The man who started it all was born in Canada on January 1, 1888, and emigrated to Denisonville, CT, while just 10 years old. A decade later young John was working for Browne & Sharpe, a tool and gauge maker, and at 26 he relocated to Providence, RI, to take a job with the Federal Screw Corp.
When Garand moved to New York City, he found an interest in the development of small arms. His first project caught the attention of the U.S. Navy Bureau of Invention, who pressed him to relocate to the National Bureau of Standards to further his development of a mechanism that would solve common problems often associated with automatic gun fire. It was while working there that Garand met Maj. Lee O. Wright of the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps.
With Maj. Wright’s support, the Army chose to sponsor Garand’s efforts and move him to Springfield Armory in Massachusetts. There, Garand shifted his research from improving machine guns to the development of semiautomatic rifles.
The first working Garand rifle became useless when the U.S. Army changed ammunition specifications in 1925. To prevent such a catastrophic design failure in the future (should the Army make another change), Garand revised the first design to use gas pressure from a fired cartridge to operate the rifle’s action. The result became what we now call the gas-operated M1 Garand. The Army officially designated it U.S. Rifle, Cal. .30, M1 on January 9, 1936.
John Garand continued on at Springfield Armory, working in many technical capacities. He continuously improved tooling and manufacturing processes that related to his M1 rifle. The only problems ever reported with Garand’s manufacturing process or the finished product could always be attributed to another engineer working to modify his design.
Notably, Garand was also able to apply his skill in design to the development of what became the M1 Carbine. He retired in 1953 and resided in Springfield, MA, until he died in 1974.
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 $1,000.
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 and M1917 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 $1,000 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.