By: Paul Brasky
In the Soviet Union, the Model 1891/30 remained in service until 1934, whereupon it was replaced by more modern, often semi-automatic, designs. The Model 1944 carbine for example was replaced by the semi-automatic SKS45 in 1943. However, China produced many hundred of thousands of them as its Model 53.
As you may have surmised, with so many types of Mosin Nagants in existence, not to mention different nations and arsenals producing them, bore dimensions will vary considerably, from .308” to .314” for example. It is therefore imperative that you slug your bore in order to determine which cast bullet and sizing diameters are appropriate for your rifle.
Incidentally, according to Frank Barnes, Jr., working pressure is 45,000 psi.
Reloading for the 7.62 x 54R is straightforward and Full Length resizing dies for it are available from all the major manufacturers. Shellholders are also readily available from Hornady (#23), Lyman (#17), RCBS (#13) and Redding (#15). If you purchase the Lee “Pacesetter” die set, be advised that it doesn’t include a shell holder (Lee #16). Brass of very high quality is also available from Graf & Sons, Norma and Lapua (via Midway USA et al), the latter in a slightly mislabeled form, i.e., 7.62 x 53R instead of 7.62 x 54R. Since this article is devoted to cast bullets, you’ll also need a neck expander to expand or bell the case necks so that you don’t shave lead from or otherwise distort said bullets. I use a Lyman M-die, specifically “30 Long” (Part Number: 7349002), but if your bore is larger than .311”, consider Lyman “31” (Part Number: 7349005), which is made for a .314” bullet.
To reduce case neck run out, some reloaders will FL resize without the expander ball-decapping rod in place. By all means try this if run-out is a problem, but you’ll first have to decap as a separate step, possibly offsetting the advantage of a more concentric neck. However, you can also achieve similar results by partially resizing (with the expander ball/decapping pin in place) the brass. I.e., size the cases only enough to leave a ~1/16” shoulder on the case neck-shoulder junction. This helps center the round in the chamber. Make up a dummy round and test fit it in your rifle, adjusting your sizing die accordingly.
As discussed above, the 7.62 x 54R is ballistically similar to the .30-06, thus starting charges of powders appropriate to the latter will work very well in it also. Lyman’s Cast Bullet Handbook, 3rd Edition is an excellent reference in this respect. More specifically, C. E. Harris’ “universal” .30 caliber load of 13gr. of Red Dot or 16gr. of 2400, both now produced by Alliant, is a good place to start for several reasons, not the least of which is accuracy, availability and economy. You may also wish to try Accurate Arms’ XMP 5744 (19-22 grains), which is designed to burn efficiently given low loading density. (And it does in a wide variety of calibers in my experience. In fact, it is fast becoming one of my favorite cast bullet powders.) Do not ignore H/IMR 4198 (19-23 grains) or IMR 3031 (27-29 grains) as both give excellent results.
Propellants: Military Surplus
The virtues of military surplus powders are availability, at least at this writing, price and their ability to produce accurate, consistent results. On the other hand, the slow burners, e.g., WC 860 (ball), WC 872 (ball) and IMR 5010 (extruded or stick), require full case loads and magnum primers for consistent ignition, thereby adding to their cost. Unless you pick them up from the distributor yourself, there’s a shipping and/or hazardous materials charge too. Moreover, the aforementioned three leave copious amounts of unburned powder in the bore making it necessary that you push it out (from the breech) before it get into rifle’s mechanism and/or dents your brass. With IMR 5010, you can mitigate this problem by judicious use of a filler such as Grex (powdered poly shotshell filler) or powdered bran, which will be discussed more fully in the following paragraph. Another milsurp powder worth considering, a polar opposite of 860, 872 and 5010 in fact, is WC 820 (ball), a pistol powder with a burning rate similar to Accurate Arms #9 or Hodgdon 110: The burning rate of non-canister powders varies by lot. WC 820 is no exception. 16gr. -19gr.is appropriate for cast bullets between 160gr. and 200gr
Fillers have a long and controversial history as far as reloading is concerned as they are on the one hand blamed for chamber ringing, but on the other, praised for accuracy. Dacron tufts, Cream of Wheat cereal and cornmeal have often been used with varying degrees of success---and sometimes failure as well. As I haven’t tried them, I will say nothing more about them. On the other hand, I have tried Grex and also powdered bran (bran run through an electric coffee mill), but only with IMR 5010. The addition of 1cc (Lee Dipper) Grex or bran atop 46gr. to 48gr. IMR 5010 with heavy (180gr. – 200gr.) cast bullets (and LR magnum primers) improves powder combustion and lowers extreme velocity spreads and standard deviations in the 7.62 x 54R and similar cartridges. The idea is to compress the charge somewhat by using 1cc of filler rather than more powder.
