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US military service weapons fall into two categories: expensive or impossible to obtain. Machine guns are virtually impossible, and everything else is expensive. Look at the prices of Garands or those CMP 1911s. They certainly aren’t cheap. Of course, as wel all know, only a Sith deals in absolutes. If you want an affordable, completely possible-to-obtain service weapon, then look at training rifles like the Mossberg M44US.

Training rifles, sometimes known as cadet rifles, were used to train US troops on the cheap. These rifles chambered the venerable, popular, affordable .22LR cartridge. They don’t have the provenance of a battle rifle but are pretty much the only affordable US surplus weapons out there.

The United States military had a wide variety of these rifles made by Springfield, Winchester, and Mossberg. The M44US offers a very affordable bolt action .22LR rifle with an interesting history.

US Army WWII rifle range training marksmanship Garand
Before they were issued Garands, they had to learn basic marksmanship. (Courtesy US Army)

The general idea behind these rifles was to train your average Joe recruit or draftee off the street in the basics of marksmanship. The old .30-06 was a little too in demand by the ongoing war effort to teach non-shooters how to shoot. The little .22LR round worked, and they had the M1922s from Springfield, but those rifles were complicated, expensive, and slow to produce.

The US Military went looking for commercial options and Mossberg had an affordable one.

Enter the Mossberg M44US

Mossberg already had the Model 44 on the market, and the military liked it, but they wanted it even simpler and cheaper. Mossberg produced the M44US for the army with a standard cheap birch stock and a plastic trigger guard. You’ll notice mine has shrunk away from the wood. It’s a fairly common issue with these rifles.

Early models of the U.S.-marked M44 rifles have Lyman 57 sights, but later models used simpler sights. The original batches came from stocks of Mossberg commercial guns that already had the Lyman sights. The M44US used a box magazine, which my rifle is missing. A replacement has been ordered. I don’t need a magazine to enjoy it at the moment and have been hand-loading one round at a time.

The M44US is a big, heavy rimfire rifle. (Travis Pike for TTAG)

When I think of .22LR rifles, I think light and handy. That’s not the case with the M44US. This is a big, heavy rifle. It weighs 8.5 pounds. That makes it only a pound lighter than the M1 Garand.

The M44US measures 43 inches long with a 26-inch long barrel. It’s just a big rifle and especially big for .22LR. The big gun is well-balanced and the 13.5-inch length of pull isn’t too bad. That means it might be a bit big to train a younger shooter and the sights are a little complicated.

A US Property stamp is always cool. (Travis Pike for TTAG)

Mossberg’s simpler sight is pretty standard for target sights of the era. It’s a threaded-in-peep sight with lots of precise elevation and windage adjustments. Most .22LRs these days use open sights. These target-type sights may be a little fiddly, but they certainly make it easy to shoot accurately. The sight folds to the side, which I imagine protects it while in storage.

As a Trainer

How would a .22LR ever get US servicemen ready to kill the enemies of freedom? A bolt action .22LR isn’t exactly the same as a semi-auto .30-06. But this wasn’t a rifle designed to train troops for combat. Tools are designed for a specific purpose, and the purpose of the M44US was teaching basic marksmanship.

The Mossberg sights are interesting, complex, and very precise. (Travis Pike for TTAG)

It’s a good tool to teach someone who’d never before fired a rifle how to hold a rifle, align their sights, and pull a trigger. The M44US was simple to use, and shooters could be trained on the cheap with .22LR ammo. Plus, the range requirements for a .22LR are much simpler than for .30-06. Additionally, shooting .22LR through this thing is dang near hearing safe, so instruction was likely easier, too.

The small front blade sight doesn’t cover up much of the target. (Travis Pike for TTAG)

The Mossy .22 was never intended to give soldiers combat training. Just instill the basics of marksmanship.

At the Range With the M44US

What I love about these old guns is the fact they are living history. I’m firing the same rifle an Army of 18-year-old privates fired before heading to Europe to punch Hitler in the face. It’s an experience, even if for me, it’s just another .22LR rifle.

As you’d expect, this 8.5-pound mix of blued steel and wood has absolutely no recoil. It’s like shooting an air gun. The bolt action is super smooth, and the short length of really surprised me at first.

I guess I’ve spent too much time with .308 bolt guns because the short action has real charm to it. Handloading one round at a time isn’t optimum, but I’m just plinking and never chasing after a mad minute.

Note that the plastic trigger guard has pulled away from the contour of the grip. That’s not unusual in these old rifles.  (Travis Pike for TTAG)

The rifle fires every time the trigger is pressed. It’s still reliable as all get-out and ejects without a problem. The trigger guard shrinkage (see above) isn’t optimum and is a little uncomfortable, but it’s still perfectly shootable. I’m looking into a replacement, but for now, the rifle is still perfectly functional.

With its long, heavy barrel and the great sights, the Mossberg M44US is a straight shooter. I could make tiny groups with this gun to the point where I was downright amused by it. I went out as far as 100 yards where the range steel that was nearly completely covered by the front sight. That complicated rear sight allows me to dial it in nice and tight. With a bag and a rest, it was a real pleasure to shoot.

