I got myself into prepping and survivalism after the turn of the century, so my main resource was the Internet. That in and of itself was a whole learning process, as well — but the scope of this article will focus on what appeared to be an amazing find in that great, infinite Google. $80 for an accurate, reliable, rugged bolt-action repeater that was on-par with a .30-06, ballistically… and had dirt-cheap ammo, to boot? There had to be a catch, and oh, how the forum-goers toting $5,000 AR setups assured me (and plenty of people in similar metaphorical boats) that it couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn (from the inside), it blew up, all the bolts stuck, the triggers were horrible and couldn’t be fixed, and the corrosive ammo wasn’t worth the trouble.
Boy, how I learned how wrong they were. Though I’ve had a fascination with the rifles for quite some time, I ended up acquiring other weapons first, as fate would have it. However, I’ve since gotten my own example, and no longer have to bother friends or roommates to get a chance to toy around with one (although an acquaintance at gunsmithing school had a beautiful 91/30 he’d refinished the wood on, himself).
My rifle is a round receiver Tula, 91/30. I was lucky enough to get one with an excellent bore, bolt, and all the accessories (oiler, tools in cloth wrap, sling, bayonet and two ammo pouches), while paying only $90 in-person. $80 online is still a perfectly fair price, even after transfer and shipping — though I would advise anyone purchasing multiple specimens, or other qualifying weapons, to consider a Curio and Relic license, if that is in your interest.
The rifle’s main detriment that I’ve determined thus far? The sights. They’re not bad — though I’m biased, and apparently an abnormality when it comes to American shooters raised with traditional American guns, for the most part. However, the majority of my open-sight shooting since adulthood has been with an AK variant, which has very similar sights, anyway. That doesn’t change what they are, though; crude, dark, and on some guns, not even adjustable to make your point-of-aim the same as point-of-impact. A $5 part fixes this, and I suspect that the better quality sample you acquire, the less likely the phenomenon is. If you’re new to Russian sights, try to remember that it’s something you get used to. There’s nothing directly ‘wrong’ with them; they’re not always as precise, and they’re just different.
In the course of my life to date, I’ve fired three Mosins, including my own. They have all been 91/30s, and I have never seen any of them malfunction, not that bolt actions are particularly susceptible. A common story I found online, initially, had me worried about ‘sticky bolt.’ Don’t believe everything you read, though; degreasing the gun (with one of a variety of methods, or multiple, ideally) will eliminate this problem nine out of ten times. My rifle’s action is as smooth as my Mauser. Sticky bolt happens when cosmoline is not completely removed from the gun, and subsequently heats up and turns to a very sticky, unfavorable substance. Removing it is slightly harder after that happens, but still easy, in any case. Make sure you remove all cosmoline before shooting your rifle at all. While it won’t wreck the gun, it’s just not a good idea to let it build up.
Another problem mentioned for the guns is the relative difficulty of mounting a scope. A traditional job can be done to flop the bolt handle and fandagle a mount like the sniper Mosin variants had, and while those are fine, they are not my recommendation. The Brass Stacker mount goes over the rear sight, solidly locks, and allows a scout-style scope to be mounted — my choice being a Simmons Prohunter in fixed 4x power. The mount is superior to similar ones not only in quality, but in that it allows the rifle’s iron sights to stay on the rifle, unchanged. Any weapon you have for real-world use should have iron sights, even if it also has an optic. Right now, that translates to being able to keep hunting if your scope malfunctions; post-SHTF, that could mean still making accurate hits instead of area-effect fire after an optic goes down. Regardless, a scope is not necessary with these weapons; [the Finnish army marksman] Simo Hayha demonstrated that well enough. My strategy thus far is going to be to scope two rifles (for me and my lady-friend), and keep the rest with iron sights, mainly as backup and hand-out weapons.
