Project Build: The Ultimate Mosin Nagant

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I had been feeling bad about my poor Mosin. There it was, sitting under a bunk bed in the cabin. All but forgotten and slowly rusting away. It had probably been two years since it was last fired. I know I’m not alone here – there are maybe 4,000,000 Mosin Nagants in the U.S.. Hard to say how many of the apparently 37,000,000 or so that were produced actually made it to our shores, but it’s fair to say they’re pretty ubiquitous in gun safes, closets, attics and under beds all over the country. The world, really. Many of those not getting shot much. Rusting . . .

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The Mosin Nagant is a solid rifle, though, and surplus 7.62x54R ammo is still readily available for about $0.25 a round. Even modern production ammo — perfectly suited for hunting, target shooting, or defensive purposes — is widely available and almost always at a lower cost than ballistically comparable rounds like .308.

What we have here is a long gun that isn’t particularly pleasant to shoot in its standard form. It’s huge, it’s heavy, it kicks pretty hard despite its weight, it has no provision for an optic and its fit and finish is what you’d expect from WWII Russia (in my instance). But it’s an excellent platform for a project build.

Now, although I expect comments rife with hate for ragging on a great battle rifle, the fact is that my Mosin served little purpose for me. It’s not particularly enjoyable to target shoot and I’m not lugging that ridiculous thing and its bayonet on a hunting trip. It was a great weapon in the First World War and, although it defended Mother Russia nobly in WWII as well, technology had already moved on. The last few times my Moist Nugget saw the light of day it simply served to introduce new shooters to a true rifle round — mostly so the experienced shooters could giggle at the “OMG recoil” faces.

The purpose of this build, then, was clear: fun. Turn a neglected 1945 Mosin into something that’s a blast to shoot. A rifle that looks fun, handles better, recoils less, makes some noise and flash and, above all else, demands to be shot. Something that draws attention at the range, that other people want to try. Something that works for new shooters. I think I’ve accomplished that. Let me show you how I went about it. Just like any recipe, it can be customized to suit your tastes.

The Build:

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Right off the bat I knew the stock was a goner. Other necessities were a scope or optic of some sort, a shorter barrel, a muzzle brake to tame recoil and increase the fun factor, some coating to inhibit corrosion and make it look cool, and serious trigger work or an outright replacement.

I spent some time shopping around and then dropped off the Mosin and the following box-o’-parts with my gunsmith, Nick at HCTC Firearms.

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The first step in the build process was cutting down the barrel and threading it for the brake. I went back and forth on having the brake permanently attached so the total barrel length including the brake would be 16″. Eventually I decided to just do 16″ of barrel and leave the brake removable so muzzle devices could be swapped around later. The short barrel makes the gun ‘handier,’ and the additional unburned gunpowder makes a bigger fireball. Yes, in my mind fireballs = more fun.

If you’re worried about velocity in a 16″ Mosin, it’s better than you might think. My gunsmith mentioned that the narrow barrel didn’t leave much room for a shoulder, so he actually threaded it so the brake would be perfectly clocked without having to use shims. As an added bonus to cutting it down to the minimum legal length, I was left with a sweet wall hanger: the end of the barrel, complete with front sight and bayonet assembly.

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Moving more or less from the back of the rifle to the front, I’m going to do abbreviated reviews of each of these parts along with any notes on how they worked in the build process.

The Stock:

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ProMag’s Archangel stock for the Mosin Nagant was released about a year ago, and was available only in black until recently. Now there are desert tan and O.D. green flavors, too. It’s rare that aftermarket polymer stocks are lighter than battle rifle wood stocks — and this one is a couple ounces heavier — but you get plenty of other benefits from the Archangel aside from its looks. Not that the slick, modern looks are a minor thing here. The main benefits are:

  • Drop magazines. 5- and 10-round mags are available. They’re easy to load and function very well. They insert easily into the beveled mag well and they drop free. The only issue of note is a side effect of the clip round retention system — if you insert a loaded magazine and then release it, the top round is going to get stuck up in the top of the mag well area. Not really a safety issue since it’s too low to chamber, whether it was stuck in there with the bolt back or not, but it’s a small oddity.
  • Easy dial click adjustment for length of pull via telescoping recoil pad. It’s a nice recoil pad, too. Grippy rubber with just a touch of give.
  • Easy dial click adjustment for cheek rest height.
  • “Goose neck” sniper-style grip with nice palm swells. It’s great. There’s a storage compartment in the grip, too.
  • Inletted to accept the Timney trigger with no modification needed. Blanking piece included if you’re keeping the stock trigger.
  • Three steel inserts for QD sling studs.
  • Free floats most barrel contours.
  • Flat-bottom forend is great for shooting from a rest and feels decent in the hand. Has provisions for mounting rails and the kit comes with a section of polymer picatinny rail — great for attaching a bipod.

