863 meter shot with stock Mosin Nagant, vapor trails

rfff

Or 944 yards in ‘Merican” if that is how you roll. This video came out in April last year, and for some reason we haven’t covered it yet on TFB. But news aside, with a completely stock, surplus Mosin Nagant, this guy makes a couple of successful shots at an extreme range. We all know the battle sights on the Nagant are graduated to 1000 meters, some variants even go up to 2000 meters. Of course, these rifles were never intended to hit a point target beyond 500 meters or so, instead these graduations were meant for entire groups of Russian soldiers to barrage an enemy at those distances with rifle fire, or as the British called it “volley fire” and even had a special rear sight separate from the primary rear sight that was installed on earlier SMLE MK.1 Lee Enfields to be used.

Now the second reason why I find this video extremely interesting is because the cameraman, unbeknownst to him, is actually catching the “vapor” of the bullet’s path through the air, before it reaches the target. You can see it, between the discharge of the rifle, and the impact on the target, the break up of the mirage by the trail of the bullet through the air. Now you aren’t seeing the actual bullet zipping along its trajectory, instead you are seeing the heat that it is leaving behind in the air. This elusive vapor is absolutely essential to long range precision shooting, and especially to the spotter, usually with a spotting scope. The typical practice is to focus in on the target with the spotting scope, then to dial back about a quarter turn so the target is slightly out of focus, but the area between you and the target is in focus, thus being able to catch the “vapor trail”. Sniper teams sometimes have a lot of trouble finding this happy median, and the fact that the cameraman here completely caught it offhand is pretty lucky!

But what is the use of these trails even if you do see them? Well, if you can’t see the impact of the round that missed the target, then the vapor trail will tell you whether it went left, right, high, or low. But only if you know how to  read it.

It's hard to catch it because of the low quality on print screen, but if you watch before the shots in the area I highlighted, you'll see it.

It’s hard to catch it because of the low quality on print screen, but if you watch before the shots in the area I highlighted, you’ll see it.

This is an excellent example of catching vapor trails from a cameraman that knows his stuff.



Miles V

Former Infantry Marine, and currently studying at Indiana University. I’ve written for Small Arms Review and Small Arms Defense Journal, and have had a teenie tiny photo that appeared in GQ. Specifically, I’m very interested in small arms history, development, and Military/LE usage within the Middle East, and Central Asia.

If you want to reach out, let me know about an error I’ve made, something I can add to the post, or just talk guns and how much Grunts love naps, hit me up at miles@tfb.tv


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  • Very impressive shooting. I’ve had surprisingly good results out to 500m with my 1933 Hex 91/30 and standard Chinese light ball made in the 1960’s for machine guns. I can hit a torso-sized target at that range with reasonable regularity if I do my part. I’ve never shot it past that as my range doesn’t go farther than about 550, but it certainly doesn’t get any easier as you add more distance between yourself and the target! I’d be happy with one hit, but he scored a few – again, impressive.

    Mosin Nagants are hardly the finest rifles ever, but they absolutely have potential. The biggest hang ups most people will have when trying to really stretch a 91/30’s legs are:

    1. Fairly crummy triggers.
    2. 50+ year old ammo made for the PKM isn’t necessarily conducive to long range accuracy
    3. Some 91/30’s can be fairly ratty.
    4. Prejudice against the design and ammunition prevents people from even attempting long-range work.

    Even so, these are HANG UPS rather than immovable barriers. I’m by no means a match shooter, and I’ve had a whole heck of a lot of luck with my 91/30.

    Hopefully more people try to really see how their Mosin does at longer ranges. If you can go out to even 300m with a wartime 91/30 and junky surplus ammo, you can do it with anything.

    • Vitsaus

      For the amount of money most guys sink into making their 91/30 into a “sniper” rifle, they could get a Swiss K31, that will be better in every way.

