My Soviet Military Surplus Firearms
Today I’m writing about military surplus rifles, in particular, those designed in the Soviet Union: the Vintovka Mosina, the Samozaryadnyj Karabin sistemy Simonova, and the Avtomat Kalashnikova. Most of you will recognize these battlefield rifles by their more common names: the Mosin Nagant, the SKS and the AK-47. These three weapons systems have been used throughout the world in almost every battle since World War I. In fact, millions of these services weapons are still around today, not only in use by the military or warlords, but in the hands of citizens and private collectors who prize them for their rich history and ruggedness. And in the case of the Mosin Nagant, their inexpensive price tags make them fun to shoot at low cost.
I’m won’t spend too much time going into the history of each of these rifles in detail, nor will I delve deeply into the variations of models, or the different arsenals. If you are interested, I encourage you to spend a Saturday afternoon on the web. One can spend countless hours researching these weapons on the Internet, gleaning the history and much more from experts who are dedicated to the subject. What I would like to do is talk about the three examples from my own personal collection and why I love each.
MOSIN NAGANT M44 (Vintovka Mosina)
As I already stated, these rifles were designed in the Soviet Union, only one of my collection—the Mosin Nagant—was actually built by a Soviet arsenal. The other two are Romanian specimens, which were imported into the U.S. by Century Arms International. Although not as valuable as those from the Russian arsenals, the Romanian variety is excellent quality, which were built exactly as the Russian arsenals, and rate just below the Russian from a collectability standpoint.
The Mosin Nagant M44 is actually considered a carbine because of its shorter barrel (20”). Unlike the other variants of the Mosin, it is highly unlikely that the M44 saw combat as they did not go into full production in significant quantities until 1944 near the closing of World War II. Most of these carbines were by then covered in cosmoline and stored in boxes for the next sixty years until imported and sold to civilians in the U.S. and other countries.
My particular example of the M44 is from the Soviet Izhevsk arsenal, dated 1944. Made of wood and steel, this gun is heavy, weighing in at 9 pounds unloaded. The stock is made from laminated wood, which has fared well over the years, considering the age of the weapon. A unique feature of the M44 is the inclusion of an integrated or fixed spike bayonet, which lifts off the barrel and folds to the side, where it is received by a notch in the stock. The bluing on the M44 has held up well and overall is in excellent condition. The shiny and crisp barrel leads me to believe this carbine was not fired much, if at all, prior to me purchasing it for $79 nearly a decade ago.
The bolt is what is known as the straight variety, which poses an issue when mounting optics in the traditional manner. Some of the other Mosin variants were set up in sniper configurations and used throughout World War II, made famous by Vasily Zaytsev, a Soviet sniper and Hero of the Soviet Union. Such models had a bent bolt handle, which allowed the action to clear the mounted optic. However, many folks have opted for what is known as a “Scout” configuration (read about Col. Jeff Cooper, who coined the phrase, if you’re interested), which allows you to attach a long eye relief optic at a more forward position, out of the way of the bolt action.
Firing the 7.62x54r cartridge, the Mosin is a heavy hitter. As such, many civilians use many variants of the Mosin Nagant for hunting all sorts of game from deer to wild boar. The powerful ammunition is also extremely cost effective. Ammunition can be purchased in 440 bulk packs for less than $90 and 880 rounds for less than $190. With ammunition this cheap, the Mosin is an excellent fun gun that you can afford to take to the range and fire often without breaking the bank. An in these tough economic times, the Mosin continues to provide enjoyment as well as putting meat on the table.
SKS MODEL 45 (Samozaryadnyj Karabin sistemy Simonova)
The Samozaryadnyj Karabin sistemy Simonova, known simply as the SKS rifle, was adopted in 1946 and quickly replaced the Mosin Nagant. The SKS was designed by Sergei Gavrilovich Simonov, a Senior Master Gunsmith. This semi-automatic carbine was short-lived as the primary Soviet battle rifle, however, replaced by the Avtomat Kalashnikova, or AK-47, which we will get to shortly. Mass quantities of the SKS were produced during its short run, but continued to be manufactured for export, even after the adoption of the AK-47.
Like many of the Soviet surplus weapons, the SKS was manufactured in many countries, and used throughout the world, in many conflicts. Outside of Russia, these rifles were produced by the Chinese, Romanians, Albanians, and Yugoslavians. It has also be documented that the SKS rifles were produced in Germany, Vietnam and North Korea, although I’ve never seen or handled these variants.
With a barrel length of 20 inches, the SKS Model 45 is also referred to as a carbine rather than a rifle. Its short stroke gas piston and self-loading capability gave it a great advantage over the earlier Mosin Nagant and its bolt action design. The increased attached magazine capacity of 10 rounds was also an advantage, giving the soldier five additional rounds before having to reload the weapon.
Also made of wood and steel, the SKS is a fairly heavy weapon, weighing in at a little under 9 pounds. Many of the SKS’s features are very similar to the Mosin Nagant; the front and rear sights, cleaning rod that tucks into the hand guard below the barrel, and an integrated folding bayonet. However, that is where the similarities end. Firing the moderate 7.62x39mm cartridge, the SKS does not pack the punch of the Mosin. Although the 7.63x39mm round has plenty of stopping power, with some applications in hunting, it does not come close to that of the Mosin Nagant’s larger caliber, the 7.62x54r.
