Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Russian Nagant Rifle is a Good Shooter

The Mosen Nagant Rifles
In 1891 Russia came into the smokeless powder era by introducing the Mosen Nagant rifle and a rimmed 30 caliber round. It replaced the 10.6 Berdan single shot rifles, which had been in service for a number of years. The Russo Turkish war of 1877-88 taught Russia the value of repeating rifles. They were armed with the single shot Berden rifles while the Turks had Winchester Model 73 lever action guns. That was the same situation that Custer was in when he fought at the Little Big Horn. It was the trapdoor Springfields verses the model 73-lever rifles plus a lot more Indians. Many military minds of that period disliked repeaters as they thought that they wasted ammo. In 1882 the Chagin commission was formed to create a more modern repeating rifle. The first attempt was a repeating version of the 10.6 Berdan rifle. That didn’t work out which was just as well because in 1886 France came out with the first smokeless powder round. That would have made the Berdan rifle obsolete as soon as it came out even if it worked. The commission tried but rejected such notable rifle designs as the Lebel and Mauser. Col. Mosen also submitted his design, which he was working on from 1887 to 1889. It was designed with a single stack magazine and a 3-line caliber, which is how Russia measured its calibers during that time. A line is equivalent to .1” or .254 mm so 3 of them equaled 30 caliber or 7.62. At about the same time 1889 Nagant submitted his own design to the commission. Initially the Nagant was chosen over the Mosen after being tried out by various units but due to politicks the Mosen eventually was taken. Probably the fact that the Mosen was home grown had something to do with it. In any event time has shown it to be a fine rifle. However the magazine system was the Nagant style in going with a compromise. The rifle was adopted in 1891 and production started in 1892. The rifle was first used in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904. While the rifle showed itself to be sturdy and reliable the 210-grain round nose bullet left something to be desired in range and accuracy.

WWll sniper rifle

The rifle is a bolt-action magazine fed item holding 5 rounds of ammo single stacked. The action design was original and bears no resemblance to the Mauser or any other rifle. The bolt is a two-piece setup with the locking lugs being removable with the bolt head. The bolt also encloses most of the case head except the slot for the extractor. In the unlikely event of a case rupture that may provide the shooter some protection against escaping gas. The bolt cocks on opening and is easy to use. The cocking piece is simple and can be manually cocked if necessary though some effort is required. Bringing back the cocking piece and turning it to the left can utilize the safety. While effective it can be hard to use especially in cold weather. Another unique feature is that the firing pin can be adjusted. A multi purpose tool was provided with the rifle for that purpose as well as having a screwdriver blade on the end. In order to check the firing pin protrusion first remove the bolt then turn cocking left piece holding the bolt. That will uncock the action allowing the firing pin to protrude. The gauge has 2 openings 75 and 95. The pin should fit somewhere between those openings. If pin needs adjustment turn in line with the adjustment marks on the cocking piece until pin is in specs. If you have misfires that would be a good place to check on the problem especially if the primers appear to be lightly hit. Recock the bolt before putting back in the rifle. I have fired quite a bit of ammo in a few rifles and never had the need to adjust the firing pin. However with all the millions of weapons out there I imagine that some had to be adjusted at one time or another. When you first get the rifle it isn’t a bad idea to disassemble and clean the bolt. With long term storage and oiling frequently the parts may be gummed up. This would be especially true in cold weather. To disassemble the bolt pull the cocking piece back and turn counter clockwise. The locking lugs and the bold connecting sleeve will come off exposing the firing pin. The extractor can be removed by inserting a small screwdriver under it but it isn’t generally necessary. The firing pin can be unscrewed from the cocking piece then the spring and firing pin can be removed. It takes a little effort to pull the cocking piece back, which also makes the safety hard to use. Reverse the procedure to reassemble the bolt. Another interesting feature was the bottle of cleaning fluid. It is a dual chamber item one side holding oil while the other had cleaning fluid. The letters on the bottle in Cyrillic tell you which is which. (See photo for explanation.) There were other shaped cleaning bottles for other countries with their language on them. There are stripper clips to load the magazine if you can find them probably at a gun show or a Shotgun News ad. The magazine also is part of the trigger guard, which protrudes below the stock.

