Getting started with Military Surplus Rifles Part 1: Mosin Nagant

I am often asked about getting started with surplus rifles so I figured I would jot down a little primer for those who may be interested.

Some of the best things about collecting and shooting military surplus rifles are their price, availability, spotting a rifle like yours in a movie and knowing that somewhere in a battlefield far away it may have turned the tide of a pivotal battle and brought glory to its previous owner. Or it may have just been used as a tent pole or prybar, left to rust in an abandoned foxhole and bounced around in some old warehouse in Europe for 60 years before being brought to the USA.

Once someone has made the decision to get started their first question to me is always: “What should I get first?”. There are several factors to consider: Budget, what they are actually going to do with the guns, their vision of their collection, shooting experience and common sense.

Most of the time the getting-started rifle is a Mosin-Nagant bolt action rifle. Go rent the movie Enemy At The Gates and you’ll be sold too. The Mosin-Nagant first served Russian forces in 1891 and was supplied in large numbers to just about every country that was supported by the Russians. These rifles are still being used actively in many parts of the world such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

The long one is commonly called the 91/30 and the shorty’s called M44. There are a many variants but these are what you will find in piles at the gunshows. The long one’s more accurate but the short one makes bigger fireballs.

Noted users of the Mosin-Nagant are: Simo Häyhä from Finland, who is credited with 505 enemy kills in 15 weeks using a M28 version of the rifle; Vasily Grigoryevich Zaitsev, featured in the film “Enemy At the Gates” had 242 verified kills, but the unofficial tally may reach 400; Lyudmila Mikhailivna Pavlichenko, a female Russian Sniper is credited with 309 kills with this rifle.

Now the Mosin-Nagant has a few things going for it:

  • Price. A generic Mosin will cost about $150.
  • Availability: Every gunshow will have piles of these. Big5 stores often have them on sale for $99
  • Lots of other people have them so there’s a lot of knowledge and experience to draw from especially in online forums.
  • Relatively inexpensive, powerful ammunition.
  • Accuracy. Don’t laugh, it is common to find these that will pull pie-plate groups at 250M right on down to 1MOA if you get lucky.
  • Dependable
  • Fits into a nice WW2 surplus collection.

There are also some bad things:

  • You will find there are many versions of the rifle, prompting you to want every one of them.
  • They have been bouncing around eastern Europe for 60 years and can have lame to horrible stocks and bores.
  • Surplus ammo, while cheap, is corrosive, requiring a little extra cleaning when you use it.
  • There are a couple known issues that will require attention as a regular shooter.

So once you have seen Enemy At The Gates , hop on down to Big5 and get one.

Some of these have been bouncing around the communist world for well over half a century, so an inspection of the rifle is indicated before purchase. The bore quality suffers because of the use of corrosive primed cartridges, so this is the most important aspect to check.  The Tula made versions are preferred, they have a star around an arrow on the top of the receiver.

The Iveshk ones are fine too:

For the 91/30, the former sniper versions can be determined by looking for the filled scope mounting plugs inside the left hand side of the receiver. These are the choice and most sought after versions since they were the pick of the litter before being used in sniper service. Many people use these as a basis for building up a restored sniper. The mounts and scope however are almost impossible to find as original Russian issue and many aftermarket companies produce the scopes and mounts now. The short 3.5 power “PU” scope is the most popular.

So when you are checking them out at the gunstore and you see these plugged holes in the receiver, you buy it. You don’t ask the wife, don’t worry about paying rent this month, you just buy it. It’s possible to get one of these at the plain-jane Mosin price, that’s how I got my sniper for $99 from the Mosin pile at a local gunshow. If you want to get really fancy, you can keep an eye out for a polish Mosin… Many were imported into this country UNFIRED, meaning you can get a brand new Mosin if you look around hard enough. I got mine from a regular guy via a local classified ad.

Stocks can be found intact, many have arsenal repairs and laminates can be found especially in the M44 versions. Many are sold with the ammunition pouches, oil can, utility tool and cleaning brush as a package deal. Get one with your rifle if you can but they are also easily bought online. That little pointy tool with the notches in it is the piece you want for sure.

They can come with lots of cosmoline so a thorough cleaning is recommended as the cosmo can cause a ‘sticky bolt’ syndrome when the rifle heats up. We’ll go over the cleaning and overall checkout on a Mosin in the next article.

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