There are few rifles that garner the worldwide respect that the 1898 Mauser does. Designed to endure the hardships of a military life, the ’98 has given yeoman service around the globe. With a rugged and reliable action, the ’98 Mauser is one of the few military arms to be openly embraced by hunters and target shooters alike. Hunters appreciated the action’s good looks and positive feeding and have taken game large and small with custom sporters built around it on the various continents. Target shooters quickly noted the accuracy potential of the ’98, and numerous matches and competitions, both formal and informal, have been won by it.
Today, more than a century after its introduction, the ’98 Mauser is still going strong. One company in particular, Ceska Zbrojovka (CZ) of the Czech Republic continues a long tradition of building fine hunting rifles on this famous action. An old, well-established European company whose history dates back to 1936, CZ (Dept. ST, P.O. Box 171073, Kansas City, KS 66117-0073; 800-955-4486; www.cz-usa.com) has earned a reputation for manufacturing quality firearms. Recently it introduced a new model to its diverse line that will be of particular interest to Shooting Times readers. Called the CZ 527 Varmint, it’s a lightweight synthetic-stock .223 hunting rifle perfect for taking afield.
Built on a tiny, modified ’98 Mauser action, this rifle is blessed with all the virtues inherent in the basic ’98 Mauser system. The action is extremely rugged and features dual opposed locking lugs at the front of the bolt. To preclude the possibility of an operator induced double feed, a massive extractor claw runs the length of the bolt, providing controlled-round feeding. In keeping with tradition, both primary extraction and cocking are performed on the opening stroke. The CZ 527 does depart from the original ’98 design in some respects. For instance, in place of a three-position safety mounted on the rear of the bolt, the CZ 527 sports a two-position safety on the right side of the action. Having the safety in this location is a definite plus when optics are mounted. And as this rifle is intended for use with optics, it sports a double square bridge-style receiver with a 16mm dovetail for scope rings machined directly into it. Also, the CZ 527 feeds from convenient detachable box magazines. Gone is the traditional ’98 dual-feed internal magazine. In its place is a well-designed single-column five-round box magazine. Lastly, the CZ 527 features a set trigger, allowing an extremely light release. The rifle can be fired conventionally or, if the operator chooses, the trigger can be set by simply pushing forward on the trigger until it clicks. This is an extremely useful feature when firing for accuracy from the bench.
While the basic CZ 527 action has been around for some time, the Varmint model is relatively new. Intended to provide a fairly light yet accurate .223 hunting rifle, this model features a 24-inch free-floating chrome moly match barrel. As CZ didn’t intend this to be a bench gun, the hammer-forged barrel is heavily tapered, running from .99 inch at the breech to .71 inch at the muzzle to decrease weight. In addition, rather than saddling it with a conventional 1:12-inch twist CZ bored it with a faster 1:9-inch twist to enable it to use a wide spectrum of projectile weights. This allows it to use both lightweight varmint bullets as well as the new generation of heavier match projectiles. To preserve the rifle’s accuracy under hard use, the muzzle sports a nicely recessed target crown. As this rifle is intended for field use, the metal work is finished in an even matte blue.
To ensure that the rifle’s accuracy is not affected by climatic changes, CZ dropped the action into a synthetic HS-Precision stock. This robust and good-looking unit features a full-length aluminum bedding block to enhance accuracy. At the rear of the stock one finds a rubber recoil pad. While .223s aren’t known for their recoil, this unit ensures that butt stays where you put it. For a comfortable hold, the pistol grip features a noticeable palmswell. One particularly nice feature is that the forend’s contour is slightly beavertailed. The flat bottom allows it to snuggle nicely into bags, yet the shape is such that it’s still comfortable in the hand. The stock comes equipped with sling studs, which allow a sportsman to easily add a sling and/or a Harris bipod. All in all it’s an attractive and nicely balanced rifle that tips the scale at a mere 7.6 pounds.
For this shootout I topped the CZ 527 Varmint with a 6.5-20X50mm Zeiss Conquest scope. It features a one-inch tube and is quite light so it mates well with the little CZ without overpowering it. Sporting target turrets, side parallax adjustment, a fast focus eyepiece, lots of magnification, and superb optics, the Zeiss is an impressive piece of glass. Best of all it’s surprisingly affordable ($799). I mounted the Conquest to the CZ via a set of steel Warne lever rings that are both rugged and extremely well made. And they’re also quite handsome and fit perfectly to the CZ’s integral dovetail. In my opinion, on European rifles with integral dovetails (such as Sako, Tikka, and CZ), Warne rings are the only way to go.
