Two CZ 550 FS (full stock) Carbines, in 9.3x62 and 6.5x55
By Ed Turner
Over the last few years, I have enjoyed buying pairs of rifles as two caliber ;sets (two gun batteries) that are usable for most or all North American big game hunting. The first such set was a T/C Encore having two barrels, one in .25-06 and the other in .35 Whelen. I had also considered .270 or .280 on the light end and .338-06 for the top end, but finally decided the .25-06 was flat shooting and powerful enough round for all CXP2 game and the .35 Whelen was also flat shooting enough with 180 or 200 grain bullets to do a reasonable job at long range, while also being a very heavy hitter with bullets up to 310 grains available. It is my opinion that any battery of rifles should always include possible crossover use that is logical, if not exactly perfect.
The second set consists of two Winchester Model 70 Featherweights, one in 7mm-08 and the other in .30-06. My third two-rifle battery was not initially intentional. However, after purchasing a couple Remington Model 673's and seeing just how handy they were, I found a stellar deal on a Model 673 in 6.5 Remington Magnum. This rifle, coupled with my Model 673 in .350 Rem. Mag., made not only a great all-round battery, but also showed me just how great these two original short magnum rounds were. The 6.5mm Model 673 is a dream to shoot. Very light recoil in a rifle initially designed to deal with the stiffer recoil of the .350, it is as easy on the shoulder as my .308 caliber Model 673.
My fourth two-rifle battery is a bit different, but also every bit as good as the other three pairs. The well made and stylish CZ 550 (a Mauser M98 clone), made in full stock version (FS) in the very old, but still supremely capable, metric calibers 6.5x55 and 9.3x62. Both cartridges are well over 100 years of age and still more than capable, between them, of taking big game of any species found in North America or Europe. As I age, I become more appreciative of some older, tried and true, guns and calibers. Perhaps we might all be better shooters and hunters if we actually studied some of the guns and calibers from days past.
The 6.5x55mm Swedish Mauser
Designed in 1891 and produced originally in 1894, the 6.5x55 Swedish Mauser has been an over achiever since day one. More than likely its fine performance on game has stemmed from the fact it came out in a time of questionable bullet construction for the new smokeless powder, high velocity rounds of the day. Remember, the .30-30 was the first "high velocity" smokeless powder hunting cartridge. To accomplish what much larger calibers had previously claimed as their hunting domain necessitated bullets of superior sectional density (SD). The initial 6.5x55 loading was a 156 grain round nose bullet at about 2300 fps. Later this was changed in favor of higher velocity and flatter trajectory to a 139 grain spitzer bullet at about 2800 fps. That was hot stuff back in the day and it remains a very useful hunting load today.
This cartridge was used in Scandinavian bolt action military rifles, as well as machine guns and semi-automatic weapons. It has been used on game as big as moose and polar bear in Scandinavia for over 100 years and its light recoil and excellent killing power has endeared it to generations of hunters. It was also the international standard in biathlon competitions until 1975, when the .22 LR took over. A very useful round capable of being loaded to over 50,000 PSI in modern arms for hunting a wide range of game using bullets from about 100 to 160 grains.
The "Made for Africa" 9.3x62mm Mauser
During the 19th and early 20th Centuries, several European countries colonized parts of Africa. This brought European settlers into contact with some fearsome beasts. Lions, leopards, buffalos, rhinos, elephants, hippos and crocodiles of mythic proportions were not necessarily awed by man and there was a need for a powerful rifle for the masses, as opposed to the very expensive bespoke doubles and magnum length bolt actions favored by wealthy and aristocratic sport hunters.
The German gunmker Otto Beck came forward with a powerful medium bore cartridge designed for use in mass-produced Mauser bolt action rifles and the legend of the 9.3x62 was born. It essentially duplicated the ballistics of the long 9.3x74R (a popular rimmed cartridge designed for use in single shot and double rifles) in a shorter (.30-06 length), rimless format and gave the owners of inexpensive bolt action rifles the striking power of a 286 grain bullet of excellent SD (.305). This made life safer for both the colonist/farmers and the native population.
The 9.3x62 gives the same performance as the 9.3x74R, but at a higher pressure level and, even more importantly, in a cartridge with an overall length that allows its use in a standard bolt action rifles. No need for larger actions such as those needed for the legendary .416 Rigby and .375 H&H. The 9.3x62 proved to be a near perfect "all-around" cartridge for the Dark Continent and also proved its merit in Europe and elsewhere. It became popular for use on the large European wild boar, moose, brown bear and polar bear. For use on CXP3 game and with bullets of similar SD, it is similar to the American .35 Whelen; for use on CXP4 game, it is superior to the .35 Whelen due to its ability to handle larger diameter bullets (.366") of greater SD.
