Those of you old enough to remember the glory days of mail order guns in the 1960s cannot forget Ye Old Hunter. This was the company that Interarms, the largest international arms dealer in the world at that time, used to dispose of the obsolete surplus military weapons it had acquired.
Prices were cheap, as low as $9.95 for whole columns of advertised guns, and the U.S. Mail delivered them directly to your door without you having to pay a dealer to be an unnecessary middleman. Customers could purchase rifles from British .577 Snyder conversions of muzzleloaders and Remington rolling blocks to every type of bolt-action rifle imaginable.
M1 carbines and M1 Garand rifles were available and even the futuristic and still unsurpassed Johnson semiauto rifle could be had. If a pistol had ever been in any government’s service, it would be represented here.
In those days, Sam Cummings, the head of Interarms, ran Ye Old Hunter along with Val Forgett and Meyer Reiswerg. Reiswerg was the one who wrote the unforgettable comic ads for the rifles. Ads like:
“Original Winchester Model 95 Cal. 7.62 Russian. Some with Trotsky’s fingernail marks and a few with Nikita finger prints – none with Stalin’s teeth marks.”
“6.5 Italia deluxa! A custom supremo at a giveaway price. Provided just to please you Carcano fanatics who doggedly refuse to accept anything less – or anything better. The rifle that blazed its way to inglorious defeat on mountain, plain, and beach retired at last so the victory can still be yours.”
“M93 Mauser long rifle with long barrel that brings you closer to the target for sure fire hits.”
“Italian 70 VV Sniper Rifles! Garibaldi’s greatest, complete with its special spaghetti grained stocks (not to be shot – luckily). Complete with 50 rounds of 6.5 Italian-looking (not shooting – luckily) ammo.”
“Arisaka type 38 rifle! The rifle that generated confidence for countless Banzai charges. Why rely on that back-breaking varminter you have been lugging and cursing so long – why take a chance on a long range shot with a fogged up scope? Save ammo and charge down that hapless woodchuck!”
Reiswerg went on to open Strand Surplus Senter in Galveston, Texas, where he continued his wacky ads. My all-time favorite was “Genuine G.I. toilet paper. Guaranteed unused!”
Whatever happened to all the treasures of Ye Old Hunter? Val Forgett sold the remaining stock in Virginia to the owner of what became Hunters Lodge, who also bought much of the rest from Numrich Arms and other sources.
Jack was a tough inner-city kid who really just dreamed of being a cowboy. But without much call for cowboys in the concrete jungle of Brooklyn, eventually Detective Friday on the Dragnet TV show inspired him to join the New York Police Department in 1961 with the goal of becoming a detective. He maintained his small gun business during the next few years as a beat cop, followed by a stint as a patrolman in a radio car. The gun business kept growing and it had to move out of the house to its first location, where it would be known as Southwestern Sales.
Jack began putting more time into the business, making new partners
and friends as it grew. Val Forgett of Navy Arms introduced him to James
Hogan, who was running the Francis Bannerman operation in those days.
Bannerman was the one who bought all the surplus from the Civil War
and the Spanish American War. He had built Bannerman’s Castle out on
an island to house everything, and Jack would frequently take a boat to
Bannerman Island with a one-armed associate of Bannerman’s to buy
canteens and anything else he could make a deal on and fit into the boat.
Jack also bought inventory from Navy Arms and Springfield Sporters.
He attended gun shows, where he remembered Forgett reading a book
behind his tables as opposed to the fast-talking hustle of Cholly Steen of Sarco.
Then Sam Cummings of Interarms invited Jack down to Ye Old Hunter
in Alexandria, Virginia, and Jack began buying inventory from there.
This is where he realized that this business was more than just selling
guns, it was also about preserving history. As previously noted, he
would eventually acquire most of the remaining assets of Ye Old Hunter. By 1968, Southwestern Sales had grown to be the biggest arms dealer in that area of New York. When the famous New York power blackout hit the city, he had all Southwestern Sales outlets surrounded by police so that looters would not arm themselves there.
A few years later, Jack moved the business to upstate New York and
opened another business, The Armory, distributing M1911 Colts and other
handguns and parts he had obtained from Interarms. In 1985, Jack retired
from the NYPD as a detective and closed down his businesses, but he
kept the inventory in storage.
He moved to Florida for five years, but then decided to take his
vast inventory and reopen business in Tennessee, where he planned to take advantage of the peaceful life the Volunteer State offered.
IN 1990, HUNTERS Lodge opened in Ethridge, Tennnessee, with an importation license added to their Federal Firearms License. Surplus began arriving from countries like Israel, Russia, the Czech Republic and Chile. By 1998, the emphasis was shifting from cheap surplus guns and ammo to customers who were collectors and historians.
One thing that has changed is a small segment of the customers. Back
in the 1960s, we enjoyed cleaning up surplus guns and using them. Today,
there is the occasional nut who buys a relic that is often over 100 years old and sold “as is” but then complains when it is not in new condition and has grease on it. Go figure.
