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Selling sporterized military rifles; the advantages and disadvantages.

Selling Sporterized Military Rifles; The Advantages And Disadvantages

Back during the Post-WWII era when we experienced a large influx of military surplus rifles, most gun dealers sold lots of these rifles to customers for sporterization. With the passage of GCA '68 the import gates closed to the surplus rifles and prices on most military rifles went up to the point that sporterization was no longer cost effective. Sporterizing military rifles practically faded away. Then in the mid-'80s the import doors on surplus rifles, particularly those made before 1946, were opened again. Selling those military surplus rifles has been a lucrative and popular field for dealers that handle used guns. However, relatively few dealers have chosen to promote sporterization of military rifles. Not only are they missing substantial additional sales of military rifles, they are also missing significant profits generated by the sales of accessories used in the sporterizing. If the shop has a resident gunsmith or offers gunsmithing services through an off-premises gunsmith, the dealer is also losing significant income by not catering to and promoting the sporterization of military surplus rifles. Sporterization is a broad term that covers any and all modifications done to a military rifle to make it more suitable for sporting purposes, particularly hunting. It can range from nothing more than removal of the rifle's front bands and trimming the forend off to a halfstock configuration, to a total remanufacture including rebarreling, restocking, refinishing, extensive action modifications, ad infinitum. The latter approach requires the talents of a first rate gunsmith. However, that is not where the market is for sporterizing. Instead, the market is with the hobby gunsmith or person talented at working with his hands. While such persons may, on occasion, attempt a high grade conversion, in most cases the person is seeking to construct an inexpensive rugged and reliable utility hunting rifle. Many surplus rifles are excellent candidates for such conversions and the results can be both pleasing and useful. Many dealers take the view: "Why should I sell a customer an inexpensive military rifle for a small profit and promote sporterizing it so that he won't want to buy a more expensive commercial, sporter on which I could make a bigger profit?". The answer to that question is three fold. First, if you cater to sporterizing you will not only make a profit on the original surplus rifle sale but you will likely profit significantly from the sale of supplies and accessories that have a far larger profit margin than firearms do. It is not uncommon for a net profit from the sale of a surplus rifle plus the supplies and accessories to sporterize it to be nearly as much as the profit of the sale of a commercial sporter costing three or more times as much.

Secondly, individuals that enjoy sporterizing rifles as a hobby will often become steady repeat customers. It is important to understand that such people truly delight in working on guns and personalizing them to their own specifications and design. When they are finished with one project they will inevitably want to take on another. If you have what he needs in terms of guns and supplies, he will be spending more money in your shop.

Finally, the typical sporterized military rifle can be an excellent utility grade hunting rifle but they will rarely exhibit the accuracy, ballistics, and conveniences of a fine grade commercial sporter. Almost inevitably the sporterized military rifle will eventually be relegated to duty as a backup gun, a loaner, a rifle for a spouse or offspring, or some other secondary use while that person purchases a commercial sporter. Quite often the person moving up from a sporterized military rifle will spend more money to acquire a higher grade commercial sporter than he would have if he started off with one. The military rifles that lend themselves to sporterization are myriad with each having advantages and disadvantages. It is important to discourage customers from sporterizing military rifles that are particularly rare, valuable, or in exceptionally fine condition. Such projects are not cost effective and the customer will inevitably regret undertaking them. Also many military rifles can never be made into truly satisfactory sporters because of the awkwardness of their action, the ammunition they chamber, the awkwardness of their safety or lack of a safety altogether or some potentially unsafe design or manufacture feature. Some rifles in this category include the Italian Carcanos, the Russian Moisin-Nagants, the French Lebels and Mannlicher Berthiers, the Dutch and Romanian Mannlichers, the Austrian Mannlicher straight pulls, the low number M1903 Springfield rifle, and the Ross straight pulls.

The rifles that can be made into useful and handy sporters include all the various Mausers from the Model 1891 through the Model 98, all the Lee Enfields, the Japanese Type 38 and Type 99 Arisakas, the British P14, the U.S. M1917 Enfield, the M1903 and 03A3 Springfields, and to a lesser extent most of the various Krags. All of the recommended rifles with the exception of the `03's and the Krags are available in quantity on the current surplus market.

Often the rifles that are ideal for sporterizing are precisely the same ones that are otherwise hard to sell because of broken stocks, missing bands or other minor parts or other detractors. A good example was a No. 4 Enfield I obtained at an incredibly cheap price because the last couple inches of the barrel were severely bent, probably in bayonet practice. Since the bore was in excellent shape otherwise, I had the bent part of the barrel cut off and the barrel recrowned. The rifle then sold quickly to someone that wanted to take a good knock around sporter along the lines of the Enfield Jungle Carbine. He bought the rifle much cheaper than buying a complete No. 4 in equivalent condition and I still made a good profit. The ideal military rifles for sporterization are ones that have sound actions and good bores. The rest of the rifle really does not matter. Of all the military rifles, the common No. 4 .303 Enfield is the easiest to make a decent sporter out of. All it requires is that the barrel be shortened to 20 to 22 inches and recrowned, installation of a sporting front sight, installation of a low cost sporting butt stock and forend, and refinishing if necessary. The issue peep receiver sight is better for hunting than about any commercial sight you could name. To save cost the original forend can be shortened and the original butt stock retained but it is far less comfortable to shoot that way. If it is desired to scope the No.4, it is also the easiest of the military rifles if you use Parker-Hale bases and rings available from Precision Sports. They require drilling and tapping only two holes and the rings are quick detachable. The No. 4 Enfield does not require bolt bending and safety modifications or replacements to use a scope as do most other military rifles.

