May 2001

Mosin-Nagant Model 1944 Carbines: How To Spot A Bargain

Can you get a decent, shootable rifle for $100 or less? Yes, if you use our tips to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Rakish lines of the powerful Russian Mosin-Nagant carbine
with its 20-inch barrel and integral bayonet are a lot more
attractive than those of the original rifle.

We came across a batch of Mosin-Nagant carbines recently, and were taken both by their design and the extremely low prices asked for them. Brief research indicated these rifles are available in many areas around the country now, and because of that, and because we were curious, we acquired three of them in various stages of disrepair and evaluated them to see if they were bargains or simply junk.

The Russian Mosin-Nagant
The Russian Mosin-Nagant was developed in 1891 around the 7.62 x 54R cartridge. The main designer was one Col. Mosin, then in charge of the Tula Arsenal. However, a Belgian by the name of Emile Nagant was responsible for the magazine design, which permitted the reliable use of the Russian rimmed cartridge. Hence the double-barreled name.

The design proved to be more than sound, and was used by the Russians through W.W.II. A similar design was used by Finland, another by the Poles, and another very similar version by the Chinese. In addition, the rifle was manufactured in France, in Switzerland, and by Remington and Westinghouse in the U.S. Various barrel lengths and accessories distinguish the different versions.

The version we examine here is the Model 1944, a 20-inch-barrel carbine. The Model 1944 had a folding non-knife bayonet. Although the “stickers” could be removed by taking out one screw, their mounting lugs were part of the front sight base. It would be necessary to saw off the bayonet base lugs to do a neat job.

Click here to view the Russian Mosin-Nagant features guide

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The bayonet was easily deployed by first pulling rearward on its ring and then swinging the entire unit forward until it clicked into place. Folding it back into its recess in the stock was almost as easy. One advantage to the non-knife style is that the hands are not endangered by the bayonet in deploying or retracting it.

The Mosin-Nagant’s bolt incorporates a thorough but difficult safety device. The safety is engaged by pulling rearward on the cocking piece and twisting it to the left. This action pulls the firing pin out of its guide slot and prevents it from going forward. The cocking piece to which it is attached is also positively prevented from moving forward by the receiver itself. We found it very difficult to engage the safety on the two most-used rifles, and it was beyond our capability to engage it on the newest rifle. Moving the safety to the firing position was time-consuming and again somewhat difficult. The fingers had to pull the cocking piece rearward against the considerable force of the firing pin spring, twist the entire unit, and then ease it forward.

The bolt’s locking lugs engaged into slots on each side of the receiver instead of on the top and bottom, as with most modern bolt-action rifles. The extractor was a spring-loaded, side-mounted unit similar to that on the modern Sako rifle. The head of the bolt was recessed, and incorporated a trough around its perimeter, the purpose of which we could not discover, other than the obvious one of providing room for crud, especially that stuck to the rim of the case.

Removal of the bolt from the action was accomplished by withdrawing the bolt fully, then pressing the trigger and pulling the bolt free of the rifle. To replace it, just press it home into the action.

Design Intricacies
The bolt design of the Mosin-Nagant was complex. There were four main components, plus the firing pin and its spring. Machining of each of the four main parts was intricate, to put it mildly. We used a reference book to help us disassemble the bolt and the rest of the rifle, without which we’d never have figured it all out. Reassembly of the firing pin must take into account that firing-pin protrusion is controlled by the amount the pin is screwed into the cocking piece. The firing pin is supposed to be flush with the rear of the cocking piece, and the reference marks there must line up.

However, the trigger mechanism was extremely simple by comparison, consisting of the trigger itself, a pin around which the trigger rotated, a sear that was its own spring, and a screw to hold the sear/spring to the receiver. Trigger pulls on the three rifles varied from about 8.5 pounds down to 4. The most-used rifle had the best pull. None of them had much creep.

