The 7.62x54R (7.62x53R) Russian

By Chuck Hawks

The 7.62x57R ("R" for rimmed) was adopted by the Russian Army in 1891 in the Moisin-Nagant infantry rifle, and was used in both World Wars and the Korean War. This cartridge is also sometimes referred to as the 7.62x53R. It was introduced with a heavy RN bullet at a muzzle velocity (MV) of slightly over 2000 fps, but in 1909 was upgraded with a 150 grain spitzer bullet at a MV of about 2800 fps.

The Moisin-Nagant rifle has a split rear receiver bridge, through which the bolt passes when the action is cycled. This, when coupled with the rifle's straight bolt handle, makes the rifle awkward and slow to operate and very difficult to adapt to telescopic sights. It was usually supplied with an unwieldy 31.5 inch barrel.

According to the C.I.P. (the European standards organization) Russian specification 7.62x54R barrels are hybrids, with a bore diameter of .300 inch (typical of .30 caliber rifles) and a groove diameter of .312 inch (typical of .303 rifles). This is also true of Nagant rifle barrels manufactured in all other countires except Finland. Most Finnish 7.62x54R barrels have a groove diameter of .308 inch. The A-Square, Hornady and Speer reloading manuals recommend using .308 inch bullets in all 7.62x57R rifles; other sources suggest reloading all but Finnish Nagant rifles with .312 inch bullets.

The 7.62x57R cartridge has an overall maximum length of about 3.1 inches. The case is a bottleneck design 2.05 inches long, with a large rim typical of long obsolete cartridge designs. It has a shoulder angle of about 18.75 degrees. As mentioned in the paragraph above, the proper bullet diameter is open to question. The 7.62x54R is loaded to a maximum average pressure of 49,347 cup.

This cartridge and rifle combination was showing its age even before WW I. Modern, rimless cartridges like the 7x57, 8x57, and .30-06 were by then in common use in rifles like the Mauser 98 and '03 Springfield. Because of this, the 7.62mm Russsian never became very popular for sporting use outside of Russia.

Remington and Winchester produced many 7.62x54R rifles for the Imperial Army before the October (1917) Revolution. The cartridge was fairly popular in North America before World War I, and many surplus Nagant service rifles became available in the U.S. at low cost back in the 1960's. Another batch of surplus rifles became available after the fall of the USSR and most of its client states.

The 7.62x57R is still used today as a cartridge for target shooting, and to some extent for hunting. Historically the cartridge is the Russian equivalent of the American .30-40 Krag and the British .303; ballistically it is similar to the .308 Win.

The 2002 Shooter's Bible shows two Norma factory loads for the 7.62x54R. These are reasonably available in the U.S. The first uses a 150 grain bullet at a muzzle velocity of 2,953 fps with muzzle energy (ME) of 2,905 ft. lbs. The other uses a 180 grain bullet at a MV of 2,575 fps with ME of 2,651 ft. lbs.

The trajectory tables in the Shooter's Bible for the 150 grain bullet showed the following: +1.8 inches at 100 yards, 0 at 200 yards, and 8.3 inches low at 300 yards. The trajectory tables for the 180 grain bullet look like this: +2.4 inches at 100 yards, 0 at 200 yards, and -9.9 inches at 300 yards.

Unfortunately, the 2002 catalogs for Federal, Winchester, and Remington list no factory loads for the 7.62x54R Russian. Winchester does offer a 180 grain FMJ military type load that is not included in their civilian catalog (it can be found on their website). Sellier & Bellot, Wolf, and Sako also offer 7.62x54R factory loads. (Sako cartridge boxes are marked "7.62x53R.") Some of these use boxer primed (reloadable) cases, but some are loaded in European-style Berdan primed cases. Check it out before you buy. Brass is also available from Norma.

The Hornady Reloading Manual, Third Edition shows a variety of loads for the cartridge, with .308" bullets from 110-220 grains. As with the .308 Winchester, bullets from 150-180 grains would seem to be the best choice for most hunting purposes.

The following are typical loads. The 150 grain Hornady spire point bullet can be driven to a MV of 2,800 fps with 51.9 grains of H380 powder. The 165 grain spire point bullet can be driven to 2,600 fps with several powders, including 47.6 grains of H380. The 180 grain spire point bullet can achieve 2,600 fps with 49.1 grains of H380, as well as other powders. These loads all used Norma brass and Federal primers; velocities were taken in a very long 31.5 inch barrel.

A scoped 7.62x54R rifle can be sighted to put a 150 grain spitzer bullet +2.7" at 100 yards, +3" at 135 yards, +1.7" at 200 yards, and -3" at 275 yards. So sighted the 7.62x54R is a 275+ yard deer rifle, ballistically identical to the much more modern .308 Winchester.

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Copyright 2001, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.