I’m not exactly a ProMag fan, as I find some of their magazines to be hit-or-miss, but this stock rocks. It’s pretty freaking sweet in just about every way. Installation was drop-in. It feels and works great. If I have one complaint, it would be that the light Desert Tan color gets dirty pretty easily.

The Trigger:

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Okay this Timney trigger is just ridiculous. I don’t think it’s really possible for a trigger to be better. It has zero slack/pre-travel/takeup – whatsoever – and zero creep at all. None. This means that pulling the trigger feels like putting your finger on a solidly-fixed steel bar. As you increase pressure, absolutely nothing happens. Then, when you get to the release weight, the break is precise and clean and perfect. That glass rod or candy cane analogy? Yes, it breaks like that. It’s even end-user adjustable for release weight from 1.5 lbs. to 4 lbs. The default is 3 lbs. and mine broke at precisely that every single time I measured it.

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One cool feature of this trigger unit is that it has its own safety lever. This brings easy on/off thumb safety action — accessible with both hands in firing position — to the Mosin Nagant, which otherwise requires some cumbersome pulling and turning of the bolt cocking knob. In the factory stock, you have to remove wood to make clearance for the safety lever and for parts of the trigger unit’s body. As mentioned, the Archangel stock is already inletted so the Timney install is a significantly easier affair.

For all its faults, the Mosin is a pretty accurate rifle. Some examples are extremely accurate. The triggers are usually terrible affairs, though, and mine was horrendous. I cannot emphasize enough how much this $104 (at full MSRP) part did to make my rifle feel like a high-end modern firearm. A trigger like this will certainly decrease your group sizes.

The Scope Mount:

Brass Stacker has made a scout scope mount for the Mosin for a long time. This version is pretty small and light and it mounts only on the factory rear sight base. Brand new for the Mosin is their Anchor Point mount, which uses the recoil lug as an additional mounting point and shores things up quite a bit. It’s probably excessive for the extremely light See-All sight that I’m using, but would be a great choice for a heavier scout scope or a long eye relief pistol scope. I really like the Anchor Point’s looks over the lighter offering.

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While it’s a drop-in job for the factory stock, the Anchor Point actually requires some modification to the Archangel since it doesn’t use a recoil lug bolt through it. My gunsmith milled a hole through the stock for the mount and it worked quite nicely. He recommends milling it at a low speed so as to avoid melting the polymer for a clean result.

Machining, fit, finish and overall quality were very nice. The kit comes with all of the hardware you’ll need and most of the tools for install and for adjustment. It easily adjusts for elevation and will also adjust for windage if needed. Some of my hardware appeared painted/coated instead of black oxide plated as it all should be, but I received a ‘prototype,’ pre-production version of this mount and I’m fairly sure that accounts for the discrepancy here. I would actually like the rail to be lower on the rifle, but in order to work with the rear sight in place (you can still use the factory irons with this, in fact) that just isn’t possible.

There are some scope mounts on the market that move the scope to a more standard location above the action. However, on the Mosin Nagant this requires modifying the bolt handle. The knob sticks straight out to the side with the bolt closed and sticks straight up with the bolt open — basically 90 degrees counterclockwise in either position vs. your normal bolt handle.

Yes, there are various ways to modify the bolt handle. I know this sounds crazy considering all of the other things I did to the rifle, but I really wanted to leave this untouched. To me, it’s one of the things that makes a Mosin a Mosin and it’s something unique and identifiable that I wanted to keep. Additionally, I like the idea of a scout scope and I really enjoy the look of a scout rifle. For me, there was more fun factor in this choice.

The Sight:

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The See All Open Sight is a pretty unique product (EDIT: I did a separate review for it HERE). It is not an optic, per se, in that you can’t see through it and it doesn’t enhance or change your vision at all. It really is an open sight just like iron sights. However, it’s very fast to acquire and easy to use. It’s going to be great for new shooters and I can see it working well for more advanced shooters in some scenarios, too.

The sight uses a green fiber optic block at back with a graphic on its front face. The graphic, which is the sight’s reticle, is a black triangle with a horizontal line across the top point — sort of like a simple scale, if you will. On the front of the sight is a glass lens, which magnifies the graphic. Closer to your eye, e.g. the sight mounted on a shotgun receiver, it magnifies a bit less (the triangle appears smaller) and at longer distances, e.g. the sight mounted on a pistol at arm’s length, it magnifies more. Either way, you adjust windage and elevation so your point of impact is right at the tip of the triangle (to be clear, moving it closer or farther from your eye will not change POI, just the size of the graphic). Put your target on the triangle, pull the trigger, and hit. Very simple.

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Like a good holo sight or other optic, if you move your head left, right, up, or down, the triangle still stays on target (zero parallax). What you see on the point is what it will hit. I was pleased with the size of the “window” or margin for error with regards to eye placement. Much more forgiving here than iron sights and more forgiving than many scopes I have used. This factor along with the large, bright fiber optic and high contrast black graphic make it quick to acquire.

