The Belgian-Russian Connection
The Model 1895 Nagant Revolver goes CO2
By Dennis Adler
There is an almost inexplicable attraction to early military revolvers and semi-automatic pistols that has not diminished with the passing of years. Aside form the Colt Model 1911, most are of foreign origin and you can count them on one hand; the German Mauser Broomhandle, Luger P.08 Parabellum and Walther P.38, the British Empire’s venerated .455 caliber Webley Mk VI revolver, and the Belgian Nagant 7-shot revolver carried by Russian soldiers in two World Wars. The amazing thing is that they are all available today as .177 caliber CO2 airguns with virtually every feature accurately reproduced!
Instantly recognizable, the Model 1895 Nagant became a staple of Russian cinema for nearly a century beginning with the 1928 B&W silent film Storm over Asia. The Nagant has also appeared in a number of noteworthy American films like Dr. Zhivago. Putting the gun into an even more contemporary setting, Robert Downey, Jr. carried one as Sherlock Holmes in the 2009 film, and currently actor Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes uses a Nagant in the popular British TV series. However, the 1895 Nagant revolver is perhaps better known to American collectors of WWI and WWII era European arms. Originally built in Belgium, it was one of the most advanced designs of the late 19th century. It was designed by brothers Leon and Emile Nagant and manufactured at their armory Fabrique d’Armes et Leon Nagant in Liege. The 7.62mm 7-shot gas-seal Nagant revolver was adopted in 1895 as the standard issue handgun for the Russian Army and was so highly regarded by the military that Russia purchased the patent rights and began manufacturing the Nagant revolvers at the Tula, Sestroryetsk and Izhevsk arsenals. Production continued until 1945 and even after the war the guns were still carried by Russian police and the infamous KGB (along with the 1930’s era Tokarev TT and TT-33 semi-autos).
The mettle of their metal
In recreating these historic handguns as air pistols Gletcher, which offers two versions of the Model 1895 Nagant revolver, a cartridge-loading BB pistol and cartridge-loading pellet model with rifled barrel, eschews the use of plastics in building the airguns by casting all metal components to provide durability, accurate styling, and the proper weight and methods of operation. In addition to the M1895 pistol, Gletcher also makes an authentic reproduction of the WWII pattern Mosin-Nagant Model 1944 rifle and a sawed off Model 1891 rifle version. The Gletcher air pistols reproduce nearly all of the original features and the revolver is a true, double action, single action pistol designed for solid handling and downrange accuracy.
Gletcher offers two finishes, a finely polished silver nickel or black matte; both are available in BB or pellet versions. The company, which specializes in Russian models with its Russian Legends series, went to great lengths to get the details right. The original 1895 Nagant was a well thought out design, so duplicating some of its more esoteric characteristics makes this gun a real gem for vintage arms collectors who like to dabble in non-cartridge firing doppelgangers, and they don’t get much closer to the real thing than Gletcher’s Nagant. First off, there is the frame and grip design, distinctive to the Belgian-made pistol. Gletcher has it right down to the fine points including the design and operation of the loading gate, a locking, swiveling ejector rod, and removable cylinder pin. Like the original Model 1895, the Gletcher’s cylinder can be removed by withdrawing the ejector rod, pulling the cylinder pin and rolling the cylinder out of the frame.
Even though the Gletcher’s grip panels are plastic, they have the same diamond pattern checkering and front and backstrap insert panels. The gun’s distinctive crescent front and notched rear sight, cylinder flutes and bolt locks have been authentically duplicated. In weight and balance, the 7.62X38R caliber Model 1895 Nagant was a medium sized, solid frame revolver weighing just 28 ounces (empty), with an overall length of 9.4 inches including the standard 5-1/2 inch barrel (shorter barrel length guns were also made). The Gletcher airguns tip the scale at 28 ounces (empty) and have an overall length of 9.4 inches with a 5-1/2 inch barrel. Spot on. And as can be seen in the accompanying photographs the airgun fits all original and reproduction 1895 Nagant holsters!
BBs vs. pellets
To test both the BB and pellet models, the target was set out at a range of 21 feet and shots were fired both single and double action. Trigger pull measured a smooth 10 pounds average, and the trigger solidly stages the hammer half way through allowing a very solid hold on target. Single action trigger pull measured a modest 5 pounds, 9 ounces average. The sights are easy to align and large enough to pick up in most lighting situations particularly with the nickel finished model. It is a very easy gun to shoot. As for loading… the Nagant is as slow in the 21st century as it was in the 19th. Thumb the loading gate down, rotate the cylinder and load each chamber. To reload, you really don’t need to use the ejector unless you are a stickler for following through on every detail. The spent brass BB or pellet cartridges easily slip out of the chamber as you rotate it. No gun powder, no case expansion, no fouling, so no resistance.
The CO2 cartridge loads into the left side of the grip frame by removing the left panel, which has a discrete notch at the lower front edge. The authentic lanyard ring at the base of the grip is attached to the retention screw that seats the CO2 cartridge. Turning the lanyard ring raises the cartridge until it is pierced, making the gun ready to load and fire. And when it is turned all the way up the ring looks absolutely authentic!
Accuracy at 7 yards (21 feet) was a best seven at 1.7 inches with the BB gun using Umarex .177 caliber steel BBs. The pellet model with its rifled barrel was loaded with RWS Meisterkugeln 4.5mm lead pellets. Accuracy with the pellet gun was an impressive seven round group of 0.75 inches. Average velocity was 410 fps with the Meisterkugeln 4.5mm lead pellets and 390 fps with the Umarex .177 caliber steel BBs.
While I have liked the BB model since it was first introduced, the pellet version with rifled barrel is a tack driver of an air pistol and an honest 10 meter airgun for pistol shooting. If you’re a fan of vintage military small arms, the Gletcher Nagant is a keeper.
In Part 2 we delve further into the past to test the Gletcher Mosin-Nagant Model 1891 sawed-off rifle.