By R.K. Campbell
The Mosin Nagant rifle has been produced in more quantities over a longer period than any other bolt action rifle save perhaps the Mauser bolt action. Among the more interesting variations is the Finnish Model 39 Mosin Nagant rifle, caliber 7.62x54mm Russian. (Sometimes designated the 7.62x54R or Rimmed.) From the M 91, the M 28, the M 28-30 and the M 39, these rifles served Finland during treacherous and dangerous times. The rifle served as the standard military bolt action rifle of Finland from 1918 to 1944. None of these rifles were actually completely produced by Finland and many that were used were from captured Russian stores. Whether the rifle is stamped Russian or USA made, the rifle came from Russia or was purchased from other sources. The Finns used several variations. Collectors may refer to these as Finned rifles or Finn captured or bring backs, and an astute collector knows the nuances of each term. Some were simply captured form Russian stocks. But many were fitted with superior barrels, Finn stocked, and variously modified. The general impression is that the Finns, outnumbered by a large and often belligerent neighboring nation, produced a rifle with superior accuracy. The fit and finish is often superior to anything produced elsewhere and the rifles certainly have a reputation for superior fit and finish compared to the Russian rifles, and also for superior accuracy. As an experiment, both types of rifles were obtained in similar condition as a comparison. While a small sample, this experiment confirmed much of what has been read from reputable sources. Let’s take a brief look at the Finnish political situation.
It isn’t well known but Finland was under Russian rule during the time of the old Czarist Empire and, as such, they used Russian gear for the most part. However, after the Russian revolution, the Red and White factions in Finland engaged in a relatively brief but blood drenched civil war. The anti-communist forces were led by Baron Mannerheim. Germany moved to aid Finland against the communists and German aid to Finland would be important again during their struggle with the Russian communists. While many Finns considered Germany the lesser of two evils, their association with Germany would have far reaching and not always beneficial effects. After the Finnish civil war and the defeat and disarming of the Russian troops in Finland, the Finn government found themselves with a good supply of Russian rifles and ammunition. It would have been economically and strategically less desirable to adopt a rifle other than the Nagant. The Finns remanufactured and modified Mosin Nagant rifles, obtaining receivers from various sources, and produced their own versions. These include the M 24, M 28, M 28-30 and the M 39. The M designation is followed by the approximate year the various versions were introduced. The rifles were rebarreled and modified by companies familiar to American shooters. Tikka and Sako enjoy an excellent reputation for quality, and these rifles are very well made. Always outnumbered numerically, the Finns counted upon tactics and marksmanship and demanded an accurate rifle. The Finnish rifles were very accurate, although the Russian rifle also has a reputation for good accuracy when in good condition with a clean un-corroded bore. Variations of the Finnish rifle include a pistol grip type stock on some models rather than a straight stock and the addition of an arctic birch stock. The rifles were held to a high standard of accuracy and most rifles will meet or exceed this standard with good ammunition. The standard of the Finnish Army was a 1.3 inch group at 100 meters. It is not mentioned if the group were three or five shots. While the lore of the Mosin Nagant deserves a book length feature, there are a number of tidbits of information that are helpful to the beginning shooter. As an example, the Russian ball load for machine guns was a 200 grain bullet at approximately 2,300 fps from the 27 inch Mosin Nagant barrel. This bullet is heavier than our own .30-06 loading and also slower, but undoubtedly hit hard. The receiver will often be stamped with a D indicating the rifle is calibrated for this round. The Finnish Mosin Nagant rifles are often found with mismatched serial numbers, but don’t let this concern you. They were often hand fitted and deliver good performance. This is a big rifle, over nine pounds, with a twenty seven inch barrel and an overall length of forty seven inches.
The Finnish rifle is superior to the Russian rifle in terms of practical accuracy for several reasons. The first is the barrels. The various Finnish arms makers including Sako and Tikka produced good quality barrels. Despite the reputation for good accuracy, the rifles differ in bore diameter in different specimens. Interestingly, some are .310 in bore diameter, the most common, but some will be found with a .308 bore. The .310 is most common but good quality bullets are difficult to come by in .310 bore. The .308, of course, is readily available and commercial bullets designed for the .308 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield may be used in handloading with little loss in accuracy.
