I'm going to be shopping for an M38 this weekend -- any advice on what to look for?
I've never owned a long gun before, but I'll have a couple of friends with me who are experienced with both bolt action guns in general and Nagants in particular.
If you want a shooter, check out the bore. Ideally, both the grooves and the lands will still be shiny. More typically, the grooves will appear dark or cloudy. That's fine too as long as the bore isn't badly pitted.
When you get the gun home, swab the bore real good with an industrial strength copper solvent, and scrub it with a phosphor bronze brush. The Box 'o Truth actually has a nice article that specifically uses a Mosin as an example. Rotate between solvent patches, brush, and dry patch a few times, then give the bore one last wet sloppy swabbing with solvent. Set it muzzle-down on top of a rag in your closet or something, and let it soak overnight. Then, brush it one last time and lubricate as usual.
If you want a collectible M38, look for things that make the rifle uncommon. Ideally it should have all matching serial numbers on the bolt, butt plate, and magazine floor plate. Hex receiver M38's are pretty rare; rarer than hex 91/30s for sure. Tula M38's are rarer than Izhevsk ones.
One more thing: these rifles are not "Nagants", they're Mosins. Any self-respecting Russian or Red Army soldier would think you were talking about the Nagant revolver if you mentioned shooting a Nagant. mo-SEEN na-GAHN
Happy collecting. Happy shooting!