2nd Amendment to the Constitution of The United States of America

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

"I ask sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people except for a few politicians."
- George Mason (father of the Bill of Rights and The Virginia Declaration of Rights)

Sunday, March 29, 2009


In this time of uncertainty as to whether or not the Obama administration will be able to successfully implement a new "Assault Weapons Ban" many Americans are stocking up on weapons and ammo "just in case". The run on gun stores has left many a shelf and gun case empty and brightened the day of shareholders owners of the major firearm related corporations. Many of the most popular sellers are "tactical" and "black" rifles and handguns aimed at the shooter who wants a weapon that imitates, or improves upon, the capabilities of modern military weapons. At some of the stores I routinely shop it is hard to find entry level AR or AK style rifles and I have even seen Smith & Wesson and Glock pistol levels depleted. Some of those that are left are either more expensive versions of these rifles or are going for premium prices now. My Romanian WASR AK is now going for at least a hundred dollars more than when I bought mine last year. There are alternatives to these pricey firearms that give you what I consider to be more bang for the buck in the military surplus rifle realm. When I am talking military surplus here I am not talking about buying a used M-16 or fully automatic capable AK, those are illegal. I am talking about the rifles your Father and Grandfather might have used in the wars of their generations. Many former bolt action and semi-automatic service rifles that saw front line service in a past war are available to purchase on the civilian market. Many can be found on the racks of your local gun dealer being overlooked by a large number of people in favor of the more pricey and scarcer black rifles down the wall a bit. These "old" rifles still allow you to shoot and hone your marksmanship skills as well as provide a robust "second line" rifle for emergencies or other scenarios. These rifles are most likely not going to be affected by any "Assault Weapons Ban" that may or may not go into effect in the future. Many are fully qualified to be hunting rifles if you happen to live in a state that allows it. Most, if not all, incorporate three of the things that knowledgeable shooters look for in a rifle.

  1. Stopping power
  2. Accuracy
  3. Reliability
I am going to examine one of these rifles that has recently seen a surge in popularity due to its portrayal in the movie "Enemy At The Gates" starring Jude Law as WW2 Soviet sniper Vassili Zeitsev. The rifles in question are the Mosin-Nagant family of rifles that served Russian both with the Imperial army before and after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the Soviet Army after. It was the standard Russian rifle through WW2 and up to the introduction of the SKS and AK series of firearms. The rifle still saw use on the "red" side of conflicts during the cold war and has still been found in the hands of insurgents in both Iraq and Afghanistan to this day. After the fall of the iron curtain in the 1990's many of these surplus Mosins-Nagants found there way from former Eastern Bloc government warehouses into the West as these governments looked to generate capital to replace the lifeline that "Mother Russia" no longer supplied in many cases.

The rifle family itself derives it name from its two primary designers Sergei Mosin (a Russian) and Leon Nagant (a Belgian). Both designed competing rifle designs that went before the Imperial Russian Army for evaluation. The Nagant designed rifle initially won the competition, but internal forces within the Russian government forced the Army to adopt the Mosin design. The Russians then modified it with the feed mechanism from Nagant's rifle and viola, the Mosin-Nagant. Interestingly, I never have been able to find out if Leon Nagant ever got more than name recognition for his contribution to the rifle. It is often called the "Three Line Rifle" which seems strange to some. A "line" in this meaning was a length proportionally equivalent to 1/10 of an inch, so a "three line" caliber was the equivalent of a .30 caliber round. A very "Avant Garde" caliber for its time.

The rifle itself was produced in two main varieties; a full length rifle and a carbine version. The rifle is usually called a Mosin-Nagant M91/30 and the two main carbines found on the market are the M38 and M44. The primary difference between the two carbine types is that the M44 incorporates a permanently affixed folding bayonet on the right side while the M38 does not. Another class of the Mosin-Naganit is the so-called "sniper" versions, these are fairly rare and can run into the hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars for pristine specimens. These rifles started as regular infantry rifles but were modified if they were found to have exceptional accuracy at the factory. It is this type of rifle that is seen in the movie Enemy At The Gates and is the reason for a recent increase of interest in the Mosins. I found a link to a article on another blog called Carteach0 where the author details a way to find out if your 91/30 was at one time a sniper rifle converted back into a regular line rifle. Pretty cool if your lucky.
Pictures above are my M44 (left) and my M91/30 next to the M44 for comparison (right)

click for larger views of the following pictures (all copyright 2008, 7.62x54R.net)

Typical M91/30 Rifle

Typical M38 Carbine

Typical M44 Carbine (note bayonet along side of stock in stowed position)

By using the info found here, I was able to determine by the presence of these two screws that my M91/30 at some point in its life had been configured as a sniper rifle, cool!

