Recently, while cruising the Internet, I came across an article about hunting with old military rifles. Since most of my big game hunting is done with old warhorses, it caught my attention right away. For me, there is just something fascinating about giving new life to these old guns. To get things started this week, let’s take a little look at a few of them.
For me, of course, the all time favorite is the 7.65 Argentine. Not only is it an excellent cartridge, but it has a lot of sentimental value for me as well. A long time ago, I wrote a story titled, “The Christmas Mauser.” In it I recounted an episode from my childhood when my parents bought me an old 1891 Argentine Mauser for Christmas. I hunted with it for a few years, sold it, and then got it back. It’s been over half a century since I got that gun, but the caliber has stayed with me. I’ve bagged deer, feral hogs and woodchucks with it. Although I have several rifles in the caliber, the one I use most often is a Model 1909, which has been sporterized.
Another one I really like is the 303 British. I remember as a kid being fascinated with the old clunky looking Enfields. A few years ago, I came across an old Enfield in a gun shop. Someone had tried to sporterize the stock, with disastrous results. I got it really cheap, then put it into a synthetic stock and scoped it. Somewhat to my surprise, it turned out to be an excellent shooter. In fact, I dropped an Ohio feral hog right in its tracks with the gun, and those hogs can be pretty tough.
An often overlooked caliber is the 7.62 X 54R Russian. This is the cartridge of the Moisin Nagant rifle, which served the Russians in two World Wars. Ballistically similar to the 308, the cartridge is quite capable as a hunting round. The rifles are accurate, too. The safety is genuinely awkward and hard to use. I really can’t imagine how you could get the safety off quickly for a shot. To deal with this issue, I had a gunsmith install a trigger block safety.
Probably the biggest problem with surplus rifles is getting ammo for them, although things are getting better on that front. When I was a kid, about the only ammo I could get for my Argentine Mauser was military surplus, which had the full metal jacketed bullets pulled and replaced with soft points. The ammo was extremely undependable, and the primers were corrosive, making cleaning quite a task.
Nowadays, however, a number of companies manufacture ammo for all of the above mentioned rifles. Some of it is pretty expensive, though. I think that you can get the most out of your surplus rifle by handloading. Virtually every loading manual has data for them. In the case of the Argentine, it’s easy to form your own brass from 30.06. A number of companies, most notably Graf & Sons, sell good reloadable brass for most military calibers.
Space, of course, does not permit a look at all of the military surplus guns out there, but I think the ones covered are a pretty good sampling. When you see one of these old warhorses at a gun show or a gunshop, don’t automatically shy away. It might be a real value, if not monetarily, at least for the amount of fun you can have with it. Fun, after all, is what it’s all about.
You know, I can hardly believe that this is the last column before Christmas. Time really flies, doesn’t it? It seems like only yesterday that we were getting ready for the opening of trout season. On top of that, the older one gets, the faster time seems to go by. My best friend and I discuss this a lot.
I’d like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas.