Every prepper should strive to own a center-fire rifle of some kind. This rifle should also be of sufficient caliber and power to take big game cleanly. You can spend hundreds (even thousands) on a nice, big game rifle, but most preppers are budget-minded and would rather put that kind of money into other types of preps. So what is a prepper to do?
There are a few commercial big game rifles for the budget-minded, but for a weapon that can be used, abused, neglected and still perform its intended duty, look at military surplus.
The hands-down best deal in military surplus rifles even today in this crazy environment is the ubiquitous Mosin-Nagant. Some dealers still have them in stock, and private sales have not gone through the roof like so many of the evil-looking black rifles.
Russia adopted the Mosin-Nagant in 1891. Two models were in production in those early years: the M1891 and the Dragoon rifle 1891. These were in use until 1930, with the addition of the M1910 carbine added in 1910. They are characterized by hexagonal receivers (newer ones are round) and sights graduated in arshins (an arshin is equal to 0.71 meters or 0.78 yards). These guns are collectable, and you probably won’t find one for sale.
In all, Russia (including USSR) has produced at least seven models of the Mosin-Nagant, with the Chinese making a copy (type 53) and the Finns doing the same (M39). The Finnish M39 is considered the top-of-the-line for a quality Mosin-Nagant (I had to pay $49 instead of the $29 the regular ones sold for years ago). Some satellite Soviet countries produced the standard Soviet types also. Remington and Westinghouse made Mosin-Nagants for Russia during WWI.
All models utilize an attached five-round magazine that can be loaded with stripper clips. All of these rifles also fire the 7.62 X 54R (7.62 Russian) round of ammunition. This round is still in use as a Russian machine gun and sniper round. It is very similar in performance to the 7.62 NATO or .308 Winchester. I even had a reloading manual that said to just use the loading data for the .308 to load the 7.62 x 54R.
M91/30: These are upgraded M1891’s. They are lighter, have a one-and-a-half-inch shorter barrel, and have the sights upgraded to read in meters. These are common and usually sell with the original accessory packs (oiler, sling, ammo pouch, bayonet, and disassembly tool). Some of the early ones also have hexagonal receivers since many of the original M1891s were taken apart and rebuilt as a M91/30.
M1938: These rifles are basically a M91/30 with eight-and-a-half inches of barrel removed. They are a handy carbine length, and at seven-and-a-half pounds, they are over a pound lighter than the M91/30. This model does not have a bayonet.
M1944: The most recent issue of the Mosin-Nagant rifles. They are similar to the M1938 but have a side folding spike bayonet permanently attached. This makes them shorter and quicker handling than the M91/30 but slightly heavier.
Things to Look For
Matching Numbers: The bolt, barrel, floor plate of the magazine, stock, and bayonet all have serial numbers. Non-matching numbers is not a deal killer, but try to find one that matches if possible. Good luck finding a matching bayonet, since these were just tossed in a crate when they were packed up.
Hexagonal Receiver: The hex receiver was most likely made in peacetime and therefore probably made to a higher quality standard. Again not a deal killer, as I have two non-hex guns that are both super nice.
Barrel Riflings: Look down the barrel. These guns shoot corrosive ammo (more on that later), and it can really mess up a gun if the shooter doesn’t clean it well. Many of the bores will appear dark and some will look like a sewer pipe. If you see pits in the barrel, you will want to see what kind of group it can shoot before you buy it. If the owner won’t let you shoot a pitted bore first, walk away. Most people will tell you to walk away from a pitted bore anyway, but I have seen pitted bores shoot remarkably well, so if you have the chance, at least try it out. (I would try to get a discount in any case.)
Headspace: This is actually the most important thing to look at. Too much headspace is a dangerous thing. A gunsmith should be able to check it for you, and many stores that carry these guns have a gauge to check it.
Advantages For Preppers
Price: In the last year, you could still buy a M91/30 with accessory kit for $89.95. With all the madness of late, they are getting a little harder to find, but that should pass (albeit with a likely price hike). Some of the larger chain sporting-goods stores still have some in stock, and I even recently saw a regional ad for Chinese-type 53s for $159.
Availability: Even with the current scarcity of firearms, a quick check of online auction sites shows there are several available for under $200. One online firearm classified search for “nagant” yielded fifty-eight pages of results. These rifles have been and will continue to be fairly common.
Power: As I touched on earlier, the 7.62 X 54R is similar to the .308 Winchester. Since this round is also used in Russian machine guns, I think it is slightly more powerful. I have shot both, and the fireball from the 7.62 Russian is many times more impressive than anything I have seen from a .308. Surplus ammo with a silver tip utilizes a bullet with a steel penetrator core. Certain manufacturers make soft-point hunting loads that will take any game in North America. This cartridge is a well-rounded one that will serve many functions.
