The Zastava M85 “Mini-Mauser”: First Impressions

Zastava M85 7.62x39mm

The acquisition of a new firearm is not regular occurrence for me and such an event typically only takes place after a rare windfall or the liquidation of unneeded and unused personal property. It follows that on those exceedingly rare occasions where I can work a new gun into the budget, deciding upon which gun to buy is a tedious, drawn-out, and irritating process fraught with excessive hemming, hawing, and internet research.

When disposable income is limited (and realistically not all that disposable) the inclination is to seek a do-it-all gun or at the very least a multi-purpose gun. In my case, I knew I wanted a light weight, quick handling rifle capable of taking deer at close to medium range that would also be a lot of fun to use to punch paper at the range or plink bits of debris at the local gravel pit. It’s a tall order to fill.

Initially, I had my sights set on a Ruger 77/44, but two factors derailed this plan: cost and availability. I knew that after the addition of a decent scope, sales tax, and possible shipping fees, it was likely that the ultimate price tag for the purchase would be $1,000 or more and thus out of my price range. Additionally, most of Ruger’s fine products are currently back ordered to the fullest possible extent, meaning it was unlikely that I would locate a dealer that had one in stock.

Even though a 77/44 was likely out of the question, I still wanted something that would fill the niche of a mostly fun gun that could take medium game at common woods ranges. Ultimately, I spotted a Zastava M85 in 7.62x39mm on the wall of a local gun shop. Even though the rifle was chambered in a comparatively light round (the 7.62x39mm is ballistically similar to, but not quite as powerful as the venerable .30-30 Win.), it still met most of my requirements: short overall length and light weight, chambered in a deer-capable round that won’t generate enough recoil to make hamburger of my shoulder, and a bolt action for ease of cleaning and maintenance. Additionally, the M85 had a price tag of approximately $450, which was well within my range.

Above: The Zastava M85 (top) is approximately the same size and weight as a Savage Mark II in .22 lr. (bottom).

Above: The Zastava M85 (top) is approximately the same size and weight as a Savage Mark II in .22 lr. (bottom).

Admittedly, I had (and still have at the time of this post) a handful of reservations about the M85. For instance, the bolt seems to bind and require a fair amount of jostling to close. Also, my research indicated that the rifle’s extractor is a weak point and is prone to breaking when cycling inexpensive steel cased ammo (the exact kind that most people like to use on water jugs and rotting vegetables). That being said, my research also indicated that the action could be smoothed with a little polishing of the bolt. I’m not that concerned about a potentially weak extractor since the rifle will be relegated to hunting and plinking rather than personal defense. If an extractor breaks, I’ll simply curse, grumble, and order a new one.

Above: a 7.62x39mm round (center) compared to a .270 Win. round (left) and a .308 Win. round (right).

Above: a 7.62x39mm round (center) compared to a .270 Win. round (left) and a .308 Win. round (right).

I plan to give the Zastava M85 its initial range trial in a few days. Until then, here are the rifle’s specs.

Make: Zastava Arms of Serbia (Currently imported by Century Arms International)

Model: M85

Chamber: 7.62x39mm (reviewed), .223 Rem., and .22 Hornet

Action: Push Feed Bolt Action

Capacity: 5 + 1

Barrel: 20-inch, blued

Sights: Adjustable iron

Receiver: drilled and tapped to accept a scope mount

Stock: Walnut, Monte-Carlo

Overall Length: 39.8 inches

Weight: 6 lbs.

Additional Notes: Zastava M85s were previously imported by the now defunct Charles Daly firearms and then by Remington from 2006 to 2008 as the Model  799. (7958)