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Handloading Beyond The Basics
Rifle Magazine
March - April 2002
Volume 34, Number 2
ISSN: 0162-3583
Number 200
On the cover...
The CZ Model 550 Prestige .30-06 with a Bushnell 3-9x scope. Photo by Stan Trzoniec.
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For overall use it’s really hard to beat a trusted Mauser action, and many of today’s finest riflemakers incorporate it as a basis for their rifles. Sturm, Ruger & Co. has a modern, updated Mauser type action as does Kimber and some of the custom line builders. For reliability and in-field dependability, Mauser actions have certainly withstood the test of time.

CZ (Ceska Zbrojovka) has taken this action and has been using it in its line of Model 550 rifles for a number of years. Before that the same company was using this action in its ZKK 600 series of rifles, which started actual production around 1960, and even before that in its ZKW 465s as far back as 1946. The ZKK series - aka Koucky - was in all probability one of the most popular sporting rifles in eastern Europe. Later many Americans got to know this rifle as the Zbrojovka BRNO and when imported here was available in the usual crowd-pleasing American calibers like the .270 Winchester, .30-06, 7x57mm Mauser, as well as a host of European calibers like the 7x64 and 8x57. Although the basic rifle has undergone some cosmetic changes, the Mauser action has survived, albeit modified to modern standards as presented in the current line of CZ bolt-action rifles.

Although the instruction book included with the Model 550 shows about 12 different variations, CZ’s current catalog lists eight versions being imported at this time in full-length cartridges plus additional models in a shorter or “light” type rifle CZ calls the Model 527. These smaller rifles are chambered in smaller cartridges like the .22 Hornet and .222 or .223 Remingtons.

For the big game hunter, the CZ 550 series offers much in a medium price range well suited for middle America. The 550 Lux features a Bavarian-type stock; the 550 FS has a full-length, Mannlicher-type stock profiled from Turkish walnut. There is the Model 550 American designed from the classic school of thought without line-disturbing monte carlos or any modern or California-type adornments; the 550 Varmint speaks for itself with its heavy barrel, and for shooters wanting plenty of punch, there is the 550 Medium and Safari Magnums. From the 7mm Remington Magnum to the .416 Rigby, these rifles are fully equipped for the job at hand. The Model 550 Prestige is the rifle we received for testing and sports basically the same features as the Model 550 American but incorporates additional refinements like a jeweled bolt and better grade of wood with a hand-rubbed finish.

Finally, the potential buyer can choose from a traditional fixed magazine with a drop-down floorplate or a European-styled detachable magazine. Magazine capacity is five rounds with the former, four rounds with the latter.

For sportsmen who place high marks on fit, finish and value, this may be the rifle for them. I’m an average type guy, and the overall configuration of the stock fit me really well. I like my rifles with a 13.5-inch length of pull, and this Model 550 is almost 14 inches from the trigger face to the rear of the one-inch recoil pad. A minor concern, as I either have to crawl the stock a little or set the scope back to compensate. This problem might be an inconvenience for shooters with short arms (like me) or heavy hunting clothes in the fall.

Aside from that, the stock is very well thought out. On this Prestige model, the wood is semi-fancy Turkish walnut hand finished to a satin patina. The stock shows no irregularities in prefinish preparations, and the finish is free of dust or sanding marks. The grain of the stock is fiddleback in figure and very pleasing to the eye. It’s much stronger on the forearm, tapering gradually to the buttstock, which if it were just a little stronger could pass for a crotchlike feathering.

Holding the rifle at arm’s length, I detect a trace of castoff for right-hand shooters. At the present time there is no listing for southpaws, which in all fairness should be looked into especially in these modern times. As mentioned before, there is no monte carlo; instead a very nicely proportioned buttstock favors this rifle. A cheekpiece has been incorporated and, combined with the overall appearance of the stock, makes this rifle look like it could have come out of any American factory. For the classic-type hunter there is no pistol-grip cap although one would be nice to prevent chipping. The forend has no tip, instead it is cut to a rearward angle almost Schnabel style, possibly to accent its European heritage. Hand checkering is accomplished in a pleasing point pattern with some additional borders up front, and sling swivel studs help to finish this stock in a customlike fashion.

Inletting on the inside, while not quite up to high-tech standards, is better than average in most areas, and whenever the inside clearances tend to be a little closer than expected, handwork can be seen. Where the recoil lug on the receiver meets, wood epoxy has been placed to ensure a snug fit and to keep the action from moving laterally in the stock. The action is pillar bedded, and the barrel is free floated from the receiver forward. Fit of the action around the barrel, receiver, bolt stem and floorplate are first-class without any roughness of any kind.

The Mauser action has been modernized for today’s shooting demands and is nicely finished. Removal of the bolt from the receiver is typical: simply press forward on the bolt stop and pull the bolt to the rear. Twin locking lugs up front ensure a close fit within the receiver when the bolt is turned down and in tune with the rotating claw extractor, which ensures controlled round feeding. Finally there is the rigid ejector at the rear of the receiver, and one gas relief port is located at the bottom radius of the bolt body.

The bolt face is highly finished and polished as is the rest of the bolt assembly. The extractor is polished brightly and blends well with the jeweled bolt. Further back the bolt is blued to match the shroud, bolt stem and bolt knob. The latter is swept back, contoured to allow for a generous scope clearance and is devoid of any checkering.

