In case you are new to the gun world and haven’t heard, a very inexpensive rifle has been on the market since what seems like the beginning of time. Just about every shooting enthusiast I know has at least one. They aren’t collected for their beauty, usefulness, or precision, but the Russian Mosin Nagant remains a popular choice to both new and experienced collectors. The Mosin Nagant is a bolt-action internal magazine-fed rifle from the Russian military whose service dates back to 1891. The rifle’s popularity in the United States is due, in no small part, to the massive number of rifles on the surplus market, and its extremely low cost purchase price. The rifle fires the hugely powerful 7.62x54R cartridge, whose performance is in the same class as the .30-06 Springfield. A Mosin in decent condition won’t run you over $100 dollars, and the rifles are available at virtually any surplus store or gun show. So what do people do with these inexpensive pieces of history? Some shooters use them for target practice, others for hunting. A misguided few use them for home defensive purposes, which may stem from an overall lack of firearms knowledge.
Keep several things in mind when buying a Mosin. Some of these rifles have been through the ringer. They may have spent the last half century buried under a muddy basement in Budapest, or they may have been used for ridding some Eastern European farm of wolves since the end of the First World War. When purchasing a Mosin intended for shooting, check the barrel first. You want to look for sharp rifling. You can’t do much with a worn out barrel. The lands, or high spots, should be somewhat free of scratches and not terribly worn down. The grooves, or low spots, will probably have some pitting. A great deal of pitting is bad, but some minor pitting is to be expected. Try to find the one with the least amount as this is ensure better accuracy. There is a “bullet trick” you can perform to see how worn down the rifling is. If you place a bullet upside down on the crown of the barrel, you can see how far down it goes before it stops. If the bullet drops all the way in, then the rifling is not going to engage the bullet sufficiently to spin the projectile, and you might as well be firing a poorly made smoothbore musket.
If you are lucky enough to find a decent barrel, then check the stock for cracks. Since the Mosin fires such a large caliber round, recoil is huge, and gluing cracks together won’t work. It would be embarrassing to finally get your new Mosin out to the range and have it crumble apart after the first magazine. Your wife would snicker and you would probably feel silly. If the wood has cracks, pass it up.
Next, look the rifle over for rust. It is hard to kill Nazis with a rusty Mosin! Be sure to remove the bolt and check the inside of the receiver. Next, flip out the magazine, and check for a rusty spring. You may find a lot of Cosmoline® at this stage, but that’s normal, more Cosmoline typically means less rust.
Check the sights on the weapon, too. I’ve had friends actually get all the way to the range without looking closely at the sight of their gun. If they aren’t all bent and mangled, you should be fine. You may note at this point that the sights on a Mosin aren’t exactly high-end precision work, but that’s normal. The Russians designed this rifle to be operated by a conscripted peasant army, so they were pretty much looking for a point and shoot solution.
The most important thing you can do at this point is have the rifle headspaced. If you aren’t familiar with this process, just let your gunsmith or gun dealer do it. The process is simple but it will ensure that your rifle is safe to shoot.
So consider these simple steps when you are looking for your little piece of Soviet history. The lack of rust, proper grooves and a solid stock will help ensure that your $100 dollar rifle shoots like a $500 dollar one.