For those on a budget, old surplus guns tend to be inexpensive, reliable, and built to military standards (even though most are several decades old, they were originally built for use by military around the globe). Meanwhile, firearms collectors can appreciate the historical value of a surplus gun and enjoy having one added to their collection.
Military surplus rifles are simply rifles that were mass-produced many years ago for different countries, and are now available in the used market in the United States in huge quantities at low prices. Even though these rifles are outdated today from a tactical viewpoint (as most are bolt-action), if you need to build your survival armory but are short on cash, a surplus rifle is a gun that you can count on for hunting, target shooting, or self-defense.
In this article, we are going to outline and discuss the top five best military surplus rifles for those on a budget. There are many more expensive surplus rifles out there as well for you to consider (such as the M1 Garand or the Springfield M1903), however the five in this article offer you the best combination of affordability and quality.
Let’s take a look:
The Arisaka series of bolt-action rifles were originally designed in the late 1890s. The Japanese Emperor felt that his military was in need of a more modern rifle to compete with the armies of the Western world. The result was the Arisaka, and specifically the Type 38 and Type 99 rifles, both of which saw extensive action in World War II and in many armed conflicts since then.
The reason the Arisaka has become cheap and plentiful on the surplus market is because countless United States veterans of the Pacific Theater in World War II brought these weapons home with them as souvenirs. You can easily find an Arisaka Type 38 or Type 99 today for less than $400, and sometimes far less than that.
Arisaka rifles were noted for their durable construction, and as a result, many US veterans continued to use their captured Arisakas as hunting rifles when they came home. The quality of the Arisaka took a dip later in the war when Japan became stretched thin for resources and began to mass-produce them with cheaper materials, but even those guns are highly valuable to collectors.
The biggest disadvantage to owning an Arisaka rifle from a prepping standpoint is that the ammunition is relatively hard to come by. The Type 38 is chambered in 6.5x50mm and the Type 99 in 7.7x58mm.
Neither of these rounds are especially easy to find in comparison with other center-fire rifle rounds. However, many Arisaka rifles have been re-chambered for different calibers in order to make them more suitable for SHTF purposes. If you do own an Arisaka rifle in an original chambering, it would be wise to stock up on as much of it as you can.
The Lee-Enfield rifle is more expensive than the other rifles on this list, but it can still be commonly found for less than $500. The Lee-Enfield served as the standard service rifle of the British Army for many years, and is chambered for the highly effective .303 British cartridge. These days, Lee-Enfields are more common in countries that were previously a part of the British Empire (such as Canada or Australia), but you can still find them in the United States market as well.
What’s notable about the Lee-Enfield in contrast to other similar bolt-action military rifles of the time period is that it holds ten rounds of ammunition in contrast to the usual five. This makes the Lee-Enfield potentially a more appealing choice as a self-defense rifle, as ten rounds is already preferable to five.
The Lee-Enfield has seen action all over the globe and remains in use in some conflicts even today. It is manufactured in a variety of different configurations, including carbines, full-length rifles, and sportified versions.
The original Mauser rifle was and remains considered the gold standard of bolt-action rifles. Almost all other major bolt-action manufacturers have since copied the Mauser design in some way. The Gew98 and Kar98K rifles in particular served the German Army in World War I and World War II, and it has since seen service in many armed conflicts across the world as well.
Today, Turkish, Czechoslovakian, and Yugoslavian-made Mauser rifles chambered in either 7mm or 8mm are available in great abundance on the used market, and can be found for anywhere between $100 and $400 on average. True German-made Mauser K98Ks in good condition will fetch a price far higher than that, however.
Mauser rifles are smooth, rugged, reliable, and accurate. The fact that their design has been copied so many times should say a lot about their capabilities even as a cheap surplus rifle.
If you’ve done any research on surplus guns so far, you’ve no doubt come across the Mosin Nagant before. The Mosin Nagant is easily the most widespread surplus rifle, and as a result, it also tends to be the cheapest. While the days of purchasing a Mosin Nagant in good condition at $75 to $100 are long gone, you can still easily find one for the $200 to $250 range.
Over 37 million Mosin Nagant rifles were produced by the Soviet Union alone, with many millions more produced by other countries. They have been used by many nations in armed conflicts all over the world, particularly with countries in eastern Europe and Southeast Asia.
The Mosin Nagant is also noted for its 7.62x54mm round, which has ballistics very similar to the popular .30-06 Springfield round. In other words, an ordinary Mosin Nagant will be more than capable of bringing down large game such as deer or elk, and it’s also capable of tapping targets at long distances. In addition, 7.62x54mm tends to be cheaper and easier to find in comparison to many other surplus rifle rounds.
Thanks to the popularity of the Mosin Nagant, there are a variety of accessories that you can buy to turn it into a completely different rifle if you want to. For example, you can take your typical Mosin with a wood stock and transform it into a tactical rifle with a black synthetic stock, scope, accessory rails, forward grips, and lights.
A variety of Mosin Nagant variants were produced, with the two most common being the full length 91/30 rifle and the shorter M44 carbine. The carbine Mosin in particular would make for a fine brush or truck rifle, since its smaller size means it is more maneuverable in tight corners or for storage.
The SKS is the only semi-automatic rifle on this list. Back in the day, you could easily find one in the $100 to $125 range, though prices have since gone up and now you’re looking at around $350 to $400 for one in good condition. Still, that’s not bad for a semi-automatic rifle of any kind these days.
The SKS traditionally loads with ten-round stripper clips, in contrast to other automatic rifles that feed with a box magazine. However, the popularity of the SKS has meant that many accessories and add-ons are now available on the market, and more traditional thirty-round magazines that resemble (but are not compatible with) the magazines of the AK-47 are now available (in addition to synthetic tactical stocks, accessory rails and so on).
Speaking of the AK-47, the SKS also accepts the same ammunition: 7.62x39mm. This is a very common round that is easily found in most sporting goods stores in the United States, and for a price comparable to 5.56x45mm NATO.
That being said, the SKS has gained a reputation for being a more accurate weapon overall than the AK-47. This makes it an appealing rifle for anyone who desires an accurate rifle in 7.62x39mm, including those who are not on a budget. The reason why the SKS is more accurate than the AK-47 is because of the of the increased barrel length, allowing the round to travel through more rifling inside of the barrel before it leaves the weapon.
Since finding its way into the hands of civilians around the globe, the SKS has been used as a hunting, homesteading, and defensive weapon. Overall, it’s a very versatile rifle that is also affordable for most shooters. Take note though, the price of the SKS has only continued to go up as supply has decreased, so if you want to purchase one in good shape for that $350 to $400, now would be the time to do so.
Bonus: the M9 Beretta
Since the US Army has decided to kick the M9 to the curb to make room for the Sig Sauer P320, you can bet that the M9 Beretta will drop to the sought-after surplus price soon. The M9 has been in use in the US Army since 1985, and has been a reliable sidearm for lead-slinging ever since. Even though the Army replaced it with the P320, that doesn’t mean you should overlook the M9. It’s definitely earned a spot in your armory.
All in all, these five rifles (and bonus sidearm) offer the best combination of affordability, versatility, and quality on the used surplus-rifle market. Regardless of whether you are a firearms collector or a prepper looking for a good, dependable rifle on a budget, you should find much value in any of these rifles.