The Nagant 1895 revolver (as seen in the movies Enemy of the Gates and Sherlock Holmes) is a peculiar weapon that caught my interest at the start of my Gunsmithing career. At the time, I found one of these handguns that looked brand new and was advertised for about 100 US dollars. I felt I could not afford to pass it up. But is the Nagant worth adding to your collection?
History of the Nagant Revolver
Belgian gun designer Leon Nagant had invented solid frame double-action revolvers that were adopted by various militaries such as Argentina and Ottoman Turkey. When Czar Nicholas examined one innovative design, what would be the Nagant service revolver, The Czar was impressed by its unique gas seal feature and thought it was worth issuing to his military.
In 1895, the world was moving toward smokeless powder ammunition that was more powerful and made soldiers harder to detect. The Russians were ultimately looking to keep up with the times by adopting the 1895 Nagant revolver, which was chambered in a smokeless 7.62x38mm cartridge as a replacement for Russia’s break-top .44 caliber Smith and Wesson revolvers.
The 1895 Nagant revolver is a seven-shot revolver that was available in a double-action model for officers and originally also a single-action model, but after 1918 only the double was available. All Nagant revolvers feature an innovative transfer bar safety to prevent accidental firing if the gun is dropped while the hammer is cocked on a live round. They have a barrel a hair over four inches with fixed combat sights.
They feature a loading gate that frees the cylinder for loading and an ejector rod concealed within the robust cylinder pin. When the hammer comes back, the cylinder moves forward to mesh with the forcing cone, creating a gas seal for more velocity and the ability to silence the gun. The grip is easy to grasp and is made of either wood or a bakelite material with a lanyard ring to keep an officer attached to his sidearm.
The Nagant revolver was already obsolete when adopted and very much an answer to a question no-one asked. Nevertheless, it was the standard-issue handgun for Russia during World War I and would ultimately be the weapon used to murder the Czar and his family after his abdication and imprisonment by the Bolsheviks.
It continued in service with Russia through the Civil War (1919-22) and was not fully replaced until after World War II (1939-45). North Korea, China, and Vietnam used them in their various wars afterward and the pistols are still encountered occasionally in Russia to this day.
Analysis and Shooting
I received my 1895 Nagant in May 2012 and got my hands on genuine military surplus ammunition. The gun was from the Communist era, having been made in the Tula arsenal in 1929. The ammo featured a 108-grain full metal jacket bullet seated far back in the case and offering about 1300 feet per second. While .32 Smith and Wesson Long can be fired in the Nagant and aftermarket cylinders for .32 ACP are available, I wanted to shoot genuine military fodder because no one on YouTube had done it before and 7.62x38mm ammunition made today is about half the speed of the real stuff. That’s why the Nagant has an undeserved reputation as being weak. In reality, it was more powerful than .32 caliber autos and other revolvers in use at the time it was introduced.
Shooting the Nagant was pleasant and done on numerous occasions using 32 Smith and Wesson Long and surplus 7.62mm ammo at distances between seven and twenty-five yards. The loading and unloading process was quite slow even for firearms from the time the M1895 was introduced. To load,
1) Open the loading gate on the left side of the gun. This frees the cylinder to rotate. The rounds are placed into the cylinder one at a time. Seven times.
2) Close the loading gate and fire away.
3) When you are done firing, open the loading gate.
4) Unscrew the ejector rod beneath the barrel, pull it out and turn it to the right side of the gun.
5) Poke each case out as you advance the cylinder. You must retract the rod after each stroke. Do this seven times.
Granted, a military sidearm of the era was meant mainly for executing insubordinate troops and as more of a badge of rank. However, at the time, Colt and Smith and Wesson were coming out with the modern revolvers we are familiar with today that ejected all the rounds at once with a swing-out cylinder. Soldiers could unload and reload break-top revolvers like the British Webley and even the Smith and Wesson 44 with the flick of a wrist. The fact that the Nagant fires a gas sealed cartridge is little more than a gimmick. It makes the action pretty clunky.
Having gotten over the reloading process, the trigger pull is awful. The single-action trigger pull (pulling the hammer back first before pulling the trigger) is acceptable but nowhere near as smooth as modern revolvers. The double-action pull (just pulling the trigger) is a good twenty pounds but to be fair most military revolvers of the era had such triggers to prevent the soldier from accidentally discharging the gun.
Recoil was snappy with military ammunition but not uncomfortable at all and with .32 Smith and Wesson Long 98-grain lead bullets there was no recoil at all. Accuracy with both rounds was paper-plate-worthy at seven yards but all over the target at twenty-five yards despite my best efforts. My intention to reload the .32 SWL round for improved accuracy was shattered when I found the cases split while firing. That is unfortunate because I felt more could be done to improve the gun’s target performance.
Even though the 1895 Nagant came a day late and a dollar short I cannot help but marvel at the creative genius of Nagant for creating one of the few revolvers that can be suppressed. That by itself means it should be in your collection. I see this handgun as a reloading project and a truck gun.
If these handguns can survive wars in Russia they will survive being under the seat of your pickup. While I did not get the chance to tease more accuracy out of the Nagant I’d say it is adequate as it stands. In short, accuracy is hum-ho. Recoil is not unpleasant. The gun itself is crude to the casual observer but tough as nails just like the Russians who carried it.
Photo courtesy of christiangunowner.com