I picked up a Nagant pretty much on a whim. To tell the truth, my main rifle is a black powder firer so at present this is my only smokeless powder firing rifle at present.
Now in it's full battle configuration with bayonette, the first thing that comes to mind is spitting a pig and roasting it over an open fire. Thus at first glance, the Nagant looks like a cross between a rifle and kitchen equipment. We'll cover the culinary possibilities in a future article and stick with shooting for now.
The next thing is you notice this thing is heavy, long, ungainly, pretty dorky looking actually. But looks don't count for much in this game. Besides, you are busy trying to ram cartridges through the breech-load and as you manage to work the bolt home past a series of rough spots, you wonder what it would have been like to actually have to face an enemy with this thing. You may be reassured by the fact that if it doesn't fire, there's always the sheer weight and that 20" long pig-sticker on the end of it.
But in battle, one doesn't often have the chance to stop and wonder about the possibilities. I assumed a prone position and acquired a target about 100 yards out. And as I began to fit myself into this firearm I noticed the stock was so well sculpted it felt like shouldering a 2x4. And as I begin to zero my target and dial my breathing in, I feel that weight bearing down on my forward arm and think "I don't want to be here all day". But as I'm grabbing the trigger and beginning to squeeze off a shot, what occurs to me is how very short this stock seems to be and how it ai't quite nestling in my shoulder and just before the round discharges the words "this is probably gonna hurt" cross my mind.
I stay in firing position. I look for a hole in my target. I look for dust around my target. I look to the sky for falling aircraft because that shot seemed to hit in another dimension. My buddy is helping me sight through his scope and he calls out "high".
High? Like how high? 20 feet? Quarter mile? This thing has fixed-distance sights and it's on it's lowest horizon right now. This is 100 yards. Did they not understand the concept of close-quarters combat back then? Oh yeah, that's what the bayonette is for.
But after a few more rounds and aiming low, I was able to start placing them in a 12" target. And each time that sucker gave me a nice punch in the shoulder. And then I found out it wouldn't inject the last round from the mag. It got hung up every time. So instead of 5 shots, you really get four. I now read it's not an uncommon defect for this model. I could take it back where I got it for an exchange, but I hand-selected this rifle for it's near-perfect bore. And I didn't buy it for combat, it's supposed to be a backup game-getter that I can buy rounds off the shelf for. So now you just stuff four more rounds on top of what is basically a place-keeper in the mag. So what?
But it seemed to fire pretty consistent. Pretty high and to the left. I was told they were pretty accurate. But with the fixed sights and all, it's a firearm you just kind of have to get used to. If your shoulder can take it. I put 20 rounds through it, I was taking my time, taking turns spotting my buddy. I was dialing in to zero when my shoulder said "that's it, you can stay but I'm going home".
But here is the beauty of these old war guns. You get them cheap and modifying them isn't so much a trip to the gun store but a matter for the home handy man. I don't like the hand-grip but they left we with lots of wood. I'll get out the carving tools and make it shake my hand back. I will spend a couple bucks on a butt-pad for it and that will build out that extra inch I want in butt length and do the old shoulder a favour.
So hey, for the $80-90 you drop on the thing, you got a deer rifle. And this very round is known as not only the first, but the first step in the "high powered shoulder fired" category. Deer, elk, moose, bear, buffalo right down to antellope and there's no reason you couldn't use it to bag a bunny if you were hungry. I'd recommend even experienced riflemen get one as a loaner or for teaching purposes.
Fully accessorized with sling, oil bottle, pig-sticker and cleaning rod, again, these can be had for about $80-90. I'd go so far as to say it's almost a perfect first hunting rifle. It's practically impossible to shoot yourself cleaning this thing, the barrel is too long to look down unless you are standing up.
Notes: beginners, please go out with a seasoned shooter your first time. Use that cleaning rod to run a patch with oil through the barrel before firing and if it comes out all cruddy and black, run a few more patches through it. Make sure the action operates, if not smoothly, then it just operates. And please transport the firearm action open, which means with the bolt open and clear of ammo until you get to the range. Be sure of your backstop which means always be sure your round goes home into something you can see that doesn't include air, people, houses or livestock. My next article will detail what makes a range a range.