The peep sight is easily adjustable and can be fine tuned. (Travis Pike for TTAG)

The trigger has a hair of takeup and then a stiff wall. This isn’t a match trigger on an Anschutz rifle, but it’s better than I’d expect from an old, inexpensive military trainer.

The Cheapest Collection

If you want a running theme for an affordable collection, then cadet rifles are for you. These were made the world over and are quite cheap and easily affordable. If you look you can find these old Mossy rifles around $300, more for those in better shape. Cadet rifles in general tend to be shooters and are lots of fun on the range. I had a Romanian trainer I sadly traded. If they’re all as fun as that rifle was and the Mossberg M44US is, then I need a pile of them in my gun safe.

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26 COMMENTS

  1. The trigger guard has always been a weak point (shrinking or breaking) of those rifles. Millions of other Mossberg rifles and shotguns that used basically the same part, have the same issues.

    Fortunately all you need is someone with an inexpensive 3D printer to make you a new one. So check with any highschoolers you know. Or, I think you could probably find replicated ones on the internet.

  2. I’ve had a few of these, including an M42, with the Mannlicher stock as supplied to the British. my favorite is the civilian model M44 with a walnut stock and no serial number. They all shoot amazingly well. I think it’s Circle K who used to advertise a 15 round magazine. I’ve had some of them on backorder for a few years now.

    • Collectors got into the training rifle market after making sniper rifle prices reach stratospheric levels, even for obscure neutral nations.

      I see the Mossbergs appear when a rimfire shoot is on at my range. They are well regarded. I use a No8 trainer and it is a tack driver. I scored 141 with 13 centers out of 150 in last weekend’s rimfire match. Good enough for me to finish 2nd in the open sight class.

  3. I’ve got a Mossberg M44US. Got it years ago in a trade. Haven’t fired it in years, see it once a year in my annual collection ‘maintenance’ cycle.

    Mine had the trigger guard shrinkage too. Its a plastic trigger guard, they didn’t make plastic back then like they do today. I thought about using the heat treatment method when I first got it but it meant drilling another hole and replacing the screw and I did not relish the idea of having to drill a new hole in the wood.

    So I asked a guy I knew who worked at a local machine shop if he could re-create it in aluminum and he said he would. So after a little information gathering from a local gun smith who knew someone who had one with a metal replaced trigger guard, he put us in contact and the guy let us copy his that he had gotten years before to solve his plastic trigger guard shrinkage problem. So I ended up with a replacement in aluminum that went right in place just like the plastic guard did when it was originally manufactured. So mine has an black anodized aluminum trigger guard now.

  4. Get a mossberg 146BA if you can find it. My dad got me one as my first rifle back in 1965. Similar rear sight but has an adjustable ramp and 3 different front beads or blade. Shoots long rifle, longs and shorts, tube fed. Been teaching grandkids with it for many years. Try Numrich if sight still available.

    • That’s a definite no. I have one almost identical to the one pictured except that the stock is a slab of fairly nice walnut with finger grooves, and the plastic trigger guard has a break and almost imperceptible repair. It hates mini mags but will group Blazer 40 roundnoses into a cozy 3/4 at 100 feet (the longest “range” in my out building), and would do better with some trigger work which my smith said would run around $400 to heat treat and stone and shim and spring it. Also someone along the way drilled and tapped it for scope based, and while nicely done ruined the collector’s value of it, so it’s just another member of my gun conglomeration, rather than “collection”

      • Mossberg put a better trigger in the 144 “target” rifles. It can be installed in the 44’s. Have 12 of them from the CMP we use for scouts/etc.

  5. I had one of those that I loved. Surprisingly accurate and 100% reliable. I would still have it if not for the fire. I would love to find another one. Mine had two magazines and stored the extra in the stock. Mine also had a front sight that allowed the shooter to choose from several different fold up posts including a front peep. Worked great.

    • Pro-tip: The long screw that inserts into the bottom of the magazine is not a single shot adapter as some people think. It’s a .22 short adapter. Keeps them from working too far forward.

      • Interesting! The magazine mine came with doesn’t have the screw or a place for one at all, so maybe there were different generations or something.

  6. The Kimber Md-82 fits in with this bolt action 22 training group. A bull barrel in a chunk heavy lumber and a good trigger makes shooting her a pleasure.

  7. always forget what model mine is. it’s got the forend that folds down “tommy gun” style, semi auto with magazine. kid said his dad rode the bus to lane tech with it, rotc. cash and carry, he did not care, made my day. gave me a bunch of old montgomery wards ammo too.
    if you’re in the market don’t ignore the old ithaca x5’s.

  8. Now *that* is indeed an obscure object of desire. I passed on one at about $450 a few years ago at a gun show. It was too rough for me to drop that on it and the seller wouldn’t budge but, If I ran across the right one, I’d take it home.

  9. I shot hundreds of rounds from bolt action single shot .22s at Boy Scout camp, back when the Boy Scouts were worth bothering with. Got my Marksmanship merit badge that way. A single shot .22 is a great way for a kid to learn to shoot. When you know you have one shot, you learn to make it count.

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