May 17, 2021
By Steve Gash
As plenty of writers have pointed out, the selection of a rifle/cartridge combo for hunting dangerous game should integrate the rifle’s weight and the cartridge’s power, the amount and effects of its recoil, and the hunter’s ability to wield them effectively. The size, toughness, and potential ferocity of the game certainly plays a big role as well. Africa’s “big five”—elephant, Cape buffalo, rhino, lion, and leopard—definitely qualify as dangerous game, as do the big bears.
Traditionally, the armament for dangerous game starts (many would say ends) with the grand old .375 H&H Magnum. While it will do for most situations, it could be a bit much for some. For example, an African lion will tip the scales at around 350 to 400 pounds, and a fast .30-caliber with a tough, heavy bullet will do the trick, but it leaves little room for error if things go south. A heavier cartridge, such as the .375 H&H, is recommended. Ditto for the Cape buffalo.
The leopard offers another conundrum. A typical wild leopard may weigh about 150 pounds, about the same as many deer, but what it lacks in bulk it makes up for in ferocity. A hot .30-caliber “deer rifle” should be adequate. But bullet placement is of paramount importance.
So we are left with a delightful challenge. While many cartridges will do for some of these species, the overriding consensus is that the .375 H&H has proven it will do it all.
As for the preferred type of dangerous-game rifle, it really boils down to two choices: an exquisite double rifle or a sturdy bolt action. The cost of even a used double rifle is beyond the means of most of us, and a new one is, well, totally out of reach. That leaves bolt actions.
One of the better-known models stateside is the Model 550 from CZ-USA. Made in the Czech Republic, CZ’s bolt-action rifles are available in short, long, and magnum lengths, and they are chambered for a wide array of cartridges.
I already owned a couple of CZ Model 550 bolt guns, one in 9.3x62 Mauser and the other in the unique .370 Sako Magnum (a.k.a. 9.3x66), so I was familiar with their good quality and great performance. It was only logical that I use the field-grade CZ Model 550 American Safari Magnum for this report.
This model is tailored specifically for Americans and is available in .375 H&H, .416 Rigby, .458 Win. Mag., .458 Lott, and the .505 Gibbs. There also is a left-hand version in .375 H&H. The American Safari Magnum rifle has a straight buttstock that’s designed for use with a scope. Scope rings are not included, but you can get them from CZ and other makers. One thing I really like about these rifles is they come with sturdy and highly functional backup open sights.
My American Safari Magnum rifle has true classic styling and a very striking appearance. The Turkish walnut stock is beautifully figured and perfectly shaped for me. It is expertly fitted to the barreled action. The dense wood is very dark, almost black, and has fine black streaks running through it. It may be the field grade, but it looks “fancy” to me. If I had to describe it, I’d say it exudes restrained elegance and evokes visions of the “best-quality” European rifles of old.
The pistol grip and fore-end are generously checkered at 18 lines per inch, and a one-inch-thick Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad is installed on the butt. The buttstock has a nicely sculpted cheekpiece, but it is not a Monte Carlo style. The comb is straight, so recoil comes straight back and doesn’t smack the shooter in the face. Those features, and the rifle’s businesslike 9.4-pound weight, do a good job of attenuating recoil.
There are two crossbolts under the receiver rings to strengthen the stock in this area. An extra recoil lug, called the “F-block,” is dovetailed into the barrel about 5 inches back from the tip of the fore-end. It is secured to the stock by an escutcheon screw and helps distribute recoil forces at the metal-to-wood connection. The fixed magazine holds five .375 H&H rounds, and the hinged floorplate is held shut with a spring-loaded push-button latch. About the only thing slightly out of character on this rifle is that the front sling-swivel stud is on the stock, not on a barrel band.
The Model 550 American Safari Magnum action has a classic square-bridge receiver, and it is a true magnum action, not a smaller receiver just opened up to accept cigar-size cartridges. And it is a controlled-round-feed type, with a full-length, rotating, Mauser-type extractor, so cartridges need to be fed to the chamber from the magazine. A cocking indicator that can be seen and felt protrudes from the rear end of the bolt. The two-position safety is a push-forward-to-fire type. The bolt is locked when the safety is “On,” and a red dot shows when it’s “Off.” The bolt release is at the left rear of the action.
The Model 550 American Safari Magnum comes with a single-set trigger that can be adjusted by the user via a small screw in front of the trigger, and you can access it without removing the stock. My two other Model 550s have this, too, so it was nothing new to me. Its operation is a snap.
As is, the “un-set” trigger on my American Safari Magnum breaks at 3 pounds, 12.6 ounces and is reasonably crisp. In the “set” mode, the pull weight is a mere 1 pound, 0.3 ounce. While the set trigger pull weight is very slight, the trigger travel is not, and it takes some getting used to. It is the exact opposite of a crisp target trigger, but after one gets the hang of it, it’s great for group testing or to carefully place a long shot on standing game.
The .375 H&H Model 550’s barrel is 25 inches long and is what I’d call medium-heavy. It is cold-hammer-forged and hydraulically lapped for smoothness. It measures 0.675 inch at the muzzle and 1.220 inches in front of the receiver ring. The twist is 1:12, which is the standard for the .375 H&H.
The front sight is a white bead set on a hooded ramp, and the ramp has a good-sized “window” in its top that allows ambient light to reach the sight. That way the shooter can see the front sight and still have the hood’s protection. The rear sight is a traditional express type with three leaves that have the typical shallow V notches. One notch is fixed and marked for 100 yards, whereas the two folding leaves are graduated for 200 and 300 yards. The windage-adjustable rear sight is attached to the barrel boss with a small screw, and the boss is milled onto the barrel.
