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(This post is an entry in our spring content contest. The grand prize is a Beretta APX pistol. Entries are closed and we will announce the winner one we have run the best entries received.)

By Kurt M.

Do you know the feel good story of the ugly duckling? You know the one where the ugly duckling turned out to really be a beautiful swan? This won’t be that kind of review. In a flock of CZ 452’s, the Romanian M69 really is an ugly duckling. One glance at this Romanian milsurp .22 rifle screams sturdy, but cheap… especially because of that mystery wood stock.

This is the kind of rifle you can walk by without giving a second look. Ugly is as ugly does though, so don’t be too judgmental, this ugly bird can shoot like a CZ but at one quarter the cost. It’s not all roses but for the right owner, and at the right price, the M69 is an ugly duckling you’ll want to bring home.

A little background
The story of this .22 rifle really starts in World War Two Czechoslovakia. The Czechs produced weapons for the German war effort, among those weapons were .22 training rifles. After the war the Czechs continued to sell those .22 rifles as the Brno model 1. The Brno model 1 became the inspiration or genesis for many .22 training rifles used in the Warsaw Pact countries.

The Czechs ultimately perfected the excellent and still commercially available 452 and now 455 series of .22 rifles well received here in many flavors. The Poles produced the now forgotten but still excellent WZ78. The Yugoslavians created a great rifle that is also still commercially available. Sold under many names in the US including CZ 99 and Remington Model 5 that rifle has been positively reviewed here. The M69, produced from 1969 to 1989, is a Romanian variation in this lineage of .22 rifles.

In 1968 The Soviet Union sent tanks into Czechoslovakia to put down a reform movement called the Prague Spring. The Romanian government sought to generate popular enthusiasm by opposing the Soviet crackdown and encouraging the population to join the paramilitary Patriotic Guards to protect the country. Hundreds of thousands, men and women, joined and every community and factory had its own Patriotic Guards unit. The Romanian military had to have some means of teaching all these people how to shoot and the M69 is what they came up with.

The design goals of the rifle were to produce something that retained the positive qualities of the Brno 1 and like rifles, while also being quicker to produce, and cheaper to produce. They needed a lot of rifles to train people who likely had never held a gun before. Keep in mind Romania in the 70s and 80s had huge foreign debt so wages were very low and the government had no money.

The most important aspects were the barrel and receiver which could be cheaply milled because skilled labor was dirt cheap. The heart of the rifle is excellent. Everything else was secondary and could be skimped on as much as possible, which they did. Huge numbers of rifles were produced and the design remained relatively consistent for the entirety of its production.

In 1989 everything changed when the Communist government collapsed. The government sought to use the Patriotic Guards against the people, they joined them instead. The Patriotic Guards ceased to exist and production of the M69 ended. The rifles went into storage and most M69s were sold as surplus in the US for very low prices throughout the 90s and 00s. Since then prices have creeped up but many M69s are still available on the secondary market for a very modest price.

Features of the rifle
The M69 is a bolt action .22 with a removable five-round magazine. Working from the butt plate up the butt plate is steel with a storage compartment for cleaning supplies just like what you see with AKs or SKSs. The stocks often have kind of an orange color to them and are likely some kind of beech. They have no stamps or markings but they do have grooves for holding the rifle forward of the action.

The stocks have no grain whatsoever and are hard to refinish but they are wood if that matters to you. The rifle has sling swivels but they are a little small for most commercial 1” slings. Originally the rifles were issued with little vinyl or plastic slings which are still available cheaply commercially. SKS slings with leather end tabs also work quite well.

The action is cock on closing a little like a Lee Enfield or pre-98 Mauser. The bolt is very smooth till the end when you get some resistance cocking the gun. The bolt is turned down and has a cutout in the stock to accommodate the hollowed out bolt handle which makes it vaguely resemble a 98k Mauser.

The flag safety on the end of the bolt is also vaguely like a Mauser’s, up is safe and to the right is fire. The bolt release is a tab on the left of the receiver. The magazine is released by pressing forward on a large tab that is very secure but easy to use. The top of the receiver is milled to reduce glare. Forward of the receiver the rifles will be marked with serial number, date, and either IMC2 or UMC2, which stands for the model and one of two plants in Cugir Romania where these rifles were made.

Finally we have the barrel and the sights which are the most important aspects of the rifle. You have to hold one to feel this but the barrels are machined to reduce glare and increase rigidity. Just run your finger down one and you’ll know how much work went into the barrel in a time before CNC machines.

