Mosin Nagant - Transforming a Legend
Part of the attraction of the cold war Mosin Nagants are that they are excellent rifles for the typical $70-$100 street price but the bigger draw is that the 7.62x54R ammo, which is comparable ballistically to the .308 or 30-06, can easily be had for a stunningly low $.25 a round. At this point there is no other large centerfire rifle this inexpensive to shoot. In fact most consider it a fun plinking gun, however it is one mighty fine deer, elk, or moose rifle as well.
At first you are just thrilled you found a powerful centerfire rifle which only set you back around $100 and have danced until you got a leg cramp after buying an entire SPAM can of 400 rounds for only another $100. Honestly in that initial ownership period, you really don’t care how it shoots, when it was made, or by which european factory; you are just thrilled that it goes bang each time you pull the trigger.
Then you actually set the rifle on the bench to see what it can do on the 100 yard range. In stock state, fresh out of the crate, Mosin’s are pretty good and easily deliver paper plate accuracy at 100 yards even with iron sights assuming you zero the rifle first. Then you start to ask yourself “how accurate is this $70 1930’s surplus rifle?” and I wanted to find out.
Getting the most from the Mosin means a little barrel tweaking, mounting a scope, improving the trigger, and upgrading the stock; in total my Mosin build comes in at just over $1000. Some would ask me if I am nuts dumping this kind of cash in a $100 rifle, however the question I would ask is why not? A comparible gun on the budget side would be one of Mossberg’s 308 packages that includes scope and rifle at around $600, however the ammo costs stack up quick as you start to shoot compared to the Mosin. My justification was that with accurate surplus ammo about half the cost of even the affordable 308 round, any investment comparatively pays for itself in only two thousand rounds; a more affordable 10X fixed powered scope and the upgraded $1000 Mosin pay for itself even quicker.
More importantly, it is an amazingly fun project which nets a gun that can hunt any North American large game easily out to 300 yards and beyond. I went all in and the only thing I did not do to the build was Cerakote the entire rifle, however the action and barrel were only modified slightly. I will apologize in advance for not following my normal article format, however this has been a meandering journey which deserves an article of the same approach.
I will save you the time of missing a great story as you skim for accuracy results and have this info up front. So what kind of accuracy did I achieve? My best was a 2.23” 5-shot group. Now you are thinking that is not that great, but then I let out the rest of the story; those groups were shot not at 100 yards, but at 300 yards with Hornady’s 7.62x54R ammo which is seriously impressive, however consider that I am still able to consistently manage 3”-4” groups with the surplus SPAM can ammo. I can relentlessly hammer the 300, 400, and even 500 yard 12” steel gongs on our range. Let me tell you these is something very special unlike anything you can imagine knowing you transformed a $100 rifle into a precision long-range tool that lets you vaporize clay pigeons at 300 yards.
THE MAJOR PANDEMIC MOSIN NAGANT BUILD
This build started when a long-time reunited friend presented me with a 1930s Tula 91/30 Mosin Nagant minutes before we were heading out to the range just because he wanted to see what I could do with it. I had wanted one, however never had pulled the trigger on a purchase. In the friendly banter of “you don’t need to give me a gun”, and the polite insistence of my friend, it came out that he owns more than a few and in fact had been buying them by the case for $69 each and now owned around four dozen. I accepted and we grabbed a handful of surplus armor piercing rounds and headed to the range.
That day we only shot around 20 rounds through the Mosin which shot over a foot high and right from point of aim, however I was hooked and we Kentucky windaged our way to shooting some cans. Once home I headed to the range again with a couple packs of Romanian 147gr light ball ammo from a SPAM can and was able to properly zero the rifle with a few taps to the front sight with a hammer. On the 100 yards range, the Mosin managed to keep all the bullets within the 10” pie plates used as targets. The question was would a scope net better accuracy?
After a little research, all the Mosin nerds seemed to have the highest regard for Rock Solid Industries so I placed a call and what I received from the owner, Ken, was much more than “what’s your credit card number?”
Ken downloaded about three years of Mosin R&D into my head in about ten minutes. In the end, I not only ordered the Rock Solid Mosin Scope mount, but also their bedding pillars, hex receiver bolts, and their bolt weld service where my bolt handle is transformed to a scope clearing bend. I sent in my bolt and about a week later, I received my old bolt back with the handle rewelded to a scope friendly position along with the other Rock Solid Parts.
The Rock Solid mount requires drilling and tapping for installation and was something personally I had not done before. This sounds rather intimidating, however it really involves no more than buying the appropriate $5 Irwin drill and tap combo from your local hardware store, aligning the mount on the receiver and taking your time drilling, tapping, each hole one at a time. The Rock Solid Mount finds its home when placed on the Mosin receiver and only required just a bit of eyeball alignment before my first hole was drilled and tapped.
