Developed by Russian Imperial Army Captain Sergei Mosin and Belgian firearms wonk Léon Nagant, the M91 Vintovka Mosina was a steel and arctic birch-clad beast that stood as tall as the Ivan who carried it – especially when topped by its always present no-nonsense spike bayonet. Designed to equip the largest army in the world at the time, the humble Mosin uses a strong turn-bolt-action fed from a five-round internal box magazine that could be charged with stripper clips and was innovative in its day, coming only a few years after the revolutionary M1885 Remington–Lee rifle.
The Mosin was an instant hit, replacing the Russian Army’s single-shot .42-caliber Berdan rifle systems and even older Krnka pattern guns adopted just after the Crimean War.
Chambered in 7.62x54R, which was also developed in 1891, the original Mosin-Nagants utilized Imperial Russia’s old Tsarist measurement system, with sights calibrated in “arshins” rather than meters, feet or yards, and the caliber measured in “liniyas” rather than millimeters or fractions of an inch. As such, the M91 was originally described as the “3-line rifle,” after its chamber bore.
With the first guns made in France by Chatellerault (makers of the Lebel rifle) in 1891, the gun later went into production in at least three factories in the Motherland. During the Great War, with the Tsar’s legions swelling from 3 million to 15 million men, domestic production fell hopelessly behind and millions of additional Mosins were ordered from Westinghouse and Remington in the U.S. — of which few were delivered before the Bolsheviks came to power and pulled Russia out of the conflict.
Still, the Mosin, with its first world war behind it, was revamped into the more modern and easier to produce M91/30 model in 1930, with new production guns crafted to the updated specification and legacy models in Soviet armories upgraded to the same standard.
This is the rifle that the majority of Stalin’s “frontoviks” carried with them from the gates of Moscow to the streets of Berlin during what the Russians still term the Great Patriotic War, known in the west just as WWII.
The M91/30 Mosin-Nagant model, which first went into production in the Soviet Union in the 1930s and was retrofitted to older guns in the Red Army’s arsenal, is among the most common Mosin that we have in the Vault, with over a dozen typically in stock at any given time. They are easily identified from the older M91 models as they have sights graduated in meters and a round receiver rather than the older octagonal or hex receivers.
In the tail end of WWII, the Soviets again updated the then 50-year-old M91 Mosin-Nagant design, making the short M44 series rifle. Whereas the M91/30 originally had a 29-inch barrel, the M44, a carbine-length rifle, had a 20-inch barrel and carried a side-folding spike bayonet.
Another variant that has been making its way to U.S. shores is the M91/59, which are typically older M91/30 rifles that were given the M38/M44 treatment sans the folding bayonet. These are called “KGB” guns as their use and design, created in 1959 — long after the Soviets had gone to the Kalashnikov series rifles — is somewhat shrouded in mystery but is thought to have been used by KGB border guards.
With over 37 million assorted Mosins cranked out since 1891, the guns have been produced everywhere from France, Russia and the U.S. to Poland (by Radom), Finland (by Sako and VKT), Hungary (by FEG), Romania, and elsewhere. In Communist China, the gun was adopted as the Type 53 before the People’s Liberation Army went SKS and AK.
Still regularly encountered around the globe from parades in Red Square to Third World hotspots in the Middle East and Latin America, the Mosin remains in factory production in Russia by Molot for sporting purposes. Here in the states, even though the days of cheap crates of 91/30s fresh off the boat after a recently thawed Cold War seem to be in the rearview, the “Nugget” has proved popular with collectors and shooters.