The rear sight has three steel leafs two fold down. They are clearly marked 25, 50 and 100 meters and they are offset so it’s easy to flip back and forth depending on range. I love the sights and this is what sells the rifle or not. They are set up so you don’t have to think about bullet drop, if you know your range it’s easy to place shots on the money.

The front sight has a pinned hood and is elevation adjustable if you have the right tool. That’s the rifle and its history, so now we’re at the really important part, the shooting experience.

The ugly
I’ll be upfront about this; these are $100 rifles for a reason. Let’s get the ugly out of the way first. The most important thing to remember is that these are used rifles. What kind of shape they come in will vary wildly. Each one is an individual. These were meant to train people who knew nothing about guns and they were used in every corner of the country.

You can find 70s era rifles that were hardly ever used. You can find 80s era rifles that are trashed. There is no rhyme or reason; you have to be a discerning buyer. My rifle works great and has no problems, not every example will be that way. If there is a problem, there is no factory support, and you are the gunsmith.

The most common problems you’ll read about online concern the magazine and the ejector. If the magazine catch is worn the magazine can seat wrong and cause feeding problems. The ejector and the firing pin are one piece, economy of parts; if it sticks it can cause ejection problems. Ejection is naturally kind of weak in this rifle to begin with.

These are fixable problems, but you will have to fix them, or pay someone else to do so. Factory spare parts will only get more expensive and less available as time goes on. Again you have to be discerning, not every rifle is worth your money.

Beyond condition there are some inherent issues in the design. While the turned down bolt makes for a very quick action, it doesn’t leave you much leverage to work the action. It’s a little clunky at the end of travel. Ejection is a little weak inherently and you have to smartly work the bolt to eject a round properly. Tilting the gun to the side helps.

The receiver looks like it’s milled for a scope base, but it’s really not. You can rig a scope, or use a dremel, but again you are the gunsmith and it’s not paint by numbers. The front sight post is fat and doesn’t lend itself to accuracy past 50 yards. The steel butt plate isn’t great but it isn’t terrible to use with a .22 either.

Finally and most importantly the trigger isn’t great, you could even call it bad. There is a lot of stack which kind of makes it feel like a two stage trigger. You have a lot of take up and then a short but gritty pull. You can’t adjust the trigger and you’ll never find a drop in replacement so you have to live with it as it is.

Finally there’s just a general cheapness about the rifle. The stock looks cheap, the parts look cheap. The only thing not cheap is buying spare magazines; you’re looking at $30 each. Now that’s not to say the M69 isn’t durable, these are large stamped steel parts, but clearly function was the only concern when they made these.

When people talk up Communist era rifles they like to brag about function over form, this rifle takes that to an extreme even for the eastern bloc. It definitely goes too far for many who otherwise would prefer function over form. If you really don’t care about form at all, taking this rifle out in public to your home range is a great way to prove it.

The good
Now that we have that out of the way the rifle does have some great redeeming features. The bolt throw is very short and with some practice you can get very quick with the rifle. It is over a pound lighter than a CZ 452 trainer and you really notice that. It is easy to carry around and use despite the long barrel. The magazine release is very easy to use and since you push forward to actuate it won’t get released on accident. It’s way better than many commercial competitors and would be very good on a hunting .22.

The rear sight is great and intuitive to use. It is steel, it stays where you want it to and it is very tough. If you know your range it’s very easy to really dial it in and make accurate shots quickly. Again it would be great for hunting; the commercial competitors at this price point often just have cheap buckhorn sights where you have to guess bullet drop. The sight isn’t as nice as many aftermarket options but if you don’t want to put more money into a cheap .22 these sights are night and day better.

I’ve talked about how cheaply built the M69 is but the receiver and especially the barrel are machined steel and you could never buy a commercial equivalent at this price point. The man hours would push this way up there which goes to show just how bad things were for the average Romanian when these were built.

I have found accuracy to be very good with the rifle. At 25 yards I can consistently keep my groups within the size of a quarter and I’m not a great shot. I know others could do better with my rifle. I can do that with cheap bulk .22 like blazer 40 grain solids or Remington Thunderbolts. It is not ammo finicky. I can get similar results with other rifles but I had to pay more for them.

If you are a hunter the sights are very practical and you can be as consistent as you need to be to hit small game. Beyond the practical results I see the advantage here being that someone with no experience could produce very good results since the sights really help you. This rifle is a confidence builder. If you want that, and only need that, this one could be a winner for you.