If you’ve never shot a Mosin, and you get an opportunity to, accuracy test it and you’ll be surprised. Obviously, surplus ammo is less accurate than current-manufacture, but a scoped 91/30 will absolutely keep up with other surplus rifles. I wouldn’t feel under-gunned shooting it against a Mauser, assuming it wasn’t sporterized. If you picked a good rifle and use good ammunition, 1 MOA isn’t uncommon with quality optics. Iron sights, expect whatever your proficiency level is; my rifle outshoots me, and I’m not a terrible shot, by any means.
One unfortunate thing that is true of Mosins is that the stripper clips suck. No bones to pick about this one; rimmed casings make them awkward. Some are completely unusable, others just difficult, but they’re nothing I’d ever trust my life to. Furthermore, they’re expensive! While SKS stripper clips are cents a piece, Mosin ones can be as much as $3-5 per clip! For an $80 rifle, that’s not worth it, to me — but they’re unreliable, either way, and I thusly recommend sticking to hand-loading [the internal magazine on] these [with individual cartridges]. For what they are, if you’re doing everything correctly, an absolute speed-reload shouldn’t be as necessary as with other weapons. Make your shots count and learn to load by hand as quickly as possible.
Getting a Mosin quickly teaches you about corrosive ammo. I’m still learning, on that account, but the method I’ve been using is to disassemble the gun, spray the metal parts down with Windex to soak, and then let more Windex flow through the bore. Apparently, the ammonia is thought to be good for removing corrosive salts, but I can’t attest to that. Some people use hot water to the same effect, and I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable doing so. In any case, after your corrosion-cleaner of choice, clean the rifle as normal — though, thoroughly, especially if you don’t shoot often or are going to store the rifle for any length of time. Better safe than sorry. Surplus ammo has acceptable, although certainly not outstanding accuracy. Don’t be afraid of corrosive ammunition if it’s your first experience with it. Again, it’s just different; take care of the gun and it’ll take care of you.
While the rifles aren’t light, they’re very well-balanced. A fiberglass stock would help, but again, I don’t recommend getting that simply because of the price. Recoil is stiff, but not overly so. If you’ve fired a .30-06 in a similar configuration, a 91/30 is nothing new. Carbine variants will blow your hat off and singe your hair, though. While they’re very cool, I find the longer rifle makes more sense because of the role I’ll be describing for it to fill — and again, because it’s much less expensive than its smaller cousins.
With all of this being said, what is a Mosin, to a prepper? I have to preface by making it clear that I understand there are better alternatives, but it needs to be said that there is not a better value in a centerfire survival weapon, especially to a newcomer into survivalism. A Mosin is a budget marksman’s rifle, or sniper rifle if outfitted properly. For under a hundred dollars, you have a full-power centerfire rifle with inexpensive ammunition that can take down game animals, and easily incapacitate any threats — and better yet, at range. While a 12 gauge shotgun can be similarly inexpensive if a good deal is found (and I recommend a Remington 870 per person in your group’s arsenal), a Mosin allows you to effectively neutralize threats at a greater distance, with greater accuracy, and significantly less expensive ammo.
Ambush is the prepper’s friend. Guns-blazing shootouts are not what you want, whether it’s a roving band of outlaws, or coalition forces you’re having to deal with. In most situations, distance is preferable, and this also allows greater use of stealth and camouflage, and potentially using the landscape to your team’s advantage, as well. Ground forces fear snipers, and deploying snipers effectively makes for an insane force multiplier. An $80 rifle and a little training will take you a lot farther than a spendy AR and no experience.
While I have to encourage everyone to find the autoloading carbine of your choice (I recommend the AK most of all, though I prefer the FAL, excepting its price tag), remember that the longest-serving rifle in history isn’t obsolete just yet. They make great gifts and backup weapons, and are easy to encourage new preppers to invest in. Inexpensive, reliable, accurate, and fun as Heck to shoot. If you’re new to shooting, get one and practice on the cheap. If you’re seasoned, get a few and hide them away — along with a few spam cans of ammo, of course.