Americans love guns. We love to shoot, we love to hunt, we love to collect, and we love to create and customize. So is there any wonder that the very abundant Mosin Nagant has found its way onto workshop tables and into gun safes across the country? These primitive looking, hard-hitting rifles have seen a surge in popularity over the last couple decades, and many folks seem to be onboard with these rustic Russian gems. Collectors are grabbing up specimens with matching serial numbers. Companies are capitalizing on custom-made stocks and bolts. It’s a frenzy of interest for a foreign infantry rifle, but with so many other choices out there we have to ask why these rifles warrant so much attention?
The Mosin Nagant 3-line bolt-action rifles were some of the most widely produced and most used military rifles of the 20th century. This firearm was invented by Soviet Captain Sergei Mosin and Belgian inventor Leon Nagant back in 1891, and has established a long legacy as a military infantry rifle. This gun has seen use by troops of many nations over the last century, which makes the Mosin Nagant a standout among military bolt-actions. Historically it’s probably seen more wartime action than any other such rifle. Although a detailed story of its existence would require so much more than a simple article, we find it a worthy enough discussion to take a look at how this rifle has managed to become so popular with American shooters and collectors.
There are a total of ten basic models of the Mosin Nagant. This number includes rifle and carbine variations, as well as those distinctly classified as Russian or Finnish models, and a countless number of subtypes. Each of them created for the single purpose of arming troops for battle. Take a moment to inspect any Mosin Nagant rifle, and you will quickly see that it wasn’t designed to be a work of art, no one was trying to make it pretty for future collectors, or make it draw the attention of shoppers as they browse the gun store. Nope! This weapon was made to take abuse and keep on shooting. From the point of its bayonet to its skull-crushing metal buttplate, the Mosin was built for battle.
Perhaps that alone is what made it so appealing to western consumers and collectors. Yeah possibly, but I don’t think so! My personal opinion is that it initially became such a large commodity here in America because it was cheap. We love cheap! When it refers to price that is. The fact that it had an epic quality to it was just an added incentive. If Americans wanted to buy a rifle just because it was built for battle, they already have plenty of others to choose from. Many of them made right here in America and chambered for calibers that offer ammunition aplenty. There is our Springfield 1903’s, M1 Garands & Carbines, and a certain little black rifle that is currently causing a lot of uproar around the country.
Why are the Mosin Nagant rifles so inexpensive, you may ask?
Well let’s state something obvious, there are a lot of them! The Mosin Nagant remains near the top of the all time firearms manufacturing list. So there have been plenty to go around. As we stated, these rifles were used in many, many, and I mean many conflicts since they were first introduced toward the end of the nineteenth century. The estimate of the total number of rifles produced hovers somewhere above the 37 million mark. However, this number is merely speculation because during the time that the Mosin Nagant was in production in Russia, the country went through three Revolutions, two World Wars, a Civil War, and the total collapse of the Soviet Union. Now given that Russia is not typically openly forthcoming with information regarding their armaments and national security in the first place, we can assume the production numbers can be construed as a best guess situation. Especially since their factories were repeatedly forced to close due to war, or production was quickly shifted to alternate locations to enable the steady supply of rifles for their troops. The record keeping at these times was probably not the top priority.
The American market saw a great number of these rifles imported from China, Finland, and the ones that were produced right here in the U.S. that were left over from a failed WWI era contract. These rifles were sort of inexpensive even then, as well as tough and reliable. This likely encouraged earlier collectors and sportsmen to take a chance on the 7.62x54R-chambered rifle.
Although what really drove the price down, and what I believe made the Mosin Nagant inherently popular with the American consumer, was the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe. These events flooded the surplus market and made these durable and historic rifles a dime a dozen. Okay, maybe not quite that cheap, but very affordable nonetheless.
To put the sheer magnitude of how many Mosin Nagants there really are into perspective let's consider everywhere these rifles were manufactured. They were primarily built in the three main factories in Russia - Tula, Izhevsk, and Sestrorystsk. Although, due to various circumstances that arose throughout a century riddled with conflict, other countries were enlisted to manage the task of building these guns. Whether it was for their own use or under contract they were made in China, United States, Finland, Poland, Hungary, France, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and some sources state even in North Korea. As time went on, a lot of the Russian originals were acquired through either purchase or capture, and reworked in Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, and Finland.
Now if we can quickly jump back to the idea of ambiguous totals, we can also assume that the arms built in China and North Korea were not correctly accounted for as well. These nations do not openly share their arms information with the outside world either.
The production for the Mosin Nagant models began in 1892 and continued to the 1960’s. This makes it sometimes difficult to pinpoint the rifle origin and explains why there can be so many unique guns out there. Identification can be especially tough when looking at a reworked rifle, because countries such as Finland would often remove any trace of the original Soviet proofs on captured rifles. I think these types of challenges help it appeal to American collectors. If we know anything about these gun enthusiasts it's that they like to know more than the next guy. So, uncovering hidden production secrets or discovering rare guns can be very rewarding.
Customization projects are the other area where Americans have become fans of the Mosin. An industry has sprung up around this hobby, and now custom gun parts are easily found for those looking to build a unique Mosin Nagant of their own. Rifles that were well battle worn with their cracked stocks and missing bayonets can all of a sudden be brought back to ballistical glory. Evolved into something that barely reflects its original state. Some of them look like futuristic sniper rifles complete with synthetic stocks, expensive optics, larger capacity magazines, and flash hiders.
Photo Credit: Matt Barron
However, for the most part, all of the Mosin Nagant rifles still available out there will have some basic commonality; a bolt-action operating system, 5-round magazine capacity, and the 4-groove right-handed concentric rifling.
It may also be worth mentioning that there is a single shot version floating around that was likely originally built for training purposes. Most of these that we have seen or heard about were made at the Izhevsk factory in the 1950’s, but there are probably many more. These rifles appear similar to the M1891/30, but can easily be distinguished by the stock. The stock does not have sling slots, or hole for a cleaning rod, and it does not have a magazine cutout below the action.
Anyway enough veering off topic, let’s go back to our question. Why so much interest in these particular rifles? Is it the challenge of finding the rare gun that survived the First World War intact? Is it simply that the quantity and price have made them so easy to get that we couldn’t pass up a good deal? Or does the history and global significance lure us in? As I wrote this and pondered the question, I’ve come to think it may be a little of each of these things. Though I still weigh heavily on price and availability, there is no denying that many of us really enjoy a good back-story and will be pulled into it. The turbulent history that surrounds the production of these guns is certainly interesting and will encourage a great study of 20th century Europe as well as other parts of the world.
So if you're thinking about jumping on the Mosin Nagant bandwagon, it might be wise to do so sooner rather than later, because those rock bottom prices that got everyone excited will disappear eventually. We have probably already enjoyed the largest flood of these rifles into the American market. What remains will be at the mercy of collector’s values and the rules of supply and demand. There is no denying the durability of the Mosin Nagant design, so these rugged wartime bolt-actions will likely keep reappearing for a very long time, but at what cost? And how many will be stripped down and reinvented into something incredibly different from the original?