Ferdinand Ritter von Mannlicher, the straight-pull Steyr-Mannlicher was considered a fast, well-balanced rifle by those who used it on the battlefield. It feeds an 8x56mmR (rimmed) cartridge from a five-round internal box magazine. More than 3 million were made, many of which saw service with the Austro-Hungarian Army during WWI and in multiple nations during WWII. A good number were sold as surplus, and many were imported to America.
Hornady currently produces 8x56mmR ammunition, as do a couple of manufacturers overseas. Rifles can be found at online auctions, surplus importers such as Century Arms and at local gun shops.
Swiss Schmidt Rubin
Incorporating design elements well ahead of its time, the Schmidt-Rubin family of rifles and carbines utilized straight-pull bolt actions and detachable box magazines. Commonly of six-round capacity but occasionally as high as 12, the magazines could be topped off with a stripper clip while inserted in the rifle's action.
The 7.65x53.5mm cartridge Schmidt-Rubin's are chambered for a .306-diameter projectile, mirroring the 7.62x51 NATO in performance. Though several variations of the Schmidt-Rubin design are readily available from surplus firearm importers such as Century Arms and Samco Global Arms, ammunition can be hard to come by.
Yugoslavian M48 Mauser
Built in the 1950s, the M48 is based on the FN-designed M24, with a few modifications inspired by the German 98K. A few M48s saw service, while most were stored in cosmoline until recently, when they became available as surplus.
As a result, most are in 'very good ' to 'like-new ' condition. For practical shooting purposes, they mirror the classic German 98, but are a lot cheaper on today's market. M48s shoot 7.92x57mm ammunition, commonly known as '8mm Mauser. ' Ammo is relatively inexpensive, though like most it has gone up in price recently.
Widely available on Gunbroker.com, M48 rifles can also often be found at local gun shops that cater to surplus firearm buyers.
A rather nicely built pistol similar to the Soviet TT-33 Tokarev, the Md57 sports a nine-round magazine, 1911-type thumb safety and a longer, more comfortable grip. Chambered for the 7.62x25mm bottleneck cartridge, it is easy to shoot courtesy of fairly low recoil. However, it does have a fairly noticeable muzzle flash and blast due to the zippy, high-velocity nature of the cartridge. It's worth noting that correct magazines must be used because Soviet pattern magazines are too short.
According to vintage military firearms expert David Fortier, the Md57 is the pick of the 7.62x25mm litter. Available through Southern Ohio Gun and AimSurplus starting at $229.95, it's a handgun that every good vintage military arms lover and shooter should own.
Ammunition that was once obscenely cheap and widely available is becoming scarce, but can still be found.
Though the day of the $99 SKS is long gone, good, reliable rifles can still be found. The bulk of those available on the current surplus market are made in Yugoslavia.
Chambered for the 7.62x39mm cartridge, the SKS actually predates the legendary AK-47 by some two years and is typically a more accurate rifle. That's because is has a longer barrel, increased sight radius and the lesser wear seen on most surplus samples. Standard models hold 10 rounds in a fixed magazine. Ammo, while once available dirt-cheap by the pickup-load, is at a premium but can still be found.
Widely available on Gunbroker.com, in local shops and directly from importers such as Samco Global Arms, good Yugoslavian SKS's currently bring upwards of $350, and really nice Russian-made guns can bring twice that.
An interesting combination of Colt
design elements, the M70 is of particular interest to shooters wanting a tough, basic pistol in the widely available and popular 9mm caliber
. Manipulation of the M70 is 1911-esque enough that shooting it will be a breeze to anyone familiar with the legendary Browning design. There's one major difference: Russian M70 pistols employed only a hammer half-cock notch for a safety, but to legalize importation, a slide-mounted safety is added to every pistol coming into the states. That safety functions similarly to the safety on a Beretta M9
Just now becoming available from companies like Century Arms and AimSurplus for between $230 and $300, the Zastava M70 9mm pistol is one of the most practical choices among currently available surplus arms.