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M1895 Nagant Single Action: Perfect for Playing Cowboys and Cossacks

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We certainly don’t choose the cream of the crop when looking for candidates for this column, but every now and then you find something interesting for the right price and people will inquire about carrying it as a woods or backup gun. So, on a visit to the local Cabela’s gun library, a trade came in that wasn’t exactly on our wish list: a single-action M1895 Nagant revolver made in 1902 in Imperial Russia. 

With a finish in about 80 percent condition and with no pitting, it looked quite a few steps up from the later Commie revolvers made after 1918. In fact, it seemed more like a prewar Smith or Colt. The fact that it was a single action indicated it was made for issue to enlisted men in Czarist Russia’s army, and on carefully checking it over, it bore no import marks. However, it was missing an ejector rod screw and the spring to hold the ejector rod in place.

Some good, some bad, but with a price of $80, it made it a no-brainer. A quick call to a parts distributor had the missing screw and spring for $4.22 shipped and, within a week, this 118-year-old revolver was fully operational once again.

A Little History

The M1895 Nagant revolver, as the name suggests, was designed by Leon Nagant in the 19th century. It’s a seven-shot, solid frame revolver which doesn’t break open or have a swing-out cylinder like most modern revolvers of the 20th century. It has a bird’s head-style grip and fires a specialized 7.62x38mmR cartridge. Prior to 1918 a single-action version was made for enlisted men, while officers got the double action. From 1918 until the 1950s, all Soviet-era Nagants were made as double-action revolvers.

Apart from being an iconic sidearm of the Russian Revolution and the Second World War, this revolver has one thing unique about it: a gas seal system. 

M1985 Nagant revolver cylinder

The cylinder moves forward as the hammer is cocked and closes the flash gap between the forcing cone of the barrel and the cylinder face. The loaded bullet in the round is recessed into the body of the case so that when it’s fired, the brass at the front expands and helps complete the gas seal. 

This was done when black powder cartridges were still the order of the day, although starting to lose traction to smokeless designs. Apparently, it was to boost velocity and pressure while containing the burn. Depending on who you believe, the gas seal increased muzzle velocity anywhere from 50 to 150 fps. Another benefit of the gas seal system is that it allowed the revolver to be used with a silencer. However, make no mistake about it and disregard the gun store myths, the revolver was not designed with suppressed use in mind.

The Good

As a collector, it was neat to find an old M1895 Nagant revolver like this at a good price that just needed a little TLC. Having eyeballed hundreds of post-Imperial Russian Nagants, this one had a lot more soul and much better fit and finish.

The Bad

It’s a single-action revolver with a loading gate, but it sure ain’t no Colt Single Action Army or even a Ruger Blackhawk. Loading and unloading of the M1895 Nagant revolver is time consuming, as you must extract and swivel the ejector rod in order to dump the empty cases … and do it one at a time. If you’re using this as a carry gun, you’d better hope that you can wrap your problems up in seven rounds unless you’re carrying a brace of these or a backup gun.

The Awful

Even though it’s a single-action revolver, the trigger breaks at 12 pounds. You can get a decent double-action revolver that’s a whole lot smoother than that.

As cheap as the M1895 Nagant revolver was, the ammunition is on the pricier side and isn’t always readily available.

In Summary

For a collector of Soviet firearms or old revolvers, a price like this couldn’t be beat. Similarly, if you wanted to be the first kid on your block to amaze your friends by buying a revolver you can suppress, this is the gun for you. Just budget for threading the barrel and remounting the front sight. 

Beyond that, this isn’t a self-defense or carry piece. There are more effective and efficient firearms out there. You might think, “But it was a military-issued revolver that saw close to a century of service,” and while correct, there’s still the subject of questionable and expensive ammunition.

This is a good range gun or collectible piece that represents an interesting point in arms development and does give the feeling of holding history in your hand. If you run 9mm silencers, this would make for a cool host and be a real conversation piece at an NFA shoot. Some folks like to load them up with 32 H&R Magnums, 32 S&W Longs, and other ammunition that’s not quite right for this revolver. We suggest avoiding that practice, as well. 

M1895 Nagant Revolver (Enlisted Model)

Caliber: 7.62 x 38mm R
Weight Unloaded: 7 pounds
Capacity: 7 rounds
Overall Length: 10.5 inches
Barrel Length: 4.5 inches
Price Paid: $80 (from Cabella's in Reno, NV)

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