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Mosin-Nagant M1891: a Soviet blast from the past

Charles Smith-Jones looks at the Soviet Mosin-Nagant M1891 to see whether it measures up

Mosin-Nagant M1891

Mosin-Nagant M1891

Manufacturer: Mosin Nagant

Price as reviewed: £500

Occasionally, when you are browsing the used rifle racks something a little out of the ordinary shows up. This Mosin-Nagant M1891 is no exception. Of all the mass-produced bolt-action rifles ever made, this is one of the most numerous, with an estimated 37 million manufactured over the 80 years or so that it remained in production. Despite its age, it is still in use in various parts of the world today.


It was with such a rifle that sniper Vasily Zaitsev achieved fame during Battle of Stalingrad in 1942/43. He was lauded as a ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ and his exploits were recorded for history in the book Enemy at the Gates, made into a film in 2001.

Mosin-Nagant M1891 name

The name Mosin-Nagant is something of a misnomer. A copyright dispute and other controversies involving the contributing designers, Captain Sergei Mosin of the Russian Imperial army and Belgian Léon Nagant, led eventually to a decision to simply call it the M1891. Although Mosin-Nagant is a name adopted in the West, it was never used by Russia or the USSR.

Apart from the original M1891, a number of variations were produced, including a Dragoon rifle, a Cossack version for horsemen and various shorter and lighter carbine models generally intended for horsemen and troops not engaged in frontline combat roles. The best known is Model 1891/30, which was general issue to all Soviet infantrymen from 1930 to 1945. It featured a cylindrical rather than an octagonal receiver, flat rear sights graduated in metres rather than the obsolete Russian arshinii units of measurement, and a hooded post-type front sight that replaced the simple blade of earlier models.

Mosin-Nagant M1891

Workmanlike wood with a metal butt-plate

Like the Mauser 98 of the same period, two front locking lugs lock up a sturdy action although their alignment is different and the bolt body is multi-piece, unlike the one-piece Mauser. It is removed by applying trigger pressure to release it rather than having a separate locking catch. The bolt lifting arc is 90 degrees, making recycling rather slower than other rifles with shallower lifts. The basic ramp-type iron sights were graduated between 100 and 2,000 metres on the Model 1891/30, although this was reduced to 1,000m in later carbine versions.

The M1891 was adapted to be used as a sniper rifle in 1932 and fitted with a longer bolt handle designed with a bend to permit use with a telescopic sight. Early models had German scopes and mounts, followed by a Soviet copy of a Zeiss sight. From 1942 onwards it was fitted with the Russian-produced 3.5 x 21 PU scope, as on the rifle featured, which had twin advantages of simplicity and being easier to manufacture. The 3.5 magnification is fixed, the reticule can be adjusted for range and windage can be adjusted in familiar mil increments. Its design was so successful that it was continued after the end of World War II and converted for use with other rifles. An add-on objective lens known as the PUM (PU Magnifier) was also produced to increase the magnification to 6.5.

Mosin-Nagant M1891

The clip held five cartridges to be loaded into the magazine


If you are considering such a vintage rifle, do take care to ensure that ammunition will be available. While the 7.62 x 54R round that this rifle was originally chambered for is still manufactured, it may not be easy to find and often only then with full metal jacket bullets. Anyone who wants a rifle like this for more practical use ,such as stalking, will probably need to load their own cartridges.

Another issue to bear in mind is that many rifles that were supplied to other countries or captured in conflict may have been converted to different calibres or modernised in other ways.

This is certainly no mainstream stalking rifle and probably not a sensible purchase for the average shooter who is looking for something in a more modern and easily available chambering, but it is nevertheless a piece of history that will appeal to the enthusiast. As you would expect of a military rifle, the M1891 was designed to be robust and durable, and a good example that has been well maintained will still prove surprisingly accurate. (You might also like to read 31 things to know about Baikal guns.)

Mosin-Nagant M1891

The bolt body is multi-piece and magazine fed

Mosin-Nagant M1891 Tech specs

  • Country of origin Russia
  • In production 1891–1973
  • Action Bolt
  • Stock options Wood
  • Barrel length 29in standard, carbine versions 20.2in
  • Magazine Internal, five-round capacity
  • Left-hand version No
  • Weight (bare) 8lb 13oz
  • Available in calibres 7.62 x 54 mmR (7.62 Russian). Also converted to 7.62 x 53mm, 7.92 x 57 Mauser, 8 x 50mmR Mannlicher and others
  • Cost new N/A
  • Cost used Highly variable, from around £500. For a good example with an original 3.5 x 21 PU scope expect to pay in the region of £1,500 to £2,500


A piece of history that will appeal to the enthusiast.