There are few famous antique rifles in human history as renowned as the Mosin Nagant. This rifle is more than a century old but is still used down to today by hunters, as well as some professional armies.
The Mosin Nagant has a glorious history, from charging bloodbaths and cunning sniper kills to revolutions and hunting.
This rifle has been through a lot and here, we’ll look at it.
Origins of the Mosin Nagant
Russia is famous for manufacturing weapons and is probably the largest exporter of firearms in the world. But this was not the case a century ago. It all started during the Russo-Ottoman war of 1877-1878. The Soviet troops used the Berdan single-shot rifle. It was no match for the Turkish forces equipped with Winchester repeaters. The Soviet army suffered heavy casualties, especially at the siege of Pleven, which made the commanders look for better combat rifle alternatives.
Gunsmiths submitted three rifles for evaluation in 1889. One was a three-line design (1 line = 1/10th inch, 3 lines = 7.62mm/.30cal) by Captain Sergei Ivanovich Mosin of the Imperial Red Army. The second was a 3.5-line design (9mm/.35cal) by Belgian designer Leon Nagant. Another three-line design came from Captain Zinoviev. The designs were tested from 1890 to 1891.
Nagant’s design had a better feed system but a more complex disassembling procedure. A committee finally decided on Mosin’s version. The production of these rifles began in the year 1891 under the name of Three-line Rifle M1891 (Pekhotniya Vintovka obr. 1891g). However, there was bias in the selection process: Russian politicians appeared to favor this design by a fellow Russian.
This claim of bias lies in the dispute filed by Leon Nagant. He filed an international patent protection over the “interrupter”. Mosin couldn’t file a patent because he was a Russian Army officer. The status of his design was an official government “secret”. To protect the gun - and to save money - Russian officers threatened Nagant with a ban from any further trials’of the Russian Army.
Under this pressure, Nagant withdrew his case. He probably couldn’t have won because Mosin’s design was already claimed as a "government secret". Later Nagant remained a major contractor of the Soviet Army. He gained a lot of fame with his 1895 Nagant revolver, which was adopted as the official sidearm of the Russian Army.
At this point, you might be wondering why it ended up being the Mosin Nagant. That’s because it wasn’t original name of this rifle. Instead this spread in the West due to the disputes about who really designed it - Sergei Mosin or Leon Nagant.
The Russo-Japanese War (1904 - 1905) was the debut theater for Mosin Nagant rifles. By 1904, more than 3.8 million M1891 rifles had been manufactured in three Russian ordnance factories in the cities of Tula, Izhevsk, and Sestroryetsk. However, it didn’t see much combat because a large part of the Russian Army on the front lines still had to make due with the single-shot Berdan rifles.
The two primarily manufactured versions until 1905 were the dragoon (issued with a bayonet) and cossack (issued without a bayonet) types. Cossack rifles are pretty rare these days and can be recognized by the mark Ka3 on the chamber.
World War I, the Russian Civil War, and the Finns
Slowly, the Mosin Nagant became the regular combat rifle of the Russian Army. With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Russia had to increase the production of its ordnance. However, the infrastructure and weapon manufacturing facilities in Russia were not as good as they are today. With a need to build rifles as quickly as possible, the Russian government gave an order of 1.5 million M91 rifles to Remington and another 1.8 million rifles to the New England Westinghouse Company - both based in the U.S. - in 1915. The order also included a substantial amount of bullets for these rifles.
The M91s were widely used in WWI. You can find them with markings from many European countries who either captured them or purchased them during the war.
The U.S.-Produced Mosins
Remington produced 750,000 rifles before halting production in 1917 due to the October Revolution. Exactly 469,951 rifles were shipped to Russia. When the new Bolshevik Regime, headed by Vladimir Lenin gained power, the order was canceled. The Russian government didn’t even pay for the delivered weapons, which brought both Remington and New England Westinghouse to the brink of bankruptcy.
To overcome this loss, these companies decided to sell the rifles locally. Approximately 280,000 rifles were procured by the U.S. military and the British Expeditionary forces, both of which used them primarily for training but also in combat.
Spread by Force
A large number of Mosin Nagants were captured by German and Austro-Hungarian forces during WWI and were put into use. At the outbreak of the Russian Civil War in 1917, the infantry and dragoon versions of the Mosin Nagant were still in production. They were a widely available weapon because of the enormous production and use by the military. The M91 served both the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary forces.