Typical ammo for the 7.62 X 54

There were various models made the 91/30 being an improvement over the original Dragoon model. The older models have a hexagonal receiver while the newer ones are rounded. There was a single shot produced up until about 1952 at the Izhevsk as well as other arsenals. It had no provisions for a sling or cleaning rod. Also there was no hole drilled out for the magazine. It was probably some type of training rifle and was chambered for the conventional 7.62 X 54. The sights on most new models were changed from arshins to meters. One arshin equals .71 meters or .78 yards about 28 inches for your information. Maximum sighting in yards for the Dragoon models was about 2500 yards while the 91/30’s 2200 yards. The carbines ran from 1100 to 1560 yards. As with most military rifles an optimist designed the sights and distances. Originally it was loaded with a 210-grain slug at about 2000 feet per second, which was on par for such cartridges as the old 303 British, and 30-40 Krag loadings. Most countries during that period started with a heavy round nose bullet before the advantages of spitzer bullets was understood. The round nose bullets lacked in accuracy as well as range. In 1908 in keeping up with military developments of the time the bullet was changed to a 148 grain pointed bullet at 2800 feet per second. That loading increased the range as well as flattened the trajectory quite a bit. The rifle saw service through WW ll and is still used today in parts of the world. In the early years Russia couldn’t make enough rifles so companies like Remington and Westinghouse among others made them by the hundreds of thousands and some are still around. SIG and Styer also made them by the thousands. As a note Winchester made about 293,000 rifles and millions of rounds of ammo for the 7.62 X 54. They were even fitted with a bayonet lug. Very occasionally you will see one for sale, which would be a nice collector’s item. At the onset of the 1917 revolution most of the contracts were terminated and the rifles were sold as surplus on the civilian market. Some of the other models are common and are inexpensive to buy today. In 1918 Poland obtained a large quantity of them and converted some of them to the 8 X 57 Mauser. I am not sure as to what the advantage would be unless it was an ammo issue. There would be no power advantage to switching calibers as they have similar ranges and power. As well as rebarreling there would have to be some extractor work done in order to handle the rimless round. I imagine the magazine would have to be somehow reworked to reliability feed rounds. I even heard that some Nagants were rechambered for the 30-06. Bannerman rechambered some around 1918 but they were not considered safe to fire due to some deficient workmanship. If you encounter one I suggest that you use it as a wall hanger. Finland also adopted the Nagant rifle around WW l and used it until the 1950’s when they adopted more modern weaponry. They used it against Russia in the Winter War when they were invaded. They fought valiantly but were outnumbered and outgunned by the Soviets and surrendered in 1940. Many other countries used them to an extent even Germany used some during WW l. One of the more interesting uses was that the Kaiser’s Navy used them for was as mine sweepers. The U boats were issued them and they were used to shoot mines that were placed in the water. A few were also modified to shoot the 8 X 57 round but due to the plentiful supply of 7.62 X 54 that conversion was largely unnecessary. Hungary made some of their own Nagants during the 1950s and by all accounts they were of high quality. They were used against the Communists during the unsuccessful 1956 uprising. Other countries such as Romania and China produced various models of the Mosen Nagant with their own markings on them. North Korea also made some and used others made by China and Russia. It also saw service during the Viet Nam War by the north. Suffice to say there were tens of millions of them made by various countries over many years. That in itself would speak for the reliability of the weapon. Poorly designed and performing military weapons usually have a short life and aren’t adopted by a dozen or so countries. For someone who is interested in various models and where and when they were made a good book would be The Mosin Nagant Rifle by Terence Lapin and published by North Cape Publications. The book gives a breakdown of known numbers produced by various countries and arsenals as well as other info. Russia still uses the round in their light machine guns as well as their Dragunov weapons which are available for sale in the Shotgun News as well as other sources it is also their current sniper round making it possibly the oldest military caliber still in use. The Nagant has been used in competition with good results. The accuracy potential in a quality rifle is excellent and can utilize match bullets with good results. Some of the current reloading manuals show and recommend their match bullets for loading. It has been used in 300 meter Olympic competition by Soviet riflemen among others. It is popular in parts of the world as a hunting cartridge and with good ammo it will take most big game animals with proper bullet placement and good ammo.