Typical 9.3x62 factory loads drive a 286 grain bullet at a muzzle velocity of about 2360 fps with 3544 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy. Other loads are available with various bullets weighing 232 grains, 250 grains and 325 grains.
I have long been a fan of full length (commonly known as Mannlicher) stocks on rifles, seeing them as both handsome and somewhat different. The CZ 550 FS does not disappoint on those fronts and it is a quality package. The wood on both stocks is decently figured and possibly nicer than most walnut stocked rifles offered today. Actually, the 9.3x62mm rifle came with wood that, although subdued a tad with stain, has outstanding grain. They both have nicely done four panel checkering and a satin finish that appears to be some type of lacquer. The 9.3mm version also has two crossbolts in the stock for extra strength.
They both benefited significantly from multiple applications of my favorite wood stock enhancer and protector, Natchez Solution. A decent solid rubber recoil pad is attached to both, as are sling swivels of the permanent European type. The muzzle is finished nicely with a metal cap, in the Mannlicher tradition. The front sight hood, however, leaves something to be desired. It has an opening in the top to aid in seeing the sight in low light, but this part is poorly polished and finished.
The barreled action is described as "polished and blued." I compared the metal finish on my new ;CZ 550's to a couple other Mannlicher stocked rifles I already owned, a Ruger 77RSI Mk. II and a stylish Interarms (Manchester, England) Mk. X Mannlicher in .30-06 and both of these rifles show a significantly higher level of polish and blue. I will have to admit, though, that the general trend in recent years has been to offer rifles of matte, or low luster, finish as a cost cutting measure.
The CZ's also showed some areas of grinding marks that were not fully removed, mainly on the trigger guard, where the other two rifles show none. I am not bashing the CZ's, just comparing rifles so that prospective CZ buyers will not think they are buying a finely finished rifle when they are not. The CZ's blued finish seems to be a "tweener" to me. My chosen Warne gloss blue scope rings are slightly more highly polished, while the Zeiss matte finished scope mounted on one of them is less glossy than the rifle. All metal parts of these CZ's are well matched in their finish, however, except for the previously mentioned front sight hood.
The action of the CZ Model 550 is, of course, a close copy of the legendary Mauser M98 action, one of my all-time favorites. It differs appearance-wise in having a more stylish bolt shroud, different bolt release (similar to the Winchester Model 70) and three-position side safety. Unlike the Mauser 98, the CZ's bolt knob is a separate piece screwed onto the end of the bolt handle and it came loose! The CZ 550 retains M98 style dual front locking lugs and the rear safety lug, as well as a long Mauser type extractor and fixed ejector for controlled feeding.
The CZ 550 action is a close cousin, design-wise, of the two rifles to which I compared its finish, the Interarms Mk. X (a commercial Mauser 98 action) and the Mauser inspired Ruger M77. The overall feel of the CZ actions is slightly smoother than the M77, but not as smooth as the Mk. X. Bear in mind that the Mk. X has been fired/cycled many more times and with use the CZ's will likely become smoother. The 6.5mm CZ is noticeably smoother than the 9.3mm.
A short barreled rifle will have more muzzle blast that a similar longer barreled version and if it is lighter, you can end up with a rifle that is uncomfortable to shoot (especially at the range). The .308 Ruger's 18.5" barrel is certainly as short as I'd like to shoot and the 20.5" Mk. X is lighter still. The CZ's, on the other hand, are much heftier in both feel and construction and it was only after buying the 6.5x55 and seeing this that I was brave enough to order the 9.3x62.<
The CZ's heft and substantial recoil pad make the powerful 9.3x62 round quite manageable and, because it does not drive its heavy bullets at magnum velocity, it does not produce excessive muzzle blast. This rifle is a great concept; it is powerful, portable and certainly stylish. A very special rifle, considering what it would cost to custom build something similar on a Mannlicher-Schoenauer action. (If you are interested in the latter, our Rocky Hays is the man to see. -Ed.) You will probably be the only fellow in hunting camp with one, which might mean something to a real "rifle" person. It does to me.