Final thoughts
When these rifles were under $100 dollars they were a great deal. As they go up in price they become less of a deal. A factory new base model savage .22 with a plastic stock is very close in price now. You can have great groups with that too and factory support. It’s something you have to weigh. That said this still has great features for the price point and is still a viable option for someone looking for a good cheap .22. They can still be had for under $100 if you look hard enough.

If you don’t mind the quirks of the M69 but want something pretty the CZ 99 is a great choice for about $100 more. If you want everything, form and function, get a CZ 455 for $400 and call it a day. How much do you want to invest and what can you live without? For $120 or so a M69 will serve you well.

Specifications: Romanian M69 Bolt Action .22 Rifle

Caliber: .22 LR
Action: Bolt
Capacity: 5 rounds
Manufacturer: Romania
Price: $120 give or take $50

Ratings (out of five stars):

Style *
The M69 is not a pretty rifle. No one will complement you on your beautiful rifle. There is very little you can do to fix this yourself since the wood wasn’t quality to begin with. If you like its accuracy the homely look might grow on you. At least the stock isn’t plastic right?

Ergonomics * * *
Average nothing really terrible but nothing really stands out as great either. The stock has a 14” length of pull so it can fit a range of body types. I like the short throw of the bolt but it can be hard to use due to a lack of leverage. The trigger isn’t great but it could be worse. It is very light and handy, much lighter than say a CZ 455. If you can get past its style the ergonomics are fine.

Reliability * * * *
By and large the rifle is very reliable and since it has few parts there are few parts to break. There are known issues with the magazine and ejection however. Mine has been perfect but yours might not be. There is no factory support if something goes wrong.

Customize this * *
You can certainly work on the stock and do improvements yourself. Since the rifle is cheap you might be more willing to try refinishing this than you would with a more expensive rifle. There is hardly any aftermarket support so you’re on your own when customizing it.

Overall * * *
The M69 tests what really matters to you. At this price point you get a great accurate .22 and little else. Only you can answer what really matters most to you. The higher the price goes on these the less attractive they should be. I would add or take away either a half star or a whole star for every $50 it goes in either direction, depending on how you grade. At $120 you have to seriously consider if the sights and barrel are worth not having factory support given the competition. In summation if you find one in good condition, at a price that seems right to you, they are worth looking at assuming you can love an ugly duckling.

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  1. I remember these lil rifles. Lot of them on the dealer shelves a bit over 15 years ago. Another “loss” similar to the $60 Russia rifles of the era that too many of us where too snobbly to buy. I should of been buying these instead of savings bonds. Hindsight is 20/20.
    Nice review and article.

    • I bought a Russian Toz rifle marketed here under the Winchester brand. It’s a tack driver with just the iron sights. Even a cheap scope brings excellent results. The rifle was sold as a sporter.

      My understanding is that the Russians already had the machinery paid for and cheap labor left over from the commie days. The factory was set up to turn out target rifles and when the switched to sporters they simply kept cranking out target barrels.

      My rifle has no slim contours or lightweight barrel. From breech to muzzle it’s the same thickness and it sports an impressive target crown.

      My oldest grand son is getting close to the age of needing a rifle. I can’t wait.

      • >>Yes it does.

        Ah, I guess it is one of those .22LR Wildcats, imported through Morgan, UT. They are markedly different in workmanship from 78s sold here in Motherland. Which is sad (for us locals of course :-D).

        • It’s a good looking rifle. But, most importantly, it’s just about the most accurate rifle I’ve ever owned.

          Yes, it was marketed as a Wildcat.

  2. Never underestimate the little .22 for sale in the corner of your lgs. I found a mint condition Springfield Model 53A for $90 in my neck of the woods and snagged it immediately. It’s a tack driver and my go-to firearm for teaching people how to shoot.

  3. I actually kind of like the way it looks. It’s all business in a Moist Nugget Mosin Nagant sort of way.

    For the price, though, I dunno… But I’ve already got practical/accurate/reliable nailed down with a Marlin Model 60 and a Henry, so maybe I would roll the dice on one of these if I got the chance. It’d make for an interesting trio.

  4. “The M69 is not a pretty rifle. No one will complement you on your beautiful rifle. There is very little you can do to fix this yourself since the wood wasn’t quality to begin with.”

    Years back I picked up a *fugly* ‘Sears’-slash-Winchester model 131 .22lr bolt-action rifle.

    Did I mention how fugly that thing is? The stock looked like one of those SKSs during the 80’s ‘Great Flood’ of them into America. Like it had a quarter-inch thick coat of plastic on it.

    One day I finally lost it. I had enough of looking at that dipped-in-plastic looking ‘thing’.