The in-line magazine had a follower with a spring, plus a carrier, or lifter, with another spring. This assembly was attached to a hinged floorplate. The floorplate was held in place by a finger-catch contained within a hole near the back of the floorplate. The whole assembly could be removed by first opening the floorplate, and then pinching the carrier springs together and pulling everything downward and rearward out of the magazine box. This was very handy for cleaning.

All three rifles had a cross bolt beneath the front receiver ring. A lug on the bottom of the action bore against this bolt so that the bolt took the recoil. The barreled action was held into the stock by two spring-loaded rings that encircled the forend, plus two bolts at the action. One bolt passed from top to bottom through the tang at the rear of the action, and fastened into the trigger guard at its rear. The other passed from bottom to top at the front of the magazine box/trigger guard assembly, and fastened into the recoil lug of the barrel.

One complaint a rifleman could make is that the bolt handle was placed too far from the operating hand. The handle was mounted to the bolt assembly about halfway along the bolt, which meant the hand had to reach far forward for it, and the stock pull was long enough that this was a problem for some of our testers with short arms. The bolt operated easily and smoothly enough on all three rifles, and there were no problems with feed or function whatsoever.

Stocks and Sights
All three rifles had hard-wood stocks. The forend had a thin top cover of wood, with steel reinforcements at front and rear. This was held to the main forend by two bands that in turn were locked in place by sprung keepers on the right side of the stock. The stocks had two slots, one in the forend and one in the butt, for sling attachment. The butt wood was made of two pieces in the case of the Russian rifle, but was one piece on the two others. Butt plates were steel. The wood on rifles No. 2 and 3 appeared to be walnut but might have been birch. The stocks of these two Polish rifles were distressed from much long use, and were matched by the absence of bluing on the metal. A good cleaning would have helped Nos. 2 and 3 considerably, including a light sanding of the stock and a good rub with linseed oil. The wood on Rifle No. 1 was slightly scarred from contact with other rifles, not from field service. It was a light yellow in color and was in much better condition than either of the other two. For only $20 more, that rifle had a lot to offer, and clearly was the best bargain of the three.

Sights consisted of a hood-protected post front, which gave an excellent flat-top-post picture over the U-notch ladder rear. The rear sight unit had elevation marks and pressure-locked click stops out to 1,000 yards in 100-yard increments. The front sight was driftable for windage. All three rifles hit very near the point of aim.

The Three Rifles
We designated our three test rifles as Numbers 1, 2, and 3. No. 1 was the best-looking one, and it had Russian markings. We completely disassembled it, and found it to be nearly new throughout. The entire unit was well protected with cosmoline. It apparently left Tula Arsenal in 1946, and we doubt it had had a bullet through its barrel since then. The three rifles had dates from 1946 to 1952 on top of their receiver rings. We marveled at their quality of construction, particularly that of the Russian rifle.

Rifles No. 2 and 3 were Polish, that information given by a stamp near the muzzle on the left side of their barrels. The Polish rifles had the serial numbers stamped onto the left side of the receivers. All numbers did not match throughout those two rifles, but they did on the Russian No. 1 rifle. All were shootable, though they weren’t all as pretty as No. 1.

The polishing on No. 1 was very well done, and the bluing would make any modern rifle manufacturer envious. The magazine was a marvel of manufacturing care, being an assembly of two side plates stamped with necessary recesses and contours for the rimmed cartridges. These side plates were welded to the forward and rear parts of the magazine into a slender, open-box configuration that held the five cartridges in a vertical line. The welding was invisible, it having been machined and polished so that unless you looked very closely, the magazine appeared to have been machined from a solid block of steel. This was exceptionally nice workmanship, and it was apparent throughout the rifle. Grooves pressed into the sides of the magazine box held the rimmed rounds exactly where they needed to be for sure functioning. The receiver was made to accept stripper clips for rapid reloading.

