CZ 550 American Kevlar 9.3x62mm Rifle
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
CZ, of the Czech Republic, introduced their American model rifles to the US market some years ago. These replaced the traditional European "Hog back" style stocks with modern classic profile stocks. Otherwise, American model rifles use the same barreled actions as European models and as safari models. Naturally, the majority of rifles sold by CZ-USA (http://cz-usa.com/) are of the American pattern, although they also offer European models. Fortunately for North American shooters, some of the most useful (and previously rarely seen in the US) European cartridges are trickling into American model rifles.
A case in point is the 9.3x62mm Mauser, for which our test rifle is chambered. The 9.3x62 is based on what is essentially a .30-06 case with the shoulder moved forward to increase powder capacity and necked-up to accept the largest diameter bullet (.366") suitable for the case. The result is one of the world's most useful heavy game cartridges and it is just about the lowest recoil cartridge suitable for hunting all CXP3 and CXP4 game. It was intended primarily for use in bolt action rifles by African farmers, ranchers and "commoners" who could not afford expensive British double rifles. A working cartridge for working men who might be hunting a deer-size Impala for the pot, but need to protect themselves from lion, buffalo and elephant.
The 9.3x62 was a great success in Africa and quickly found favor for hunting heavy European game, such as red stag, bear, wild boar and Scandinavian moose. In addition, it is hard to beat for hunting elk, moose, musk ox, bison, walrus and all three species of bears in North America. American hunters are catching on to the merits of the 9.3x62 and ammunition is now factory loaded by Federal, Hornady and Stars & Stripes right here in the USA. Imported 9.3x62 ammo from Lapua, Norma, Sellier & Bellot, Sako and others is also available in the US market.
Guns and Shooting Online previously reviewed the Merkel 141 double and Ruger No. 1-S falling block rifles in 9.3x74R (see the Product Reviews page), a rimmed cartridge intended for use in single shot and double rifles with identical ballistics to the rimless 9.3x62, so we are well acquainted with the caliber's sterling performance. Either cartridge launches a 286 grain bullet (SD .305) at a typical factory loaded muzzle velocity of 2360 fps with 3536 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy. This load kills heavy game as well as a .338 Magnum and better than a .300 Magnum using bullets of similar sectional density and kicks less. Its "discovery" by American shooters is long past due and CZ is helping that happen by offering both their 550 American and 550 Safari Classic Express rifles in 9.3x62mm.
We also have a 9.3x62mm Model 550 Safari Express rifle for review, but this article focuses on the 550 American. The test rifle is the Kevlar stocked version, which uses a Kevlar reinforced fiberglass stock that incorporates an aluminum bedding block similar to that found in the Weatherby FiberMark rifle. The finish is black with gray spider webbing, also similar to a FiberMark, but the style of the CZ stock is American Classic, with a straight comb and rounded forend. The nose of the comb is fluted on the right side, but--oddly--not on the left side. This stock is pleasingly shaped and has good lines, but we feel it should be slenderized, particularly through the wrist. (The latter is a comment that applies to most factory produced rifles.) The recoil pad is an excellent Pachmayr Decelerator and detachable sling swivel studs are provided.
Unfortunately, the aluminum bedding block was not set quite straight in our test rifle's fiberglass stock, so the (supposedly) free-floating barrel was actually touching the right side of the barrel channel. We loosened the barreled action in the stock and put as much "left hand English" as we could manage in the system and torqued it down hard. This achieved a hair's breadth of clearance for testing purposes. If we keep this rifle Rocky Hays, Guns and Shooting Online's Gunsmithing Editor, is going to use a heat gun to bend the stock just enough to center the barrel in the forend's barrel channel.
CZ 550 rifles are built on a lightly modified, square bridge receiver, Mauser 98 type action that retains the open top receiver, cock on opening bolt with dual front locking lugs, receiver mounted ejector, full length extractor and controlled feeding of the original. The flat bottomed receiver is machined from steel billet and incorporates an integral recoil lug. Integral 19mm dovetail scope mounts for CZ rings are machined into the top of the receiver rings. There is a streamlined cap at the rear of the one-piece bolt to protect the shooter's face from escaping gasses in the event of a blown primer and gas escape vents in the bottom of the bolt that vent into the magazine well. A visible and tactile "cocked" indicator protrudes from the back of the bolt shroud. The bolt knob is a smooth ball. The low two-position safety at the right rear of the receiver locks the bolt closed when applied and the bolt release is an unobtrusive lever at the left rear of the receiver.
This CZ/Brno Mauser is widely recognized as one of the world's great bolt actions, suitable for use in a dangerous game rifle, and the identical barreled action is used in the CZ Custom Shop Safari rifles. Unfortunately, the bolt rails of our test rifle evidenced machining marks that caused the bolt to hesitate when being closed if the operator did not push it exactly straight forward. This should have been corrected before the rifle left the factory. A similar problem was evident in the Custom Shop's Safari Classics Express rifle that we were reviewing at the same time, so the rough interior finish is not restricted to a single rifle.