The 6.5x55 rifle was acquired first, as already mentioned, and it was quickly topped with a Nikon Monarch 4x40mm scope. This scope is extremely bright and clear and its 40mm objective seems to go well with the CZ and the medium height rings needed for bolt clearance. Some might feel a 6.5x55 could use more magnification, but if 4X scope was enough for Jack O'Connor and his .270, then it's sure to be a good partner for the 6.5mm, as well. It certainly did not hurt at the bench, where the very first fodder fed to the 6.5 gave me 1.5" groups. Subsequent testing with a half dozen handloads produced slightly, but not dramatically, better groups.
The 9.3x62 was purchased after I missed a chance at a new FN-built Model 70 Featherweight in .270 Win. I still have a very pretty pre-'64 .270 Featherweight, but missing the newer version gave me the chance to spend the coin on the 9.3mm CZ/Mannlicher, something I'd thought about since day one of owning the 6.5mm CZ. Ammunition for the 9.3x62 is not found everywhere and that was a consideration when I pondered its acquisition.
Finding a good supply of a typical 285 grain soft point cartridges at about a buck a round, finally convinced me to take the plunge. Most other loadings with premium bullets from Nosler, Norma, Stars & Stripes, Sellier & Bellot and others will run about two to three times that price. Finding that this bargain load had excellent reviews was a big relief. My experience has already shown the reviews to be true, at least at the range in my CZ. There are at least twenty different loads shown in the Midway USA catalog for the 9.3x62, so there is no shortage of ammo from which to choose, even here in the U.S.
This bargain priced ammo did not disappoint, printing sub-MOA groups with consistency. Yup, it out shot the 6.5x55! The scope for the 9.3mm turned out to be a close-out special Zeiss Conquest in the ever-popular 1.8-5.5x38mm size. (Said tongue in cheek, I can assure you!) It is likely due to it's odd power range that this fine scope never caught on, but I find that particular range just right for this caliber. I plan to take the 9.3mm CZ on a Maine bear hunt at summer's end and I feel the lower end of the magnification range will be excellent for the likely close-in shots at baited bears.
A great scope for $299, it looked fine atop the CZ and proved a worthy mate at the range. The scope is no lightweight, but added heft is not a bad thing when dealing with a medium bore as powerful as the 9.3x62. Both scopes were mounted in Warne Maxima permanent rings made especially for the CZ 550 (and older BRNO 602 as well). It has been my experience that CZ finishes their dedicated rings about on a par with the front sight hood; that is, not particularly well. The FS version does not come with rings, as do the other (sightless) 550 models, so purchasing the better, less expensive, Warne rings was a no-brainer for me. They attach easily and look very nice, much nicer than CZ's proprietary rings.
I would be remiss if I did not mention of one of the CZ 550's best features, a single set trigger. I have long been a fan of this simple answer to trigger pull weight. It allows the owner to have a trigger pull of 3-4 pounds for safe hunting, especially in colder climates when wearing gloves, and a light trigger of 1-2 pounds for range work. I know that not everyone is enamored with set triggers, but for me it makes sense. I do not like ultra-light triggers for field use and an overly stiff trigger degrades accuracy from the bench or in the field. Both the standard (un-set) pull and set pull are easily adjusted by the user. Instructions and an adjustment tool are included with the rifle.
CZ 550 FS Specifications:
"A classic Bavarian style Mannlicher stock of Turkish walnut with a cheek piece, topped off with a steel muzzle cap. The FS version is fitted with fully adjustable sights." (Quoted from the CZ-USA web site at http://cz-usa.com/)
Best features: Quality made M98 clone for those who enjoy a classic Mauser action. Finish and quality of wood are above average; nicely inletted; steel muzzle cap; single set trigger; integral scope rings need no bases (rings not included).
Worst features: Heavier than most other Mannlicher stocked rifles; average metal finish; threaded bolt knob; bolt handle rotation (upward) requires medium height rings, even for scopes with small diameter objectives.
Summary and Conclusion
There you have it. Two special rifles in both caliber and style that should impress any shooter/hunter with their design, quality and function. One need not be a fan of the Mauser 98 action or of Mannlicher stocks to enjoy the feel and look of these special rifles. Are they of extreme quality or character? No, but they have a special air about them that speaks to pride in their heritage and gives their owner great value for the dollars spent. Just as importantly, they will surely continue to please future shooters as they are passed from generation to generation.
These are quality rifles designed to emulate the Mannlicher stocked rifles of old. They feel lively in the hand and have some features you will not find elsewhere at these prices. Anyone wanting a Mannlicher stocked rifle and not wishing to break the bank should look here. CZ does an excellent job and both of the rifles tested garner a solid B+ rating from me.
Copyright 2009, 2014 by Ed Turner. All rights reserved.