The sights on the Finnish rifle are different than the Russian rifle as well. The rear sight is useful for area aiming at 1,000 yards according to period literature, but this was in firing at masses of troops in the open. In practical terms, the rifle is sighted for three hundred yards and will fire considerably higher at shorter ranges. This is the reason you will see many Finnish rifles that have been retrofitted with a tall front sight for sport shooting and hunting. Another advantage of the Finnish rifles over the Russian rifles is that the Finn rifle is well bedded. The action and the stock are mated in a superior fashion in comparison to the Russian rifle. You will find evidence of this on inspection of recoil lugs and mating surfaces. The fit of the two piece stock is often excellent. While a rougher rifle in appearance than the Lee Enfield as an example, the Nagant is often much better fitted and more accurate than the British Lee Enfield.
How do the rifles handle and shoot? Very good in fact. The bolt action is smooth and while the straight bolt handle isn’t as handy as the more modern Mauser, it works just fine. Carrying the rifle in the field isn’t very handy. Although the rifle is a popular hunter in Russia and Finland, the safety is quite difficult to use well. The rifle is loaded and the knurled knob on the end of the bolt pulled out and the bolt twisted out of line. To fire the rifle, the knob is pulled over and back into line. Simple but not handy. It is when the rifle is fired from a solid rest that the advantages of the type come to light. An opportunity arose to use a rifle from the collection of a young military intelligence officer who appreciates Russian history. When bench rest firing the Mosin Nagant, I had an opportunity to test the rifle alongside a surplus Russian rifle. The vagrancies of time are such that neither rifle may be representative of the type but just the same I think we may have a good idea of what to expect.
We did not have any of the proper stripper clips on hand but simply opened the bolt and loaded each round one at a time into the magazine. This worked fine but would not be recommended during a battle. Both rifles were smooth enough and the triggers on each were typical two stage military triggers. Usable but nothing to be excited about.
At this point a few comments on general accuracy are pertinent. The standard of the day for military rifles was not as high as that of the Finns. Three inches at 100 yards was considered adequate. This author has fired quite a few Nagant rifles and they are usually capable of groups of three inches or just a bit more. Occasionally you will find a rifle with a shot out bore, although this is not particularly common. These worn rifles will sometimes deliver accuracy of perhaps six inches at 100 yards for a three shot group. There is also the occasional Russian rifle in excellent condition that will deliver a two inch group at 100 yards. I have not found handloads to be particularly capable of improving Nagant rifle accuracy, although quite a few have been tried. I have also found that the modern Wolf ammunition is as accurate as the very expensive Norma loaded ammunition that I began firing the Nagant with some forty years ago. Just the same, since I had made them up during a test of my Russian rifles, I used handloads as well as the Wolf ball for this experiment. Handloading the 7.62x54R Mosin Nagant is similar to loading any other center fire rifle: simply neck size the cases and begin with starting loads listed in the Hodgdon manual. I did not slug these barrels, but a good bet is that they were both .310 inch bores. All that was on hand was .308 inch bullets, but the results were surprisingly good. Unfortunately, my supply of Norma brass is limited and I don’t see another source on the horizon. I am loading light and careful to prolong case life.
As a recreational shooter either rifle has promise, but the Finnish rifle is more interesting. You will note that the Finnish rifle did indeed prove the more accurate of the two. Sometimes common knowledge is spot on. The Finnish Mosin Nagant rifle is an interesting rifle and a symbol of a brave and resolute people.
|100 yard accuracy||Russian Rifle||Finnish Rifle|
|Hornady 150 gr. JSP
47.0 grains Varget 2788 fps
|Hornady 220 gr. JRN
40.5 Varget 2205 fps
|Wolf ammunition||4.0||1.8 inches|
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