As this is a varmint rifle, and spring is upon us, I decided to take a look at as many .223 varmint loads as I could. For those of you who have not worked with it, the .223 Remington cartridge is a great little round. Like most American military cartridges, the .223 has become extremely popular among hunters, plinkers, and competitive shooters. The history of the .223 goes back to 1957 when it first appeared as an experimental military cartridge for the ArmaLite AR-15. It was eventually adopted by the U.S. Army in 1964 as the 5.56mm Ball Cartridge M193. While originally designed to throw a 55-grain FMJ from a 1:14-inch twist barrel, things have changed a bit since the late 1950s. Lighter weight projectiles in the 40- to 50-grain weight are usually used to dispatch varmints, but in the recent past substantially heavier projectiles have been introduced for competition. Today, match bullets range in weight from about 52 grains up to a hefty 80 grains. In highly tuned AR-15s with fast 1:8-inch and 1:7.75-inch twists the very heavy match bullets have proven to be extremely accurate in service rifle competition at 600 yards.
For punching varmints rather than paper there’
s also a wide variety of modern high-performance ammunition available in this chambering. So I assembled 18 different varmint loads from Black Hills, Federal, Hornady, PMP, Remington, and Winchester. If you’re heading afield this year in search of crows, coyotes, or ground hogs, this assortment should provide you with a good look at what’s available.
From Black Hills I tested a total of six loads: three new manufacture and three remanufactured. I shoot an awful lot of Black Hills ammo and know it to be good stuff that comes in big 50-round boxes. The three new loads were the 50-grain V-Max, 55-grain Softpoint, and 60-grain V-Max. From the company’s less expensive remanufactured ammunition line that comes in blue rather than red boxes, I chose the 50-grain V-Max, 52-grain HPBT Match, and 55-grain Softpoint. Federal Cartridge Co. provided three loads for testing: the 50-grain Speer TNT HP, 55-grain HPBT GameKing, and 55-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip. Hornady shipped me two loads–the 40-grain V-Max and 50-grain V-Max. I picked PMP’s (of South Africa) inexpensive 55-grain FMJ load. Remington provided its 50-grain V-Max Boattail, 55-grain Power-Loct HP, and 55-grain Pointed Softpoint Core-Lokt. Lastly, I used three loads from Winchester: the Supreme 40- and 50-grain Ballistic Silvertips and the USA 45-grain JHP Varmint.
To check the CZ 527′s accuracy and to get a feel for the rifle itself, I fired it from the bench at 100 yards. Five five-shot groups were recorded with each load firing from a Wichita rest in conjunction with a rear bunny bag. Ambient temperature during testing was 30 degrees Fahrenheit, and there was a two to four mph wind running from nine o’clock. Velocity readings were recorded 12 feet from the muzzle with an Oehler 35P chronograph. During testing two five-shot strings were fired and then the rifle was allowed to cool. The bore was cleaned after every 20 rounds.
With gear strewn across my bench, I got to work getting to know the CZ. Let me preface this by saying that I am one of the few people who has never been enamored with the basic ’98 action. I feel that as a military rifle, the ’98 was vastly overrated, and as a sporter, the action is rather clunky. That being said, the little CZ acquitted itself quite well. The detachable magazine loaded easily and locked into place with a simple upward push. Working the bolt revealed an action smoother than most ’98s I’ve handled. With the short bolt throw, due to the micro-length action, the CZ is capable of fairly quick follow-up shots. The safety is well placed and falls easily under thumb. Simply push forward to place the rifle on “Safe” or snap it back to its “Fire” position. The trigger, while light with almost no overtravel, kind of crunched along and exhibited more creep than I generally like. However, when set, it broke crisply at less than one pound.
Accuracy at 100 yards ranged from acceptable to extremely good depending on the load. It quickly became apparent that this particular rifle preferred lighter weight bullets. Best accuracy was obtained with Hornady’s 40-grain V-Max, which posted a best of 0.56 inch and averaged 0.59 inch at a smoking 3610 fps. Next up was Winchester’s inexpensive 45-grain JHP Varmint load, which posted a best of 0.69 inch and averaged 0.81 at 3420 fps. Federal was close on Winchester’s heels though with the 50-grain Speer TNT HP posting a best of 0.81 inch and an average of 0.84 inch at 3297 fps. I think this is excellent accuracy from a 7.6-pound off-the-rack rifle.
