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Vassili Would Be Proud May 2001
Dan Martinez  

It all started a couple of weeks ago. I didn't give Mark much notice. I called him on a recent weekend morning and told him that I was planning to head to the movies in about an hour to go see "Enemy at the Gates". Would he be interested in going with me to see it? He checked with Mama to see if she had any plans, and I heard her say in the background, "Go ahead."

For those who haven't seen it, the movie is a WWII story about Vassili Zaitsev, a young and very successful Russian sniper who picked off many Germans during the siege of Stalingrad. I enjoyed the movie immensely.

Another week passes and I find myself at the gun show. I didn't have a lot of bread in my pocket, but I bribed the kids to come along with me with the promise that we would look for some GI Joes. Walking past the always crowded Bear Arms table, a homely looking rifle with a grand price tag of $89 sits forlornly propped against the wall behind the table. A rifle for only $89 deserves at least a second look, and the guy behind the table catches me staring and senses my interest.

I recognized it as a Soviet pattern M44 Mosin Nagant carbine. A couple of years ago, ads in Shotgun News for new, unissued Polish M44s had caught my eye. The guy starts telling me that this rifle is a Russian M44, yes, in like-new unissued condition. It's even still covered in gun storage grease.

Vassili of course, used a Mosin Nagant. His, however was a scoped Model 91/30 long rifle - not an M44 carbine. But for $89, this was close enough! I paid the man and brought home my little piece of history!

OK, let's talk a little about the history of the Mosin Nagant. Originally adopted by Czar Alexander's Imperial Russian Army in 1891, Mosin Nagant rifles chambered in 7.62x54R remained Russia's main battle rifle through the communist revolution and two world wars. There were a number of model variations through the years, culminating in the Model 1944 carbine. The M44 was the end of the line for the Mosin Nagant and for bolt action rifles as Russia's primary service arm. It was supplanted by the SKS in 7.62x39 somewhere around 1950. A number of Soviet client states also manufactured Mosin Nagant variants.

The M44 is characterized by a permanently mounted, side-folding, cruciform bayonet. Russian doctrine still emphasized massed charges by the troops, and a bayonet was considered a requirement. However, close quarters fighting in places such as Stalingrad had proven the need for a handier, shorter carbine, so the attached folding bayonet was deemed the perfect solution. The M44 measures out to a compact 40" overall length.

Upon arriving home with my new prize, I learned that my particular specimen was manufactured in 1946. I worked the rest of the afternoon and well into the evening totally disassembling the rifle, and wiping every part down with solvent soaked paper towels, removing the storage grease. I must say that this task wasn't at all unpleasant. I suppose this task could get old for a dedicated long time collector, but this is my first military surplus gun. The disassembly, clean up and reassembly sort of gave me the feeling of working with a kit gun project.

It came with a small selection of original accessories including sling, oil canister, ammo pouch and cleaning kit.

The bluing on the metal is in 98%+ condition. The bore is absolutely pristine. After removing the grease, the third solvent-soaked patch came out perfectly clean. I don't think I've had a new sporting rifle with a bore so nice!

Next, I turned my attention to beautifying the stock. The wood is nothing special - simply military grade birch with a light stain for color. I gave it three coats of Watco natural color oil finish, rubbing with fine steel wool between coats. After letting the oil finish cure for 72 hours, I sprayed it with two coats of satin finish polyurethane. One more light touch with steel wool, a final coat of finishing wax and the wood looks great!

Well how does she shoot? So far I've only taken her out once. Shot some Hungarian softpoints and some Czech FMJ spitzers. The Czech fodder turned in a 2¾" group at 100 yards - about what I expected from a 55 year old milsurp rifle shooting milsurp fodder with open sights. I measured velocities in the 2700 to 2800 fps range for 150 gr. projectiles - very much like a .308 Winchester.

Wanting to know more about my M44, I jumped on the Web to see what kind of info might be out there on these Russian rifles. I found three excellent websites created by Mosin Nagant collectors. These sites feature many articles about the care and feeding of the guns and of the history of their use by various countries. In particular, they go into exquisite detail about both the common and the obscure variations of Mosin rifles as manufactured by different countries at different times. The key to the history of your particular rifle lies in the various markings and cartouches that are stamped in various places all over the rifle. Each mark means something, and together, they reveal a story about your rifle's history.

