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.
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.
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.
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
Capacity: 5 rounds
Price: $120 give or take $50
Ratings (out of five stars):
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.