The Belgian-Russian Connection
The Gletcher Model 1891 Mosin-Nagant sawed-off Rifle
By Dennis Adler
Sawed-off rifles and shotguns were not solely an affectation of the American West and the Prohibition Era of the 1920s and ’30s; throughout Europe rifles and shotguns with shortened barrels were common, particularly in time of war, which brings us to this unusual and rare variation of the legendary Mosin-Nagant bolt action rifle, the Obrez. This was a non-production version of the Model 1891 (and later Mosin-Nagant rifles) with the stocks cut off behind the wrist and barrels shortened to as little as 12 inches. None, however, were as elegantly designed as this Gletcher airgun variation based on the Model 1891 design.
Desirability is the motivation
Gletcher also makes the Mosin-Nagant Model 1944 military rifle, one of the most popular designs of the legendary Russian bolt-actions. For collectors, there remains no shortage of original Mosin-Nagant rifles in all variations, as more than 37 million were produced over the decades, making it the longest serving and most widely used bolt-action rifle in history.
The original 1891 model was a combination of two designs, one by a Russian military officer, Captain Sergei Ivaonvich Mosin and Belgian armsmakers Emile and Leon Nagant, thus the hyphenated designation, although in Russia it was never known as the Mosin-Nagant but Model 1891 or “3-Lineyaya Vintovka obr 1891g” (3-line rifle, model of 1891). In truth, it was more of a Russian-Belgian connection, with Mosin’s design comprising the majority of the gun’s construction. Production began in 1892 at the Russian ordnance factories at Tula, Izhevsk and Sestroryetsk. The Model 1891 and subsequent improved models and variations were used by Russian (and later Soviet) soldiers through WWII. The original M1891 rifle was built in infantry, Dragoon (shortened for mounted cavalry), and carbine versions. The design was updated in 1930 and designated as the M91/30 which was famously used by the Red Army. There was also a carbine version known as the M38 issued during World War II, and the M91/30 Sniper Rifle with telescope sights. This is the most famous model thanks to the 2001 film “Enemy at the Gates” starring Jude Law as Russian sniper Vasily Zaytsev. The film was loosely based on the true story of Zaytsev’s role as a sniper during the 1942 Battle of Stalingrad. More than anything else the film brought the Mosin-Nagant unprecedented recognition outside of military arms collector circles. The last variation of the rifle was the M44 carbine which was adopted by the Russian army late in 1944. The Obrez, however, was essentially a field conversion used during the October Revolution of 1917, and was carried by various irregular forces and partisans for its easy concealment under clothing. It was also favored by criminals for the same reason.
While few if any Mosin-Nagant Obrez models ever saw use in this country, the concept had been long established in late 19th century America with sawn off double barrel shotguns and cut-down lever action rifles being used by lawmen and outlaws alike. The use of cut-down rifles and shotguns reached its pinnacle during the prohibition era and less than a year after prohibition was repealed in 1933 the National Firearms Act was passed. The legislation made ownership of sawed-off shotguns and rifles illegal without being registered with the government and taxed. While this only applied to law abiding citizens, the tax was a hefty $200, which significantly exceeded the value of the often crudely modified rifles and shotguns. Even quality-built production sawed-off shotguns like the Ithaca Auto & Burglar were generally priced at only $30 to $40 at the time, thus ownership became impractical. Even today, to own a short barreled rifle or shotgun still requires a $200 tax stamp and federal registration. Ownership of the Gletcher Mosin-Nagant Model 1891 sawed-off air rifle requires less than the cost of the $200 Tax Stamp required to own an original Obrez model, if you can find one. Thus Gletcher seized on the nostalgia, rarity, and cost of originals as the rationale for building this unusual “pistol” version of the Mosin-Nagant M1891.
Authenticity and operation
The original rifles (and Obrez models) employed the established Mosin and Nagant designs for the unique bolt handle and safety, which was engaged by pulling the cocking piece to the rear and rotating it to the left, allowing it to hook over the rear of the receiver. While the horizontal position of the turn bolt handle might seem awkward in appearance, compared to more “elegant” bolt action designs with curved bolt handles that rest against the side of the stock, Mosin’s design proved remarkably quick to operate in the field.
The Gletcher M1891 uses a removable box magazine that holds the CO2 cartridge and a load of 16 steel BBs. The original M1891 had an integral magazine with 5-rounds fed through the open action using a stripper clip. Unlike the Obrez models, which often had the sights removed, the Gletcher uses the ruggedly-designed M1891/30-style sliding tangent rear and hooded front post sights.
While the wood-grained stock is synthetic, it has a good, wood-like appearance and smooth reddish-brown finish. It also has the correct style finder grooves set along the sides of the forend. With an overall weight of 5.6 pounds it is no lightweight, but as comparison photos show, it is a really accurate copy of the Obrez models right down to the operation of the action and trigger. This is definitely one worth owning!
With an average velocity of 427 fps, the 12-inch barrel delivers its charge on target with consistent accuracy. Tested from a distance of 10 meters (33 feet) and fired offhand, 16-rounds all struck within the X ring with the best 10 measuring 1.75 inches center-to-center. Additional shots also struck inside the X and close around the 10 ring with consistency. Trigger pull averaged 3.27 pounds and the bolt action functioned as quickly as Captain Sergei Ivaonvich Mosin intended it to in 1891. This is a truly enjoyable pistol (or short barrel rifle if you prefer) to shoot and Gletcher has done a remarkable job of capturing the essence of one of the rarest of all Mosin-Nagant models.