Later, Russia sold a lot of M91s to the Finnish army in the 1920s. Finland was a grand duchy of the Russian Empire. The Finnish military was acquainted with using the Mosin Nagant as they fought alongside the Tsarist army. However, after the Russian revolution, Finland declared independence from Russia in 1917. This led to further revolution and a bloody conflict between the Soviet and Finnish forces. The Finns defeated the Russian forces in Finland and forced them to escape.
The Finns, though, were able to preserve the ordnance depots and stores of arms. They were under imminent threat of retaliation from the Soviets but they had large numbers of the M1891 decided to adopt it as their primary military rifle.Finland produced several variants of the Mosin Nagant with some upgrades from different countries and companies, thus eradicating several basic problems with the rifle. The Finns traded a lot of Mosin Nagant rifles with other countries for weapons and military technology.
The Mosin spread to various other countries as well, but Finland played the largest role outside of Russia.
World War II and Three Famous Snipers
Upon the onset of World War II, the Mosin Nagant had already completed five decades of service. It was a standard-issue rifle for the Soviet army.
The Mosin Nagant model 1891/30 was modified and adapted as a sniper rifle in 1932. The mounts and scopes over the Mosin were an upgrade over the German versions. Later the Soviets engineered their own designs, such as the 3.5x PU fixed scope and mount. This revolutionized the use of the Mosin Nagant and made it an effective long-distance weapon.
The M91/30 stands among the most respected and reliable sniper rifles of all time. It is easy to maintain, rugged, and accurate. It offers an amazing combination of engineering and durability for a sniper. It performed extremely well in the brutal conflicts of WWII, especially on the Eastern front.
The rifle reached the zenith of its fame in the hands of some of the most deadly snipers of the war. Famous Soviet sniper Vasily Zaytsev killed 225 Wehrmacht soldiers including 11 SS snipers between 10 November to 17 December 1942, during the battle of Stalingrad. He was awarded the title "Hero of the Soviet Union". The 2001 movie “Enemy at the Gates” was inspired by the story of Zaytsev.
Another sniper feared by the Axis forces during WWII was Ivan Sidorenko. Conscripted into the Soviet Red Army in 1939, he fought in the Battle of Moscow as the junior lieutenant of a mortar company. He taught himself to snipe during the early days of the war by taking out several German soldiers. He was later promoted as a sniping trainer for the Soviet Army.
In his entire career, Sidorenko amassed a total of 500 confirmed kills. He also trained over 250 Soviet snipers during the course of his service. He also was awarded the title of "Hero of Soviet Union", on June 4, 1944.
This article would be incomplete without talking about the most deadly and renowned Mosin Nagant sniper of all time, Finn Simo Hayha. He was so feared by his enemies that they named him, “the white death”.
Simo Hayha killed 505 men during the 1939-40 Winter War against the Soviets. This is the highest number of kills by any sniper in a major war. Simo used both his M91/30 rifle and submachine gun to kill his enemies.
The most amazing fact to note here is that Simo Hayha never used a scope. Instead, using just the iron sights, he relied on his knowledge and skills. He somehow remained effective, even from a distance over 500 yards. Simo served in war during brutal winters where temperatures would fall below -40 degrees Celsius. All of his kills were achieved within 100 days, averaging five a day.
The Cold War and Beyond
Following WWI, the Soviets halted the production of the Mosin Nagant. However, they had already been produced in staggering numbers over the course of 50 years. The Mosin Nagant continued to serve as a primary weapon for many armies for a long time, especially among Eastern-bloc countries and other areas - including China - that had Soviet influence or bought weapons from the USSR.
With the advent of SKS and AK series of assault rifles, the Soviets discarded the Mosin Nagant and decommissioned them a few years later. The Mosin Nagant rifles you see today are relics of the past, except for an occasional Chinese-made replica.
The Mosin Nagant rifle is still in active service alongside modern weapons across many countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, and Palestine. Mainly, they are countries influenced by the communist/Soviet-bloc or where there were Soviet military interventions.
There are reports of Mosin Nagant rifles being used by the Taliban and Mujahideen in Afghanistan. Lately the M91/30 has been seen in the Syrian Civil war and the second war in Chechnya. Scoped Mosin Nagants are used as sniper rifles by several modern armies including Afghanistan, Iraq, and Finland. It has an incredible active service record of more than 120 years.