The rifle uses a very robust bolt design with 2 locking lugs and a massive extractor paw. Most Mosins found on the market have a straight bolt handle which was standard throughout its entire lifespan. There were some rifles that had their bolt handles bent for use as sniper rifles and bolt handle kits are available on the net, but most likely any one you get will be straight. Depending on the particular unit you get there may be issues with operating the action smoothly as quality was not always as important as quantity to Russian arms manufacturers in those days. Usually a bit of sanding and/or grinding will get the action smooth again. There is a knob on the back of the bolt that doubles as the safety, simply pull the bolt back and turn to the left until it hooks on the top of the bolt carrier. It is not elegant or easily accomplished sometimes, but it does work. Removing the bolt is as simple as clearing the weapon and rotating the bolt and pulling toward the rear while pulling the trigger and simple sliding it out. Bolt disassembly is more complex that I can describe here and there are better sources for instruction out there (www.surplusrifles.com). The trigger itself is in keeping with the overall theme of the rifle and is simple, robust and reliable.
Cutaway view of the bolt and action of the Mosin-Nagant series of rifles/carbines.

Contrary to some peoples stance, the Mosin-Nagants are designed with a safety, from the normal "fire" postion, pull the bolt lug straight back and rotate to the left until the bolt rests upon the rear of the receiver walls. While not elegant or especially easy to accomplish, it does provide a rudimentary safety for normal use as a combat rifle. I doubt if many, if any, Russian troops would of ever used it anyway.

It is chambered for the venerable 7.62x39R cartridge which has been in service for over 100 years and is still the primary round used in the RPK machine gun and Russian SVD sniper rifles. The "R" stands for rimmed as it still uses a rimmed case as designed over 100 years ago before rimless designs were feasible. It is a powerful round comparable to the .30-06 round but with a bit more "oomph" behind it. Generally speaking, most shooters will not have the skill required to use this round out to its maximum effective range using their rifle without the aid of scopes and other accuracy improving devices.

7.62x54R round, on the left, compared with other rounds (left to right starting with the 2nd round in) 7.62x39 (used in the AK-47), .45 ACP, .40 S&W, 9mm Parabellum and a .38 Special. Big, isn't it?

Rounds may be loaded by either stripper clips or singly. I have found that the majority of reproduction stripper clips, like this one, do now work well and as a result just load mine round by round.

Unloading is accomplished by depressing a catch on the floor plate to swing it downward and allow any rounds in the magazine to fall free.

Rounds are loaded either singly or by 5 round stripper clips into the magazine through the top of the action. The magazine is a 5 round single stack magazine that protrudes from the bottom of the rifle. It contains a, unique for the time, cartridge interupter which prevents multiple rounds from feeding at once into the chamber and lessens the chances of a malfunction. Removal of rounds is accomplished by opening the action and ejecting any chambered round and then pressing the catch at the bottom of the magazine releasing the floor plate and dropping any loaded ammunition. Surplus rounds can still be found on the market for about $25-$30 per hundred rounds. It should be noted that the vast majority of surplus rounds (read all) of them use corrosive primers in them and will coat the inside of your barrel with salt residue when fired. This will lead to premature pitting and rusting of your barrels lining and will degrade accuracy. It is recommended that you immediately swab out your barrel with water (some people swear Windex with ammonia works best) right after firing and then clean as soon as possible. My thoughts on the matter are this, I doubt any Russian conscript fighting the Nazis in sub-zero weather ever poured water down his barrel and most of those rifles we are using now. I clean mine by running a wet patch down the barrel after I am done firing for the day and then giving the rifle a good cleaning using good 'ol Hoppes #9, which is designed to be used with corrosive residue and smells better than ammonia anyway. I generally do this cleaning shortly after getting home but do not get overly anal about it or the salt issue over all. One thing you may find on a large numbers of these rifles, my M44 included, is that the barrels have been counterbored at the muzzle to provide a new crown for the rifle. This was done routinely by the russians to improve accuracy of rifles whose crowns had been worn or damaged through use or misuse, mostly by improperly cleaning the rifle. While collectors or purists may scoff at these particular rifles, they are still worth owning as they are just as reliable and will shoot better than if they had never been counterbored.

By using a light source in the bore you can clearly see where my M44 has been counterbored to provide a new crown for the barrel.

