Old Guns with New Life
By Eric Hung for Pew Pew Tactical
Collectors love old guns. Sometimes it is their historical value, other times it is their interesting mechanical function, and once in a while it has to do with who owned the firearm in the past – each of these reasons can be powerful motivators to collect certain firearms. But what about their practical application? Sure, a Mosin-Nagant from 1902 is cool and all, but the wars it was built for have come and gone. Can they still serve a purpose beyond collecting?
Some may think that older firearms are obsolete, but I say those people don’t have enough imagination. I would have to concede that many firearms from years past are obsolescent – there are few arguments for a Winchester 1895 being superior to a modern M4 carbine – but just because that Winchester is behind the curve, certainly does not make it useless!
Applications for Old Firearms
If you want to win first place in a shooting competition, you’ll likely have to forgo any older design outside of a 1911-based pistol, and if you’re looking for a weapon to go to war with, it’s hard to turn down a modern combat rifle.
The two main areas where older guns can still shine are home defense and hunting, but first, it’s important to understand the limits of your firearm and to understand that firing it and using it will likely reduce its value over time. If you’re hunting with a widely produced, previously sporterized rifle, you probably don’t need to worry too much about hurting its value. However, if you have a Brown Bess Carbine – we hope it’s glaringly obvious you shouldn’t be running around the woods trying to bag your next 12-point buck with it.
Old Guns Can Be Good For Home Defense
Defending yourself or your home with an older firearm is not necessarily an ideal situation and isn’t something that you should do just for the sake of doing it. Be careful in your selection and ensure that the weapon is reliable above all else. While an AR-15 is arguably the best home defense rifle on the market right now, there are plenty of other guns that will serve you well if you take the time to seek them out and test them properly.
Winchester Model 1897 Shotgun
While getting a Model 1897 shotgun made in the 1800s might not be the best idea for home defense, these were in production for decades after their release and finding examples that are in great working condition is fairly easy.
Buy one with a shorter barrel, use a good buckshot load, maintain the weapon, and you have a formidable firearm. One small recommendation: research the safety issues concerning this model of shotgun. Being hammer fired can either be a great boon or a major safety issue depending on how you handle it.
Finding the right shotgun load for you isn’t as simple as it sounds, you’ll find the Pew Pew Tactical Shotgun Ammo Guide helpful for this!
The .30 Carbine didn’t get the respect it deserves in history. Ask any veteran that used the M1 Carbine in combat and they’ll typically sing the praises of this rifle over almost anything else issued at the time.
It is also just a really decent cartridge. Roughly three times the energy as 9mm and about 1/3rd less energy as 5.56 NATO, it packs a punch while still being very controllable and useful in a home defense situation. Plus, it is as light and handy of a rifle now as it was 60 years ago!
Break Action Shotguns
Two shots with zero time between them and using a system that is simply unbeatable in reliability, break action shotguns have some good pros in their favor. The only real cons are their lack of ammo capacity and the resultant time required to reload.
If you do chose a break-action shotgun to defend your home with, make sure it at least has ejectors. If you need to reload, having those two spent shells pop out when you open the action radically decreases the time it takes to get back in the fight. Also, if it was made around the turn of the 20th century, make sure it can use modern powder shotgun shells and doesn’t require ammunition with blackpowder.
Old Guns For Hunting
The biggest question that comes with which firearms are good for hunting is, “What are you hunting?” A gun that is great for deer will not be what you want for rabbit. With that in mind, let’s think about 3 common game animals that are radically different sizes – wild boar, whitetail deer, and squirrel.
There are a lot of methods for hunting wild boar and depending on where you are in the nation may dictate your needs, but generally speaking you want something that packs a good punch, is fairly light and easy to use, and allows quick follow up shots if necessary.
My two top picks would either be an M1 Carbine for smaller boar or an SKS if larger or meaner boar are expected.
At a little over 8 lbs the SKS isn’t super lightweight, but it isn’t heavy either. Combined with a 10-round internal magazine filled with 7.62x39mm and you have a great boar rifle with a classic flair at an attractive price
This one is easy, pick your favorite or cheapest or most available military surplus bolt-action rifle and you have a good whitetail rifle.
Personally, I would pick a British Lee-Enfield of any flavor in .303 Brit or a Finnish Mosin-Nagant in 7.62x54R. Both of these rifles are chambered in cartridges that will have no issue dropping a whitetail of any size right where it stands.
They also come with decent iron sights and aren’t too heavy to stalk with.
Squirrel (or other small game)
When you want to hunt something small, you need a small cartridge. Since 1887 the .22 Long Rifle has been the cartridge of choice for both new shooters learning on their first rifle as well as seasoned hunters looking to bag a sack full of small game. With the .22 LR being so popular for such a wide range of applications, it’s no wonder that there are so many firearms chambered for it.
For an old school squirrel gun, there are two favorites I would point to – the U.S. Springfield M2 Training Rifle and the Winchester Model 75 Sporting Bolt-Action rifle.
The sights on the Springfield aren’t the best for hunting small game, but it isn’t often that you get to use a bit of military history to hunt squirrel with so it might be worth it to overlook that one flaw.The Winchester Model 75 on the other hand was built for target shooting and small game hunting. Perfect in every way for both, they often look like works of art. If you wanted a squirrel gun to pass down through the family, this is it.
Just because it is old, doesn’t make it obsolete. It’s like our grandfathers always say: “They just don’t make them like they used to.”
Before getting your next modern, newfangled firearm – maybe consider something older that might do the job instead. If not for the preservation of history, then to at least have a great story for the range.
For more great articles on modern and historical firearms, take a look at the rest of Pew Pew Tactical’s website!