CZ Model 550 American 6.5x55 Rifle
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
CZ rifles, produced by the European firm of Ceska zbrojovka a.s., Uhersky Brod (CZ UB) in what is today the Czech Republic, were rare on the American hunting scene just a few years ago. But today they have become a fixture. Good design, high quality, and attention to the wants and needs of the customer--along with savvy and aggressive marketing by CZ-USA--have brought about this deserved market success.
The popular CZ American Models combine a lightly modified Mauser 98 type action with an American style walnut stock. The hammer forged barrel is free floating from the receiver forward. The metal work is polished and gloss blued with only the bolt body and extractor left in the white for contrast. A single set trigger completes the standard package, although an adjustable single stage trigger is available by special order.
The American pattern walnut stock has a straight comb, cheekpiece, 18 lpi bordered point-pattern checkering, and comes with detachable sling swivel studs. The butt is protected by a soft rubber pad, but there is no pistol grip cap. The stock finish is a semi-matte polyurethane lacquer.
The CZ action incorporates most of the virtues of the basic Mauser 98 design with a few Model 70 ideas thrown in. CZ starts with a forged steel, square bridge, flat bottomed receiver with an integral recoil lug. Then, there is a one-piece bolt, full length extractor for controlled feeding, receiver mounted pivoting ejector, internal box magazine, steel hinged magazine floorplate, and one-piece steel bottom iron and trigger guard. There is a gas escape port in the right side of the front receiver ring.
The loading/ejection port is large and the extractor is beveled to facilitate the single loading of cartridges directly into the chamber. The sheet steel internal magazine box is a separate part as per the Model 70, not integral with the receiver as with the original Mauser 98. The pivoting ejector is set below the left bolt rail, eliminating the need to split the left bolt locking lug. The trigger guard is nicely shaped and generous in size.
The convenient two position safety is located at the right rear of the receiver (back is "safe" and forward is "fire"), as is often the fashion with commercial Model 98 actions. It locks the bolt closed when applied and is positive in operation. Unfortunately, the safety lever makes a noticeable click when it is moved.
The bolt itself has a single, round gas escape port in the underside that vents into the magazine well. The rear of the bolt is shrouded to prevent escaping gasses from blowing back into the shooter's face. There is a bolt disassembly catch in the right side of the bolt sleeve and a cocking indicator in the rear face. The bolt body is round; it incorporates no Mauser 98 type bolt guide rail to control wobble. The easy to operate bolt release is a small lever at the left rear of the receiver, much like a Model 70.
The bolt knob is round and smooth for easy on the hands operation. It is screwed onto the end of the bolt handle. We know this because it worked slightly loose during out testing. We solved the problem by completely unscrewing the bolt knob and reattaching it with Loc-Tite. It would not do to have it come off in the field!
The well designed magazine floorplate latch is mounted in the front root of the trigger guard and takes a generous bite to latch the magazine securely closed against recoil. It's hard to imagine the floorplate inadvertently coming open. It is an improved version of the Model 70 type floorplate latch, but not quite as convenient as the inside the trigger guard location of the Mauser 98 floorplate latch.
This action incorporates all of the features that make for a first class hunting rifle. We judge it to be a suitable action even for a dangerous game rifle. It would also be a suitable action on which to base a first class, custom built sporter.
The only feature that we were divided about is the single set trigger. Guns and Shooting Online's Chuck Hawks, Rocky Hays, and Bob Fleck did the testing of the CZ 550 American, and while Rocky loved the set trigger, Chuck and Bob would have preferred a conventional single stage trigger that broke cleanly at 2.5 to 3 pounds.
As delivered, the un-set trigger broke after a lot of gritty creep at anywhere between 4 and 4-1/2 pounds. At least un-set there is only a small amount of over travel. Set the trigger by pushing the trigger blade forward until it clicks, and the trigger pull is reduced to a mere 12 ounces. After being set the trigger releases very cleanly but, oddly, with a tremendous amount of over travel.
Once set, the rifle should be fired immediately. If it is not, it is possible to "un-set" the trigger by first applying the safety and then, keeping the rifle pointed down range in a safe direction, pulling the trigger. This reverts the trigger to its normal, un-set position without dropping the firing pin.
The nay sayers' argument is that the un-set trigger is too heavy for a good hunting rifle, and once set the trigger is too touchy for reliable use in the field by an adrenaline stoked hunter. It's nifty at the rifle range, though, if you remember to handle the trigger very gently.