      • Absolutely. I have a K31 and I love it, and I can’t imagine putting a single dollar into my 91/30 to try and ‘improve’ it when I can just spend that money on more GP11. I like to work with surplus rifles in same configuration that the applicable military that issued it used it in. If I find that configuration to be lacking, I either accept that as a historical fact of life, or I don’t own the rifle.

        • BattleshipGrey

          I like your thinking. Though if I had two of the same thing, I’d probably use one as a project gun just to tinker with and keep one stock.

          • iksnilol

            + you can breathe life into an old and beat up gun.

            I intend to buy a Mauser in 308 and “rebuild” it. + It is also a way to get something unique you want (for cheap in my case).

        • The_Champ

          “I like to work with surplus rifles in same configuration that the applicable military that issued it used it in. If I find that configuration to be lacking, I either accept that as a historical fact of life, or I don’t own the rifle.”

          Quote of the day! I couldn’t agree more. Plenty of new uber rifles available if one feels the need for max performance and customization.

        • okto

          You apparently haven’t bought ammo recently. GP11 is gone.

      • iksnilol

        True that. Though you can make a Mosin better for cheap by doing the following:

        -corking the barrel (google it, hard to explain)
        -removing bad/worn rifling from the muzzle (drilling it out from the muzzle end and recrowning)
        -polishing contact surfaces on the trigger.
        -painting front sight to make it more visible

        You can do it for like 10-20 USD if you value your time.

      • okto

        Including expensive ammo you can’t buy in most stores?

  • BattleshipGrey

    I love me some vapor trail videos.

  • Major Tom

    That is how you shoot in Soviet Union comrade.

  • Pseudo

    Is it actually water vapor? If so, how is it caused by local heating? Is it not a pressure effect?

    • I have always heard it referred to as a “vapor trail”, but that isn’t the scientific term for it, but that is certainly the term used in long range and sniper communities.

  • mosinman

    the 91/30 is better than people give them credit for

    • Nashvone

      Some people find it easier to blame the firearm than admit that they need to practice.

      • mosinman

        that’s true as well

    • Just say’n

      There’s a good one or two in every batch. The couple of 91/30s I’ve owned had shot-out barrels and would group about 4-6″ at 100 yards. A friend of mine has one that will hang with my M39 though (1.5″ at 100 yards). Luck of the draw I guess….

      • mosinman

        yeah they can be hit or miss sometimes

  • Ryfyle

    Huh. it looks like I made a decent purchase after all. guess the mosin lives.

  • Shane Gibson

    technically if its an actual Russian mosin then its measured in arshins, which are closer to yards than meters

    • Kirill

      Not if it’s a 91/30 or variation made after.

    • They stopped measuring them in Arshins in 1930.

    • okto

      As Kirill said, only if it’s a Dragoon. All 91/30s are calibrated in meters.

  • Bob Owens

    What we’re seeing here is what I’ve always heard described as the “trace,” which I’m been told is a differential in air pressure the bullet makes as it pushes air aside.

    A vapor trail is a different animal altogether, and far more rare, a white puff formed by water vapor condensing behind the bullet. I’ve never seen it myself, and have only heard tell of it.

    • Cleetus

      You are correct. In older times we called these Schleren lines (hence Schleren photography) and is caused by the bullet passing through the air resulting in the air behind the bullet to become less dense. When the air becomes less dense, the index of refraction changes so you see a ghost-like trace. It is similar to seeing the shimmering lines above hot pavement which is also variations in the airs index of refraction brought about by rising heat. Water vapor plays no part in any of this.

  • Excellent definition! I’m just going off of what we always called it in sniper platoons in the Marine Corps.

  • Martin Grønsdal

    How large is that target?

  • MrEllis

    Props to that guy. Fun video.

  • HenryV

    Boom! Ping! 🙂

  • ihatelibs

    Vapor trail MY ASS . That’s the Shock Wave . DUH . rookies

    • anon@non.no

      hey, jackass with the jackass account name. firearms not politics.

  • Jamie Clemons

    I wish I had a place to try some long range shooting.