Tapping is easy, just go slow, one turn in, half turn out; repeat until the hole is threaded. Plenty of lube helps or at least coating the tap with candle wax in a pinch.
Place the scope mount, tighten in the first bolt and then use the scope mount as a guide and step through drilling, tapping, and tighten each hole and bolt until you are done with all three. I did need to Dremel shorten a couple screws to allow the bolt to cycle. At that point you have a Rock Solid scope mount. I also bedded the mount with Gorilla 2-part epoxy. To do this I sprayed the scope mount with silicon mold release spray and then applied the epoxy to the receiver and let the epoxy set. This allow the scope mount to removed at some point should the need arise.
You can reuse the old stock by just inletting a place for the improved bolt to drop into with a Dremel tool. My Mosin did not require any inletting for use with the Rock Solid scope mount however some do require just a bit for clearance.
If you are fighting zombie hordes, you could attach a XPS2 Eotech Zombie Stopper sight, which I will note netted me solid 4”-6” groups at 100 yards. So already the Mosin is starting to show some big accuracy gains and makes one heck of an inexpensive Zombie gun.
You could also go nuts and bed the barrel, drill the old stock for bedding pillars and/or inlet for a Timney trigger, however I decided that the more fun route was to look to a new company now serving Mosin owners with kick ass hard rock maple affordable stocks. Bluegrass Gunstock Company actually began by working with Rock Solid Industries on a target stock for Mosin Nagant rifles.
Being a writer occasionally has its privileges and after emails were traded with Rock Solid who gave me Morgan’s name at Bluegrass, the result of that connection was my possession of the second Bluegrass Tactical Stock ever made. The Bluegrass Gunstock base model is an outstanding deal for $118.
The Bluegrass Tactical Stock is a TRG sniper style stock made from solid hard rock maple. It features a deep palm swell with a comfortable grip material added on the grip and handguard. The stock also free-floats the barrel which maximized the accuracy of our free Mosin Nagant.
Bluegrass deeply solicited my feedback. Those discussions morphed into a $167 option pre-finished complete with inletting for Timney Trigger safety, Rock Solid bedding pillars and scope mount, a little more adjustment on the adjustable cheekpiece, and chamfering the stock for the bolt and potentially a few more upgrades coming on future models. Pillar bedding only requires you to 2-part epoxy the aluminum pillars in place (the pillars look like to small pieces of aluminum pipe). Currently the stock is available in black, OD green, a beautiful natural finish and upgraded custom woods as well.
Just by slipping on the stock with the Eotech my groups shrank to the low end of the 4” range at 100 yards with surplus ammo and transformed the rifle into a modern looking sniper rifle.
A huge bonus of this stock is that the rifle stops kicking like a shoulder bruising mule and more like a soft shooting .223. Due to the recoil reducing palm swell design and cushy buttpad, you can pound through 100 rounds easily without feeling a thing. With this stock the rifle becomes a painless plinker.
TAMING THE TRIGGER
There are many things great about the Mosin Nagant, however the triggers sucks in a mighty way. There are tuning techniques out there to improve the feel, however after talking with more than a few very happy Timney triggered Mosin owners, I sprung for Timney’s Mosin Drop-In Match Trigger Group.
Someone at Timney definitely saw the potential of the Mosin and decided the right thing to do was make a stunning trigger. Like all Timney triggers, this Mosin version is spectacularly crisp and mounts as a drop in replacement for the stock trigger.
This trigger group not only delivers a world class match grade trigger, but also adds a thumb safety to the Mosin. Yes, this means you do not need to use your Jeep with a winch just to pull back the retarded bolt safety on the Mosin; a simple and civilized thumb actuation will kick the rifle on and off safety.
If you are using the Rock Solid bedding pillars you will need to notch the aluminum pillars for clearance of the sear before they are bedded otherwise you will not get your trigger or action to seat without modifying the rear pillar first. This upgrade enabled my groups with the Eotech to drop under 3” at 100 yards with the same SPAM can surplus ammo I had been using.
As you know from my articles, I like Bushnell optics from their value to premium lines. In this case I was planning for the $200 Fixed power 10X Bushnell Tactical Elite Mil-Dot scope, however due to backorders, I ended up with the 5-15X version instead.
This scope will end up on one of my 308 rifles when a 10X version is available as I think the $200 scope is a more price appropriate and would keep the total price well under $900.