The CZ trigger is a single set type that is fully user adjustable for weight of pull, sear engagement and over travel. The owner's manual includes instructions and a helpful diagram for trigger adjustment. Just remove the barreled action from the stock (requires removing only two screws) and have at it. There is a separate adjustment screw for the weight of pull after the trigger is set. Setting the trigger for an ultra-light pull is accomplished by pushing the trigger blade forward. We adjusted the un-set pull weight to 2.75 pounds and the set pull weight at 10 ounces. After adjustment, the set trigger releases with a light touch and no apparent creep, a true "glass rod" trigger. In the event that the trigger is set and the rifle is not fired, you can safely un-set the trigger by putting the safety on or by unlocking the bolt and then pulling the set trigger.
Here are the specifications for the CZ 550 American Kevlar rifle.
For the purposes of this review, we mounted a KonusPro 2-7x32mm scope in the supplied 1" diameter CZ scope rings. These are tall rings that incorporate about ½" of rise, clearly intended for use with scopes having 50mm or larger objectives, so the modest KonusPro scope rides high over the receiver. A scope with a syrup bucket size objective would be inappropriate on a medium range powerhouse like our 9.3x62mm test rifle, which is much better served by a smaller, lighter, low mounted 1-4x or 2-7x scope. Our suggestion is that CZ should include low scope mounting rings with its medium and large bore rifles, medium height rings with small bore big game rifles (.243 to 8mm caliber) and save the high rings for varmint rifles.
As usual, we did our test shooting at the Izaak Walton outdoor gun range south of Eugene, Oregon. This facility offers covered bench rests and target stands at 25, 50, 100 and 200 yards. It had rained all week, typical of Springtime in Western Oregon, but the Friday we made it to the range the weather was partly cloudy with a high temperature of 59F degrees. The light and variable wind did not exceed about 12 MPH.
We used a Caldwell Lead Sled FCX rifle rest weighted with 50 pounds (two bags) of shot and fired three-shot groups at 100 yards for record. Called flyers were re-shot, since our intention was to test the rifle, not our shooting ability. Delivery of the factory loaded ammunition we had requested for this review from Hornady and Stars & Stripes was delayed, so we used three types of handloads for our testing. These were loaded in new, unfired Lapua brass with Winchester WLR primers and 286 grain Hornady SP-RP Dangerous Game bullets. The variation was in the type of propellant. We used IMR 4064, IMR 3031 and Hodgdon Varget powders for a nominal muzzle velocity of approximately 2350 fps for all loads from our test rifle's 23.6" barrel, thus closely replicating the ballistics of typical 9.3x62mm factory loads. Guns and Shooting Online Managing Editor Chuck Hawks, Gunsmithing Editor Rocky Hays and Technical Advisor Bob Fleck handled the shooting chores. Here are the results after firing 60 rounds of ammunition.
AVERAGE 100 YARD GROUP SIZE FOR ALL LOADS TESTED = 1.83"
Our CZ 550 American Kevlar test rifle may have had some minor quality control issues, as mentioned in this review, but it is hard to argue with the shooting results, which were very consistent. Particularly with IMR 4064 powder, where the variation between the best and worst bench rest groups was only 1/8"! The American Classic Kevlar stock handles recoil well and the rifle's accuracy speaks for itself.
Incidentally, this rifle was supplied with a factory test target showing a three-shot group fired at 50 meters. It measured 1-1/8" center to center, which is 2.25 MOA, or about equal to our worst 100 yard groups. Obviously, CZ is not cheating on their test targets.
All three of our testers commented positively about the CZ 550's excellent trigger. Chuck and Bob fired their groups with the trigger un-set, while Rocky set the trigger. Either way, it is far better than the triggers supplied in most factory built rifles. Feeding and functioning were perfect throughout our range session.
Since we had a CZ Safari Classics Express model in 9.3x62 caliber on hand while we were shooting the American Kevlar model, a comparison of the two models is interesting. They are identical barreled actions and they performed identically. Best groups with both rifles went into 1.5 MOA and, although the Kevlar model had a somewhat lighter set trigger pull and the Express rifle had a somewhat lighter un-set trigger pull, the differences were minor and didn't matter in our testing. (We adjusted both triggers, but at different times, which explains the variation.) While the Express is stocked in fancy grade walnut and the Kevlar is stocked in Kevlar reinforced fiberglass, the stock shapes are the same and both materials functioned equally well from the bench rest.
A word about the subjective recoil of these 9.3x62mm rifles: This powerful, hard hitting cartridge is the mildest of the dangerous game cartridges in terms of recoil, yet it carries a Hornady HITS rating of 1863 at 100 yards. It kills as well as a .338 Win. Mag. (1744 HITS), but kicks noticeably less. We consider the 9.3x62 to be the best balanced of all the medium bore cartridges. No cartridge that develops over 3,500 ft. lbs of energy from the muzzle of a hunting rifle can be called a soft shooter, but the 9.3x62 is a bargain, in terms of recoil, for its killing power.
Likewise, the CZ 550 American Kevlar is a bargain among powerful medium bore rifles. We could not help speculating that this rifle would be an excellent choice for a mixed bag Alaskan hunt. It is more than adequate for all of the 49th state's big game animals, including deer, caribou, black bear, grizzly, moose, brown bear, polar bear, musk ox and bison. Not a bad $1100 investment!
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