January 03, 2011
The full-stock Model 550 from CZ-USA is a classy, accurate rifle that handles well in the field.
As a hunting-obsessed Texas kid, I grew up on a steady diet of John Wootters and Africana. I was late for school more times than I care to count thanks to late nights spent reading John's adventures with his trusty Mannlicher-stocked .308 and the exploits of countless African adventurers and their Mannlicher Schoenauers.
Consequently, I've longed for a pretty, little Mannlicher-style carbine for as long as I can remember. To me, no gun is better suited to prowling the South Texas brush or slinking stealthily through the African veldt than a trim, full-stocked carbine chambered for a short-action cartridge like the .308 Winchester or a classic round like the 6.5x55mm Swedish Mauser. I've never owned one, but that may change now that I've tested CZ's take on the Mannlicher-style carbine.
CZ's 550 FS
CZ-USA builds its entire line of what it calls "big-bore" (.243 Winchester and larger) centerfire rifles on forged Mauser actions, that are made in its production facility in the Czech Republic. The subject of this review is the FS (full stock) variant of the popular CZ 550 line in .243 Winchester.
The 550 FS is built on CZ's rugged Mauser action. It comes with standard features like fixed sights, a 20.5-inch cold-hammer-forged barrel, and a classic full stock. The sample I received for testing was beautifully finished with attractive wood and a rich, lustrous blue on its polished receiver and abbreviated barrel.
CZ-USA Model 550 FS
|Turkish walnut, full length
The CZ's bolt is almost pure Mauser, utilizing a sturdy, rotating claw extractor to ensure positive feeding. It has two solid locking lugs up front and a single gas port at the bottom of the bolt body. The ejector slot is on the left side of the boltface. Both the bolt and extractor are highly polished, which undoubtedly contributed to the smoothness of the test rifle's action.
Near the smooth bolt knob, the bolt body is blued to match the shroud. The bolt handle is bent downward, with a slight backward sweep so that the bolt handle clears the scope without pinching the operator's hand.
The 550 FS's bolt shroud is more streamlined than other Mauser actions. The left side of the bolt shroud has a small cutout that houses the bolt release. Removal of the bolt is easy; simply push the button and pull the bolt to the rear. The 550's bolt release is much smaller than the Mauser 98's bolt release. This modernized part is a big improvement over the original, as it eliminates the cutout in the side of the receiver necessitated by the larger, receiver-mounted release.
The bolt shroud also features a red "Fire" indicator on the right side and a small disassembly button on the left side. This button allows easy disassembly. Push the button and turn the shroud to access the firing pin and spring. A small, recessed cocking indicator at the back of the bolt makes it easy to see and feel if the rifle is cocked.
The two-position safety is on the right side, just behind the bolt stem. The safety locks the bolt and sear. Its compact, grooved button is easy to manipulate; it's a big improvement over the original Mauser's oversized, counter-intuitive lever.
With its sturdy, rotating claw extractor, the Model 550's bolt is almost pure Mauser.
Inside the receiver, a robust fixed ejector serves to send cartridge cases well clear of the action. The top of the receiver has integral dovetail scope mounts that accept CZ's proprietary scope rings. An adjustable rear sight and a ramped front sight with a removable hood and a white bead are also standard on the FS version of the 550.
The test rifle came with a single-set trigger that is engaged by pushing the trigger slightly forward. Set triggers aren't common on American guns, but they make accuracy testing a whole lot easier. The standard trigger on the test gun broke at a creepy four pounds, two ounces with a bit of overtravel. The set trigger also had a bit of creep but only required 15 ounces to trip the sear. Both trigger pulls are adjustable.
The Model 550 utilizes a detachable magazine, and the magazine release is located in the front of the trigger guard.
The full stock is carved from an attractive blank of Turkish walnut. The comb has a distinctive Bavarian humpback with a matching, angular cheekpiece. The wood is attractive but fairly straight grained. The forend and pistol grip are machine checkered, but the checkering is nicely done. The stock is nice and trim throughout, tapering down smoothly to a steel forend cap. A black, ventilated recoil pad and steel sling swivels are standard.
The stock is evenly inletted along the barrel channel and around the bottom metal, including the detachable magazine that is standard on short-action calibers. Since CZ builds all its big-bore centerfires on the same Mauser action, it had to use a detachable magazine for short-action calibers like the .243 Winchester, for which the test rifle was chambered. The release for the four-round magazine is an integral part of the front of the trigger guard.
Scoping The 550 FS
I first saw Leupold's new VX-7 line of riflescopes at the 2007 SHOT Show. Leupold's quality is legendary, but the new VX-7 has some pretty impressive new features. All VX-7 scopes feature rugged 30mm tubes and dual erector springs for greater precision and durability. I like the dual erector springs for their ability to hold zero on hard-kicking magnums and under harsh hunting conditions.