The shroud is interesting and contains some innovative ideas. The safety, mounted on the right-hand side, locks both the bolt and sear and is shaped like a half-moon, allowing easy setting of this lever in either the safe or fire position even with gloves on. The bolt shroud has a recessed cocking indicator that disappears completely upon the release of the sear. Rearward of the bolt release (or stop) is yet another neat button. According to the literature this is called the disassembly catch, and by pressing this you can unscrew the bolt sleeve (or shroud) and remove it while the bolt is still in the action. That sure saves trying to disassemble the bolt on the home workbench.

Still another surprise is a set trigger. While the normal trigger is tuned at the factory for 6 pounds, pushing the trigger forward after cocking the rifle reduces the pull to about one pound. Needless to say if this were my rifle, that set trigger feature would be upgraded to about 2 pounds for not only peace of mind but also for safety in the field. Both the regular and set option can be adjusted by taking the action out of the stock. As a caution and if you are not familiar with these fine adjustments, lack the tools or a trigger pull scale, take the rifle to the dealer or a gunsmith for assistance.

While that set trigger is surely tempting to use, it should not be activated until you are ready to shoot. Set triggers can be twitchy at times, and I’ve seen them set the rifle off by just flicking the safety lever off in a hurried situation. On this CZ 550 with the set trigger on and the rifle on safe, this option can be neutralized by just pulling back on the trigger. When the safety is then released the gun reverts back to a normal trigger.

Barrel length on the Prestige with standard cartridges is 24 inches, appropriate for popular cartridges like the .270 Winchester and .30-06. Any help in the velocity is always welcomed in nonmagnum calibers, especially when the distance starts to stretch or the wind kicks up.

The receiver and barrel are highly polished then richly blued. The receiver includes the use of integral or grooved slots to accept the rings supplied with the rifle. Considering the fact rings and bases can add up to more than $50 in additional expense, this adds yet another dimension of value. Rings are finished in a high gloss to match the rifle and include a witness mark to keep both halves of the ring going in the right direction. On our test sample, I mounted a Bushnell Model 3200 3-9x scope. Once on the CZ 550, the glossy scope matched the blueing on the rifle and rings perfectly. No windage adjustment is possible with this ring set, and placing this medium combination on the rifle assured immediate lineup with the scope’s reticle.

The Model 550 Prestige, chambered for either the .270 Winchester or .30-06, is a natural for a rifle of this type. Teamed with the former, it makes for a great all-around rifle for plains to medium game. With the ‘06, and using bullets up to 220 grains, it can take just about anything on the North American continent. IÕve used it for years, and even with the advent of newer, more modern cartridges, the .30-06 keeps plugging right along.

At the range the CZ Model 550 was a surprising rifle to shoot. Even with heavy bullets in the .30-06, the rifle came back easy, which in all probability was due to the soft recoil pad and generous stock dimensions. All rounds were fired from the magazine in practical (read hunting) three-shot groups at 100 yards. Feeding, extraction and ejection of all ammunition was perfect. The set trigger worked perfectly and I’m sure was a big help in reducing the size of many of the groups. The weather was a balmy 72 degrees Fahrenheit, really nice for October in New England.

Sometimes I feel like the Maytag serviceman, simply because today it’s hard to find a rifle that doesn’t shoot well. Years ago it took time to tune a rifle to get it where you wanted it to shoot on the target, not to mention in the field at moving game. Today, aside from maybe a barrel break-in, even factory loads usually demonstrate fine accuracy potential, right out of the box! The CZ 550 is one of these rifles and without any formal tuning, shimming or tinkering and with commercial ammunition proved itself over and over again with little effort on my part.

Playing the devil’s advocate, I used this rifle and ammunition just as one might do as purchased from a gun shop. The rifle was cleaned, a scope mounted, sighted in and with a variety of ammunition I headed for the range. Looking at the results after firing only nine rounds of each selection, I was ready for hunting season.

Picking a half-dozen brands from Remington, Winchester and Hornady, I stepped up to the shooting bench. The ‘06 Remington has those neat little 55-grain Accelerators to fool around with. Zinging out a 24-inch barrel, 4,000 fps plus is possible depending upon weather conditions, the rifle and other considerations. While they do tend to be erratic in some rifles, in the CZ 550, 2-inch groups were achieved at the century mark. Maybe not so accurate for the dyed-in-the-wool true varminter, but they do fill a niche, especially when you’re bored at hunting camp and are looking around for something small and tasty to shoot for the pot.

Winchester’s 125-grain Pointed Soft Points came in with groups that averaged just about 1.25 inches. The best of the day went to the Hornady Light Magnum topped off with its impressive 150-grain bullet. Three shots went into an amazing .5 inch at 100 yards.

Winchester’s Supreme 165-grain Silvertip managed to put three shots into an inch. Remington’s top-of-the-line Safari Grade offering complete with a heavier 180-grain Swift A-Frame averaged 1.25 inches, and finishing up, its 220-grain Core-Lokt hit 2 inches at 100 yards.

I really hate to classify rifles as good, bad or indifferent as they somehow become pigeonholed especially if the performance is really not that good. But in the case of the CZ 550, I can only say that it rates high on my list of rifles to consider for a lifetime of shooting and hunting. Teamed with the .30-06 and certainly value priced, this is a rifle you’ll have on many a trip for all types of game in the U.S. and around the world.

Aside from that minor length of pull problem, I can highly recommend this CZ Model 550. For more information drop a line to CZ USA, PO Box 171073, Kansas City KS 66117.

Blackhorn Powder
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