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By Brian Mead

The atmosphere is hectic. People, hundreds if not thousands of them, are milling around the giant expo center, a place that could more accurately be described as a humongous warehouse differently preoccupied. They are of every stripe and origin, pale and swarthy, male and female, old and young, local and foreign. They navigate around the tables like river trout navigating rocks. I am just one of them on this lazy, wintry Sunday afternoon . . .

But why are we all here? If we are so different, what single thing could possibly join us all in one mass of humanity?

The right to defend life and home in the gravest extreme, the right to keep and bear arms. Before long, I walk out with my prize, an old relic of a war nearly gone from living memory.

I sit crosslegged on my bed, my prize, a Mosin-Nagant 91/30 lying before me. They had been selling these by the crate at the show; I could have claimed any I wanted, but out of all of them, I had chosen this one. Now that I am home under the bright lights, I can look over this singular artifact.

The initial inspection tells me nothing interesting – it’s an old rifle made in 1942 in Izhevsk. All numbers matching, a nice shiny bore, and no rearsenal stamp. As I hold the old wood and steel in my hands, I realize that this thing has been around longer than any living person I know. Fascinated, I look it over more closely, trying to see if there’s anything special I can spot in the speckled wood with its fading finish. To my disappointment, the staraya vintovka yields nothing to me, other than it is obviously old and well used.

I pick the rifle up as I set about familiarizing myself with it. I think to myself how old this gun is. How many others have already picked up this rifle? Trained with it? Marched with it? Fought with it? Died with it? I practice just working the bolt. It is not long before she yields her first secret: the great, pale splotches are most strongly concentrated right where my hand goes when turning the bolt. I realize that somebody, somewhere, has made the exact same motions.

As I lower the rifle, I pay attention to the body. The finish is most off in places where one’s skin would touch the wood, like the stock, foreend, and receiver side – right where I had laid my hands on this relic. Intrigued, I look more closely at the weapon, just like doubtlessly some other man has, perhaps while sitting in a trench, wishing for better days.

Then I see it.

I see a splotch right by the grip – a dark, unmistakable, out of place splotch right where the heel of my hand would be. My heart recognizes it before my brain. Blood. This is a weapon of war, and in war, both sides bleed.

My fingers absentmindedly brush over the rear of the receiver. To my surprise, I feel notches. My eyes count four notches cut into the wood deliberately. The blood, the notches… My god!

I see it.

A man, maybe not even my own age readies his Mosin and aims down the sights. On the far end is a shape, another person not too different, just wearing a different uniform and speaking a different language. The tall shape dances like a candles’ flame in the sights. The trigger is squeezed until the striker flies forwards. An invisible ball and a jet of flame. At the far end, that shape in the gunsight flickers and falls.

A man like me did this four times to people with this very gun.

The nine pounds of wood and steel feel heavy now. Those battles are over and their dead are slain, but every new day is a new future. In hands like mine, this weapon has brought misery, perhaps guided by nobility, perhaps used ignobly, but it has impacted history with bones that lay lifeless still and forevermore. As I pick up my rifle again, I understand the burden of the armed, and in my heart, I pray to God that I never have to witness for myself what this nine pound thing can do to a man, for I hold no doubts that into my home I have welcomed a weapon of war, and it sits squarely upon me to shoulder that burden, because this weapon is nothing but a tool; it is up to me and me alone to decide that that tool does.

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    • Good article, but do you really … NOT KNOW ANYONE OLDER THAN 73? That is the age of your rifle. That shocks me! You must live a very sheltered life! For Pete’s sake, get out there and meet some senior citizens. There is a lot that the older generation can teach us. I love my Mosin too. Mine was born the same year as my dad 1944.

    • No, it’s not a good article, it’s just got good content marred by a bad writing style (over-use of the “historic present”). Its use of the present tense deceived me into thinking that it was reporting a current event until I got far enough in to see that it wasn’t reporting on something here in Australia where it really is winter (I guessed it was from a visiting American, what with that spelling of “center”).

  1. The Mosin is a classic battle instrument. Is the bayonet missing?

    Edit to add: Say, that’s not the original bolt handle– looks like it might have had a sniper scope on it at one time.

    • Ah, a turned-down bolt. It could be an ex-sniper, but if so it was probably re-arsenaled at some time past. Or it could be a modern mod.

      That’s the thing about the MN 91/30 — you might never know where it’s been or what it’s done.

    • In the 90’s when I bought my first moist nugget you could buy ww2 era sniper kits for 20 bucks. It consisted of turned down bolt handle, mount and scope. Period corect from some ex soviet warehouse.

      I never scoped any of my MN’s. My biggest regret in the MN department is letting a primo m39 go by. It was 125 bucks and I could still get 91/30s and m44s for under 70 bucks.

      I’ve kept one, a 38 izzie that I’ve tuned to suit me.

    • Not saying that 91/30s where never used in executions, they almost certainly were.. but those in that picture look like carbines, not 91/30s.

  2. I have one of these also 1942 Isevsk – I grew up in Russia and seen them in all the World War II movies – (know in Russia as the Great Patriotic War). Is has the same allure to me as as Springfield or a Garand. Its one of those witness to history pieces.