Accuracy: The sights on the Mosin-Nagants are graduated out to 2,000 meters. Folks, that is one and a quarter miles! During WWII, a Russian sniper named Vasily Zaytsev made an estimated 400 kills with many shots over 1,000 yards in a four-month period. He was involved in the siege of Stalingrad, where he killed eleven German snipers along with over 200 officers and troops. (This story is told in the movie Enemy At The Gates.) The gun Zaytsev used was the standard-issue Soviet sniper rifle, a standard M91/30 with a scope attached. Many of these guns, in competent hands, are capable of this kind of accuracy.
Politics: With politicians wanting to take away rifles that look evil, the Mosin-Nagant is a relatively benign-looking design: a simple bolt-action that holds five rounds in a fixed magazine. The only problem is that these are imported guns, so they could conceivably be banned from import somewhere along the line. This goes for the cheap surplus ammo as well.
Recoil and Muzzle Blast: Some of the surplus ammo available for these guns is pretty powerful. As a result, the recoil and muzzle blast can rival that of a magnum rifle. For those who are recoil sensitive, this is a real drawback and can affect your accuracy. However, if you are willing to practice and get used to shooting it, this will be a non-issue.
Ammo: While cheap surplus ammo is still widely available for these rifles, it is invariably corrosive in nature. This comes from the “salts” used in the priming of this older ammo. If not cleaned properly, it will rust your bore and ruin your gun. Ammonia is said to neutralize the salts, so cleaning with window cleaner and then regular solvent and oil is how most owners handle it. Otherwise, you can clean and oil it like you would a regular firearm for three consecutive days after shooting it. This should remove the corrosive salts and protect your firearm.
Another problem with some of this ammo is that it can have lacquered steel cases. This is not a problem in and of itself, but on many guns, this ammo is very difficult to cycle into the chamber. There is a joke about Mosin-Nagant about needing a 2×4 to cycle five rounds of ammo.
Safety: Many owners think there is no safety on the Mosin-Nagant, but that is not the case. To engage the safety, the gun must be cocked. Grasp the knob on the back of the bolt and pull it (hard) toward the rear of the rifle and turn it to the left. The striker will catch in a notch and be unable to move forward when the trigger is pulled. To take the safety off, pull the knob back and turn it to the right. Your gun is now ready to fire. As you can see, this is a pain. It is really hard to pull back the knob to put it on safety, so most people simply carry it without a round in the chamber.
There are all sorts of aftermarket accessories for the Mosin-Nagant.
Stock: Several manufacturers make fiber-reinforced hunting-type stocks. These stocks will make the Mosin-Nagant feel like any other high-dollar big game rifle when you throw it up to your shoulder. I have a Hungarian M44 that has wonderful metal and looks brand new, but the stock looks like it was used as an oar on a rowboat for a few years. This is a common thing, so new stocks are a popular item.
Bolt/ Scope Kit: Mosin-Nagants have a bolt handle that sticks straight out to the side. When you cycle the action, the bolt turns straight up and pulls back. This is a problem if you want to mount a normal scope on your rifle. They make a kit that cuts off the existing bolt handle and bolts on a new down-turned one.
Bent Bolt: You can get a replacement bolt with a handle that is bent so it will miss a scope that is mounted normally.
Forward Scope Mount: Manufacturers have come up with a mount that goes on the back sight. They have two styles now. One replaces the rear sight and allows you to mount a long eye relief (pistol) scope. The other clamps on the rear sight and allows you to use the same type of scope but also retains the use of the standard open sights.
Trigger Kits: I have to admit, most Mosin-Nagants have a trigger like a barn door latch. On the other hand, Vasily Zaytsev, who I mentioned before, didn’t seem to be bothered by it. I don’t even notice how bad it is any more since I have gotten used to it.
Stripper Clips: A stripper clip is a small piece of spring steel that holds five rounds of ammo and allows you to load it quickly into your gun’s magazine. A few years ago these were hard to come by, but they have become more common of late. It is a good idea to get several and practice loading with them.
Safety Ring: If you want to be able to easily use your safety, this is a good investment. It replaces the rear of your bolt and has a large ring to grasp when you are putting your safety on or off.
Ammo Pouch: The standard-issue ammo pouch that comes with some guns is the perfect size to be packed with a small survival kit. Even if you don’t get a Mosin-Nagant, one of these pouches is just the ticket to build a lightweight kit.
As you may be able to tell, I like the Mosin-Nagant rifle very much. I think the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages if you prepare for them. They are inexpensive to buy and shoot; they have ample power for any type of game; with the numbers sold in this country, spare parts should be easy to come by for a long time; and their accuracy is on par with any other big-game rifle. With all that going for it, I can’t think of a good reason not to buy one.