Model 550 American Safari Magnum Specs
TYPE: Bolt-action repeater
CALIBER: .375 H&H
MAGAZINE CAPACITY: 5 rounds
BARREL: 25 in.
OVERALL LENGTH: 46.5 in.
WEIGHT, EMPTY: 9.4 lbs.
STOCK: Checkered Turkish walnut
LENGTH OF PULL: 14.25 in.
FINISH: Blued steel, satin wood
SIGHTS: Express; three-leaf rear, hooded front; receiver is milled for CZ-USA scope mounts
TRIGGER: Single-set; 3.8-lb. pull, un-set (as tested); 1.0-lb. pull set (as tested)
SAFETY: Two position (push forward to fire)
MANUFACTURER: CZ-USA; cz-usa.com
The American Safari Magnum rifle’s chambering is likewise a classic. As most students of the rifle know, the .375 H&H Magnum was developed by Holland & Holland in 1912. It was an instant success and is still a staple for big-game hunters the world over. It is considered the near-perfect balance of power, recoil, and effectiveness. The .375 H&H case has a 2.850-inch-long, tapered, bottleneck case with a 15-degree shoulder and a belt for headspacing. Yeah, it’s old and old-fashioned, but it works. And just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s wimpy, as the SAAMI maximum average pressure is 62,000 psi, right up there with many modern-day magnum cartridges.
Original loads for the .375 H&H carried 235-, 270-, and 300-grain bullets. Today, 270- to 300-grain bullets are the most popular, and the 235-grain load is absent from factory loads. However, the Speer 235-grain Semi-Spitzer component bullet is available, and it’s suitable for hunting lighter game as well as for reduced-recoil practice loads. In addition, Norma offers two 350-grain factory loads, and Barnes offers a 350-grain TSX FB component bullet.
I took a rather conservative approach to field-test my CZ Model 550 in .375 H&H. Of course, I developed a few handloads, but given the great variety of excellent factory loads available virtually everywhere in the world, most hunters will probably select one of them for field use, except for specialized situations.
I accumulated nine factory loads with bullet weights ranging from 250 to 300 grains. I also fired nine selected handloads. For accuracy testing, I mounted a 1-4X riflescope, which brought the weight of the rifle/scope rig up to 10 pounds, 6.5 ounces. This weight, and the rifle’s straight stock, did a great job of attenuating recoil.
The shooting results and details of the handloads are shown in the accompanying chart, but briefly, the average group size of the nine factory loads was an impressive 1.47 inches. Three loads were exceptionally accurate and delivered plenty of game-stopping power. The Federal Power-Shok with its roundnose 300-grain cup-and-core softpoint bullet produced a five-shot group that measured a scant 0.88 inch. I consider that pretty darn good accuracy for a cartridge of this size. It registered 2,483 fps over the chronograph. Another excellent factory load was the Federal ammo with the 250-grain Trophy Bonded Bear Claw bullet. Velocity was 2,634 fps, and the group size was 0.92 inch. Hornady’s Dangerous Game Series load with the 300-grain DGX (Dangerous Game eXpanding) bullet had a sizzling velocity of 2,508 fps, and accuracy was barely over an inch. Incidentally, the muzzle energy of those three loads averaged 4,050 ft-lbs.
Other factory loads also fared well. The Remington 270-grain softpoint clocked 2,718 fps and produced the highest muzzle energy of all factory loads: a bone-crushing 4,430 ft-lbs. It grouped 1.55 inches. Hornady’s Dangerous Game Series load with the 270-grain softpoint had a group size of 1.65 inches, a velocity of 2,631 fps, and a muzzle energy of 4,151 ft-lbs.
I’ve had two other .375 H&H rifles, so I had dies and components for the round and was familiar with handloading it. For the Model 550, the handloading goals were moderate velocity, muzzle energy, and recoil with acceptable accuracy.
One of my favorite .375-caliber bullets is the aforementioned Speer 235-grain Semi-Spitzer. I tried five different powder charges with it in the Model 550, and they averaged a respectable 1.60 inches. Best of the lot was a group measuring 1.30 inches with 80.0 grains of H380 at 2,773 fps. The fastest and most powerful 235-grain load I fired was with 76.0 grains of Reloder 15 at 2,898 fps; it produced a muzzle energy of 4,383 ft-lbs. Recoil was a substantial 34.7 ft-lbs.
Just for fun, I tried the Barnes 350-grain TSX FB bullet with 64.0 grains of Ramshot Big Game powder. That load had a velocity of 2,139 fps and 3,557 ft-lbs of energy, and it grouped under an inch.
The Hornady 225-grain InterLock bullet is also a favorite of mine. It’s no longer available, but luckily, I had a modest supply in stock. My standard “practice” load with it is 44.0 grains of Accurate 5744. Velocity was a sedate 2,128 fps, and the kick was an easy-to-take 12.6 ft-lbs, about half that of full-power loads.
When the dust settled, I assessed the overall performance of the CZ Model 550 American Safari Magnum in .375 H&H. It handled well, never malfunctioned, and delivered excellent performance for a large-caliber magnum rifle. Overall average accuracy with all 18 loads was 1.50 inches.
Someone—perhaps many someones—has postulated that a hunter could get along quite well with four guns: a .22 Long Rifle, a .308 Win., a .375 H&H, and a 12-gauge shotgun. I think that someone was onto something. I also think the CZ Model 550 American Safari Magnum is a smart choice for the rifle in .375 H&H.