Shop Surplus Firearms Like a Pro: Our Tips

Shop Surplus Firearms Like a Pro: Our Tips

May 14th 2024

Whether you have your eye on a Garand, an SKS, or an M1903, these surplus firearms all have pretty much one thing in common: they’ve all been used, and some of them, pretty hard.

That makes inspection (which is critical even of new guns, fresh from the factory) even more important than ever.

It also means you have to know what to look for. Let’s break it down in this post, but first, a word on etiquette.

Open the Action

If the gun shop owner or employee handing you the gun doesn’t open the action first, do it yourself. It’s just a mark of courtesy for everyone around. Closed actions make people nervous, and rightfully so.

ASK to Test Triggers

We understand - you wouldn’t buy a gun without testing the trigger first - but do not shoulder and dry fire a weapon without asking - ever, under any circumstances, period. Ask first, and you may get special instructions from the shop employee. Some might want to have you drop the hammer on a snap cap to protect the firing pin, too.

Be Muzzle Conscious

Again, we understand, in gun shops everyone’s handling guns, which means there are a lot of muzzles waving around. That does not exonerate you of the responsibility of being aware of where your muzzle is. Handle the weapon responsibly and make sure you are never muzzling anyone as you inspect it.

If You Don’t Know, Ask

To inspect a surplus firearm, you have to know how the action and controls work. There are a lot of different models and variants of guns out there, and there probably isn’t a single person on the face of the planet that knows them all. There is no shame in this. If you do not know how an action or control works, don’t fumble with the firearm - ask the employee who showed you the gun.

Tips for Inspecting Surplus Firearms

Now let’s dive into the good stuff: how to inspect a used surplus firearm before committing to a purchase.

Run the Action

First thing first, run the action. Whether it’s a bolt or a lever or a semi-auto (or something else) make sure that the action runs smoothly and fluidly. It shouldn’t feel tight, gritty, or loose. Some actions have more play than others but generally this is not a good thing. It should ideally feel tight but very smooth, lock solidly, and release crisply.

Inspect the Exterior

Inspect the stock, exterior of the action, and the barrel for signs of wear, rot, and corrosion. If the firearm has a wood stock (many surplus firearms do) look for signs of mold, cracking, or dry rot. Minor cracking may not be a concern but serious cracks can be.

The action and barrel should both be free of rust and pitting - both of which are serious concerns. Marks of wear and minor scratches usually aren’t a big deal, but deep gouges can be.

Do a Quick Field Strip

Depending on the model you are looking at, you may be able to break down the barrel, remove the bolt, drop the trigger group, slide off the forend, or something along those lines. Ask the employee that handed you the gun if you can; if you don’t know how, ask him or her to do it for you.

With the firearm field stripped, inspect the internals, most if not all of which should be made of steel, for signs of rust, pitting, corrosion, or deformation. The cleaner and brighter, the better.

Bore Light the Bore

With the firearm field stripped, now’s a good time to inspect the inside of the bore. Ask the employee you’re working with for a bore light and inspect the barrel from the breech end. On many bolt action rifles, this can be done without field stripping, just by removing the bolt.

A bore light will show you the condition of the barrel’s interior as well as if there are any bulges. It should look bright as a mirror (ideally). Dark spots indicate either remnants of fouling or worse, rust and pitting. Shadows are even more concerning, as they can indicate that the barrel has a bend (or worse) a bulge in it. Both are serious concerns that can make the firearm unsafe to operate.

Drop and Inspect the Mag

If the firearm has a detachable box mag, drop it and inspect the exterior. It should drop freely but if not you should be able to pull it clear.

Like the rest of the gun, the mag should be free of corrosion, pitting, excess wear or deformation. If possible, ask the employee for some snap caps so you can check to see if the mag spring is working.

However, if not, this is not a deal breaker. You can still get magazines for many surplus firearms and you shouldn’t jump ship on a gun you really like just because the mag doesn’t pass muster.

                     Surplus Firearms

Run All Manual Controls

Run all the manual controls on the firearm, including the safety or selector lever, decocking levers, hammers, bolt catches/releases, charging handles, forward assists, mag releases, action locks/bars, and so on and so forth. Again, if you do not know what some control does, ask the shop owner or employee to show you. Most of the time they will be more than happy to explain the function and purpose of the control, as well as how to manipulate it safely.

Shopping Surplus Firearms with SARCO

This is just a list of some of the things you should inspect on most surplus firearms and as it is not model specific, there might be other controls or aspects of a firearm you would wish to inspect before purchasing.

If you ever visit us in our shop, we’d be more than happy to give you a more detailed overview of what to inspect and how to do so. Till then, take a look through our online collection of military surplus guns and contact us at 610-250-3960 if you have any questions.