Ah, for an adventure read up on what ever rifle you are going to look for, buy headspace gauges, bore gauge, bore light, and magnifier to inspect the firearm. Then go to gun shows
Things to look for when buying or after you purchased a surplus rifle. My 2 cents worth of info.
Most gunsmiths have a dislike for old surplus junk--lots of attitude. A few of the old school are true artists and craftsmen that love antique firearms. You really need to know your smith. Another source : Find an old fart at your range shooting military rifles and they got the knowledge and gauges and be more than happy to help. Most will talk your ears off.
1 Check for matching numbers-is the bolt matching to the receiver. This is the best bet for a rifle that is going to headspace. A matching bolt may make it more shootable and all numbers matching more collectible, but still does not guarantee head spacing is correct. I invest in a field gauge (Midway and Brownells carry them). IF THE BOLT DOES NOT MATCH, then pay special attention to its movement in the rifle, and headspace just to be sure because you just never know if its out of spec.
2 Have a field gauge for every firearm you collect or plan to buy. Especially, if they are in the $500-1500 ball park. This is mainly for the old bolt actions. Always ask to inspect a rifle or pick it up. Tell the seller you are serious, but need to look it over. Check the head space. If he say no, leave it on the table. With a military rifle it is best to use the military gauge not a SAAMI gauge. A rifle can fail on a SAAMI gauge and still headspace on a military gauge. Remember you really only need a field gauge so you do not buy a useless dog. You just do not want a bolt action that fails the field reject gauge.
At a gun show I check old military rifles with the coin gauge unless it is a non rimmed cartridge and use the field reject. If it's bad, it stays on the table. If it passes I take my treasure home and clean it the check it with a No Go and Field reject. I have both gauges for all the old junk military stuff I mess with. Many a time I saved myself from a good screwing from a dealer by checking the rifle before buying. Especially M1 carbines, US Enfields 1917, British Enfields, Arisakas and Turk, 98/22, GEW 98s and vz24 Mausers. But RC K98 Mausers, the new Yugo rebuild mausers, K31s, Berthiers, the French Mas, and Mosins always seem to headspace.
3 Check to see if all the serial numbers match on the firearm. Also if import marks are present or not--- a big price difference! Check the size and placement of the import mark. Big import marks are nasty, this seems to be the new trend.
4 Check the bore for strong rifling, make sure it is clean or the seller may be trying to hide something, are there dirt, pits, rust, dark metal, muzzel damage, counter bores, does the rifling apear strong up to the muzzle or is it worn away. Is the barrel plugged??
Check the chamber for burs or dings. The chamber should be mirror bright, smooth, and no uneven pits or scratches. Be sure the barrel is clean, if not, it's a crap shoot as to what you will get condition wise and the seller is hiding something. A clean good bore will always get top buck. If dirty, assume it's junk or poor condition. At a honest pawn shop they generally let you run a patch down the bore just too get a sale. Bring a small cleaning rod, bore light and magnifier glass. I dislike counter bores-avoid them. LOOK for matching parts, make sure the barrel is correct for the make and year.
Always check the bore for pits, cracks, and muzzle wear. Pull the bolt and look down the barrel, then use a bore light and see what you are dealing with condition wise. If you have a way to check for throat erosion and muzzle erosion, check that with your gauges. Be sure to gauge the amount OF MUZZLE WEAR. Check the crown for nicks or erosion of the rifling at the end of the bore. If you are serious about the firearm and the seller will not let you give it a good look-over ( they will not allow dissasembly) leave it sit on the table. Be sure he knows you want the firearm, they do not like the cheepos or non serious people to handle or damage an expensive weapon.
5 Check the bolt.
Look for hairline cracks on the bolt, extractor, or inside chamber. Look the bolt head over with care for cracks. GO ORIGINAL. Avoid rechambered sporters or gun smith conversions. Look at the bolt face for an erosion ring and be sure the firing pin hole is still round. Check the action movement, it should be smooth, not tight when the bolt is locked. If miss matched does the bolt close down with ease? Movement smooth- back & forth? Check the follower spring. Does it seem OK and return to the top. On some rifles the bolt is designed to catch on the end of the follower to let you know in the heat of battle you are empty. Look at the bolt lugs for wear and is it even or really badly worn? Make sure the firing pin is present and not cut. Ask if you can dry fire the weapon to get the feel for a crisp striker spring. BE SURE TO ASK. THIS IS A NO NO TO MOST untill you buy it.
6 GO ORIGINAL. No refinished stock, reblue, or parts gun. Look for cracks in the stock. Try to get a stock that has cartouches correct for the rifle. Look at the cleaning rod and sling to be sure it is correct. Look at the tang area at the rear top of the stock or at the wrist for the first sign of cracks. Look for rust pits at the wood line.
7 Look at the finish on the parts, the markings, wear patterns, and color tones. Wear patterns and color tone should match or its a mix master. See if the screws are buggered up or intact. Are the screws new replacements? Rust should be uniform not just on a few screws, but all.