Scope can be mounted without gunsmithing

One of mine is a sniper rifle built in 1943 model 91/30 with a scope with the same date. All the numbers match and it has the original 28.7” barrel. It came with a sling, cleaning kit, ammo pouches and a bayonet. The instructions and specifications on the scope were printed in Russian and which is of no help to me. The scope was packed separately from the rifle but mounting wasn’t much of a problem. Slide it in and tighten the large screw at the back and it is ready to go. The scope has 3 post reticules 2 from the sides and one from the bottom. It is serviceable once you get used to it. It has a good clear vision for an old scope and would be useful for hunting or sniping. Adjusting the scope can be an adventure as there are no arrows marked up or down or left and right. It is a trial and error method until you get the hang of it. It is the PU model and is a 3.5 power model. Mine was high and to the right and is taking some work to get it sighted in properly. I backed off one of the screws holding the mount to the receiver and it moved the impact very close to where it should be. There are 2 screws that look like they are made for that purpose and I used the rear one. The sights are a tangent for the rear and a hooded front sight. The trigger takes some getting used to and I don’t like it as much as some other military weapons I have fired. My rifle weighs 11.5 lbs with the scope attached, quite a load. If I took it hunting I would walk to a blind and no further then a few yards with it. With the bayonet attached the length is 5 and ½ feet long.

The Nagant has an adjustable fireing pin

The bayonet is a snap on affair that is 20” total with the blade being 17”. The point is a screw driver blade. There are several variations but they all essentially look alike. I can see where that would be handy as well a deadly. There is a full length-cleaning rod through the fore end as was the custom of the day. The stock is dark and I am not sure what type of wood they used but it’s definitely serviceable. Like most military rifles of bygone years it gives you confidence of its quality and reliability. The rifling was sharp and deep though needed some cleaning. The twist is 1 turn in 10”.

Another of my rifles is a cut down version that I picked up at a gun show for $20.00. It looks rough but shoots fine. Since it is light and handy it would make a good woods hunting rifle. I did a lot of testing and shooting with this piece and never had a malfunction. Accuracy is more the adequate with this rifle. Once I got it adjusted it hit to the point of aim at 100 yards when I do my job. By some standards this gun looks crude however it is reliable and bad weather or a ding won’t hurt it. It makes a good rifle to carry around in a truck or four-wheeler weighing in at 6 & ½ lbs.

Tools that were issued for the Nagant

The cartridge is rimmed and rather powerful almost equaling the 30-06 in many loadings. Many of the barrels need a .311 diameter bullet for best results. I have pulled military and some commercial ammo and without exception it had a .310 or .311 diameter bullet. For best accuracy I recommend that you slug the barrel. At one time it was very difficult to obtain reloadable cases though some military ammo could be had. If someone wanted hunting ammo they could pull the military bullet and reload with a soft point. That worked ok as long as you didn’t change the bullet weight using the same powder. Naturally the neck has to be resized in order to maintain proper tension. Reloading dies are made by all the die makers and the ones that I use are from R.C.B.S. Loading it is the same as any other rimmed bottleneck case and standard large rifle primers are used. Magnum primers are not necessary or desirable. Generally the medium to the medium slow powders work best as in the 30-06. Just as a bit of info the Mosen Nagant round can be necked up and used in the 8 X 56R Hungarian round. It is a little short but will do in a pinch. However since Graff makes brass for the 8 X 56R there is probably no need to do that anymore. However if you wanted to fire blanks in the Hungarian the 7.62 would be a lot cheaper especially with military blanks or blanks made from military rounds.