My particular SKS carbine (the inspiration behind Matt Danzig’s weapon of choice in my novel, Mad Swine: The Beginning) is of the Romanian variety, which is nearly identical to the Russian designed. It is a very nice specimen, considering the fact that most of the Romanian SKS surplus carbines were imported with stocks that looked as though they had been chewed by beavers. My stock, although far from perfect, is in great condition. It is made of beech wood with thick layers of lacquer to protect the wood. The integrated folding bayonet on the Romanian variant is a blade version, rather than the spike type found on the Chinese models. It seats nicely in a niche below the hand guard.
Another rare feature of my SKS is that all of its parts have matching serial numbers. The large majority of the Romanian imports were parts guns, with old or broken parts being replaced before they were sold and imported. Due to the interchangeability of the weapon, many of the surplus SKS’s had parts replaced from other rifles, including parts from variants built in different countries. These parts rifles are still great shooters, and the mismatch parts had no impact on the usability of the weapon, but decreasing the value and collectability.
A little more than eleven years ago, the SKS cost me just about $249.00, more than double the cost of the Mosin Nagant. Still an excellent deal for such a handy weapon. Although the cost of ammunition is much higher than the Mosin, the SKS quickly became my favorite carbine to shoot. The SKS has a short length of pull, as do most of the Soviet designs. However, with less recoil, the benefit of the semi-automatic action, additional round capacity, and the sleeker design, the SKS just speaks to me.
Over the years I have done some slight modifications to increase the accuracy and reliability. I have had a trigger job done by an expert for a cleaner, smoother action, as well as I have replaced the floating firing pin with a spring loaded version, like that of the original Russian design, to eliminate the possibility of slam fires, which can be dangerous. Aside from that, I have no plans to modify the SKS from its original design.
AK-47 (Avtomat Kalashnikova)
The last firearm from the Soviet arsenals that I’d like to discuss in this article is the Avtomat Kalashnikova, or the AK-47, the weapon of the enemy. The AK-47 was designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov. After being hospitalized from a wound during the Battle of Bryansk, Mikhail entered a competition for a new weapon that could chamber the 7.62x39mm cartridge. He submitted his semi-automatic, gas-operated carbine that heavily influenced by the American M1 design and lost to Simonov and his SKS.
Later in 1944, Mikhail submitted a new design for a fully automatic, gas-operated carbine with a 30-round detachable magazine. This new rifle proved to be extremely reliable and operated flawlessly in all types of conditions and environments and handling conditions. Hence, the AK-47 was born
In its true form, the AK-47 is an automatic carbine, with select fire capability, detachable magazine and pistol grip. Just like its cousins the Mosin Nagant and the SKS, the AK-47 has many variants and has gone through some upgrades to modernize the weapon, which is still used as the primary battle rifle for armies and law enforcement all over the world.
The AK-47’s imported into the U.S. as military surplus are not quite the same as the original as designed by Mr. Kalashnikov. In order to legally import these carbines into the U.S., the rifles had to be civilian versions which eliminated the select fire capability, becoming a semi-automatic weapon. I won’t get into how they were stripped down during the assault weapons ban era. Instead, let’s dive into the version I have acquired for my own collection.
The GP WASR 10, or General Purpose Wassenaar Arrangement Semi-automatic Rifles, was imported after the sunset of the 1994 assault weapons ban, and was legally equipped with bayonet lug, muzzle break. The importer, Century Arms modified the carbine to accept 30 round detachable magazines, rather than the 10 round single stack magazines. Over the years, there have been variants of the WASR 10 rifles of various fit and finish. As far as AK-47’s go, the WASR is normally considered lower tiered.
Perhaps one of the lucky ones, my WASR 10 was in excellent condition. Purchased in 2004, the WASR had all matching parts, no cant to the front sight post, and no magazine wobble, all complaints about the WASR 10. The original finish and wood furniture, however, did not last long, even with only moderate shooting and handling of the weapon. More on that in a moment.
The WASR 10 is as fairly light, weighing in just under seven pounds. It shoots the same caliber as the SKS rifle, although it sports a shorter 16 inch barrel. It share some characteristics with the SKS, such as the gas tub and piston design, and rear and front sign posts. With its pistol grip and detachable magazine, however, the WASR is a bit easier to shoot as well as reload. The Tapco G2 trigger is quite nice, too.
About three years ago, I decided to refinish the WASR. The original finish was fading in many spots, down to almost bare metal in some areas. The wood furniture, although sturdy enough, was completely covered in too many coats of varnish for my taste. I wanted to try to refinish it so that it had that fresh from the arsenal appearance. I opted to use Gun-Kote, and ultra thin, friction reducing coating that is said to last and is easy to clean. Over a weekend I stripped the WASR and sprayed all the metal finish which dried to a very nice, rich black.
Not handy with the saw, I opted to purchase a new set of wood furniture from a company right here in the U.S. The stock, pistol grip and upper/lower forends are laminate and shipped completely naked. Although I didn’t trust my hand at making the furniture, I did want the experience of finishing. After some reading, I got out the sandpaper, steel wool, stain and tung oil and went to work. The end result was much nicer than I expected but just like I’d hoped.
Although I am a fan of the AK-47, and I am completely satisfied with my WASR 10, and have had many hours of enjoyment shooting this fantastic weapon, and would completely trust my life to it, I often find that I favor the Mosin Nagant and the SKS over it when I hit the range. There’s just something about the older rifles that I enjoy much more.
So, I hope you enjoyed this brief look at some of my Soviet surplus weapons. Those of you who have not yet discovered the joy of surplus rifles, I hope this article has created a spark. If you’re looking for a piece of history, an inexpensive rifle for defense, hunting or fun shooting, treat yourself. These guns have been around a long time and with proper care and maintenance can be passed along do your children.