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    Member Noah Zark's Avatar
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    Quick Inspection of Milsurp Rifles

    I'm the same "Noah Zark" as at many of the major firearms forums and message boards. I joined here a couple years ago and have mostly lurked since, reading forums and articles in the Knowledge Libraryicon. This site is a great source of information for the milsurp collector.


    Here's a piece on inspection of milsurp rifles that I put together for another site several years ago, based on almost 40 years of interest in military small arms. The following is intended to help the milsurp enthusiast who is interested in doing a quick "triage" check of weapons for possible purchase. The following "works for me" when needing to quickly sort through a number of milsurps of interest, and your opinion and practice may vary.

    First, put together the following kit for your shoulder bag:

    Small flashlight; Mini Maglite or one of the Streamlight Stylus pen lights are fine. You do NOT need a traditional borelight, IMO and experience; more about that in a minute.

    Magnifying glass or a pair of cheap "cheater" reading glasses, about +1.75 to +2.50 diopter (magnification). These are a must if you are over 40 - 45 years of age anyway.

    Sectional cleaning rod and patches for 22 cal. (for a quick pass thru a bore to remove preservative turds, dust, spiders, etc.). I suggest a 22 cal rod because it can be used for anything up to and including .577 if need be.

    Paper towels (to wipe down an excessively preserved rifle before transporting in your vehicle)

    Wet wipes in a ziploc bag or travel-size package (to clean preservative off your hands)

    Small scissors or sharp pocketknife (to cut patches smaller)

    A "milspec" cartridge for each of the rifles they you expect to examine, preferally a dummy, but not necessary. A milsurp round is ideal. This is for "quick and dirty" gauging the muzzle of the barrel and the rifling.

    Optional: Headspace gages if you are serious about collecting/shooting and can afford them.


    As with any used firearm, particularly milsurps, examine the following:

    Open the action and verify that no round is chambered and that the magazine is empty.

    Does the S/N on the bolt handle match that of the receiver, and preferably in the same stamping font? For a rimless cartridge-firing rifle that headspaces on the case shoulder, it usually is a plus for the original bolt to be present. Note that for rifles chambered for rimmed cases like the 303 Britishicon and the 7.62x54, the cartridge headspaces on the rim and matched bolts are not as big a factor. For shooter purposes, electropencil "forced-match" S/Ns are generally acceptable.

    Look closely at the muzzle crown. It helps to shine a flashlight directly on the crown, and to use your magnifier glasses for viewing. Are the lands sharply defined, or are they rounded, or are they even present? Taking your "milspec" cartridge (ask permission first) and insert the bullet end of the cartridge into the muzzle. As a rule, there should be between 1/8" and 1/4" of bullet jacket showing between the end of the barrel and the cartridge case mouth. If the bullet disappears all the way into the muzzle with the case mouth resting on the crown, either the rifling is gone or the bore was counterbored. The latter is not necessarily a bad thing, but if there is no counterbore the rifling is gone at the muzzle and the weapon will likely "pattern" when fired. I don't even look through the bore without checking the crown and muzzle condition first, because if the rifling at the muzzle is gone, the rifle under inspection goes back to the seller's rack. (IMO, I follow Col Townsend Whelen's motto: "Only accurate rifles are interesting." I shoot what I own, and if there are indications that a particular rifle under consideration will not shoot without expensive remedy, it goes back in the rack or on the table without a second thought. IMO, functionality and accuracy trumps "correctness." I'd much rather have a postwar M1icon Rifle with a bore testing to a 0 or 1 MW and less importantly a TE of 3 or less than a "correct" WWII issue M1 Rifle with a shot-out sewer pipe. I want to "put the miles" on my guns, and not own something for the sake of ownership that's had all the miles put on by others. JMO, YMMV.)

    Shoulder the rifle and sight it. Are the sights "plumb" (vertical) with the rifle held as vertically as you can? Are the sights/sight inserts tight, or is there sideplay of the front insert or the rear sight leaf? Is the front or rear sight offset drastically to either side? This may not mean that there is a problem, but it might indicate that the barrel is not in time, sights are not aligned, or that the barrel is bent. It could also e something as simple as a sight insert getting "bumped" during handling. At any rate, I personally find offset sight inserts to be annoying and usually avoid buying a rifle with offset sights.

    Set the butt on the floor or on your shoe top and sight it from the muzzle end, paying attention to the radial position of the front and rear sights. Do the sights appear to be aligned to each other and to the receiver? (This is particularly useful for AK47 and AKM clones and rebuilt/rearsenaled boltguns) Is the front sight drifted in its dovetail excessively one way or the other? This may not be a bad thing, and although the rifle may shoot to POA with cocked sights I personally find excessively drifted sights to be annoying as mentioned above.