Worth The Money?
At $100, Rifle No. 1 was the most expensive of the three. Any collector or student of the rifle would have jumped at this deal, we believe. Also, this rifle was in such nice condition that we believe rifles like it should not be messed with, to try to make them into sporters. The other two rifles had $80 price tags, and they were pretty beat up by comparison, and had most of their bluing gone. They would have made much better knock-around hunting or fun rifles, and would save you $20 right off the bat.

We tested all three rifles for accuracy and function with two types of ammunition, military ball and soft-nose hunting ammunition. The surplus military ball ammunition came wrapped in paper, 20 rounds to each parcel. The soft-nose ammunition was contained within a red and blue box, but still had the paper wrapping over it. Both types were assembled in steel cases, though the mil-ball cases were annealed. It all functioned perfectly. This was powerful ammunition. Our first fired round got our attention. This was no gutless fodder like the .30 Russian Short, used in the SKS. This was full-house ammunition that made these hefty rifles bounce from recoil. Military ball bullets weighed 147 grains, and the average velocity was 2,612 fps from the 20-inch barrels. The soft-nose bullets were 203 grains, and came out at an average of 2,164 fps.

Click here to view the Accuracy and Chronograph Data

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Our best accuracy was from Rifle No. 1, which put three rounds of military fodder through one oblong hole at 50 yards. The group measured about 1/16 inch center to center. All groups with Rifle No. 1 averaged well under an inch at 50 yards. The worst three-shot group was with rifle No. 3, and it measured 2.2 inches at 50 yards. It averaged 1.8 inches for all shots fired. These numbers translate into best results at 100 yards of well under 2 inches, and worst groups would be around 3 inches or smaller at that range. The word on the street, from several sources, is that these Mosin-Nagant Russkies all seem to be reasonably accurate rifles.

If you’d like to own a sample of the Mosin-Nagant, first make sure that all the parts are there. The magazine interrupter is an integral part of the function of the Mosin-Nagant design. If you are unable to make sure the rifle feeds five shots reliably from the magazine, make sure the interrupter spring is functioning. The Interrupter is on the left side of the bottom of the action, in the form of a thin slice of steel with a step near its rear. Press on its forward end and make sure you feel strong spring resistance. That little step is the ejecting stop. Empty cases are thrown from the rifle when they strike it, and ejection strength depends on briskness of bolt operation by the shooter.

Have someone show you how to get the bolt apart for cleaning. We strongly recommend acquiring a copy of The Gun Digest Book of Firearms Assembly/Disassembly, Part IV: Centerfire Rifles, by J.B. Wood (Krause Publications). Our 1991 edition had lots of information on many modern rifles, including the old Mosin-Nagant. Without that book, we’d have had a hard time digging into this rifle’s guts. You can also find information on the Mosin-Nagant in W.H.B. Smith’s Small Arms of the World, which you may find at your local library.

Gun Tests Recommends
Mosin-Nagant Model 1944 Carbines, $100 or less. Buy it, depending on condition. These Mosin-Nagant rifles are well worth having, particularly since surplus ammunition is now easily available and inexpensive. They would make excellent if somewhat heavy hunting rifles for rough weather use. If you can find a version without a bayonet you’ll get a slightly lighter rifle that’s just as worthwhile. To ensure you spend your money wisely, use this easy checklist to avoid the worst of the surplus guns:

Check the barrel. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but you ought to see some rifling. Our three rifles all had very good bores, but no traces of pitting. The worst rifle’s bore showed a bit of wear and darkness, but the rifling was cleanly defined, and it was a rifle well worth having.

Try the trigger pull. If the gun has a sticky or balky trigger, try another gun.

Check out the safety, to make sure the innards of the bolt are not corroded or full of old grease that would prevent its functioning.

Double-check that the gun has all its working parts. In short, pick the best-looking, least-damaged rifle with the best barrel and trigger pull. If you do that, you’ll have found a bargain Mosin-Nagant rifle that will likely offer you many years of good shooting.