The No. 1 Mk III Enfields have some advantages such as a lighter barrel and action and some disadvantages in that they require a commercial receiver sight for iron sight use and they are somewhat more difficult to scope. However, Parker-Hale does have a good scoping system for them.

Some of the sleepers on the military rifle market for sporterizing are the Type 997.7 mm Japanese Arisakas. These rifles are incredibly cheap yet they are extremely strong and safe. Best of all, most have chrome lined bores and consequently even examples in poor condition will usually have excellent bores. The recent in-flux of Type 99s that came from China generally have poor stocks and therefore are good candidates for sporterizing. The 7.7 mm Jap cartridge is ballistically powerful and readily available from Norma. Reloading dies and components are also commonly available. The Type 99 needs a bolt bending job or better yet a new handle welded on. The excellent Arisaka safety needs no modification for scope use and can be operated with the thumb of the shooting hand like a shotgun safety. All other requirements are straight forward. The older Type 38 6.5 mm Arisakas have an even stronger, safer, better finished and better looking action than the Type 99s, however their bores are invariably bad. They can be made into superb sporter, if they are rebarreled to a round suitable for the action.

The various Mausers are probably the most popular for sporterizing. The M98 is the most desirable version though all the others can make excellent utility grade rifles. All will require bolt bending and safety replacement if used with a scope. Mauser 98s with bad bores can be cheaply rebarreled with .308, .30-06, or 7x57 mm new military surplus barrels that are on the market for as little as $25.

The most common gunsmithing services required to support sporterizing projects are: cutting and recrowning of barrels, bending bolt handles or welding on a new ones, drilling and tapping for iron sights or scope mounts, and rebluing. It is a good idea if you don't already have a resident gunsmith to make arrangements with a local gunsmith to supply such services through your shop. The accessories and supplies that should be stocked to support the customers that want to sporterize rifles includes: sporter stocks (You may want to order these on a need basis) scope safeties, front sight ramps, receiver sights, scope mounts and rings, sling swivels, stock finishing kits and supplies, glass bedding kits, checkering tools, reblue or touch up blueing supplies and most importantly home gunsmithing books and pamphlets.

While there are good supplies of low cost military rifles on the market it makes sense to take advantage of their availability. One method of doing so is to support sporterizing such rifles by stocking the rifles, the accessories, and supplies necessary to do so. It is another good marketing strategy to increase business and profits.

More On Buying Guns At Auctions

In the February '89 issue of SI I ran a column about using auctions to acquire used guns for resale. In it I wrote: If you get to an auction and find that you have friends in attendance, it is best to compare notes-especially on guns that both parties are interested in. Discuss and establish who is willing to bid higher. Then, let that person bid on the piece without competition from the other. Many times friends can save each other a lot of money this way."

As a result of that column, SI received an interesting letter from Mr. Harvey L. McCray, Executive Vice President of the National Auctioneers Association (NAA). Mr. McCray included a poster published by the NAA titled "Bid Rigging is a Felony" which states "Agreements among buyers at auctions not to bid against each other for the purpose of purchasing goods at low and non-competitive prices can be a criminal violation of the federal antitrust laws, punishable by heavy fines and imprisonment". (italics are mine) Mr. McCray further states in his letter that: "Pooling is unlawful and what Mr. Karwin (sic) has advised in his article is un-lawful".

The last thing I want to do is to advise someone to do something illegal. Consequently I checked with legal counsel on this issue. Basically I was told that it is highly unlikely that two friends choosing not to bid against each other for certain items at an auction with a substantial field of other bidders would be considered a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. However, should several dealers conspire to restrict or control the bidding to get items at prices well below wholesale market value, that would likely be considered a violation of the law. Be advised that such laws do exist.

Mr. McCray also did not like my comments on avoiding auctions with many reserve bid items. He states that auctioning with reserve bids is the norm unless specified otherwise. While this is true, I stand by what I said because `it has been my experience' that reserve bids on guns `at typical firearms auctions' almost always exceed a fair wholesale value for such pieces. As dealers, good business practice prohibits paying much if any above a fair wholesale value for items for resale. Consequently, auctions with all or most of the firearms on reserve are often a waste of time for dealers even though they are perfectly fine for collectors and others willing to pay up to full retail value for the guns. Besides, I have found that most auctions of firearms except these predominantly containing high value collectors pieces, are largely without reserve bids anyway. I thank Mr. McCray for taking the time to point out this information to SI and our readers.

PHOTO : The Japanese Type 99 (bottom) when in fair condition but with a perfect chrome lined bore

PHOTO : can be purchased by dealers for as little as $20 to $25. These are excellent candidates

PHOTO : for sporterizing according to the author. Uncommon to rare rifles like the Type 99 long

PHOTO : (top) should not be considered for sporterizing.
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Title Annotation:used firearms
Author:Karwan, Chuck
Publication:Shooting Industry
Article Type:column
Date:Sep 1, 1989
Words:2187
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