For example, the markings on my M44 reveal that it was made in 1946 at the Izhevsk arsenal. One of the websites lists production numbers for Izhevsk. Mine was one of 189,027 made that year. My buttstock is engraved with the characters "1.TRZ". The website says that this is a Yugoslavian post-war cartouche. Made in Russia, but stockpiled in Yugoslavia.

From a collector's point of view, one of the most important things to look for is matching serial numbers. This isn't a problem if you find one of these pristine, un-issued M44s, but it can be a problem for Mosins Nagants that have seen some use. Serial numbers can be found in five places: Receiver, barrel shank, bolt, magazine floorplate, and buttplate.

Anyway, the collector websites introduced me to the multitude of Mosin variations. The very first was the model 1891. Then there was the "Cossack" variation of the M91; then the "Dragoon" variation (Dragunskaya - just thought that was a neat word); the model 1907 carbine; the model 91/30 (1930 update to the M1891) which was the backbone of the Red Army during WW2; the M38 carbine, and finally the M44.

And then there are the Finnish variations, generally considered to be the highest quality Mosins, made by such well respected names as SAKO, Tikka, and Valmet - and copies by the Poles, the Hungarians, the Romanians, the - well you get the idea.

What a wonderful world of old rifles! Two of the Mosin collector sites host message boards, where folks can ask questions, tell tales, and chat about their passion. One of the messages mentioned that M91/30s were currently on sale at Big 5 for $50! How much better can this get?

Alright, the Big 5 91/30s were not anywhere near unissued condition. They were in "good" condition, meaning that the guns were intact, but may be pitted, rusted and dinged, but not to the point of being unshootable.

The first Big 5 I walked into had two on the rack, but one was already spoken for. The second had a big chunk of stock wood gouged out, and hanging loose. No thanks. I went to another store and they had one. It was grimy, dinged, the grooves were dark and the lands were rounded. The stock wood was splintery, but no chunks were missing out of it. It had a couple of small arsenal stock repairs.

Mosin Nagant Model 91/30 - After Rehab

I knew that these $50 91/30s were in generally sad shape, yet I was still interested in picking one up. Why? I had a lot of fun breaking the M44 down, and cleaning it up from the inside out. I knew that I would have even more fun doing the same with one of these "good" condition 91/30s! I was looking for a "project." Besides, I just like the rakish look of the M91/30. They have a certain kind of "gothic" elegance. Once again, I paid the man, signed the papers, and brought home an old Russian rifle.

Both barrel and receiver dates reveal that this old timer was made in 1929. Since that's before M91/30s were issued, this guy most likely started life as an M91 Dragoon and was later rebuilt to 91/30 specs. The M91 Dragoon is a slightly shortened M91. The major difference between the Dragoon and the M91/30 are improved sights.

The "restoration" took a couple of late weeknights, plus one weekend day. I aggressively sanded down the stock, and laid down a new oil finish. I cold-reblued all the iron. The buttplate, for example, had no blue remaining. It was very dinged up, and heavily rusted on the side that faced the stock. A wire brush chucked into a drill press made short work of the rust. Then I took a file to the edges to match it up with the stock. I'm telling you, the handyman in me just loves this stuff! I did what I could with the bore -- pulled out a lot of black patches without making the bore that much shinier.

It's funny how seeing a movie has opened up this whole new facet of the gun hobby for me. The tie with history is what really enriches this niche of the shooting sports.

Mosin Nagants are a very under-appreciated rifle on today's surplus market. Because of that, they are inexpensive to acquire, and the many variations provide fertile ground for collecting. Yes, a Mosin rifle collector has been born. Actually, I'm now up to three, but you'll have to wait for next time to find out about the other one!

One of the side effects of this new interest, is that it got me asking my mom some details about family history. My Hispanic last name hides the fact that I'm European on my mom's side. She was born in the small Baltic nation of Latvia. Like Gerhard, I too had an Opa. My Opa (my great-grandfather) was a Russian. He was actually a gate-guard at the Czar's palace in St. Petersburg. I always thought that I was 3/8ths Latvian and 1/8th Russian, but it turns out that both Mom's parents were half Latvian, half Russian. And that makes me fully one-quarter Russian! I never knew!

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