The best overview I’ve seen on the net is over at 7.62x54R.net. This site details the history of the Mosin Nagant, including an identification guide and FAQ.
The Mosin Nagant came in several varieties starting with the original Model 1891. This is a very long rifle by today’s standards (over 50” long). The 1891 was adapted into the Dragoon and Cossack versions. The Dragoon version was further modified into the ubiquitous M91/30 in 1930 with many older rifles being updated to this configuration. The Soviets also deployed sniper variants of the M91/30. M91/30 production continued throughout World War II. A shorter carbine version appeared in 1938 (the M38). The M38 was further modified with a side folding bayonet to produce the M44. After World War II the M44 was also produced by several Soviet allies and satellite states including Poland, Hungary, Romania, and China.
Finland also made extensive use of the Mosin Nagant as they were a part of Imperial Russia with the M1891 first came into use (breaking away after the 1917 revolution). Finnish Mosin Nagants are prized as the most accurate and of the highest craftsmanship. Some of the last Mosin Nagants manufactured were Finnish match rifles produced up through the early 70’s. The most common one you’ll encounter is the M39, though Finland produced M91’s and several other variants as well (which are generally rare and fairly valuable).
M44 with laminated stock
All Mosin Nagants fire the 7.62x54R cartridge which exhibits ballistics similar to .303 British – both are rimmed cartridges firing a 0.311 bullet. The cartridge is becoming increasingly available in the United States, and is easy to reload with anything up to a 200 grain bullet, making it an ideal hunting cartridge.
Most Mosin Nagants available at gun stores today are Soviet and other eastern block refurbs that have been recently imported into the U.S. They also represent an amazingly real and vital piece of world history. As a firearms collector, I have several in my collection, and would value them purely for their historical significance, but they are also resilient rifles that are fun to shoot and make a solid hunting rifle. When purchasing a Mosin Nagant, make sure you look at the barrel condition. All World War II Soviet rifles fired corrosive ammunition, and many of the barrels are worn or pitted – try to find a good one if possible. Then get it out to the range and have fun!
Until next time!!!