Charles Smith Jones looks at the Zastava sporting rifle M85, a no-nonsense workhorse that is pleasing to use
Background to the Zastava sporting rifle
Serbian manufacturer Zastava Arms traces its origins back to the casting of four cannons in a small Kragujevac foundry in 1853, the same town where it operates from today, albeit on a much larger scale. Along the way it has been embroiled in two world wars, as well as the civil war that swept the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. As a result, it is unsurprising that the bulk of Zastava’s output has always been military, though it has also produced sporting rifles and even the occasional shotgun.
For many reasons, not least the political instability that has racked the region along with economic sanctions, the brand has never established itself in the UK, though in 2005 Remington achieved the right to export Zastava firearms to the US, Canada and Mexico. There has not, however, been an importer of Zastava products in this country for some time now, though occasionally one or two may appear on the used gun market.
One such is the Zastava sporting rifle M85. It takes its numerical designation from the year that it was introduced, an area for confusion as there are a pistol and an assault rifle (very similar to the AK47) that are also known as M85s. In all cases, Zastava distinguishes them by the description in front of the number.
The M85 is described by its makers as a ‘mini Mauser’, claiming to be pioneers of sporting rifles chambered for lower-energy ammunition but still built to the principles of traditional military rifles. The action certainly bears similarities to the classic Mauser, but it is much shorter and as a result the calibres it is available in are limited. The .22 centrefire options will be familiar to most readers, while the availability of 7.62 x 39mm, an Eastern bloc standard since World War II, betrays the origins of the rifle in a part of the world where this ammunition is still readily available at low cost and considered to be a good choice for medium game. Indeed, it has also been adopted by a few Western manufacturers including Ruger, Remington and Savage, as well as Howa and others for some of their models.
Because of the short action, the M85 is an ergonomically pleasing rifle to use and gives the impression of being somewhat shorter than it really is, handling like the hunting rifle that it is intended to be rather than a heavier target gun. It is certainly straightforward and no-nonsense. Two basic stock styles are offered, either Monte Carlo or a higher mount described by the makers as ‘Pig Back’. Simply but pleasingly finished in oiled walnut or beech, the stock features functional but well-figured chequering at the pistol grip and fore-end. A Stutzen-style or full-stock version is also available, which has an 18in barrel (against the 20in one of the standard version) and a steel schnabel end cap. The cold-forged barrel is deeply blued to lustrous finish.
New rifles are fitted with simple iron sights but come already drilled and tapped to enable the fitting of a telescopic sight, as has happened with the example pictured, which has had the leaf rear sight and hooded foresight completely removed. It has also been screw cut for a sound moderator, another modification that will have taken place after purchase.
The trigger is clean-breaking and adjustable and while users report variable factory settings, the average seems to be around 4½lb. Single triggers are standard, though a double ‘set’ trigger is also available. An internal magazine with a five-round capacity and hinged floorplate, released by a button at the front of the trigger-guard, is standard, though the .22 Hornet version comes with a detachable magazine. The safety catch to the right of the bolt shroud is a standard two-position arrangement that locks the trigger with a lever.
Zastava rifles do not appear for sale that often, but they are worth considering. They might be relatively unsophisticated but they are robust, well put together and capable of shooting well. Importantly, the price tag may represent excellent value for money to anyone on a budget or seeking an entry-level rifle.