    I broke out the fine sandpaper and OOOO steel wool and stripped the glop off the stock. It took a few hours, but I was successful. Now naked, I hit it with a dark walnut stain and a light coat of semi-gloss polyurethane.

    What a difference! As Yakov Smirnoff would say, “What a country!”

    A little elbow grease might make your fugly cheap .22 look *lots* better…

  5. I bought 5 of these for kids and me projects. My daughter’s purple stock and all shoots better than any other 22 I have. It is kinda infuriating when a 60$ rifle out groups several 1000$ rifles.

  6. Bought a couple of these for my boys to move up to about ten years ago. Repeater bolt gun with NO magazines, $60 each. Found Taiwanese made magazines that work well. The stiff bolt and long barrel was bit much for my five year old, but he took to having a five shot magazine JUST FINE. The eight year old never looked back, he still has a thing for bolt guns.

    Don’t overspend on one of these rifles, I’ve seen them advertised for $225 and then sell (??). However, for learning how to run a real rifle, these are a fine tool. Good, balanced write up, not much of the “how can we polish a turd” that sometimes affects these Romo trainers in posts.

  7. I really like mine, I have been able to consistently ring 4 inch steel plates at 100 yards with it. Paid right at $100 for it.

  8. Nice review. Just one nit to pick. Not on the gun, as I have never seen one, but on the history background. It’s true that Czechs worked for German war effort during WW2, only there was no Czechoslovakia during that time. As Wikipedia states: Following the establishment of the independent Slovak Republic on 14 March 1939, and the German occupation of the Czech rump state the next day, the protectorate was established on 16 March 1939 by a proclamation of Adolf Hitler from Prague Castle.

  9. I bought one of these in 1998 for $60 at Big 5, it is an excellent shooting .22 rifle, trained my daughter how to shoot with it and then gave it to her, she is very happy with it.

    • I snagged two at Big5 during the same time frame. Paid $59.99. I have become pretty good at diagnosing and fixing the feeding problems by simply removing the firing pin/extractor and lapping both sides with 000’d sandpaper until the friction interference was removed as it slides back and forth in the bolt. Don’t overdue it though.This also took care of the magazine insertion/extraction problems. Polishing the interference parts of the bolt with the receiver and the bolt slides in the receiver really smoothed out the action on both charging the bolt and extracting spent rounds. I also refinished the stocks with some dark walnut stain and some Truoil finish (about three coats with 000’d steel wool in between applications). Yes! The SKS leather end slings work perfectly for this gun. I also mounted rings and some old 3×10 Deerfield Scopes without any problems. These are super fun to shoot and are tack drivers. I would love to post pics if that function was available on this site. I’m still searching for some ten round magazines!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. Mine was a random $100 pawn shop encounter that I bought without knowing anything about it; it immediately became my favorite .22. I did manage to fit some 3/8″ dovetail scope rings on the ridge atop the receiver without any tooling to the rifle itself. The scope, coupled with the long accurate barrel, have allowed a 150 yard fully effective range in which no varmints are safe..

  11. Nice big review!! Congrats. I’d like to point out some things being from its home country:
    The M69 is the second UMC 22 LR produced.The first, UMC 22LR I is a modified GECO produced from the early 50ies until the M69. Supposed to be better finished and more accurate with a thicker barrel.
    So the lineage of the UMC M69 is the Geco, and the “geco” is the coloqvial term used for it now at home.

    There was only one producer in Cugir back then (IMC and UMC standing for the same Interprindere-enterprise, Uzina-factory).

    It was factory modifiable – dovetailed- to mount its own 4x scope made at IOR , a scope simmilar to the Mosin’s.

    You’ve painted a good international context of the period, it being crude is less due to the Govt not having money and in debt, more for easy manufacture. The standard of living was better than that of the Soviet citizen and not too away from the Czechs and Poles, and all Commy Govts were investing a lot of money in industrialization, especially Romania which was lacking a lot before and ended up with huge collosus industries. In the 90ties you would see so many Romy AKS in Africa and the middle East- Socialist Rep of Romania was one of the big small arms exporters.

    It was a sport rifle (with or without scope) and it was the mainstay of the PTAP (=preparation of the young for the defence of the homeland – highschool kids! that had regular training and gun stores in their schools)
    and trained the Patriotic Guards (ex-conscripts workers of boh sexes into their midlife) and of course the Army.
    And it still trains it today- though in far less numbers, the army having diminished about 10-15 times?!.

    There were M69s produced after 1989, I think they were no longer produced in the 2000s. After 1989 some were sold to civilians, it might be that the pre 1989 rifles were better made than their 90ies.