Good shooting inexpensive ammo from Russia a 203 grain softpoint

Happily several companies make good brass such as Winchester and Sellier & Belliot. Norma also provides ammo for this rifle. That’s a good thing because making Russian cases out of anything else is extremely difficult and time consuming. There is no reason to consider rebarreling it to another caliber. First it would be expensive and the 7.62 X 54 is a very capable cartridge in its own right. For all practical purposes anything that a 30-06 will do so can the Russian round. Due to the magazine shape as well as other features it is generally considered difficult to sporterize. A commercial scope can be mounted with some effort and a sporter stock could be made. It would be a good project for an amateur gunsmith with some time on his hands because a professional job would cost some serious bucks. With a good bore it is as accurate as any contemporary military firearm of that period. There is no reason why one in good shape with quality ammo couldn’t turn in a 3 shot group of 1” at 100 yards possibly even better with a good scope. With its powder capacity it can handle any bullet weight that a 30-06 can handle. As with any cartridge the way to get the most out of it is to hand load your own. Jacketed bullets from 60 to 220 grains can be used. Cast bullets are an option for those who like to plink or hunt small game. I found that the 165-grain cast bullet is very accurate when used with light loads. This particular bullet shoots well in any 30-caliber rifle I have tried it in. Like most non-magnum cases it is amendable to reduced loads and is flexible. As long as the action is solid velocities approaching the 30-06 can be obtained especially with a longer barrel. I have shot my rifles quite a bit and here are some loads that were safe in my rifles. As always approach maximum loads from below. Most factory ammo loaded for the Mosen rifles is limited to around 45,000 lbs of pressure and considering the age and condition of some of the rifles that’s probably a good idea. It’s not a bad idea to have your rifle checked out by a gunsmith prior to firing it.

The 7.62 X 54 was chambered in the Model 95 Winchester and possibly a few others. As far as I know there are no commercial American rifles chambered for this round what a shame. A Ruger # 1 or a Thompson Center Encore would be a splendid home for such a chambering. If you have a Siamese Mauser action that needs a barrel you could do worse then chambering for the Russian round.

The Nagant is capable of fine accuracy

Many countries in various styles, as you can imagine made military ammo. The original had the 210 grain round nose that was found wanting in a couple of areas. The Germans invented the spitzer bullet and the Russians adopted it in 1908. It weighed between 148 and 150 grains and greatly extended the range of the 7.62 X 54. Also it was lighter enabling a soldier to carry a few extra rounds. As heavy as the rifle was a soldier needed all the help he could get. Around 1930 they introduced 2 other bullets the lighter one for short to intermediate range while the 182-grain was a long-range projectile. Tracers weighing 148 grains as well as armor piercing bullets weighing 170 grains were also employed by the Soviets. They even had a subsonic bullet weighing about 140 grains and a practice round at 60 grains. There were incendiary rounds on various designs employed as well. Other countries made ammo-featuring bullets weighing from about 150 to 175 grains of varying designs. A serious ammo collector could get quite a few head stamps from various countries and years. Much of the older ammo is corrosive so if you shoot it be sure to thoroughly clean your rifle. If in doubt treat it as corrosive. If you run into pre WW ll ammo it may be best not to shoot it. If it wasn’t properly stored it may not be reliable or consistent. If you experience hang fires DO NOT continue to shoot it. That is a sure sign that it has deteriorated to the point of being extremely dangerous. I would advise you to either dispose of it or put it in a collection. That is true with any caliber military ammo that displays hang fire characteristics. I personally have run across French and British ammo in that shape. I pulled the bullets and dumped the rest as the cases were Berdan primed and not worth fooling with. For the non-reloader ammo is cheap and plentiful. Both the copper washed and lacquered steel case ammo are perfectly fine for target shooting. I found it reliable and consistent. As with many calibers reloading your own is the best way to obtain its full potential. I have included some of my loads to show what it is capable of. As you can see it is a very flexible round and can be utilized in many ways.

Loads for the cut down model with a 22” barrel
10 X PB 110 grain rn 1521 small game
10 X Unique 110 grain rn 1742 good load
46 X 4197 110 grain rn 3162 consistent
53 X IMR 4895 110 grain rn 3082 pest load
43 X 4197 125 grain Hornady 2802 ok
20 X 5744 150 grain Hornady 1614 good load
51 X VV150 150 grain Centrix 2786 deer load
49 X H 4895 150 grain Speer 2825 consistent
Military Load 150 grain fmj * 2564 mild
Hungarian Load 150 grain soft point* 2731 good load
53 X 760 165 grain soft point 2573 mild
47 X IMR 4895 165 grain soft point 2610 potential
51 X 760 180 grain soft point 2599 accurate
Winchester Fact 180 grain fmj 2435 consistent
Winchester Fact 180 grain soft point 2444 good load
44 X IMR 4895 190 grain TRI/COR 2396 hunting load
43 X IMR 4895 200 grain Speer 2344 mild
JSC LOAD 205 grain soft point * 2199 mild
* 311 diameter bullets. TRI/COR bullets author designed……..
Loads for the 91/30 sniper rifle 28” barrel
15 X Unique * 110 grain round nose 2177 ok
15 X Unique * 125 grain soft point 1852 good load
15 X Blue Dot * 150 grain soft point 1592 small game
56 X 760 150 grain soft point 2896 consistent
10 X Unique * 165 grain cast 1396 accurate
54 X 760 165 grain soft point 2747 deer
53 X 760 180 grain soft point 2636 good load
Winchester Factory 180 grain full metal jacket 2618 consistent
49 X AA 4350 200 grain soft point 2502 accurate
47 X AA 4350 220 grain round nose 2227 mild
48 X IMR 4350 220 grain round nose 2438 max hunting load