Review of the Best Mosin Nagant Rifles
With that excellent review of the fame and history behind the Mosin Nagant - let's cover what your best options are for owning one of these fantastic rifles.
Century Arms M91/30
What Recent Buyers Report
New users were quite impressed with this rifle. Most users were satisfied with the powerful firing ability. They also reported they were able to shoot accurately at targets from a pretty good distance. One user said he attached a rifle scope and was able to hit a big game target from about 300 yards out.
Why it Stands Out to Us
This rifle has a classic look that reminds us of an old-school hunting rifle your father or grandfather once owned. Aside from the aesthetics, it stands out as one of the hardest hitting rifles for knocking down a deer or a big game target. It’s also equipped with adjustable sights that make accurate shooting possible in a hunting application. The sight is so reliable you may not even need a scope for most applications.
Who Will Use This Most
This will stand out as a rifle that will work in the favor of big game hunters, especially those that are considered deer hunters. This Mosin Nagant rifle will have just enough power to knock down a target from an impressive distance. If you want something that will give you years of reliable service out in the field, this could be your best possible choice.
The Century Arms M91/30 Mosin Nagant rifle is the kind of rifle that you can rely on in most hunting situations. It’s sharp-looking, heavy-hitting, and will have your back out in the field. If you’re looking for a hunting rifle that will go above and beyond the call of duty, a great Mosin Nagant rifle like this might be what you need.
Russian State Factories 44 Carbine
What Recent Buyers Report
Recent buyers were surprised that older rifles like this can still shoot just as well as way back in the day. One user was quick to remark about how easily he was able to use the sights to quickly hit a couple of spots on a target. The shooting groups were rather tight for an older rifle. Others say the bolt-action provided reliable feeding most of the time without any jamming to speak of.
Why it Stands Out to Us
Think older rifles are unable to perform well? Think again. This Mosin Nagant rifle is well over sixty years old and still can shoot like a champ. And it’s still reliable for a hunting rifle with the power to drop a deer from a distance. Even with the sights, you can still reach out and touch something from a good ways away. Who needs a scope when you have a good set of sights on hand?
Who Will Use This Most
This will be used by those who hold a deep appreciation for the old-school models. This Mosin Nagant might be right up your alley if you want something that has a timeless classic look and can still get the job done as if it was brand new off the assembly line. This rifle proves the adage that age is certainly a number. Especially when you’re a heavy-hitting rifle.
The Russian State Factories 44 Carbine Mosin Nagant might have aged a bit, but it can still hang with the big boys. If you want a rifle that has stood the test of time and can knock out any target that you intend to shoot at, this rifle might be exactly what you’re looking for.
Best for the Money:
Century Arms Mosin Nagant M91/59
What Recent Buyers Report
Most new buyers were quite satisfied with this rifle for a few good reasons. First off, the ghost ring sights are perfectly aligned to make sure all shots land exactly where intended. Also, they concluded that this rifle has been effective in both target shooting and hunting applications since they were able to land their shots from about 150 to 200 yards out.
Why it Stands Out to Us
This rifle is another old-school model that is refurbished. But it once again proves that older Mosin Nagants can stand the test of time and remain all-powerful through the years. This is made with a solid wood stock that will make the rifle look ageless. Plus, it has a set of sights that will work perfectly each time you use them. The front ring sight is not too large or small, but at just the right size to allow for a quick lock-in of your target.
Who Will Use This Most
If you are a hunter or a target shooter, you’re more than likely going to find this rifle an affordable and useful solution. This might be a budget rifle because it’s a refurbished model. But make no mistake about it, it will work as if it were brand new. If you want a rifle that will look good even after many decades of reliable use, you cannot go wrong with a Mosin Nagant Rifle like the Century Arms M91/59.
If you need a Mosin Nagant rifle without breaking the bank, the Century Arms M91/59 will be something worth looking at. Don’t let the fact that it’s a refurbished rifle scare you off. It’s still in working order and will give you many more years of dependable service for any application you see fit.
The Mosin Nagant has a reputable and prestigious history. Its name is associated with some of the most deadly and renowned snipers of all time. An original Mosin Nagant is a piece of history which should never be forgotten. It is an accurate, reliable, inexpensive, and easy-to-maintain firearm, with a track record of serving in some of the harshest terrains on this planet.