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CZ Varmint .17 Mach 2 rifle review

CZ Varmint .17 Mach 2 rifle review

CZ Varmint .17 Mach 2 rifle.
Close your eyes and think about your first .22LR or the most abundant rimfire rifle on the British market, and what does your mind conjure up?

To me, it is a traditional BRNO, which has to be the industry standard when it comes to .22 rimfire rifles in the UK. This marque still remains the most cost effective and diverse little rimfire on the market ? there are Walthers, Anschutzes and Sakos costing twice as much that I rate highly, but pound for pound (in monetary terms), the BRNO has to rank as the best buy for any would-be shooter.

The BRNO is often referred to as the workhorse of the .22LR world, and in earlier guises the Czech rifle was more suited to field-plodding and bouncing around the back of a Land Rover, but with renewed interest in small-calibre .17 cartridges, especially from the US market, CZ now offer several models in the .17 Mach 2 and .17HMR cartridges, which will satisfy the most ardent of buyers.

Mini marvel
For those unfamiliar with this mini marvel of the rimfire ammunition world, a brief resumé of the .17 rimfire cartridge is in order. There is no denying that the Hornady .17HMR, based on the .22WMR case, has found its niche in the shooting market: a safe, fast flat-shooting small calibre for despatching varmints. It is no small wonder, then, that its inception has sparked new interest in small-calibre rifles. By the same token, it was inevitable that the .22LR case would undergo a similar miniaturisation, the result being the case of the new .17 Mach 2, which uses a .22 rimfire Stinger case from CCI and launches a 17-grain V-Max bullet at 2,100ft per second. This results in a highly accurate and effective vermin tool with flat trajectories.

My first impressions of the CZ Varmint model were that its layout was strictly BRNO, a classic slimmed-down mini-Mauser action with wing safety and detachable magazine. All the controls felt familiar, but this stalwart had been upgraded to fit more comfortably within the modern sphere of firearms rationale. Instead of the highly blued steel, there was a deep satin black finish, which was highly functional on a sporting arm and reasonably mark resistant.

Clean lines
Made from well-figured dark walnut, the stock on the Varmint model has a more traditional feel ? it amazes me that CZ can use wood of this quality on what is ultimately a lower-priced rifle. Visually, it has clean sporter lines, with a wide fore-end void of chequering, though its girth establishes more than enough grip from the supporting hand. There is no cheek piece and so the stock is not really biased towards right- or left-handed shooters, though there is a small palm swell to the right pistol grip. The comb of the stock is sufficiently high for correct scope alignment, while the solid rubber non-ventilated recoil pad is unobtrusive, yet soft enough to provide adequate rifle-to-shoulder fusion.

The overall finish of the stock is one of a tough matt lacquer, which isn’t as nice as oiled, but is practical on this type of gun. I particularly liked the good pistol grip – reasonably straight in orientation, with a slender grip section that properly aligns the gripping hand and maintains correct trigger-finger placement. All in all, it is a well-designed stock finished off with standard quick detachable swivel studs for fixing a sling.

The action has changed little in its long history, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. There are twin extractors that make easy pickings on extracting even the most stubborn case from the chamber; the ejection is forthright and positive to the point of being energetic. The bolt has a small yet functional bolt handle and is more than good enough to operate the bolt mechanism safely and positively, though I would prefer a larger knob handle for winter exploits out in the fields. The throw of the bolt is short, some 2in, which isn’t surprising with a cartridge measuring only 0.97in in length. No sooner have you opened and retracted the bolt than you need to reverse the operation.

The safety is an old and, quite frankly, outdated affair. There is no question that it is a safe unit, but it is still quite hard and noisy to operate compared to a more traditional side-mounted toggle unit. That said, it is actually superior to most safetys on the market in one respect: no manner of abuse will trip that trigger sear when operated. The trigger is again a simple robust unit with an adjustment for weight, though the factory setting (quite high at 4.5lb or so) is no problem to control accurately. If a smooth non-creep trigger is your preference, however, then have a good gunsmith look at it. Alternatively, if desired, there are several after-market replacement trigger kits to further enhance your CZ.

As standard, the rifle comes with a five-shot magazine, though a 10-shot optional extra is available. The CZ magazine is made from high-impact plastic and works flawlessly if kept free of unburnt powder residue and debris.

Factory threaded
The barrel is a relatively short 21in medium-heavy Varmint profile that comes factory-threaded for a moderator with a ½ inch UNF pitch. This alleviates the problem of having the barrel screw-cut as an after-market option and keeps the original muzzle crown intact, which is important for optimum accuracy. All in all, this rifle comes to the shoulder at lightning speed, while retaining enough heft for a steady shot while held in the arm.

Range testing was conducted at 50 yards and 100 yards for the initial zero, and then a choice of Remington, Hornady and Eley ammunition was tested, which are the only types available in this country at present. The .17 Mach 2 has a reputation as a highly accurate little round, and this CZ Varmint was no exception. The 50-yard five-shot groups barely rose above 0.5in diameter, many significantly less, and that was using any of the ammunition types. Similarly, at 100 yards sub inch – many 0.65in – clusters were recorded, which is excellent going for a small 17-grain V-max bullet.

Underrated performer
I next tested the bullets over the chronograph and found, from the 21in CZ barrel, that the Eley averaged a healthy 2,120ft per second velocity, with a high of 2,134ft and low of 2,105ft per second – 20ft per second above the advertised 2,100ft per second velocity. Hornady fared not so well, with a high of 2,052ft per second and a low of 2,008ft per second, making for an average velocity, from a 25-shot string, of 2,030ft per second. With an average velocity of 2,088ft per second, there was little in real terms to distinguish between the Remingtons and the Eleys. For the hunters among us, the ft/lb energy for the Eley was 169.7ftlb, the Hornady 155.6ftlb and the Remingtons 164.6ftlb.

So what does that relate to in the real world in terms of trajectory and downrange performance? With Eley starting at the muzzle at 2,120ft per second for 170ftlb at 50 yards you still have 1,828ft per second for 126ftlb, and at 100 yards you have 1,564ft per second for 92ftlb. Really, the .17 Mach 2 is a 100-yard cartridge – a marked decline was obvious at further ranges.

Super flat
I originally sighted at 50 yards and found that, compared to a .22LR high velocity round travelling at an average of 1,250ft per second, the Mach 2 had 0.85in less drop at 75 yards and nearly 4in less at 100 yards. My own personal zero range to get the best trajectory from the little Mach 2 round would be 75 yards. At these range you are 0.3in low at 25 yards and 0.2in high at 50 yards, so dead on in real terms. Zeroed at 75 yards and then at 100 yards you are only 1.2in low, so that long shot at a rabbit is a tiny elevation compensation.

Accurate and requiring minimal trajectory compensation out to 100 yards, the little CZ allows the shooter to concentrate on the shot without worrying about range compensation and was a joy to use. It was light and pointable, a bit too light for long shots, where a heavy rifle would add stability, yet fast and reassuring to use. A steal at £365, it still ranks as the best-buy .17 Mach 2 rimfire on the market.

Price £365

– Very accurate
– Factory threaded for moderator
– Great price
– Good quality wood

– Trigger Creep