In a recent post, I wrote that I had recently acquired a Zastava M85 chambered in 7.62x39mm. The rifle, manufactured by Serbia’s Zastava Arms and imported by Century Arms International, is a compact bolt action priced just right for a gun that will fill the role primarily as a plinker and secondarily as deer rifle for close to medium range work.
Earlier this week I got the rifle to the local range for its first live fire trial and while there are some characteristics of the gun that are less than stellar, I’m inclined to think it will ultimately fill its intended niche adequately. Here’s the lowdown on the Zastava M85.
I couldn’t, in good conscience, title this section “accuracy” as my currently rusty level of proficiency, excessive coffee consumption, and the absence of a scope precluded me from conducting a meaningful accuracy trial.
I was unable to find scope mounts locally for the Zastava, meaning that the Weaver I purchased with the rifle sat uselessly in its box during the range trip (mounts are currently on order from an online retailer). This was a problem since I am admittedly a poor shot when using basic iron sights like the type that come stock on the M85. I generally do well with scopes and aperture sights such as peeps and ghost rings, but I’m effectively useless with basic irons beyond 50 yards.
Still, I was eager to fire my new rifle and took to the range with a box of Tula, 124 grain jacked hollowpoints and a box of American Eagle, 124 grain full metal jackets. Ammo availability is still a problem at the time of this article’s posting, but I hope to try a wider variety of loads in the near future.
At 50 yards from a bench rest I shot two nearly identical 5-round groups of approximately 2 to 3- inches. Such groups are admittedly mediocre, but are about as well as I’ll do with any rifle that has iron sights.
I’d rather not write about my 100-yard “groups” and I absolutely refuse to submit photographic evidence of their existence. I will say that most of the rounds I fired at least hit the 8×10-inch targets I was using. More practice and less coffee seem to be the lessons here.
Fit and function
While it would be unfair to judge the rifle’s accuracy potential based on the above test, I was able to take note of the rifle’s mechanical and ergonomic characteristics. In general, I found the rifle comfortable to hold and shoulder. The walnut, Monte-Carlo stock fit me well.
The trigger, while not as smooth and light as one found on a competition-grade instrument, was more than crisp enough for use in the woods, on the farm, or at the gravel pit.
An interesting and much appreciated feature sported by the M85 is a detachable magazine floor plate. Pressing a button located at the front of the trigger guard allows the magazine floor plate to unhinge, meaning the user can quickly and easily unload at the end of a long day afield.
The Zastava M85’s action is, unfortunately, less than smooth. If the bolt is not worked just right when ejecting a round, it tends to bind, stick, and require considerable jostling to return forward. I’m hoping that with repeated polishing and break-in from use, the problem will diminish over time.
It should also be noted that extraction of spent, steel cases required substantially more force than the extraction of brass cases. This is of little concern to me as I prefer to buy brass case ammo that can later be reloaded.
The bottom line
Although the Zastava M85 is by no means a perfectly slick machine, I am not one to expect competition level quality from a $450 rifle. If the M85 ultimately always goes off when I need it to, doesn’t break and proves consistently capable of hitting gallon jug sized targets at 50+ yards, I’ll be happy.
Update: October 25, 2013
Since originally posting this article, I have made two range trips with the Zastava M85, which is now wearing a 3-9x40mm scope. The first session was cut short after the spent steel case of a Herters 154 grain round failed to extract. The extractor actually pulled free of the case without dislodging it from the chamber. I had to bring the rifle home and push the spent case out with a cleaning rod. While the extraction of steel cased ammo is, in general a little difficult with this rifle, I have not yet had another case stick in the chamber.
During my second range session, I dialed in the scope to a reasonable degree and did a little shooting at targets placed at the 100 yard berm. Of the two kinds of ammo I had on hand, the Tula 124 grain hollowpoints grouped the best, printing a 5-shot group of about 2-inches. This is by no means award winning accuracy, but considering that I was only shooting off a fore end rest rather than off sandbags or a lead sled type rest, I consider the group acceptable, though not exceptional. The Herter’s 154 grain softpoints I also had on hand did not fare well and printed a 5-shot group of 5.5-inches.