Sunday, May 10, 2009

An unsettling experience with a Russian Nagant revolver

Went shooting at the range Saturday with one of my "Sharpshooters 'R' Us" buddies, a retired U.S. Air Force veteran, who brought his Russian Nagant 7.62x38Rmm revolver, an ancient single-action design dating back to 1895.

My buddy Leon is a reloader as well as military arms collector and I save my brass for him if he's not at the range when I shoot. And he found to his delight that brass from my Charter Arms Patriot .327 Federal Magnum works very well for reloading the 7.62x38R for his Nagant revolver. He said brass for the Nagant is hard to find and expensive.

So he was trying out some of his .327/Nagant reloads and we had a very unsettling experience. I shot his Nagant and found it to be quite accurate at 10 yards despite its rather stiff trigger. I put 2 out of 3 rounds in the black of an 8" bulls-eye target.

I was shooting my new Sig Sauer P229 and my fairly new S&W M&P Compact, both .357 Sig caliber, while Leon was popping some more reloads in his Nagant.

When we paused to reload, he said his Nagant had sounded odd as well as having quite a bit of blow-back around the cylinder, so he suspected a squib load, a projectile stuck in the barrel. Blow-back around the cylinder is usually minimal with the Nagant due to its tight locking design.
"The Nagant M1895 was chambered for a proprietary cartridge, 7.62x38R, and featured an unusual "gas-seal" system in which the cylinder moved forward when the gun was cocked to close the gap between the cylinder and the barrel, providing a (theoretical) boost to the muzzle velocity of the fired projectile."
Leon got a bore rod out of his tools and inserted it down the bore and sure enough, it was blocked. He also had a brass hammer so with me holding the Nagant, he began tapping the rod down the bore to clear it. Imagine our surprise when one projectile is tapped out but the bore is still blocked! Leon keeps tapping and another projectile falls out. But the bore is still blocked! He keeps tapping and a third projectile finally falls out and the bore is finally clear.

Three stuck bullets in the barrel and this ancient revolver didn't blow up in his hand! Don't tell me the Russians don't know how to build tank-tough firearms. And after the bore was cleared, we examined it carefully and there was no swelling or any apparent damage.

Close examination of the jammed projectiles showed deep indentations from the lands and grooves of the barrel, much deeper than normal. Leon said this indicates the .311-size jacketed rounds he was using for reloads are a bit too large for the Nagant's bore. And being cautious with his first reloads for the Nagant, he had used a light powder load. The combination of slightly too-large projectile and a light powder load results in a squib load. If the powder charge had not been light, the second and third projectile would no doubt have caused the barrel to explode.

Leon says he's going to drop down to about .308 bullets for future reloads with a higher charge. The .327 Federal Magnum brass can certainly handle about any powder charge you want to put in it as the cartridge is factory loaded to handle up to 45,000 psi, which is a truckload of psi's.

So all's well that ends well, but if Leon had kept on shooting, who knows what would have happened. That Nagant would surely have blown up if he had fired another round or two.

The Good Lord looks out for fools and drunks and members of "Sharpshooters 'R' Us" too!

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