Reloading the 7.62 Nagant Revolver

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Reloading for this unique and complicated seven-shot revolver is simple using commercial once-fired brass, it’s more accurate and much cheaper than buying commercial ammo.  The Nagant Revolver, designed in 1886 by Emile & Léon Nagant (production began 1895) is unique in that, when the hammer is cocked the cylinder moves forward to form a gas seal and increases velocity.  The 1895 Nagant Revolver is probably one of the best buys in surplus handguns on the market right now, selling for $109 at online distributors, such as AimSurplus, J&G Sales, and Southern Ohio GunHowever, the ammunition can be pricey and difficult to find in local gun stores, presently selling for about $23.00 for a box 50 rounds.  However, I sense that most people interested in the 1895 Nagant simply shy away from taking advantage of the excellent deal on these revolvers due to the price of ammo and its limited sources, along with the perceived difficulty to reload.  Fear not my fellow gun geeks, this cartridge is very simple to reload using existing components (spent commercial brass), cast bullets, and a Lee Precision 7.62 Nagant Die Set and can be done for $2.18 per box of 50!!!  Now that should encourage anyone to start reloading.

Let’s start with the reloading dies necessary for reloading.  While gearing up to do my reloading for the Nagant I read online where reloaders would use several different dies to complete the process (ie., M1 Carbine Dies, a modified seating die, roll crimping the rim) in order to duplicate the gas seal cartridge.  If you’re looking to get the gas seal by seating the bullet below the case mouth and taper crimping to get the shape of the original cartridge – that may be the way to go – but quite frankly, my endeavor was to simply get the Nagant firing again with reloads on a rather inexpensive budget and good accuracy.  The gas seal is unique, but not necessary in order to obtain decent velocity and a good target group.  Lee Precision manufactures a die set for 7.62 Nagant and it’s marketed as such to imply that it is to be used with forming 32-20 Winchester brass only.  Yes, it can be used with 32-20 Winchester brass – but it can also be used with once-fired 7.62 Nagant brass from Fiocchi or any other once-fired commercial case.  I will be using the Lee Precision 7.62 Nagant Die Set; figuring if it can form 32-20 brass to 7.62 Nagant brass then it should also be able to form 7.62 Nagant to it’s original specifications.  Now, let’s get started.

First, since the unfired Fiocchi cartridge has an overall length (OAL) of 1.512″ I need to ensure my new reloaded cartridge has about the same OAL in order for the nose of the cartridge to clear the barrel when the cylinder rotates.  We can’t have the projectile hanging up on the entrance of the barrel when the cylinder rotates.

 

 

Next, we simply take a once-fired 7.62 Nagant brass case and trim it, using a Lyman Universal Case Trimmer (or your choice of trimming device) trim the case to about 1.287″ in length.  The main reason I chose to trim down the brass instead of retaining the normal, full case length is due to the hard working of the Nagant crimped case mouth which will quickly become brittle and split (plus, it’s very thin brass at the neck).  I should get several more firings from the trimmed brass versus the original case design with the projectile seated below the case mouth and overly crimped; just to get a gas seal.  Anyhow, once trimmed to this length, debur and chamfer the case mouth to ensure you don’t scratch your reloading dies.

 

 

 

 

Place the now-trimmed 7.62 Nagant brass case in a reloading press and run the case up into your 7.62 Nagant sizing die.  It’ll size easily.  Apparently there is difficulty in finding a proper size shell holder for the thin rimmed Nagant brass.  Well, I was fortunate enough to have rumbled through all my Lee shell holders and found a #19 that actually was slightly bigger than the other two I had and it holds the brass case perfectly.  I marked this shell holder with black ink to differentiate it from the other shell holders.  I suppose that you could, if desired, use a dremmel tool and open any #19 shell holder enough to allow the case to fit.  Seat a small-pistol primer into the case as normal.

