A Well-Travelled Mosin: From The U.S. To Russia, To Finland, And Back By:

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The Mosin Nagant series might well be the most prolific military bolt-action rifle in existence, with production well north of 30 million units and possibly higher.

Like the Lee-Enfield, Krag, Lebel, and the 88 and 98 Mauser, the Mosin-Nagant in its various forms served from well before World War I through to — almost unbelievably — the present day. It can be found in virtually every corner of the earth, along with its staple diet of 7.62x54R.

The story properly begins with the M91 Mosin-Nagant, the rifle pictured in this article. It was standardized in 1891 for service in Imperial Russia, during the same decade or so that witnessed the inception and adoption of other smokeless, nitro-proofed military bolt-action rifles. 

The Mosin’s five-round magazine and optimistically calibrated sights were typical for the period in which it was adopted.

Extremely competitive with its peers ballistically, and inferior only to the Lee-Enfield in sustained firepower (which all others were as well), it fired five rounds from its magazine as quickly as the operator could load and discharge them. Reloads were courtesy of a five-round stripper clip, which was also par for the course for the time.

Unlike some of its peers, the M91, including this one, was made in various arms factories outside its mother Russia to meet the tremendous demand and turnover in men and materiel brought on by the first truly industrial war in history. 

This M91 was made by Remington in the United States, late of Ilion, New York, where the factory was founded in 1816, only to be driven off after over two centuries by the anti-gun policies of its home state.

As you’d expect from a rifle that served in at least two armies on opposite sides of two World Wars, its finish has seen better days. As a conversation piece, rather than a match rifle, this is no detriment.

Other M91s were manufactured in France to help meet the needs of the massive Russian military machine that never seemed to run out of men, but despite the efforts of reformers from Peter the Great forward, never caught up in either industry or technology until after WWI and the conclusion of the Russian Civil War. 

While the Soviets were not proponents of natural rights, they did manage to drag the Soviet Union very effectively into the second phase of the Industrial Revolution and catch up with aplomb, at least from a military standpoint. 

The M91 was laid out as conventionally as its peers. The magazine had a releasable floor plate that allowed the shooter to clear dirt and some malfunctions, and feeding was extremely reliable, as to be expected. 

The only two genuine faults of the rifle lay in the bolt design and its overall length. While the bolt was certainly robust enough, the tiny bolt handle made charging the weapon less user friendly than its competitors. This seems like an odd oversight for an army that fought in extreme winter conditions, but it never seemed to dissuade the Russians, nor did they seem to view it as problematic. 

At 48½ inches long, it was a bit lengthy, but not exorbitantly so compared to the G98 and the Lebel. 

With the bayonet attached, it was usually taller than the operator. An interesting hangover from an earlier age, the socket bayonet would’ve looked at home on a mid-19th century musket, and the lack of modernization in standardized production meant that as much hand-fitting was required of the M91 bayonet as those designed for the Russian muskets that faced Napoleon.

The M91 had one feature its peers did not. While the rest of the major powers used meters or yards to graduate their rifle sights, the M91 utilized Arshins, a native Russian system of measurement that was equivalent to a “forearm” or roughly a cubit. (And don’t laugh at the forearm measurement if you’re not going to laugh at a foot.) This rifle was originally sighted for Arshins. The Finns later converted the sight to meters.

This rifle left the Remington factory in 1917 and was accepted into Russian service in an incredibly turbulent year. While it’s not possible to determine from the markings which units it served with, it is obvious from the condition and the various property marks, including those of Finland, that this rifle has likely “seen the elephant.” If rifles could speak, it seems highly likely this one would have some interesting stories.

At some point, the handguard has been replaced, which is nothing unusual for the M91. The handguards were extremely thin for the amount of abuse they took, and easily broke. The sling is Finnish and is of a type commonly used by the Finnish army, so we can assume at some point it was captured during the Winter War.

The effective range of this rifle and cartridge, like most others of the period is generally accepted to be about 500 yards. However, this will start an incalculable (and unwinnable) number of arguments with proponents and patriots of every sort, it has so many legendary figures associated with it in one guise, model, or variant.

When retailed in the U.S. as surplus, this rifle sold for $39. Although those days are seemingly gone, an M91 can currently be had in the $500 range for more common guns in average condition. There are strange and unusual models out there but beware and arm yourself with some solid examination of extant reference materials before making a high-dollar purchase. 

They’re fun to shoot, and although cheap ammo isn’t as plentiful as it once was, are still reasonable on range day. 

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