With the little ammunition I had remaining, I shot some groups at 300 yards with the three top performing loads. At this longer distance Hornady’s 40-grain V-Max shot into 1.83 inches, Winchester’s 45-grain HP went 2.52 inches, and Federal’s 50-grain TNT measured 2.61 inches. These three loads all offer quick expansion and would be just the ticket for zapping pesky varmints. Glancing through the accuracy chart will show that some fine loads grouped only so-so out of this CZ. This shows why it’s so important to try as many loads as possible through a rifle. Rifle’s have individual tastes; what groups fine in one may not group at all in another. In addition, note how the cold 30-degree Fahrenheit temperature affected velocity. While the Hornady 40-grain V-Max load is listed to run at a blistering 3800 fps out of the CZ’s 24-inch barrel, it clocked 3610 fps. As velocity drops, your point of impact shifts as do your come-ups. Something to keep in mind.
Now, many times a rifle that performs well on the range is not the rifle you want to carry for any length of time in the field. This can be due to weight, length, forend design, or other small but noticeable things. So I mounted up a Harris bipod and a leather M1907 shooting sling and took the CZ 527 afield. Snowshoeing over hill and dale after a 20-inch snow fall, I appreciated the CZ’s light weight and good balance. When you’re scrambling up and down hills and valleys all day, the last thing you want is a heavy, poorly balanced rifle. Tipping the scale at only 7.6 pounds without optics, the CZ 527 is a rifle you can carry all day long with no complaints. It’s quick to the shoulder and proved accurate from a number of alternate shooting positions. Firing prone off the Harris bipod, or a pack, at unknown distances, the CZ performed well.
The field is also where you’ll notice if the rifle has a tendency to have odd bits fall off now and again. This unfortunately happens more than a lot of us would like to admit. In this regard, the CZ presented no surprises. Reliability was flawless with no misfeeds or problems encountered throughout te
sting. The detachable box magazine proved tough, simple, and reliable. The Warne scope rings kept the Zeiss scope mounted securely. One feature I did take note of in a positive light is how the bolt is easily disassembled for routine maintenance. I liked that.
While testing the CZ afield, I made use of Bushnell’s new Quest laser rangefinder binocular and Zeiss’s 65mm Diascope spotting scope. The Bushnell binocular provides a wide field of view and bright image with very good resolution. Then with a push of a button it will range a target out to some 999 yards. The lightweight Zeiss spotting scope possesses superb optics and excellent low light capabilities. And I was also very favorably impressed by the 6.5-20X Conquest scope that topped the CZ. This is a great scope designed, and priced, specifically for the U.S. market. If you never thought you could afford a Zeiss scope, well you just might be wrong.
All in all I came away favorably impressed by CZ’s 527 Varmint. The rifle is light and packs easily in the field. Accuracy, when fed loads it likes, was excellent. Reliability was what one would expect from a Mauser ’98 design–flawless. And it’s attractively priced at just $753. If you’re in the market for a .223 for zapping varmints, this CZ Model 527 Varmint is one to consider.
CZ 527 .223 Velocity & Accuracy
|Factory Load||Muzzle Velocity (fps)||100-Yard Accuracy (inches)||300-Yard Accuracy (inches)|
|Winchester 40-gr. Ballistic Silvertip||3565||0.91||- -|
|Winchester USA 45-gr. JHP||3420||0.81||2.52|
|Black Hills 50-gr. V-Max||3212||0.98||- -|
|Black Hills 50-gr. V-Max*||3370||1.00||- -|
|Federal 50-gr. Speer TNT||3297||0.84||2.61|
|Hornady 50-gr. V-Max||3208||0.86||- -|
|Remington 50-gr. V-Max BT||3191||0.92||- -|
|Winchester 50-gr. Ballistic Silvertip||3301||1.13||- -|
|Black Hills 52-gr. Match*||3268||0.86||- -|
|Black Hills 55-gr. SP||3098||1.00||- -|
|Black Hills 55-gr. SP*||3130||0.97||- -|
|Federal 55-gr. Sierra GameKing||3170||1.38||- -|
|Federal 55-gr. Nosler Ballistic Tip||3133||0.86||- -|
|PMP 55-gr. FMJ||3208||1.38||- -|
|Remington 55-gr. Power-Lokt HP||3142||0.98||- -|
|Remington 55-gr. PSP||3080||1.13||- -|
|Black Hills 60-gr. V-Max||3017||1.38||- -|
*Black Hills Remanufactured Ammunition
NOTES: Accuracy is the average of five-shot groups fired from a benchrest at the indicated distances. Velocity is the average of 25 rounds measured at 12 feet from the gun’s muzzle. Ambient temperature during the shootout was 30 degrees Fahrenheit.