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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.