By Lewis Potter
Tuesday, 27 September 2011
CZ 550 Safari Classic Rifle review: CZ’s range of Safari rifles are a great choice for hunting on the African plains.
CZ 550 Safari Classic Rifle
With the unwavering popularity of Africa as a destination for shooters, interest in classic English-style rifles has been rekindled recently among rifle makers.
CZ has produced a series of Safari Classic or Express rifles that have the looks, build and classic calibres for plains game and dangerous game.
The Express is built for the smaller calibres, while the Classic takes the larger cartridges.
The classic range features single-set trigger units, with gloss or matt-finished metalwork, high-grade walnut stocks with a straight comb that are glass-bedded to the action and the barrel has a barrel-band sling-swivel mount.
There are numerous features that can be specified when ordering a rifle from the Safari range, including the cartridge choice, which ranges from .270 to .505 Gibbs in both the Express or Classic rifle form.
For the purists, there are even some of the old English cartridges to choose from, such as the .404 Jeffery, .450 Rigby and the .425 Westley Richards; with the .375 Ruger and .338 Win Mag available for the conventional hunter.
ACTION, TRIGGER AND SAFETY
The action is the tried-and-tested 550 series, which is derived from a Mauser action, but on the CZ it is applied in a Magnum form to accommodate even the longest cartridges needed for big game in Africa.
The classic square bridge receiver has 19mm dovetails to fit a scope as required and is finished in a deep satin blueing.
The Mauser-style bolt is huge, at 8.25in long with large claw extractor that enables a controlled round feed of the cartridge from magazine to chamber.
It’s reassuring to know that if a Cape buffalo charges, you can depend upon a live round going in and the spent case being ejected.
There are twin locking lugs which lock into the receiver wall and a rear safety lug below the bolt handle, which locks into the action.
Ejection is via a vertical spur protruding from the action, which flips the case out as the bolt is retracted. This has a traditional jewelled finish, which is a nice touch.
The trigger is, as mentioned, a single-stage affair with a 4lb pull and a little creep. This is fine on a big game rifle — you won’t really notice the pull when a rhino is in your sights.
Surprisingly, the trigger can also be set by pushing the trigger-blade forward for a hair-trigger release that is nice to use when sighting-in, but in my opinion would be too light for use in the field.
The safety is sturdy and uncomplicated: put it to the forward position to fire and to the rear to lock the bolt and trigger — ideal for safari use.
The CZ Classic rifle really looks the part, and it handles as a true hunting gun should.
The straight comb design gives a good sight picture to the open sights, but it also allows competent scope use. Under recoil, the rifle moves back in line and won’t wallop your cheek.
There is a dropped cheekpiece which is more decorative than functional, as you could use this rifle either left- or right-handed if desired.
Made from high-quality American walnut, the colour is good and the straight-line grain is not too elaborate, especially around the pistolgrip area, which could weaken the stock.
The pistol-grip is shallow with a long rake to it and has well-cut chequering, as does the fore-end which is classically rounded in appearance.
There is a thick, 1in rubber recoil pad, which is most welcome on the big calibres, and it has a synthetic Dedecryl finish allowing for tough use, though I would strip this and have it oiled.
The length of pull is 14in or 14.5in with the trigger set. The action area is synthetically bedded to support the rifle’s action, with two cross-bolts to stop the stock splitting under recoil.
ACCURACY AND TARGETS
The .300 H&H is not a common cartridge, and I could only muster a few factory loads, one of which, the Winchester, is now obsolete, so I had to rely on reloads.
The one-in-10 twist rifling that is common to this calibre is made to handle heavier weight .30 calibre bullets, i.e. 180-gr, though 200-gr or 150-gr can be used.
The Winchester 180-gr shot 1.85in groups at 100 yards with a scope, and 2.5in with open sights, but they were 8in high. I used this brass for the reloads.
Hornady now makes a whole selection of old British calibres in its cartridge range, and the 180-gr Interbond factory load shot very well, producing 1.5in groups at 100 yards with a velocity of 2,920fps and generating a generous 3,408ft/lb — a great plains game load.
Accuracy improved with the reloads, again 180-gr bullets were the norm, but I did try some 150-gr SST bullets with a load of 70gr Vit N160 powder, which generated more than 3,000fps and consistently grouped three rounds into 1.25in. The best load was the 180-gr Interbond bullet, which is the same as the factory-produced cartridge, but with a reload of 72gr of RL22 powder.
This was one of my favourites, topping 2,911fps and giving a good 3,388ft/lb energy, as well as producing impressively small groups at less than 1in.
Zeroed at 100 yards, the bullet dropped 2.9in over 200 yards and 11.2in at 300 yards.
Both the Nosler and Sierra 180-gr bullets generated more velocity, but were less accurate: the best I could manage was 1in.
BARREL, CALIBRE AND MAGAZINE
The overall length is 24in, with an outside diameter of 1.22in at the receiver end that tapers to .68in at the muzzle end, allowing for a good weight to soak up some of the recoil generated by the larger calibres.
There is an excellent choice of calibres available in the Express, ranging from the conventional .270, .30-06 to the more exotic .425 Westley Richards or .416 Taylor.
The Safari Classics can be ordered in more traditional cartridges such as .300 H&H Mag, .404 Jeffery, .450 Rigby, .500 Jeffery and .505 Gibbs.
There is a typical barrel-band sling-swivel attachment sited 11.5in from the muzzle, which means that when slung, the rifle sits low on the shoulder, ensuring that a protruding barrel does not alert game as you stalk.
The open sights, almost mandatory for close-quarter dangerous game, are well designed.
The foresight has a white visibility bead and is hooded to protect it, while the rearsight has a fixed leaf set for 100m (NB not yards) and two folding leaves for 200m and 300m.
I quite fancied testing the .404 Jefferies, but only the .300 H&H was available at the time, and the hinged floorplate magazine houses five of these large, long rounds.
CZ has found a niche in the market offering well-priced classic African game rifles in a wide choice of calibres.
Though the .300 H&H Mag is not a true large calibre, it is powerful enough for plains game and would make a suitable red stag rifle, too.
Available in an array of styles and calibres, the Safari Classics are rifles for the connoisseur as well as the seasoned hunter whose life might depend on the reliability that CZ offers.
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