I admit, I have a soft spot for nostalgic guns. I like modern guns, but there’s something about a gun with classic lines that catches my imagination. So when I first saw this Zastava M85 variant with its little Mauser action and oil-finished walnut Mannlicher stock with the steel Schnabel fore-end cap, I just had to hold it in my hands.
It turned out to be quite a practical little rifle. The Zastava M85 is the rifle formerly imported as the Remington 799, and now brought into the country under a new name by Century International Arms. It’s a small-action Mauser, true to its namesake’s double-lug form, with a claw extractor and standard left-side bolt release. It’s very lightweight, at just over five pounds empty, and comes in .22 Hornet, .223/5.56, and 7.62x39mm. I chose 7.62×39 as my caliber of choice, I suppose because I’ve never before shot a bolt rifle in that caliber.
Overall the metal and wood on the M85 is well-finished, though the stock’s checkering is a little shallower than I would prefer. Its overall length is just under 38 inches and it has a light 18-inch barrel, a rear sight that’s adjustable for both windage and elevation, and a hooded ramp front sight. There’s a modern thumb safety, a gracefully-shaped trigger guard, and hinged floor plate. The magazine holds four 7.62×39 and the whole gun is scaled down to match the smaller calibers it’s chambered for. The full-length Mannlicher stock is walnut with a thick rubber butt plate, and includes front and rear QD sling swivels. Surprisingly, the stock has pillars in the wood, though they aren’t bedded in.
In 7.62×39, the M85 is fun to shoot. Its light weight and fast-handling characteristics, combined with the light recoil of the cartridge, work well together. The trigger is reasonable, though not up to the quality of all the improved triggers that recently have taken the bolt-action world by storm.
Accuracy is reasonable. I scoped it with a Bushnell AR 1-4x and low mounts, a suitable arrangement for a lightweight rifle in this caliber. I didn’t expect sub-MOA groups from a Mannlicher-stocked rifle in a caliber not known for accuracy, and I didn’t get sub-MOA groups. What I did get was reasonable hunting rifle accuracy—groups that averaged around two inches at 100 yards. The 7.62×39 cartridge isn’t a long-range rifle round, and that level of accuracy is certainly adequate for the round’s capabilities.
The Zastava M85 is certainly different from the standard offering in modern bolt guns. There is no synthetic stock, no modern box magazine, no high-tech metallurgy, and no modern blade trigger. The M85 is a rifle built as rifles were once built, from wood and steel and with a time-tested action. It won’t appeal to everyone, but there is a market for a more traditional rifle like this. I’m impressed, and beleive this would make a very nice rifle for a youth shooter or smaller person. The caliber I chose is certainly capable of taking deer-sized game within a reasonable distance, and the rifle is easy to carry, comfortable to use, and fun to shoot. It’s a modern rifle with a nostalgic flair, a reminder of times past; a quality rifle for those who don’t want the same rifle everyone else has.
Image by Dick Jones