Rethinking “sporterized” military surplus rifles

Within the MilSurp community, there exists many distinct circles of enthusiasts. There is the German rifle collector, the American focused collector, the guy only looking for the guns he once used, and the young guy who wants to connect with their legacy of heroic battles and made for television action just to name a few. The desire to own a rifle for these reasons typically leads buyers to place a premium on the guns’ actual use in war, on whether it was in the hands of common soldiers, officers or specialists and on examples that are as close to their military career condition as possible. So it is understandable that, from these folk’s points of view, “sporterizing,” or the process of converting a military arm into a civilian hunting rifle, might be akin to painting the holy cross purple. Or is it?

The fact is, from a historical standpoint, these guns have just as much significance altered as unaltered. The fact that a gun was fired in battle during WWII doesn’t change when new scope holes are drilled.  The difference that really concerns these buyers lies in their collectors’ significance: An unaltered firearm will fetch a larger price and draw the attention of purists.  I agree that the market should dictate the collector’s price but I also ask, who can really claim to love the history and life of a gun if they reject the notion of a converted surplus rifle? Both altered and unaltered surplus military guns have lead very interesting lives (the latter continuing to do so) and both have long, equally worthwhile histories.  In fact, sporterizing these weapons is a part of their history.

After World War II, these arms were available very, very cheap and returning GIs immediately began converting them at home for sporting purposes, often purchasing rifles that may have been used by the guys shooting at them.  This era was about building a new future after the Depression and the War and the practice of selling the weapons of an old enemy to civilians on such a massive level had never been seen before or since. I find the transformation of military rifles into peaceable tools of civilian life quite endearing; the weapons of war beaten into plowshares.  Their emergence really was a microcosm of the times: men who fought to preserve their way of life now using the same rifles to take deer and enjoy/maintain their way of life.

This of course does not mean all sporterized rifles are created equal or even worth your time.  Detractors latch onto the idea of “Bubba,” the backwoods gunsmith, armed with a Dremel and a poor sense of skill for good reason. It’s true, many sporterized military guns are, for lack of a better word, butchered, as witnessed on used, bargain gun racks across the land. But at the same time, I’ve seen  some of the truest checkering, the most beautiful woodwork, and marvelous metal work on sporterized military rifles. Looks aside, I’ve experienced truly professional trigger jobs, action tunes and examples that have been accurized beyond their expected capacity. What’s more, a superbly done sporterized gun exhibits an old world, by-gone breed of man, capable of doing almost anything with their hands.

Not all history took place on a battlefield. Obsessing and fretting over every little wartime variation can make you miss the whole picture. Don’t consider this an invitation to start creating more sporter jobs, instead consider it a chance to reconsider those dusty, forgotten creations. You might find something amazing.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.

This article originally ran on Guns.com as “Beating our Plowshares: Rethinking the Sporterized Military Surplus Rifle” on April 29, 2011 and has been edited for content.