  3. From Moisins, to Mausers, to Garands, Springfields, Lee Enfields, and many others, owning a piece of functional war history is simply why we choose to buy, inherit, and treasure these affectionate “War Horses”.
    Those dings, nicks, and dents tell a story. Those wear marks on the stock, grip, and bolt handle are history. They still work. They will still work in another century with love and care passed down or sold to those of us “gun owners” that revere these working artifacts. It’s something the anti’s will never comprehend, nor should we pretend that we can change their minds. No matter.
    Thank you for the post. Reminds me of a needed bit of range time, cleaning, and wipe down after some range time of my own War Horses.

    P.S. Moisins are known to multiply like rabbits. ;-). Believe me, I know.

    • *Mosin. In the original Russian: Винтовка Мосина. Vintovka Mosina. (the A at the end of “Mosina” is a grammatical marker for the genitive case, and can be disregarded in translation.)

      Please, it deserves the respect of being spelled properly.

      • Thank you for the correction Comrade, as not all of our modern technology has the proper translation. However, I’ll toast some Stoli’s and take pride that Americans have probably bought more of these rifles and spam cans than any other. They have earned their respect.

  4. I have a 1938 Tula with a laminate stock.

    I wonder where this rifle has been. Was it in the titanic battles of “The Great Patriotic War” or guarding prisoners in the Kolmya?

  5. Thank you, Brian, for expressing what touches many of us about firearms, the history. You pointed out that history is made by individuals and the tools they use, and those tools can have unique and personal stories.

  6. Gee, now I feel a little guilty for putting a CBRPS bullpup stock on my 1938 Izzy. Then I remember that I paid less than two Franklins for it and there are probably a brazillion of its brethren out there still. I do sometimes wonder what stories it could tell… not that I’d understand any of them as I don’t speak-ski the Rooskie.

  7. After buying my 1944 Izhevsk, I considered refinishing it… for all of about 2 seconds. I realized that no amount of “fixing” could ever improve the gun compared to the history it would lose in the process. After baking out the cosmoline and giving it a good cleaning, it was good to see it the way it was meant to be for the first time since a nameless Soviet technician packed it away 60+ years ago

    • Most Mosins, from the research I’ve done, that were built towards the end of WWII were never even issued. If you get your hands on another one they do make a great inexpensive project to learn refinishing techniques with, in reality you’ll have a really hard time finding a rifle that is as inexpensive to buy and better to look at when redone. Nice thing about that is you’re not reconditioning any real history out of the rifle.

      I remember a picture here from last year of a Mosin that made me drool because of the finish of the stock.

  8. Hmm, a Mosin with matching numbers, in good condition, and no re-arsenal? Likely unissued. Entertaining, if sanctimonious essay, but the lack of photographic evidence of fascist/communist grey matter wedged under the hashed stock is glaring… If It was a sniper rifle, it must have been a pretty ineffective sniper to only get four kills (the sheer volume of casualties generated by each of those irregular soldiers is incredible. Dozens of kills was not uncommon for Russian snipers). Anyone else imagining a curmudgeonly Chuck Heston as a voice-over?

  9. Articles like this are why every time I think about picking up a shiny new rifle, some beat up war horse takes precedence. Your title sums up my combined passion for firearms and military history perfectly, holding real “weapons of war” in your hand is a sobering experience. It’s also funny how you buy one, put it away for a few months, and then suddenly see things you never noticed before i.e. my G98/40 has blood pitting where some poor kraut (or Hungarian) got a nasty hand wound. Buddy of mine once saw a Chinese T53 ‘Nam bring back with a 5.56 bullet still lodged in the stock. Heard another story of someone buying a Russian Capture K98k and later finding Mosin bayonet stab marks in the stock. Plenty of Yugo SKS’ have hand carved trench art and funny stickers of 90’s TV icons. The list goes on and on…

  10. I love my old war horses, they have history. My M1 Carbine still has 5 notch’s in stock with the initials MFA inscribed on it. I know its a very early war carbine and was picked up by my grandfather late in the Pacific. It very well may have been in more than one “D day” on more than one island.

  11. Always preferred Finnish Mosins myself. They’re like the 6 Million Dollar Man…the Finns had the technology and made it stronger. Plus, they actually put Communists down instead of propping them up.

  12. I have 3 , M44, a 1944 91/30 and a franken mosin 91/30 1938 with a bent bolt and POSP 4x mounted on it. I can take it off then put it back on and it holds zero 😉 at 300 yards it hits the steel with boring regularity. I’d love to shoot against the new ruger with it. For the $$$ they can’t be beat.

  13. I have a ’42 Izhevsk as well – the same age as my dad. And I do know plenty of relatives and others of that age and older, including men who served in that conflict. Sadly many of those have past into “known” at this point, may they rest in peace.

    Mine has no notches or blood, but I like to think it went from the factory straight to Stalingrad. Fantasy it may be be, probably no way to know for sure at this point. But it is my war horse and out of respect for that, I will not “deck it out” with any upgrades or hacks, other than the sling I have added (of the traditional pattern, but newly made).

  14. Has anyone ever come acess a Mosin that’s been altered to a huntin rifle. I came across one that has a short stock and shorter barrel it has the sickle and hammer imprint I just haven’t seen one similar to the one I have. Cheers

  15. Nicely written, and illustrates one of the few fundamental arguments behind all the guns / no guns noise.

    Yes, a gun is an icon. A symbol. Not of posturing macho and sometime swagger, but of always regretful, sometime necessity. Do we allow people the means to do the needful thing, at need, or do we deny it too them, because they’re just not smart enough, or worthy?


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