Reloading dies

Winchester large rifle standard primers were used in all the tests. * Military cases
I advise that with the top loads start from a couple of grains below and carefully work your way up. Different rifles react differently to the same ammo. Since the author and publisher have no control in your loading methods or materials used we have no responsibility or liability for use of the load data provided. I tried other loads but these are the best and most representative of the lot.

One thing I did was I had some military cases loaded with a 200 grain soft point boat tail bullets that I pulled. I wanted the bullets for another project that I am doing now. The cases were used for some of the reduced loads included in the data for the sniper rifle. Since I am familiar with the powder I can reuse it. The Winchester factory ammo shot good and was accurate. By the way it was made in Czechoslovakia according to the box. My best groups at 100 yards with the sniper rifle were just less than 2” with 3 shots. Most of them ran between 2 and 3” with 3 shots. Probably a better scope and possibly a steadier shooter could have reduced those groups a little. The trigger pull contributed nothing to the accuracy of the rifle. As far as I know there are no commercial triggers available for the Mosen Nagant rifle. Filing and smoothing the sear may or may not help but I didn’t attempt that maneuver.

Just for comparison I took a 30-06 case and a 30-40 Krag case and filled them up with 760 to see how the capacity measured against the Nagant round. The 30-40 took 59.8 grains while the 30-06 took 70. The 7.62 X 54 took 65 grains all were filled to the top.

Note locking lugs, and extractor on spoon handle bolt

The model 44 was the last model made and is still in use. The metal finish is crude with some tool marks but the action is smooth as I found with most of the 91 and 44’s I have examined. It is similar to the others but has a permanent bayonet attached to the right side as opposed to the removable one on the sniper rifle. The bayonet is the same as the other models with the screwdriver type tip. On my example the trigger is better then the 91/30 sniper rifle that I have. My rifle had some outside rust though it cleaned up pretty good leaving some very minor pitting. It is dated 1945 and has the hammer & sickle emblem on it as well as other markings on the receiver. The wood is rough with small gouges and dents but serviceable. If you ding up the rifle it won’t hurt anything as it would in a fancy hunting rifle. It would be a good rifle to carry around in a ranch truck once you removed the bayonet and some of the wood. Since I have such a weapon already this one will stay original as is though it isn’t much of a collector’s item. It is necessary to disassemble and clean the rifle before firing or you will have oil all over the stock after it is shot some. Even that may not help as the oil may be soaked in the wood after years of oiling and storing. Other examples I examined had names and dates carved into the stocks. I imagine some of those rifles have interesting stories to tell if only they could talk. The bore had a lot of crud in it although the rifling looked good. After some scrubbing didn’t help clean up the bore much I took it out and shot it. A dozen shots really cleaned out the bore and it looks good now. Accuracy is good for iron sights especially with my old eyes. I noticed that shooting the steel cases you had to tap the bolt handle open and closed with both the 44’s that I shot. It wasn’t a real big problem once you got used to doing that. Recoil while noticeable wasn’t that bad and bench rest shooting presented no problem.

Common bullets for 7.62 X 54

The market is flooded with millions of these rifles, which is good for the shooter and collector. Ammo is plentiful and cheap another plus for the shooter. Military ammo in quantity would cost about ten cents a round so an all day shoot won’t break the bank. A collector could collect various models of the Mosen Nagant rifle along with the accessories and have an interesting collection without mortgaging the house. With all the models and variations the collector could spend a lifetime collecting these fascinating rifles. Along with the various Mausers and other types of military rifles that are around the shooter on a budget never had it so good.

Bob Shell

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

that's a lot of help for me glad you put it up i will be here a lot learning a more about the sniper I'm 18 years old and fell in love with this gun you were a big help i under stand a lot more a bout this gun