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The 7.62x54mmR cartridge has the sole distinction of holding the title of the longest-serving military cartridge in existence. The 7.62x54mmR was first introduced in 1891 by the Russian Empire. That pre-Russian Federation and even pre-USSR. The 7.62x54mmR is more commonly referred to as simply, 7.62x54R.
Some would argue that the .303 Brit holds that distinction, as its service life started in 1889 and is still used in some areas of the British Commonwealth to this day, but officially that cartridge was retired and replaced by the 7.62×51 NATO round in the 1950’s.
For those bad at math, that would be 131 years ago as of 2022. That’s a long, long time for the same cartridge to still be fielded by any military.
A common misconception is that the “R” in 7.62x54mmR stands for Russian since that is its country of origin. While this is a logical line of thought, the “R” simply stands for rimmed.
The 7.62x54R was designed by Russian Captain Sergei Mosin. If that last name sounds slightly familiar, keep an eye out for an article coming soon where Mosin will make an appearance again.
The 7.62x54mmR cartridge was designed in the dying age of black powder. The new smokeless powder was invented in 1884 and quickly became the go-to for cartridges. Although the name smokeless isn’t quite honest, it was a lot cleaner than the old black powder that had been used before.
The new 7.62x54R cartridge was developed to be used in the Three Line Rifle M1891 which had been in development since 1882-1891. Obviously, before the transition from black powder had been made.
At the time, the M1891 was the standard infantry rifle of the Russian Empire. As such, they employed the new round as quickly as possible. The M1891 and the 7.62x54R was the standard issue until the rifle received an upgrade of sorts in 1930 and the name was changed to the Mosin-Nagant 91/30.
The round would be used in the Mosin-Nagant rifle and its variants until they were discontinued around 1973.
Although production of the Mosin-Nagant would cease, the 7.62x54R would see further use in the Dragunov Sniper Rifle, SV-98, and also used as a machine gun caliber for the PKM to this day.
Here we will have to make some distinctions as this cartridge has been used for 131 years. Obviously, technology and ballistics have changed a lot over that time.
The very shape of the bullets used in the 7.62x54R has changed as well.
If you look specifically at the numbers, they will tell you that the 7.62x54R compares slightly favorably to the 7.62x51mm NATO round.
However, when you take into account the geometry of the cases, the rimmed case on the 54R can cause a rifle to become rim-locked.
This means that the rims of the cartridges become stacked one behind the other and thus prevents the weapon from functioning as it should.
Obviously, this can be a big issue when you consider the application of these firearms.
One of the most obvious comparisons to be made about the 7.62x54R cartridge is that of the 30-06. They would be used by the then allied nations of the USA and the USSR in both the First and Second World Wars. This comparison is not the closest one to be made, however, as the 30-06 was a larger and more powerful cartridge overall.
If you compare the 7.62x54R to the 7.62×51 NATO round you will find a much closer comparison in overall cartridge dimensions as well as performance.
With modern loadings, the 7.62x54R slightly edges out the 7.62x51mm NATO round in most categories when looking at supplied numbers in comparable barrels.
When considering custom loadings, these differences are negligible at best.
Rifles that chamber the 7.62x54R
The 7.62x54R is used in a number of firearms, none in recent production but still many of them are easily found around the world.
Three Line Rifle
To start we will look at the Three Line Rifle. This rifle was the first to chamber this round and is the direct predecessor to the Mosin-Nagant.
The Mosin-Nagant 91/30 was the refresh to the Three Line Rifle. It made several improvements that were needed along the way that would turn into an extremely popular import to the United States of America after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Mosin-Nagant M38 & M44
A variant of the M91/30, the M44 (and M38) were carbine versions of the M91/30. The barrels were shortened which made for easier handling and a lighter weight for those who didn’t need the full-length M91/30.
The M38 would retain the use of the removable bayonet found on the M91/30 whereas the M44 would see the development of a folding style bayonet that would be attached on a hinge near the muzzle of the rifle.
The M38 was introduced in 1938, and the M44 was introduced in 1944.
The Dragunov sniper rifle can be more thought of as a designated marksman rifle, or DMR, which is a concept that is employed by our military in the present. This longer, semi-auto rifle allowed for quicker and more accurate shots to be made on the battlefield.
Rifles that also fall under this distinction are the Zastava ZPAP and the Romanian PSL.
The PKM is a general-purpose Russian Machine gun that utilizes the 7.62x54R round. The rounds are fed into the PKM via a belt that spaces the rimmed cartridges out thus eliminating the rim lock issue covered earlier.
Pricing and Availability
The availability of the 7.62x54R ammunition has been somewhat consistent through the years.
While some may point toward the current conflict and sanctions on Russia and think that the 7.62x54R ammo will soon dry up, I can say with some confidence that is not the case.
7.62x54R ammo is manufactured in many more countries than just Russia, to even include the United States.
Pricing on available ammunition in the current market (March of 2022) is tumultuous, to say the least. Panic buyers and hoarders have perpetuated a slump in availability and thus driven the overall price of ammunition in general through the roof.
Unfortunately, I do not see the prices trending down anytime soon.
When was the 7.62x54R developed?
The 7.62x54R round was developed over 130 years ago, in 1891 by the Russian Empire.
Is the 7.62x54R round a good choice for hunting?
Yes. The 7.62x54R has been developed over the years and special loadings are available specifically for hunting.
Will sanctions from the Russia-Ukraine conflict make the 7.62x54R ammo unavailable due to import ban?
Not likely. There are many other countries that produce the 7.62x54R round that have no sanctions, and some are even manufactured on US soil.
Is 7.62x54R ammo corrosive?
Some military surplus ammo out of eastern European countries is corrosive. If you have any questions as to if your ammo is corrosive or not, be sure to clean your rifle after each range session.
Be sure to check out our other ammo articles to catch up on new and old calibers!