The world of surplus firearms is quite broad but always shrinking. Today I want to talk all about surplus pistols and what I think are the best models currently on the market. Surplus pistols provide shooters an often high-quality firearm at a very low price point. They make fun-range pistols, and while they aren’t great for practical purposes, they are a living piece of history worth preserving. Here are seven of the best surplus pistols on the market.
1. CMP 1911s
Of course, the king of surplus pistols is currently the United States Military’s surplus 1911s. It took over 30 years to get them into the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) and took the CMP a long time to start sales. Getting one requires CMP membership, a roll of the dice, a fair bit of money, and a sacrifice to the lord of surplus. Or something like that.
American shooters of all types have been waiting for these classic fighting pistols to hit the American market. The 1911 holds a special place in the hearts of American gun owners, historians, surplus aficionados, and many more. As many shooters will tell you, it’s the pistol that won two World Wars!
Not to mention action in Korea, Vietnam, and all those little hot pockets in the supposed Cold War. These guns come in various conditions, and the examples we see currently hitting the hands of gun owners come from various production runs as well. Most appear to be solid little shooters, but don’t expect it to be free from nicks, nacks, and scruffs.
2. The Makarov
Makarov pistols are the Russian equivalent to the 1911, Kind of — in terms of their longevity in service with the Soviet and later Russian military forces as well as various Eastern Bloc, Warsaw Pac countries. Heck, even to this day, the pistol is serving with numerous police forces across Eastern Europe.
The Makarov has been made in a ton of different countries, including Bulgaria, Russia, East Germany, and more. This makes the capability of collecting numerous variants of these surplus pistols. Who doesn’t need a brace of Makarov pistols? Maks are typically very affordable and easy to find. They do fire an odd but relatively easy-to-find 9mm Makarov cartridge.
The Makarov takes a lot of cues from the Walther PP series of pistols. It’s a straight blowback gun, uses a DA/SA action and a fixed barrel. The first trigger pull is painfully long and heavy, but it does work. You’ll build up some beefy hand strength. It’s a great place to start collecting due to the low price and high availability.
3. Swiss P49
The Swiss P49 sits on the opposite spectrum of the Makarov. The Makarov is a tough farmer’s daughter, and the Swiss P49 is an Olympic gymnast. Both are strong, but one is more refined and the P49 screams refined. These Swiss pistols are Sig P210s and are extremely rare, but as I type this, the P49 is for sale at Classic Firearms. I imagine the $3,500 dollar price point makes them a slow seller.
However, the P49 is a fantastic firearm and is a product of its time. The Swiss developed this single stack 9mm pistol for military service. They served from 1949 to 1975 and were reputed for their accuracy, reliability, and awesome ergonomics. The P49 and P210 series pistols began the practice of placing the slide rails into the frame and lowering the bore axis.
This design detail would later become one of the prominent features of the CZ series pistols. The P49 pistols feature the European heel magazine release, whereas the new production P210s use the more American push button design. Still, these surplus pistols are quite rare, and it’s unlikely we’ll see many more come to the states.
The TT-33 series presents another Russian-designed semi-automatic pistol that is a perfect beginner’s point for surplus pistol collections. These surplus pistols are far from fancy and have all those famed rough edges Soviet pistols are known for. The TT-33 series began its service in 1930 and continues to this day with certain Eastern European military forces. It fires the famously hot and loud 7.62 Tokarev.
The Russians stole some basic features from the FN Browning 1903 pistol and 1911 designs. However, it’s not a clone by any means, and there are significant design differences as well. The TT-33 provides a robust series of surplus pistols that are adaptable to various cartridges. In fact, modern production of these guns from Zastava exists and comes in standard 9mm Parabellum.
Like lots of Soviet-produced pistols, the TT-33 has been produced around the world. We get examples from Russia, Hungary, Romania, China, and beyond. It’s a single-action pistol with a rather nice trigger in most examples. It looks awkward but is comfortable to shoot, and the 7.62 TOK models give you a fun, loud, and bright round to cook off.
Since we are talking 7.62 TOK guns, let’s talk about the CZ 52. The Czechs have always been a bit of a contrarian in the Eastern Bloc countries. They chose to use their own models of firearms while conforming to Soviet ammunition standards. The CZ 52 takes surplus pistols to the space age with the bizarre-looking CZ 52.
This single stack Tok chambered pistol has a unique frame and slide design that also accommodates a unique operating system. It’s a single-action-only pistol that uses a roller-locked short recoil operating system. The Czech used an interesting safety that allowed the user to decock the gun and carry with a round in the chamber, or even carry cocked and locked.
Although, this isn’t always a good idea. The decocking action has been known to occasionally fire the weapon, and when carried cocked and locked, it’s not necessarily drop safe. The good thing is they aren’t being carried for duty these days and awesome plinkers.
6. Browning Hi-Power
Most surplus Browning Hi-Powers are police surplus in the dozens upon dozens of countries in which it’s served. Some were first military surplus that went to the police and was then surplussed to the civilian market. Either way, this is my favorite of all of these surplus pistols. The Browning Hi-Power is what the 1911 wishes it was.
This gun started the famed wonder nine series of guns and served with so many European countries well before America adopted a 9mm handgun. It pioneered double stack magazines and quickly made them the standard. The single-action trigger isn’t the best, and the magazine safety is lame, but overall the Hi-Power is a fantastic firearm.
These sure-shooting surplus pistols are fun to shoot and quite accurate. Unlike most of the pistols on this list, this gun keeps up with the competition with their aftermarket 17 round magazines. It’s slightly old school with an optic or rail, but hell, it’s killed enough Nazis, Commies, and Fascists to earn its spot as a top-flight fighting pistol.
7. CZ 70
Last, and well, yeah, kind of least is the ole CZ 70. If you really want to get into surplus pistols at a low price point, then the CZ 70 is the one for you. It sells for less than 300 dollars most of the time, and for that price, it’s a solid pistol. Why did I describe it as least? Well, they don’t have much provenance as warfighters, unlike the VZ 50. They are often beat to hell, and they fire the rather anemic 32 ACP.
However, they go bang every time you pull the trigger and tend to be quite safe for carry. Why you’d carry this is beyond me, but you could. It steals plenty from the Walther series of pistols, and this includes the general shape and design, the straight blowback action, and the fixed barrel.
Unlike the Walther, the safety is on the frame and is much more accessible. The CZ 70 provides a rather soft shooting gun. The little 32 ACP round doesn’t give much recoil, even with a blowback system. It’s a cheap, fun way to dive into the world of surplus pistols.
Why Surplus Pistols?
Surplus pistols provide an entirely different degree of collecting. They give you a piece of history you can hold and shoot. It brings you a step back to see what the older warfighters dealt with. Plus, they provide an entirely different experience than the same old striker-fired polymer frame pistol. Once you have your concealed carry, home defense, and tyrant defense down, what’s next?
Maybe it’s surplus pistols? Maybe not. What say you? Are you into the surplus scene? Why? Or why not? Let us know below.