Leupold's new VX-7 scopes feature the SpeeDial adjustment system. It allows fast, accurate adjustments without the risk of lost turret caps.
The VX-7 line also incorporates new features like Leupold's Xtended Twilight Lens System, which employs ultrapure, lead-free, index-matched glass that is precision ground and polished to provide incredible resolution, clarity, and low-light performance. Leupold's new SpeeDial adjustment system allows fast, accurate adjustments without the risk of lost turret caps.
I ordered the 3.5-14X 50mm model for testing. It is probably not the ideal size for a full-stocked carbine like the CZ 550 FS, but it is perfect for the long-range rifle onto which this scope will eventually find its way. I mounted the scope in CZ's rock-solid steel scope rings and bore-sighted it with a Leupold Zero Point Magnetic Boresighter. The combination was attractive, classy, and distinctively European despite the gold ring on the front of the scope.
On the range, it only took a few rounds to zero the scope. Adjusting it was a snap thanks to the SpeedDial's assisted lift-and-lock adjustments that are used on the elevation and windage adjustments as well as the side parallax adjustment. To use them, simply unscrew the covers. After three or four turns, they pop up, revealing the adjustment scale on the turret. Once the turrets pop up, they adjust the scope 1/4 minute per click. Once it's zeroed, push down on each cap and tighten it back down. It's fast, easy, and there's no way to lose the scope caps.
Getting Down To Business
With the rifle zeroed, I settled in for some serious accuracy testing. Ballistic Tips have always shot well for me, so I started with Federal's 95-grain Ballistic Tip load. The first thing I noticed was the chronograph reading-2968 fps. I was shocked, considering Federal only lists the claimed velocity for that load at 3025 fps. Subsequent rounds yielded a velocity average of 2968 fps with a standard deviation of 11-talk about consistency.
This 0.469-inch, 100-yard group demonstrates the CZ 550 FS's high accuracy potential.
I am not sure if it was a result of a hot load or the quality of CZ's hammer-forged barrels, but I was quite impressed by the miniscule loss in velocity out of the 550's 20.5-inch barrel with the 95-grain Ballistic Tip load. The accuracy was impressive, too, with a five-group average of 0.76 inch and a best three-shot group of 0.469 inch.
Velocities were consistently higher than I expected going into my testing, but high velocity seemed to have no effect on accuracy. Several loads performed admirably, including a pet handload with Speer's 100-grain BTSP that turned in an average group size of 0.82 inch. But as good as it shot with 90- to 100-grain loads, the 550 FS did not like lighter bullets at all.
The CZ's 1:10 twist barrel showed a clear preference for heavier 6mm pills. Federal's 85-grain Barnes load averaged 2.61 inches while my friend Kerry O'Day's favorite load with an 85-grain Sierra at 3190 fps did only slightly better. However, considering this rifle is far more appropriate in the deer woods than as a predator rifle, I'd say that's a good thing because in my experience, the .243 is most effective on deer with heavier bullets.
The CZ 550 FS's mild recoil and light trigger pull made it a joy to shoot, although I had to revert to the standard trigger because I inadvertently launched a few group spoilers downrange while setting up with the set trigger. Once I concluded my accuracy testing, I fired several boxes of ammunition from offhand, sitting, and kneeling; this was where the full stock's handling qualities were readily apparent. Solid hits on the eight-inch gong at 100 yards were no problem. The rifle shouldered quickly and came up right on target. I would love to tote this one afield.
|CZ 550 FS ACCURACY
|100-YD ACCURACY (inches) (fps)
|Speer 100-gr. BTSP
|Federal 85-gr. Barnes
|Remington 90-gr. Scirocco
|Federal 95-gr. Ballistic Tip
|Winchester 95-gr. BTSP*
|Federal 100-gr. Partition
|Hornady 100-gr. BTSP
|*BTSP: Ballistic Silvertip
|NOTES: Accuracy is the average of five three-shot groups fired from a Caldwell Rock BR front rest and a rear bag. Velocity is the average of 10 rounds measured 15 feet from the gun's muzzle with a Shooting Chrony chronograph.
Overall, I really like the CZ 550 FS. It is an attractive rifle with excellent handling qualities and gorgeous lines. However, I did have two related complaints. First, the detachable magazine was difficult to insert. That could be easily remedied if CZ satisfied my other issue with the 550 line and came out with a true short action.
The advantages of short-action cartridges include lighter weight and shorter bolt throw. Those are negated on the 550 FS because it uses the same long action for short- and long-action cartridges. As much as I like this gun, I can't imagine owning it in a short-action cartridge until that is remedied. But that's okay; I've always had a hankering for a 6.5x55mm Swedish Mauser, too.
Despite its minor shortcomings, the CZ 550 FS is an incredible rifle that combines classic styling and modern-day performance at an affordable price. I would recommend it without hesitation to anyone in the market for a classy, accurate rifle that won't break the bank. The test gun has to go back, but I see a new one in 6.5x55 in my future.