Note: This is the second in a series of posts by someone who doesn’t know squat about guns, but is curious to find out more. Click here for PART ONE.
I’m curious about guns. That’s true. But I started this trip by accident.
It was late. I was looking through Facebook like a movie zombie aimlessly banging into a wall. Sitting in my comfy leather chair, laptop on my knees, my head rested in my left hand while one finger on my right hand did all the work of pointing and clicking. Some Facebook friend reposted a cute kitten picture, or maybe it was a treehouse, I don’t remember. But I must have liked it because I hit the right arrow button to see more of what the original poster had posted in the way of kitty or puppy pictures (or maybe it was one of those 1950s line drawings with post-modern sarcasm underneath) on their page.
Among the sigh inducing images of adorable fur balls was a flier for a gun sale put on by a survivalist group. At least that’s how I remember it. They were selling surplus Russian Mosin-Nagant 91/30 rifles for $99.99. I’d been thinking about getting a rifle and finding out how to use it for a while. I even walked through the gun section at L.L. Bean a few times and browsed the listings in Uncle Henry’s. But I couldn’t see dropping $500 on something I knew nothing about. I also didn’t relish the thought of hearing my wife’s take on such a purchase, out of the blue.
Now, lo and behold, I might be able to own a rifle for a quarter of that kind of money. The date on the flier was last year. So, I Googled Mosin-Nagant and found lots of them online at a similar price. Turns out the United States has been kind of flooded with them in the past few years. Their low price is a reflection of their relative abundance, not poor quality. Al least that’s what the internet tells me and there’s lots of opinions on the internet.
It seemed fortuitous. I already owned a Russian motorcycle designed in 1938, the kind they drove in WWII. So, I ordered one for just over a hundred bucks.
In a nutshell, the Mosin-Nagant 91/30 is a bolt-action, internally magazine-fed, military rifle developed by Russian (Mosin) and Belgian (Nagant) inventors, and used by the armed forces of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union and various other satellite nations orbiting the U.S.S.R. It went into use in 1891 and was redesigned and updated a few times, the final time being in 1930, hence the 91/30 designation.
The Soviets pumped out gazillions of these things leading up to, and during WWII. By the markings on mine, I can tell it was made at the Izhevsk Arsenal in 1943. Not only did they manufacture scads and scads of these things, but when they became outdated the Russians reconditioned the ones they had on hand and packed them away for a rainy day. They held onto them years and years after other governments would have discarded or sold them off. When the Iron Curtain fell in tatters, lots of them made their way to the West, including my house.
(Side note: Have you ever seen the 2005 movie “Lord of War“? No? Do it.)
They didn’t just pack them away, either. They packed them away in cosmoline. What’s cosmoline you ask? I’ve heard some refer to it as the Devil’s snot. I do not claim to have any first hand knowledge of the Lord of the Underworld’s mucous, but If I had to guess, I say it was something like this stuff.
Seriously, it’s some kind of slimy petrochemical akin to thick brown Vaseline. The Soviets packed them away in this stuff to prevent corrosion. It was in every nook and cranny of my rifle, in the barrel, in the chamber, in the bolt and even in the wood of the stock.
More on that in a minute.
I ordered my rifle from Bud’s Gun Shop in Lexington, Kentucky. It turns out you can’t have UPS drop a rifle off at your house. Brown Santa does not deliver guns. You have to have guns and ammo shipped to a federally licensed firearms dealer. I chose L.L. Bean from the drop down menu on Bud’s website. They charged me a transfer fee in the neighborhood of $35. While I was there, I bought a basic cleaning kit, too.
Before the folks at Bean’s would hand over my greasy Russian rifle, I had to fill out a form from the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. They wanted my name, address, age, gender, ethnicity (social security number was optional but I gave it) and then the questions got more serious.
Am I a felon? No.
Am I currently charged with a felony? No.
Am I a fugitive from justice? No.
Am I addicted to marijuana, depressants, stimulants or controlled substances? No. (Why no question about the most widely abused substance on the planet: alcohol?)
The form went on to ask if I was ever certified mentally defective by a judge, was I an illegal alien, was I a domestic abuser, did anyone have a restraining order taken out on me or if I’d ever renounced my U.S. citizenship. I answered no to all these questions.
Then the nice lady in the L.L. Bean apron disappeared to some back room to run my name through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to make sure I was fit to own the rifle and I’d answered all the questions honestly.
I wasn’t too worried. Back when I worked at The Times Record, the guards at Bath Iron Works ran my name through the system whenever I walked past the place with a camera in my hand, which was often.
Now, this seems like a pretty safe system designed to keep guns out of the hands of bad guys. But in reality, in Maine at least, it’s a system that is easily skirted. Just buy your gun at a gun show or through a private sale and there’ll be no record of it and no background check.
Let me state that again: Walk by BIW, on a public sidewalk, with a press pass and camera and you’ll get run through NCIS. Pick up Uncle Henry’s Swap it and Sell it Guide and dial up anyone in the firearms section, or go to a gun show, and you can get a semi-automatic handgun without any questions asked.
Strange but true. That’s the difference between Maine’s lax gun laws and the Federal Government’s somewhat more stringent laws.
I passed the test and they gave me the rifle, but they did walk me to the door with it.
My wife’s response to my new gun was muted, but to the point.
“I’d just like to know where you get money for random shit like this,” she said.
I spent the next two weeks watching YouTube videos of various quality on how to clean the cosmoline boogers out of my new gun. I’ve got to say, some of the folks who make YouTube videos about Mosin-Nagants are downright hysterical. And they are all, every single one that I could find (and there’s hundreds of them) made by men. I didn’t come across a single double X chromosome anywhere out there in cyberspace. It was all handlebar mustaches and basement workbenches.
I did manage to locate some helpful videos with decent audio and lighting bright enough to see what they were doing. I learned how to take the rifle apart with the little multi-tool that came with it. It’s just a matter of a couple of barrel bands and two flathead screws. I also practiced taking the bolt apart and putting it back together. I like doing it. It has a meditative quality to it and there are some satisfying clicks and clacks when you get it right.
I also learned how to adjust the firing pin and check the headspace. Which, hopefully means the firing pin will hit the round at the correct depth, sending the bullet out the front instead of the bolt out the back and into (through) my noggin. Time will tell.
The cosmoline removal was nasty, but not hard. I used a degreaser from the dollar store and lots of hot water. The cosmoline globed up and came right off the metal parts. I went through two rolls of paper towels and an unknown quantity of cotton swabs to finish the job.
Getting the stuff out of the wooden stock was a different matter. I didn’t want to use the degreaser for fear of removing what little finish was left clinging to it. Instead, I used heat. One warm morning last week I put the wooden bits in a black garbage bag. Before I had breakfast I placed it on the roof of my porch, out my bedroom window, in the sun.
I crawled out my bedroom window with some paper towels after my toast and coffee. I took the wooden parts out of the bag and wiped off the cosmoline seeping out of the stock. There was quite a bit of it.
Then thought how I must look to my neighbors here in Portland: in my robe, cleaning what looks like a rifle, on my porch roof, in the early morning. I crawled back through the window. I finished cleaning it in my yard, behind the fence.
Well, it’s all back together now. I think the next step will be to take it to a gunsmith to make sure I’ve done everything correctly. YouTube is no substitute for a breathing local expert.
Then I’ll need bullets and a teacher.
Stay tuned for Part Three.
Go to PART THREE