At 1″ x 1″ x 2.2″ and weighing in at only 1.8 ounces, it’s a pretty darn small and light sight. No batteries. Think of it like bright iron sights — does it block your view of the target? Yes, just like iron sights do. Can you see it in the dark? If you can see your target, you can definitely see this sight. To me it has the charm of iron sights with the ease of use of a red dot, and that’s kind of neat. I’m looking forward to using it with new/inexperienced shooters. I do have a preference for how far it is from my eye and wasn’t as much of a fan of it on my pistol, but I like it in this scout scope location and I think it’ll stay on the Mosin. As mentioned, I’m going to do a separate review of the See All and that will include shooting it on a couple of rifles, a shotgun, and a pistol.

The Muzzle Brake:

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I think the Precision Armament M11 “Severe-Duty” Muzzle Brake looks freakin’ sweet, and it definitely cuts down on felt recoil in a big way. It’s an extremely effective brake. To be fair, I did the stock and the brake at the same time and the stock is helping with felt recoil a bit also. I haven’t yet shot it without the brake to determine the difference it brings to the table by itself. However, I have swapped stocks on other rifles and shotguns and have used various recoil pads in the past, and I can tell you for sure that the muzzle brake is significantly reducing felt recoil.

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Side effects of a really effective muzzle brake are blast and fire. Indeed, in the video at top you can see how my Mosin is now an effective snow shovel. It even shocked and awed some snow off of trees as far as 15 yards away (that I noticed). Of course, in the pursuit of fun, both blast/concussion and fireballs were desirable features for me.

As the person shooting the rifle, it really isn’t any louder than it was before. However, for anyone outside of that little pie slice of peace behind the gun I’m sure the concussion is…noticeable. Fun if you’re there with the group enjoying the Mosin. Maybe not as awesome if you’re in the same room at the indoor range, and now that my local indoor range is going to be allowing rifle calibers I can go test out how many shots it takes to create some sonically-induced private shooting sessions. Heh.

Quality and machining of the brake are great. I got mine in bead-blasted stainless since I knew it was going to be coated, but it’s also available in a black DLC. The M11 is available for a few calibers and there’s a smaller M11-SPR for 5.56 rifles. Precision Armament also makes brakes of other designs, bolt knobs, scope rails, and more. In fact, I got the very spiffy Accu-Washer muzzle device alignment system but ended up not using it due to the lack of a sufficient shoulder with the narrow barrel and my gunsmith’s ability to thread it so the brake was properly clocked without shimming.

The Coating:

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My gunsmith — that’s Nick at HCTC Firearms still — prefers KG Gunkote products, and this Mosin is the fourth thing I’ve had him coat for me. It’s a great coating for a digital camo design like he put on this rifle or, really, for any design that requires multiple layers as KG goes on very thin. In most cases with competitive coatings you can feel or even see height differences between layers, but this design using Gunkote is smooth. It also won’t fill or shallow out roll marks or engraving (think ATF-mandated depth minimums for serial number markings) and rarely interferes with tolerances, even in cases like fairly tightly-fit slide/frame rails.

Despite going on thin, it’s still tough. After about 120 rounds through the Mosin it still looks great on the bolt, inside of the receiver, muzzle brake (after intensive cleaning to get back down to the still-pristine coating), and everywhere else. There isn’t a lot on the KG website, but my gunsmith stocks 40-something colors so there’s no shortage of options. He recently revived a very beat up Pre-B CZ75 for me also. If you don’t have a good local option for coatings, give HCTC a call.

Conclusions:

You know you have a neglected Mosin lying around somewhere. I know you do. Probably everybody does, right? I had so much fun on my first shooting outing with this “Ultimate Mosin Nagant” that I highly doubt it will ever be neglected again. It may just make it on all of my range outings from now on, actually. It’s really just that much fun to shoot!

For me, I’ve created something I like as much as the Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle (which is to say “a lot”) but at a lower cost. Lower to build than to buy, and also a much lower cost to shoot. Bolt action, scout scope location, drop mags, full-power rifle cartridge, options for a muzzle device. It’s a touch heavier than Ruger’s scout rifle but I think it’s generally comparable now. It’s accurate enough for hunting and more than accurate enough for fun.

Note 1: I chose not to replace the barrel, although that was a serious consideration. I felt like it would increase the expense beyond what made sense to me. Additionally, Mosin receivers are extremely strong but have apparently been known to crack in the process of trying to remove the factory barrel. That wasn’t worth it to me and although the bore of my barrel was rusted, it cleaned up okay and is still accurate enough.

Note 2: In the video at top, you’ll see that my bolt is still a bit sticky (although it’s better than it was). I have yet to do some light polishing work on it or steam clean the barrel lug recesses to make sure there’s no caked-in 70-year-old cosmoline in there. I expect I’ll be able to improve on bolt smoothness fairly significantly, but I doubt all of the charm of a late-WWII Russian infantry rifle will be lost. It’ll never be a pinky-finger-smooth, high-end modern action.

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