8 Do not be in a hurry to buy, many different rifles will be at large shows. BUT, if you see or find a BRING BACK . Sell the kids or dog. Buy it. All matching military rifles are rare birds. They may have the sling, bayonet and paperwork.
9 On expensive firearms, watch out for put together matching firearms with different wear patterns and color tones to their parts. Some people try to pass off all correct part rifles as original bring backs. In reality they are mix masters that have been reassembled with correct parts or reproduction parts. Remember wear patterns & finish. Get the feel for correct parts vs reproduction parts.
10 Watch out for FAKE reproduction parts on firearms at gun shows. Watch out for reproduction bayonets and cleaning rods.
11 After you buy it detail strip the rifle in order to look for dangerous situations such as A demilled rifle with a hole in the barrel under the wood. A hair line crack in the bore or bluge in the barrel under the wood. Strip down and Clean the bolt and be sure it is complete. Make sure there are no rewelds or miss matched barrels. Any structural weakness in the stock not observed, cracks? filler? Reassemble the rifle grease & oil. No oil in the chamber or barrel.
12 Be sure you know the correct caliber and have the correct ammunition. Use a dummy round ( not a live round) and see how it chambers and extracts. See the fit and if the follower spring is good and the bolt is picking up the cartridge and feeding it into the chamber. A rifle can work ok without a round , but place a dummy in and then some minor problem may show up in its smooth operation. The use of the dummy round will allow you to work tha action at home prior to the range visit. You DO NOT WANT A LIVE ROUND accidently firing in the house. Watch out for unmarked rechambered rifles- that round you think may be incorrect due to a rechamber. A dummy will alow you to see if its a correct cartridge. Take the rifle out to the range and fire one round from the hip to see if it fires. Or if one is really uncertain, then fire it in a set of tires with a string and see if it blows. Check the fired cartridge. Read the cartridge for cracks, bluges, soot blackened brass, backed out or flattened primers , or deep extractor jaw marks at the base. Did a fired cartridge extract smoothly, any gas blow back? Is the bolt hard to open on a fired cartridge?
13 Watch out for drill rifles or school cadet rifles, most should not be fired.
14 Buy a copy of Collecting Classic Bolt Action Military Rifles by Paul S Scarlata and read the introduction twice: "Caveat Emptor Let the buyer beware".
Buy a copy of Bolt Action Military Rifles of the World by Stuart Mowbray and Joe Puleo Read it as if a bible. You just did more than a gunsmith will do.
15 It is always wise to error on the side of caution, ( you will have to tell the smith what you want done,ie clean, total take down, headspace, gauge throat and muzzle, replace springs??? and the cost goes up ,up, and away ) I headspace because I still value what eyesight and hearing I have left. You will enjoy shooting that rifle.
With gun shows have cash, small bills, it is had to talk a guy down when he sees 10 !$100 bills
Always ask to see, inspect, pick up a rifle. Bolt should be tied down, only ask to work the bolt if serious. Do not dry fire, do not insert a dummy cartridge.
Always ask to headspace with a FIELD gauge, this is after a price is agreed upon and its sold if the rifle passes a FIELD gauge test.
At the beginning of a show, first hour, most sellers will not go down. If you see a jewel, buy it or it will be gone in an hour or two. Snooze and you lose
Do your research prior to the show so you know a price deal or rare version when it appears. If it's a run of the mill mutt, it can wait for day 2 or 3 then you have some room to deal.
Do not point out bad attributes unless you really are serious about buying, such as the price may be too high for a refinished stock of worn bore.
OUT of HEADSPACE ON A FIELD gauge --- forget it, lots of rifles out there that do pass.
Have a light, magnifier, headspace gauge, and bore gauge to inspect a big buck rifle.
Dirty bore is a warning-- if its a great bore it will be clean so seller gets top buck.
Matching bolt is BEST.
Never point the rifle at people in the show.
Do not dress up like a big shot lawyer or the prices will be sky high for a high roller. Do not dress like a gang member.
Have your DL ready to show for private sales. If a C&R seller he needs your info for his book.
Never buy from a private party that does not provide his/her info if you ask.
It is best to exchange information on a private sale. Some will ask you to sign a statement that you are not a felon or have a domestic dispute charge. If you are young they may ask for proof of age, 21 on a pistol in WI.
Carry a empty pistol or gun case to put your new purchase in. You can buy cases at the show. This stops about a hundred people asking what you got for sale. If a rifle is out of a case it is most likely a walk-in for sale, generally these have a different color strap on the inspected firearm than one found on the show tables.
Early bird gets the worm off the tables. Wait around for walk ins and you never know what shows up on any day or time of day.
Generally no buys in the parking lot or lobby of the show. Do your deal inside. Police watch for shady deals out of trunks to out of state people.
Always consider any gun at the show or table possibly loaded. Most have straps that keep the bolt open. Always check to be sure it is unloaded.