If “location, location, location” is a fundamental tenet of the real estate profession, then how well a cast bullet fits both the rifle bore and throat must be ours. A bullet, which fits both, is likely to be accurate whereas an ill-fitting one is not. Put another way, bullet fit is more critical than bullet design (bore riding, Loverin, spire point). Once you determine “goodness of fit” (bore and throat), you’ll be in a better position to select a cast bullet design (and weight). Since there are few spire point “off-the-shelf” designs now offered by the major manufacturers (Lee, Lyman, RCBS, etc.), your choice will be limited to bore riders or Loverins (all body, small nose), usually between 160gr. e.g., Lyman #311466 (Loverin) and 200gr., e.g., Lyman #314299 (bore rider). Also to be considered are the Lee C309-180R (or 200R) if your bore is .308” or Lee C312-185-R if it is between .310 and .313”. RCBS’ bore riders #30-180-SP and #30-180-FP may also fit, but their catalog says they cast .308” bullets. In addition to the Lyman molds already mentioned, give serious consideration to #311467 (Loverin), #31141 (flat point, bore rider) and #311291 (bore rider.) It should be said that many such molds are available in very good to excellent condition from various on-line auction sites if you’d prefer to go that route.
I presently own three Finnish Nagants, two Sako-made Model 28’s (.310” bore) and one Sako-made Model 39 (.311” bore), all Civil Guard (SK.Y) rifles. All are “as issued” and highly accurate (2 m.o.a. or better from a rest) cast bullet shooters with Lyman #314299 sized to either .311” for the Model 28’s or .312” for the Model 39. Lyman #311291 and #31141, sized to .311” are just as accurate in the Model 28’s, but since they cast a trifle small, they do not suit the Model 39 at all. As previously discussed, powders of choice are XMP 5744, H/IMR 4198, IMR 3031. Military surplus WC 860, IMR 5010 (with filler) and WC 820 are also good, especially the latter. The beauty of WC 820 is that it yields exceptionally consistent velocities and extreme spreads, plus you can use a pistol powder measure to charge your cases.*
Mosin Nagants are, in the current vernacular,“world” rifles, having been produced first in Imperial Russia, then the United States, and lastly in the Soviet Union, its client states and Maoist China. They are robust, if somewhat homely rifles, capable of a high degree of accuracy if one takes the time to discover their preferences. Furthermore, with the fall of the Soviet Union, many varieties of Mosin Nagants have entered the marketplace in very good to unissued (“in the wrap”) condition and at bargain basement prices to boot. Perhaps there’s room in your gun cabinet for one of these truly historic arms.
*You must first determine how much powder each rotor will throw by weighing and averaging at least four groups of ten drops (4 x 10) for each [pistol] powder you wish to use.
Frank Barnes, Jr., Cartridges of the World, 7th Edition, edited by Mike Bussard. DBI Books, 1993.
William C. Davis, Jr., Handloading, NRA Books, 1981.
C. Kenneth Ramage, ed., Lyman Cast Bullet Handbook, 3rd Edition. Lyman Products Corporation, 1980.
Ed Sanow, Russia’s ‘.30-06’” in “Guns & Ammo,” August 1995.