Stocks for the Mosins were mostly made from whatever cheap lumber the manufacturers could secure. They use a full length bottom stock and partial top hand guard kept in place by retaining rings on the front stock. Deep finger groves in the middle of the stock on both sides provide for a secure grip even when wearing gloves in the middle of a Russian winter. There is a slot for a cleaning rod under the barrel. though it is sometimes hit and miss as to whether you will get one included with your rifle. Many specimens on the market today sport laminated wood stocks which are actually the preferred type of stock for this rifle as they are less susceptible to warping or flexing due to temperature and humidity. Most, if not all, stocks you will find show some sign of wear. I don't see these as signs of age but that of distinction. My carbine was manufactured in 1944 and I like to think that maybe one of the dents on it may of been caused by the rifle being jammed into the stonework of some factory in Russia during WW2 as the owner sought to seek cover from German fire. My stocks are both in relatively good shape for 60+ year old surplus weapons that probably spent at least part of their life in some dark, dank Eastern European armory without care for many years. A little sanding and some polyurethane will go a long way to restoring the beauty of these stocks. The stock on my M44 actually turned out quite well, a little elbow grease and some linseed oil and a deep red hue appeared from a worn piece of laminated wood, almost a cherry color - beautiful. Slight dents and indentations may be removed by applying heat and steam to the affected area. There are many sites out there that detail this kind of restoration. Slings are attached by the use of "dog collar" straps that pass through two slots at the fore and aft of the stock and connect with the issue sling.
After some work with some 0000 steel wool and a rag with linseed oil, my laminate stock on my M44 took on this deep red, almost cherry, hue.

Sights on the rifles are open blade type sights adjustable for elevation in the rear. The front sights are fixed as the Russians did not incorporate discrete marksmanship for most of their conscripts at the time but rather relied on mass assaults and the like. On the rifles these sights are generally graduated from 100 meters to 2000 meters (the round will travel this far, but can you see what your shooting at?), while on the carbine versions they only go to 400 meters normally, although some are ranged for 1000 meters depending on the date and location of manufacture.

Standard rear ramp sight on a M91/3o.

The rear sight on my M44, it is graduated out to 1000 meters.

Because of the straight arm of the bolt, mounting optics on the Mosin is a tricky endeavor. You must either convert the bolt handle to a belt arm configuration which normally entails cutting it off and either having it screwed or welded back on the bolt body in a bent configuration. Another option many shooters have found is to mount a long eye relief (LER) type scope commonly used on pistol in front of the action, a la "scout rifle" style as promoted from the late, great Col. Jeff Cooper. Although, the actual weight of the Mosin itself doesn't meet the requirements of a scout rifle per Cooper's specifications, the carbine versions with a scope would meet most of the rest.

For even a causal collector one of the most important accessories for your rifle or carbine is the bayonet. It is important to recognize the use of the bayonet in Russian doctrine in order to appreciate these rifles fully. Common doctrine during both world wars was that the bayonet was to be fixed at all times in the field except when riding mounted in a vehicle. The 91/30 is a long rifle, with a fixed bayonet the rifle is almost ridiculously long. No make that its so long that it is cool, that's a better evaluation. Back when the average soldier only carried the equivalent of a couple of modern magazines worth of ammunition into battle, the use of the bayonet was a serious endeavor. Even the length of the rifle and bayonet was important when you consider that this weapon was designed when horse mounted cavalry was still an force on the battlefield. Ever see the movie Braveheart? If so you know what long pointed sticks can be used for against cavalry. The standard Russian bayonet design for the Mosin-Nagant has a cruciform, or cross-shaped, profile stick bayonet with a screwdriver tip. These were made to run through and adversary, there was no slashing edges on it save if you caught your enemy with the corner of the tip. The screwdriver tip (flat blade) was a useful tool for the user to use for a myriad of reasons, not the least of all was to help in the disassembly of his rifle. "What? Russians troops don't clean their equipment!" Not true. Movies often portray the Russia soldier as an ignorant peasant thrown to the dogs of war en masse to face their fate with the only tactic being that their overwhelming numbers would eventually conquer their foe. This was true to a degree. Maybe not all of the Russian conscripts received adequate training, but you are talking about an Army that beat back a well trained and disciplined German Wehrmacht from their homeland and then beat them in vicious combat on the Germans own turf. Ill trained conscripts could not have accomplished that.

If you happen to own a M44 carbine version your bayonet is a permanent part of your weapon for all intent purposes. A long grove in the side of the rifle allows it to store along side of the forearm without interfering with the use of either hand to support the front on the weapon on the stock. Of particular note with this carbine in relation to the bayonet is that these were designed to be fired with the bayonet in the extended position. It has something to do with the barrel harmonics being compensated for the extra forward weigh of the extended bayonet. Its true. I find that firing with the bayonet closed and then extended moves the shot group several inches from point of aim. You could adjust the font sight to compensate for this is you wanted too, I haven't and rather enjoy going to the range and having it extended when I shoot. You get a few looks and some chuckles from folks who know what the deal is. Either way you shoot it, extending and storing the bayonet is simple. It just a matter of pulling down on the bayonet by the lug to unlock it from it current position and then move it and let it click back into its locking lug in the new position.