  12. I purchased 2 of these rifles from Big 5 back in the day for $59.99 each. Yes, they were ugly and I did spend a bit of time being a DIY gunsmith to address the feeding issues. I solved the feeding issues by removing the firing/extractor pins from each bolt and lapping them flat on a grinding stone so that they were able to move freely within the bolt after reassembly. I then refinished the stocks, added scopes, and green canvas slings. They are now beautiful looking rifles that shoot excellent at the range with both open sights and optics. With the right scope rings, you can achieve both. Thanks for the excellent review.; I was shopping for some magazines today and saw them for around $20.00 each. Buy them while you can, as I sure eventually they will be up in the $30.00 – $40.00 range. I would post some photos, but I’m not sure how to attach them to this message.

  13. If anyone is worried about magazines.. I’m a small Company out of Florida called Csspecs, and we have brand new made in USA magazines for the M69 that are currently reviewed to be as good if not better than the originals.

    We had them up on Ebay and our own website which is csspecs.. Our pricing is also LOWER than the imports at present.

  14. I can vouch for Csspecs magazines, they feed flawlessly, unlike the magazine that came with the gun. I now own three Csspecs mags. and I may buy a couple more. And, no, I’m not connected with the company, other than as a satisfied customer.

    My Romanian 1969 is the proverbial tack driver with standard velocity CCI rounds. The only issue I have with it is its weak ejection, but otherwise it’s a great little rifle.

  15. I bought two of these when they were under $50.00 each at Big 5 back in the early 1990’s. It took a while to finally figure out the feeding issues. I removed the bolts from both rifles, took them apart, and then lapped both sides of the firing pins flat so they would slide back and forth uninterrupted when inserted back into the bolts. Bam! Feeding problems solved. I refinished the stocks, applied a walnut, stain and finished off with four coats of TruOil. The wood grain developed beautifully with the stain and now my ugly ducklings have transformed into beautiful swans. Don’t believe the reviews about not being able to mount a scope on these. I have scopes on both of mine utilizing 11mm scope rings. These are fun rifles to shoot if you understand how to work around the feeding issues while also remembering to tilt the rifle towards the right side when extracting spent casings. Very accurate rifles. I wish there was a way for me to post pics of my M69’s.

  16. Mine is marked IMC2 1988. It was the first rifle my dad bought me at 12 or 13 I got it on Christmas morning, that was 18 or so years ago and I still love it, so much in fact I haven’t ever even bought another .22. Its not the best looking long gun in my safe but I’d have to say its definitely one of the most reliable. I couldn’t even begin to estimate the amount of rounds I have through mine and it is quite accurate, at 100yrds I can keep a grouping about the size of a quarter with federal bulk box ammo, of course the older I get the harder it is to actually see that far haha. The cleaning kit in the buttstock is pretty cool but I don’t know that I’ve actually ever used it. All in all it was a great rifle for me in the beginning to learn firearm safety and find and grow into my shooting style and even now its a great firearm for range days and not have to worry in the slightest about problems as long as you keep it cleaned, I’d definitely reccomend one for someone’s first rifle. I can’t really say anything bad about mine but obviously yours could be different. Also I enjoyed the article and the information, its always nice to know the history of your firearms.

  17. Working on getting one now. Reading all these stories has made me nostalgic for a past that has not begun yet, I fear if Trump does not win, that America will see his presidency as the days of deep nostalgia when men sat around talking about old 22’s, and all the one up-man ship that times before socialism destroyed the world took place…thanks for the feelings in a bleak time before it all flows away in blood and war… 🙁

  18. I bought two of these and refinished them with a walnut stain. I bought four extra magazines and they are proudly setting in my gun cabinet. Many people had feeding issues with the bolt slide not being able to feed or extract the rounds. After a lot of frustration and experimentation with this issue, I was finally able to diagnose the issue and correct the problem. Remove the bolt and the firing pin/extractor (flat stamped piece). Lap it down a couple of thousands on each side with some 00 sand paper to remove some material and flatten it. After reinserting it back into the bolt, it removed the interference fit problem while in the bolt channel, allowing it to cycle the shells without incident. Viola! Problem solved. These things are tack drivers at 50 yards. I’m so glad I was able to purchase these back in the day when they were $49.99 each from Big 5.

  19. I picked one up for fifty dollars. I had a trigger job done, and fully glass bedded it. I refinished the stock, drilled and tapped it, and mounted a scope. It’s one of the most accurate rifles I own. It’s one of my go to squirrel guns. No complaints!

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