Today, Hunters Lodge offers everything from fine original
heirloom-quality artifacts to antique firearms at all price levels, as well as parts and accessories.
Their warehouses are like a time machine back to the glory days of the
surplus mail order gun business. Stacks and stacks of surplus guns with most everything Ye Old Hunter ever sold are represented to one degree or another.
It is a treasure cave of antique guns of all kinds. Huge stacks of dirty, dusty, grease-covered guns are everywhere, awaiting cleaning before being shipped to their new homes. Hunters Lodge is expert at cleaning these up without harming the original finish. They care
very much about their customers and this is shown by a pile of testimonial letters from happy steady customers.
For those who want the best available examples, the price for hand-selected has always been $25. There are many rare collector
pieces that have gone through Hunters Lodge. A few years ago, they even had a lot of Sharps .50-70 cavalry carbines.
This was one of the fastest-handling, hardest-hitting carbines ever made. Long before the recent importing of Nepalese Gahendra and Francotte rifles, they had cherry-picked these guns and brought the best into their cavernous warehouses. Some of these are very, very nice. These guns are in .577-450 British caliber, but whereas the standard British bore size for the .577-450 is .465, these have bores that run .445. Hunters Lodge is planning to offer ammo custom made for the Nepalese guns in the proper bullet diameter for them in the future so they can be safely shot again.
According to the British Proof House in Birmingham, England, the difference in bore size between .465 and .445 is sufficient to blow up a gun even with black powder and lead bullets, so this ammo will be a necessity.
Also in stock are Remington rolling blocks in exotic calibers from various countries, including Scandinavian nations. At this point it would not surprise me if they uncovered a case of un-issued Colt Walker revolvers. It’s just that sort of a place.
SOME OF THE guns that they are now shipping in quantity that are in very good, if not excellent, condition include the following:
• British Webley 5-inch-barrel .380 revolvers from Israel at $388.50.
These work fine with readily available .38 S&W ammo (not .38 Special) and make a fine gun for home protection. Good power with almost no recoil in the superb Webley revolver system. Most any member of the family can use these effectively in an emergency. They are as simple and foolproof as a revolver gets.
• Japanese Nambu pistols from WWII at $650.88. You can find 8mm Nambu ammunition from Buffalo Arms. It amounts to a hot .32 ACP load. Shooting it is like shooting a full-size .22 pistol and it is worth remembering that in the first half of the 20th century, Europeans considered the slightly less powerful .32 ACP FMJ an adequate military and police cartridge. These are high-quality beautifully finished guns.
• British .303 Mk III Lee-Enfield rifles at $378. This is the standard British World War I service rifle that continued in use through WWII. As long as you don’t sporterize it, it is very pleasant to shoot and well proven on all North American game in Canada. Ammunition is available from Prvi Partizan (PPU).
• British .303 No. 4 Mk I Lee-Enfield rifles at $514.88. Made by Savage Arms in the U.S. for England during WWII, these are the final and finest of the Lee-Enfield series, with sights that are made to order for fast shots on deer. These are first-rate Savage quality guns. Ammo is available from PPU.
• Single-shot .303 Lee-Enfield rifles at $189.
• Italian cavalry carbines at $315 with accessories, for those wanting the smallest, lightest carbine that they can get for deer hunting. Ammunition is available from PPU.
• Spanish FR7 .308 rifles at $418. These short handy rifles are converted M93 Mausers. They have been slandered in this country by armchair experts claiming that they are unsafe to fire. But the Spanish Proof House in Eibar, Spain, stands behind them and points to their long and faithful service as training rifles in Spain and the other countries that used them when they were sold as surplus. Personally, I shoot thousands of rounds of all types of 7.62 NATO and commercial .308 through one of the M93 Spanish Mausers that the Spanish Army converted to 7.62 NATO. Ammo is available most everywhere.
• M1893 Spanish Oveido 7mm short rifles at $292. One of the first short rifles for both cavalry and infantry use, these have always been well appreciated for their good handling qualities and effectiveness, both in combat and in the hunting fields. Ammo is available from PPU.
• Russian Mosin M44 carbines from WWII in 7.62x54R with folding bayonets at $292. These accurate, hard-hitting carbines have successfully taken all game found in Russia and Finland. Ammunition is available from MKS Supply, which imports good quality but still cheap Russian Barnaul ammunition.
• M1910 Mexican Mausers on the short-stroke M98 action in 7mm at $415. These have always been well appreciated. Ammo is available from PPU.
THIS IS JUST a sampling, but it gives you an idea of the range and diversity of the inventory. I am like a kid in a candy store when faced with all these goodies – I wish I could buy some of everything they have.
This is your last chance at the 1960s bounty of surplus guns. Those days are gone, but this last major remaining stockpile of the guns lingers on for yet a little while longer. Thank goodness.
Editor’s note: For more information, visit hunterslodge.com
Story by Jim Dickson • PHOTOS BY HUNTERS LODGE