(This is a reader-submitted review as part of our gun review contest. See details here.)
By Kurt M.
Some rifles are iconic. The M91/30 PU sniper is one of those rifles. When you see a photo of a Syrian rebel holding one, you instantly know what he has in his hands. Men and famously women have fought and died with these rifles in hand since the Second World War. They often are found in the hands of our enemies. A friend took a hit in his body armor by one in Iraq; he still refuses to hold mine. These rifles have a power to them.
In 1942 this rifle and scope setup was state of the art; overall a Russian sniper likely had a better setup than his American counterpart. The American sniper program had lapsed after the end of World War One; the Russians continued to invest heavily in their program. In the 1920’s and 30’s the Germans and Russians collaborated in arms development. The Leningrad optics plant, Progress, was founded using Zeiss quality and assistance.
Combat feedback improved the design. The scope used in the Spanish Civil War, the PE, let in humidity and clouded the sight picture. The Russians simplified the design and eliminated the fogging problem. American snipers of World War Two by comparison had to live with the problem of fogging with their scopes. The Russians simplified the design further due to the outbreak of war and the 1942 PU was the ultimate result. The PU was a substitute standard, a setup that met the needs of the war by being faster and quicker to produce.
They produced hundreds of thousands. To place that in perspective it’s a very small number compared to the standard 91/30 with production in the millions, but on a different scale compared to any other nation’s sniper rifle production. They produced so many that the PU remained the standard sniper rifle into the 1960s. Just like the standard rifles the Russians refurbed the 91/30 PU rifles and placed them in storage for another war that never came. My rifle is one of those refurbed rifles.
As a combat rifle the 91/30 has advantages. The scope is a force multiplier; it is a marked improvement over just iron sights. The optic is tough and doesn’t let water in. The optic is mounted high which poses problems, but as a combat rifle it allows to very quickly transition between the optic and iron sights. If a target enters your field of view within 300 yards or so you can quickly place a shot. The barrel is long and I suspect that the muzzle flash would be minimal. Its heavy compared to modern rifles but balances well.
It certainly has disadvantages too. The scope mount blocks stripper clips; you have to load each round individually. It’s a slow system and the stress of combat could make that challenging. The bolt has the same problem. It is bent low and down to clear the scope. It gives you more mechanical advantage but the bolt is so close to the stock that you have to use your fingers to work the action. Under stress that might be hard. Also the bolt exaggerates your body movement, that movement could give your position away in combat. Finally since the scope is so high you’re sticking your head up quite a bit. You make yourself an easier target when you’re in the prone position. Still in 1942 this was a great improvement over the standard 91/30.
The rifle is still a refurbed 91/30 at heart. If you’ve had the chance to handle more than a few 91/30s you’ll know what I mean when I say that each one is really an individual. There is definitely a range between rifles and that’s just as true with the refurbed PU snipers. That said these rifles were held to a higher quality standard than the standard 91/30. What that standard would have been I don’t know but the existence of so called ex-snipers, PU 91/30s that no longer met the sniper standard but still met the standard rifle specs shows that’s the Russians were pickier with these rifles. They had so many to choose from after the war they kept the best.
The best is still within the range of regular 91/30s. I’ve seen regular 91/30s in better shape that shot better than a PU. Every rifle is an individual. Online I’ve seen talk that the PU snipers might have an improved trigger, my small sample size of a half dozen I’ve handled will tell me that it’s not true. The trigger pull on mine is crisp but very heavy. It’s so heavy that it really makes accurate target shooting a huge challenge. If you can picture the range of 91/30s triggers, from the long creepy bad ones to the actually relatively ok ones, take the bottom third out of your range and that is what you can expect from a 91/30 sniper.
Beyond the trigger there are a few reasons why this rifle would be a poor choice for someone wanting an MOA capable target rifle. The stock on the PU is the same as on the standard rifle and the scope is mounted very high. To use the scope you have to use a chin weld. That’s makes it very difficult to replicate your hold each time. Getting a proper sight picture places the buttstock in an awkward place in the shoulder which can make it really uncomfortable to shoot, more so than the standard rifle. I notice it at a bench sitting down and especially if I’m lying down in the prone position. If I was in combat with this I would want to get as low to the ground as possible and I’d live with it. Just for fun I don’t shoot from the prone position, it’s just no fun. If I’m shooting for more serious accuracy I shoot from the sitting position.
I’m not an excellent shot by any means; I’ll manage about 3 to 4 MOA at 100 yards. I’m sure a better rifleman than me could tighten those groups with my rifle. Really though you’re fighting against the rifle to get better accuracy than I do. Shooting at range is an amplified challenge. The scope was state of the art in 1942 but today its age shows. The scope is narrow and dim compared to modern scopes. It uses a European style reticle. The thick reticle can obscure the target given the small field of view. Oddly the reticle is not fixed; you move the reticle to adjust range. At short ranges your reticle will sit about a third of the way up your field of view. Adjustments are not made in clicks; there are no stops, the adjustments are silent. Subtle adjustments are an art not a science.
I have shot the rifle out to 400 yards and the target is pretty tiny at that range. That’s about what I can do. I think for most shooters 500 to 600 yards would be it with this rifle and setup. I still think that’s a great result, but if you demand that your rifles be the best at what they do go get a modern rifle and scope. The advantage of the modern scope really shows. If those Syrians using this rifle for a serious purpose had a Cabela’s down the road they would go buy a Savage. That’s the truth of it.
That’s not why you should buy this rifle though. When I go to the range this old rifle is the one everyone wants to check out. The savage doesn’t get a glance. This is a cool rifle with history. This is the kind of rifle you can hold and really know you have something important in your hands. I can tell a southpaw used my rifle because of a wear mark right where your chin weld would be. A savage is never going to be like that. This is a rifle you own to shoot and get a real feel for history with. It’s an experience you can’t beat.
I purchased this rifle for $550 a few years ago. A large sum of money especially considering I could get a regular 91/30 for about $100 at the same time. Today both rifles have gone up in price, 91/30s are selling for around $300 and PU 91/30s are up to $800 in my area. Still compare that to the sniper rifles from any other country in World War Two. A reproduction 1903a4 can set you back a grand. A real one will set you back a lot more. For under a grand you can get the real thing. A rifle used as a sniper rifle and then refurbed after the war. The value on these will only go up with time. As a utilitarian rifle you can do better, as a historic rifle these can’t be beat.
SPECIFICATIONS: Mosin Nagant M91/30 Sniper Rifle
Capacity: 5 rounds
Manufacturer: Russia, Hungary, Poland
Price: $800 or so
RATINGS (out of five stars):
Style * * * *
People recognize the rifle from its silhouette alone.
Ergonomics * *
The rifle kills from both ends. This is even more apparent when shooting from the prone or a bench. You’re fighting the rifle when you try to get smaller groups.
Reliability * * * * *
The rifle itself is very reliable. The scope is well built and tough. High marks in reliability.
Customize this *
The standard rifle is much cheaper and can be just as good of a rifle.
Overall Rating * * *
Modern rifles will do what this does better. They can’t do it with more style. A harsher critic would give two stars but I think three is right just as it sits. Add one star or two if you think it looks cool or value its history. You won’t be disappointed.