Side-by-side comparison of the bayonet of a M44 (lower) and a standard AKM bayonet (upper), the difference in length is impressive. Soviet doctrine at the time was to always have it fixed except if you were in a vehicle or barracks like area.

The other accessories that commonly come with the rifle are a cleaning rod which fits into a slot under the barrel, a cloth (mine is rough canvas) pouch, an oil can with either one or two chambers for carrying oil and/or a cleaning solvent, a barrel jag for using patches, a crown guide for the use of the cleaning rod to avoid damaging the sides of the barrel, a handle piece for the cleaning rod and a multi-tool that served as a both a screwdriver for disassembly and also a depth gauge for the proper gauging of the firing pin.

The standard "swag" that you get with a Mosin-Nagant when purchased.

This oil and solvent can will undoubtedly be a mucked up mess thick with a cosmoline coating, its worth it to clean it up just to have it. Pretty cool historical item.

Commonly referred to as the "multitool" this is used as a screwdriver and also uses the notches on the lower edge to gauge the firing pin depth when reassembling the bolt.

The assembled parts of the accesory pouch used with the cleaning rod. The patch jag is not shown.

Above all else firing the Mosin-Nagant at the range is the best way to experience these functioning pieces of history.. Please take note, Mosin-Nagants, the carbine in particular, are LOUD!!! Awesomely loud! The big charge of the 7.62x54R cartridge will not burn completely in the barrel on the carbine causing a massive fireball and explosion after the round has left the barrel. I have not had the opportunity to fire one at night but I have read and seen in pics that it is very impressive. If the weather and wind is right I can even feel the heat and shock wave from the muzzle against my face. Recoil is on par with the report. I would not recommend shooting one of these if you are "recoil shy". However if yo are a recoil junkie heaven is only about $100 away if you have these available in a gun store near to you. There is no shame to having a recoil pad on one of these. I use a size small rubber recoil pad on mine and have no shame showing up to the range with it. After the first round rockets downrange anybody looking on usually knows why its there. Russians used to fire these with thick layers of wool and cotton clothing on during the bitter Russian winter and I am sure they still sat around rubbing sore shoulders at the end of a battle.Muzzle blast from a M44 during the day showing the massive blast the 7.62x54R creates

The fireball looks even more impressive at night!!

My own personal range work, I start by scanning the lane for available targets..
..carefully sight in using the appropriate setting on the adjustable sight (note the bayonet in its fixed extended position for the shot)...

...KABOOM!, target never knew what hit it!! Actually, I was just firing to test my grouping here, in reality a target at this range would have very little chance against the Mosin-Nagant. Pictures taken at the state shooting range at Delaware State Park in Delaware County, Ohio.

As you can see I use a recoil pad on mine to provide some protection to my shoulder while firing, 50 rounds with a steel butplate will wear you down after a bit. The shell holder is a cheap $4 Wally World purchase that I use to keep a few rounds handy at the range.

The addicting thing with the Mosin-Nagant (as with most surplus weapons) is that once you own one you open up an entire part of history that you will spend hours researching and learning from. My initial purchase of my M44 carbine was based soley on its low price ($79.99) and looks. Once I got it home I realized I had no idea what this carbine was all about. The importer included a basic instruction manual, but I yearned for more info than it contained. Now almost a year later, and many hours of research and reading later, I can really appreciate what this weapon stood for in the best of times for Russia and the worst. Rather than seeing it as a sysmbol of either a bygone Imperial Army or a communist revolt, I see it as a tool that a common soldier had to use to survive. I see robust and reliable weapon designed to function in some of the worlds most challenging climates. I see a rifle that fought in two world wars and against itself in both sides of a revolution.

I have only scratched the surface of the vast knowledge available on these rifles and carbines. Luckily, there are many outlets available to you to use to research these types of weapons and in particular the Mosin-Nagants.

  • http://www.blogger.com/www.wikipedia.com - A good starting place for info on weapons, usually has links to other places you can start expanding from.
  • www.surplusrifles.com - Another good sight for info on surplus weapons, some good information on disassembly proceedures found here
  • 7.62x54R.net - THE definitive source for Mosin-Nagant info available on the internet in my honest opinion.
In conclusion, owning a Mosin-Nagant is more than just owning a reliable rifle. Its owning a piece of our shared history. Right now the market is still ripe with these for the picking, for $100 or less I hope that this short article has given you enough reasons to go get one.

Bonus - Here's a vid taken on 4/29/09 at the range with me and my 91/30!

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