    If the rifle passes so far, open the bolt and with the butt resting on the floor or your shoe, shine the flashlight beam directly on the boltface. This will reflect light up the bore, but not so much that it will be blinding. I find the traditional borelight with the curved plastic lens tube to be too bright and the brightness often overpowers getting a good look at the lands and grooves the full length of the barrel. Look for sharpness of the rifling lands, rust, frosted appearance, etc. Ask the dealer or owner if you can run a dry patch through the bore. If they say yes, remove the bolt (if possible) and clean from the breech. Place a paper towel on the table or floor so that it will catch any debris expelled by the patch. Orange/brown on the patch might signify either preservative or rust, and if it feels dry and gritty it may likely be rust. Greasy means preservative, especially if you pushed out a big preservative turd. Check the more again. Dark bores do not mean bad shooters; look for sharp rifling all the way to the muzzle, and do the bullet depth check on the muzzle as outlined above.

    With the bolt removed if possible, shine the light into the chamber and check for scratches or gouges. Burnish marks are no problem; deep gouges will likely cause difficult chambering and most certainly difficult if not impossible extraction due to case walls expanding into the gouges and "locking" the case to the chamber. Set the rifle down and walk on if there are deep gouges in the chamber.

    Check the small parts for marks or serial numbers. For example, when checking No 4 Enfields made by Savage, the more metal bits that have a blocky "S" stamped thereon the closer it is to original condition. Similarly, the 96 Swede Mauser has about 15 or 17 different parts that have the S/N or the last three digits of the S/N stamped thereon. All matching is not necessary to be a good shooter, but it helps for collector value purposes if you change your mind or interests a year from now and go to sell the weapon. The Swedishicon M38 did not have all the same metal bits stamped with the last three digits of the S/N the way the M96 did.

    Speaking about Swedish Mausers, the brass stock disc on Swedish Mausers indicated the bore diameter (a triangle stamped over a 6.5 -something number), the corrosion/erosion state of the bore (a triangle over a 1 - little wear or corrosion, 2 - some wear or corrosion, or 3 - worst condition but still acceptable, or no triangle at all - best condition, no wear or rust). I've fired Swedes with a "3" bore and they still were 1.5 MOA or under.

    On M1 Rifles, rotate the elevation and windage knobs. There should be definite resistance to rotation with sharp, distinct clicks. If not, take a screwdriver or coin and tighten the screw on the T105 sight slightly and see if that tightens the knobs. If not, the serrations in the receiver could be worn, and although there are repair washers, I do not like them.

    Also on M1 Rifles, check to see that there is little or no sideplay in the rear sight insert. Sometimes it's a poor-fitting rear sight cover, sometimes it's wear to the rear sight insert ways. This can be tightened up, but don't expect decent accuracy with a loose rear sight insert.

    Unlatch the triggerguard on an M1 Rifle and relatch it. There should be some resistance to closing when the tab end of the triggerguard is approximately 1/2" to 3/4" away from latching. If the TG snaps in place without resistance, the stock wood is likely compressed and accuracy and functionality may be compromised. The existing stock can be shimmed or have "pillars" installed to retighten the clamping effect of the trigger housing, or a new stock can be purchased; these repairs need to be taken into account when considering the purchase.

    Check the stock and handguards over for cracks. Mosin-Nagants are prone to cracks on either side of the receiver tang, and often show repair blocks. This doesn't affect shooting, but it is not unusual. Unrepaired cracks might mean the purchase of a replacement stock in the future, and that means that the total cost of the rifle is actually higher than say another example on the same table.

    Examine the blueing or phosphating (Parkerizing) on the metal parts, and look for any areas that are brighter, smoother, or a different color as compared to surrounding areas. This would indicate a refinish at some point. No biggie for a rearsenaled Mosin or the like, but a show stopper if it is a high-buck rare milsurp that you are looking at. Likewise, look at the interface between the barrel/receiver and the stock where visible, and examine for rust or pitting.

    Assuming that you have headspace gauges and know the proper procedure for using them, and that the dealer/owner gives permission, check the headspace. There are many opinions as to which "one" gauge to buy, and IMO you should get a FIELD gage as that represents the "outer limit" for shootability. If you can afford two, get a GO and a FIELD, as that will define the entire envelope for "shootability." Your opinion may vary; this is a suggestion. If the bolt and receiver match for S/N, chances are the headspeace will be fine, but it's still best to check if possible.

    Finally, but probably most importantly, do some homework first and know something about your intended firearms of interest. You may just run across that extremely rare piece of which the seller is not aware.

    Hope this helps,

    Noah
    Last edited by Noah Zark; 04-06-2011 at 08:30 AM.

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