We tried to adjust the set trigger for a heavier pull and were unable to do so. With the trigger adjustment screw backed all the way out, the set trigger still released at about 12 ounces, which is apparently the maximum weight of pull. Run the adjustment screw all the way in and the set trigger gets lighter until it will not hold, releasing the firing pin immediately upon being set. None of this had much affect on the un-set trigger pull, which remained creepy, gritty and heavy.
One mild complaint that we all had was that the magazine follower spring seemed unnecessarily heavy. It causes a lot of friction between the steel magazine follower and the underside of the bolt as it is operated. (This is a case where a polymer magazine follower would be an advantage.) Another universal observation was that the action is not very smooth. Bolt travel is rough, especially at both ends of its movement. It is easy to see machining marks in the bolt raceways that should have been removed.
Here are the basic specifications for the 6.5x55 Model 550 American:
Our test rifle was packaged with scope rings, a warranty card (3 years parts and labor on the barreled action and 2 years on the stock), instruction manual in several languages, small combination screwdriver/wrench, and a target showing a three shot group shot at 50 meters. The latter measured 1-3/8" center to center.
We mounted a Zeiss Conquest MC 2.5-8x32mm scope using the supplied rings and encountered absolutely no problems. We love rifles with integral scope mounting bases.
This medium size, variable power Zeiss scope is an excellent companion for a nice European 6.5x55 rifle. It offers bright, sharp optics, a wide field of view at low power, and enough magnification at the high end for shooting good groups at the range. 8x is more than enough magnification to get all that there is out of a big game rifle chambered for the versatile 6.5x55 SE cartridge.
We have written so much praise about the 6.5x55 SE cartridge in various Guns and Shooting Online articles that it would bore regular readers to repeat it all here. Suffice to say the venerable Swede will do for all CXP2 game and is not by any means incapable of taking CXP3 game in the hands of a good shot. In Sweden for example, it remains a popular moose cartridge. Its great virtues are excellent sectional density with the popular 140 grain bullets, sufficiently flat trajectory to make hitting easy, and mild recoil that encourages accurate shot placement. It is one of the world's great hunting cartridges.
Top an American style classic rifle like the CZ 550 with a fine scope and chamber it for an accurate, mild kicking cartridge like the 6.5x55 and you have a combination that is a real pleasure for the Guns and Shooting Online staff to test.
As usual, we did our shooting at the Izaak Walton gun range south of Eugene, Oregon. This outdoor facility provides target stands at 25, 50, 100, and 200 yards as well as covered bench rests from which to shoot. The weather was mild and sunny during our spring range days with the CZ American, but a bit windy with gusts to about 10 MPH.
After bore sighting we did our preliminary shooting at 25 yards, and then moved back to 100 yards for our final zeroing and for shooting groups for record. The accurate, fingertip windage and elevation adjustments of the Zeiss scope made sighting-in the rifle a snap.
By pooling our resources we managed to come up with only two types of 6.5x55 ammunition. Several staffers own and use 6.5x55 rifles, but we all use 140 grain bullets in the same two basic loads! These were European Sellier & Bellot factory loads using 140 grain soft point spitzer bullets at a claimed muzzle velocity (MV) of 2645 fps and reloads using enough RL-22 powder to drive a 140 grain Sierra GameKing spitzer boat-tail bullet at a MV of 2700 fps.
Chuck, Rocky and Bob did all the shooting for record, which was accomplished from a Caldwell Lead Sled weighted with 50 pounds (2 bags) of lead shot. We used Hoppe's "Crosshair" sighting targets. Here are the shooting results:
This time out Rocky shot the smallest single group, thus securing bragging rights for our after shooting discussion and coffee clutch. We all enjoyed shooting the 6.5x55 CZ 550 and there were no malfunctions to report. The CZ 550 American delivered good accuracy, and the 9 pound (with scope) 6.5x55 rifle was a pleasure to shoot due to its mild recoil.
A few years ago CZ 550 rifles were a terrific bargain in what we considered the low priced class. The MSRP has risen ($68 in the last year) as wages have gone up in the Czech Republic, and now they are what we would call medium priced rifles, but they are still an excellent value. Not many rifles can match the basic quality and features of the Mauser based CZ 550 American at anywhere near its price class.
The arms producing Eastern European nations, in particular Serbia and the Czech Republic, free from the Communist yoke, have once again made it possible for mainstream North American hunters and shooters to afford very expensive to manufacture Mauser 98 based hunting rifles. Get yours before they are again priced out of the market.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
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