Next, using the neck-expanding powder charge die in the Lee Die set (marked 32-20), expand the case mouth and charge the case with a powder of your choice.  I highly recommend using Hodgdon Trail Boss powder due to its unique features.  Hodgdon Trail Boss was originally designed to be used for cast bullet shooters.  The powder itself is unique in it’s properties in that its very fluffy which allows cases to be filled to higher capacities while maintaining relatively low pressures needed for cast bullets.  When a case is charged with fast powder and low volume the inherent problem of “aspect variation” comes into play which is simply, a lot of room in the case with a little bit of powder – and depending on where the powder is laying at in the case at the time of the ignition can result in different exterior ballistic results.  Meaning – it can be very inconsistent.  The 7.62 Nagant cartridge is particularly susceptible to aspect variation due to the long case and low maximum pressure requirements (11, 000 psi max).  Thus, using Trail Boss will eliminate the issue of aspect variation and provide more consistent results on paper…trust me.   In the photo to the left I have loaded 3.5 grains of Trail Boss which fills the case approximately 3/4 full.

Next, seat your projectile to the depth that ensures your projectile doesn’t make contact with the barrel when the cylinder rotates.  My projectile is a cast bullet made of water quenched wheel weights, weighing 95 grains  actual, using the Lee Precision TL314-90-SWC mold. I add a light roll crimp to help hold the projectile in place.  The projectile is sized at or slightly (.001″-.003″) larger than the diameter of my revolver’s bore.

 

To the right you can barely see the nose of the projectile protruding outside the cylinder and yet still clearing the barrel as it rotates.  My OAL cartridge length is 1.523″ which is slightly longer than the Fiocchi factory round of 1.512″, but it’ll work fine.

Below is my finished product.  It’s basically identical to the original 7.62 Nagant design however we’ve simply removed the brass surrounding the projectile.  We lose the gas seal, but we can reload this case several more times.  Also, it’s easier to reload without special modifications to your dies, or having to purchase new, commercial 32-20 brass.  Next, we move on to some field results to determine how this puppy compares to factory Fiocchi 7.62 Nagant cartridges.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Field Testing:

Target on the left is 7 rounds of Fiocchi Factory 7.62 Nagant, 98 grain ammunition.  Target on the right is 7 rounds of my reloaded Fiocchi brass using 95 grain cast WW SWC with 3.5 grains of Trail Boss.  Click on target to enlarge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Based upon the Chronograph Data it appears that the reloaded ammunition produced on average 30 fps faster ammunition (even without the gas seal), with improved  accuracy over the factory Fiocchi ammunition.  It should be noted that even though the Standard Deviation and Extreme Separation for the factory Fiocchi ammunition (SD: 10, ES: 27) compared to the reloaded ammunition (SD: 46, ES: 126) is significantly lower, it indicates that while the factory ammunition is more consistent, it is not more accurate.  I suspect this to be attributed to two possible conditions with the factory Fiocchi ammunition – first, as mentioned earlier, aspect variation plays a role in accuracy of ammunition and the light charge (6.4 gr) of flake powder used in the long case (1.512″) is likely a culprit in it’s less than desirable accuracy.  Furthermore, Fiocchi ammunition uses a 98 grain FMJ .295″ diameter projectile.  Both of my Nagant Revolvers lands slugged at ~.303″ which indicates that the Fiocchi .295″ diameter projectile isn’t engaging the rifling of the barrel – producing an inevitable lousy group.  The only saving grace the Fiocchi projectile provides is that it has an exposed lead-base which helps in it’s expansion – provided there’s enough pressure applied during firing; which is questionable at 650 fps.  All I can say is the proof is in pudding (or the targets in this case).

So you see, not only can you produce cheaper ammunition by reloading the Nagant but you can also produce more accurate ammunition, cheaper.  Here’s the cost break down using the following components:

1.  9 oz jug of Hodgdon Trail Boss Powder ($14.00)

2.  1000 Winchester Primers ($32.00)

3.  Brass (zero charge since it was already purchased when I bought the factory cartridges)

4.  Projectile (zero charge since I cast my own bullets from lead wheel weights)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a video of how I reload the Nagant 7.62×38 Cartridge:

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tutorial.

Safe Shooting!

 

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