With the Bushnell 5-15X LRS Tactical Elite 40mm Mil-Dot Scope bolted up to the Rock Solid mount, I was greeted by my familiar Mil-Dot reticle and super clear optics which allowed me to deliver consistent 1.25” 100-yard groups with surplus ammo and sub-1” groups with the Hornady 7.62x54R Custom Ammo.
CROWN ME BABY
More than a few folks have noted that old rifles should always be re-crowned and I certainly saw that after recrowning an old 10/22 barrel which delivered groups half the size it did originally. I placed an order with Pacific Tool and Gauge for a 308 caliber 11 degree crown tool and a tube of their Snake Venom cutting oil. Typically recrowning involves a $6000 lathe and a fair amount of expertise on how to use it. The PTG crowning tool works with any larger ½” chucked hand drill (note most electric drills are ⅜” chucks and are too small).
Place the drill in your vise with the bit pointing skyward and lube the bit liberally. Lube up the barrel and slip it on the crowning tool. The tool and guide should fit snugly, but not tight in the barrel. Use slow drill speed to recut the crown. This entire process will probably take around five minutes. Just don’t rush. To finish the crown, use a large brass screw ($1 from hardware store) and spin it on the crown forward and reverse in an oscillating movement to remove any machining burrs on the rifling... done.
If you want a shorter barrel, just chop the barrel with a hacksaw and recrown the barrel. Generally it is believed that accuracy is most influenced by the chamber and the last 2” of the barrel. Most critical are the last 2” where the crown must be concentric to the bore. Most often you will find that a simple barrel recrowning will have a stunning impact on accuracy. After the recrown I saw a 30% improvement in accuracy with a few .7” 100-yard groups with Hornady Custom 7.62x54R ammo and most surplus ammo grouping right in the 1” range at 100 yards. Yes, in fact your standard off the rack Mosin is sub-1” capable, it just takes a little tuning.
I could not just leave my Mosin with the old iron sights and in original state; it needed some color. My FFL dealer has a killer looking bonafide custom sniper rifle which has been known to take groundhogs at over 700 yards. It had a OD green stock and black action, so I did the reverse and decided on a green action after removing and filing down the front sight and de-pinning, de-soldering, and filing down the rear sight.
The finish is a simple OD green Krylon finish after plugging the breech and barrel. After I allowed it to dry for 10 days (Krylon recommends 7 days for full hardening), I then coated everything with a spray lacquer. Krylon by itself is not oil and cleaning solvent resistant and will pretty much come off as soon as solvent hits it, however lacquer is surprisingly tough stuff and with only a couple coats will make you Krylon finish more durable and highly solvent resistant.
The lacquer finish is really aggressive going on, so make sure you do angel light coats with an hour drying time minimum or you will buckle the entire Krylon finish. I did about four or five light coats. Recently I was told the Dupli-Color High Heat Enamel with Ceramic spray paint in automotive store in a Cuming Deisel tan/beigh is solvent resistant, however colors are limited to glossy finishes.
The bolt was cleaned and steel wool polished then hand rubbed about ten times with Perma Blue to produce the black pearl finish shown. The paint does not affect functioning and I have had no problems with heat distortion.
So here we have a $1000 Mosin Nagant which some would say I am nuts for building and putting this money into, others would say I have perverted the purity of the historic Mosin. I would say to those people you have missed the point I am striving for. The question was asked and answered by the voice in my head and this experiment of how accurate a Mosin really can be? 3”-4” 300-yard groups would make me smile with my high end 308, and doing it with circa 1950 surplus ammo that only costs $100 per 400 rounds is just amazing.
There are still a few tweaks I am planning on testing including polishing the bore with Never Dull, handloading my own rounds, and tweaking surplus rounds.
I will keep you posted with those updates as well as in depth reviews of the components used in this build.
What I have attempted to do here is take the Mosin and update it to a modern rifle with improved shooter comfort and drastically increase the accuracy potential. These are really inexpensive guns which are screaming for a project such as this, if you really want that historic version, buy and extra after all they are only $100.
Mosin Nagant 91/30 - Free from a friend (regularly $70-$100)
Bluegrass Gunstocks - Full Tactical Package Gun Stock $167.99
Rock Solid Industries - Round Receiver Scope Mount $100
Rock Solid Industries - Bolt Handle Welding Services $50
Rock Solid Industries - Bedding Pillars & Hex Action Screw - $20
Timney Trigger - Mosan Nagant Match Trigger $94.99
Bushnell 5-15X LRS Tactical Elite 40mm Mil-Dot Scope - $449
Pacific Tool & Gauge 308 11 degree crowning tool - $66
Approximate Total $1047.98
Rock Solid Industries
Pacific Tool & Gauge