If you are looking for an accurate, reliable and affordable rimfire that works well wtih any ammunition, this rifle is for you, says Bruce Potts
Think of .22 rimfires and instantly you think of the CZ .22 LR bolt-action rifle. This rimfire has been offered in many guises over the years to satisfy shooters who want wooden, synthetic Sporter or thumbhole stocks. Blued and nickel finishes were also available, as well as a barrel change facility in the 455 model.
Now CZ is offering a stainless-steel version in its 455-based STS, which is available in .22 LR, .22 WMR or .17 HMR.
There is a new synthetic stock that is lighter than its predecessor, tough in construction and has a soft-touch finish. The barrel lengths can be ordered in 16in or 21in and both are threaded for a sound moderator. All in all, it is a lovely little rimfire, ideally suited to hunting and priced only a shade over £500 — a bargain.
Barrel, action and finish
- The most obvious change is the finish. Stainless steel to the action and barrel, it makes for a weather-resistant and corrosion-free rimfire. The finish itself is more subdued — satin-like really — which contrasts well with the black Arcor finish of the bolt and handle. This is a surface treatment rather like salt bath nitriding, providing good resistance to scratching and corrosion.
- The action on the 455 model allows a swift change of barrels, which come as a barrel and magazine set.
- Remove the stock and you have access to two Allen screws at the base of the receiver. Loosen these and the barrel can be removed or exchanged.
- To retain accuracy, the headspace on the cartridges is maintained by a milled slot to the barrel facing off the front of the action so when pressure is applied down on the barrel before tightening and with the bolt closed on a fired case it is set up correctly. I shot it off and on with no change in accuracy.
- The barrel is available in 21in or, as here, 16in — actually 16.5in, which is better for hunting and sound moderator usage. Stainless steel like the action, it has a slim Sporter profile, is threaded ½ UNF for a moderator and comes with a ventilated muzzle brake-come-thread protector.
- The bolt has a small handle and rounded knob but still operates easily; the more rounds fired the smoother it gets.
Trigger, safety and magazine
The trigger is a single-stage unit that has been modified from the previous models to give a lighter trigger-pull and instant let-off. I had the trigger sear breaking at 2.25lb, just right and a good contributing factor to high accuracy.
The safety is the wing-type lever on the rear bolt shroud, very Mauser-esque. When operated forward it locks the bolt and the CZ is safe.
One area in which CZ always shines is its magazines. Its five- and 10-shot versions are plastic in construction so light but very reliable. Best of all, they are cheaper than others on the market.
The stock, too, has been upgraded from the simple moulded generic type to one that is both lightweight and strong with a soft-touch feel. This stock is a blend of polymer reinforced with glass fibre for strength and moisture resistance. The CZ synthetic stock was always better than most and now it is even better.
I like this new model as it feels sturdy but light — two worthwhile assets to have in a rifle of any kind. The colour here is a black and green speckled effect, which again looks great, but best of all is the soft-touch finish. Popularised on shotguns, this finish is now being applied to rifles. It means no need for chequering and it grips the hand in any position.
To the bench
I have a soft spot for rimfires, especially CZ’s as they just work — they shoot accurately and are utterly reliable. They are primarily suited to sporting use with their short, sound moderator-friendly barrel and synthetic stock design, so I chose a selection of subsonic ammunition and a few high-velocity (HV) loads.
I fitted a stainless-steel MAE STS rimfire sound moderator, which really suited the CZ and cut the report to a whisper — perfect.
Most .22 LR subs are 40-gr but the newer Winchester Max ammunition has a 42-gr hollowpoint design. I have been using these recently due to their greater momentum on the target, which means better penetration and expansion on game.
The CZ shot them superbly, no surprises there, with a velocity of 1,074fps for 108ft/lb energy and 30-yard groups of 0.35in for five shots and 50-yard groups just over 0.65in. The standard Winchester 40-gr shot half-inch 30-yard groups and 1,068fps for 102ft/lb.
I also had good performance with the Eley and RWS loads, with 1,041fps/96ft/lb and 0.55in groups and 991fps/87ft/lb and 0.65in groups respectively. The RWS was super-quiet with that lower velocity.
Finally, the CCI segmented rimfire round has made a big impression since it hit the market. Its three-petalled copper-washed bullet splits into three parts to avoid ricochets and delivers maximum lethality. In the CZ I had quite a high 1,088fps for 105ft/lb and bang on 0.55in 30-yard groups, so another good contender. In fact, any of the ammunition tested would bring home a bag full of bunnies.
As I use .22s for close-range ratting and, when close, fox, I tested some HV and reduced loads. The RWS Z Lang bullet was accurate at 25 yards, with good 0.45in groupings for a velocity of 838fps and 45ft/lb energy from the 29-gr bullet — similar to a top-end FAC-rated airgun. That means good accuracy at reduced range and power for closer-range ratting or super-quiet pest control.
The RWS 40-gr HV load has always been the best HV load in the rifles I have tested, and this was no different in the CZ. With 0.55in five-shot 50-yard groups and sub-inch 100-yard groups for 1,238fps and 136ft/lb, their performance was impressive.
Is the CZ Varmint 453 rimfire rifle the best-value rimfire rifle in the world?
Fox control: Why do all the rifle experts have such a low opinion of the .22 rimfire for fox control?…
It is a straight 18 out of 20 in all categories for this rifle. Those shooters wanting an accurate, reliable, cheap, weatherproof and light rimfire that works well with any ammunition combination need look no further. Great value and typical CZ quality — need I say more?
- Accuracy: Spot on, as all CZs are 18/20
- Handling: Lightweight and well balanced 18/20
- Trigger: Better than the 452 model, with adjustable trigger adn light trigger-pull 18/20
- Stock: Best stock CZ has on a rimfire 18/20
- Value: Great value for money 18/20
- Score: 90/100
In the field
I fitted the rifle with a set of BKL double-strap 1in scope rings, in a silver finish that complemented the CZ’s,
and a Hawke 3-9×40 EV scope, zeroed at 50 yards.
What you notice, even with an MAE stainless-steel moderator and scope fitted, is how light and nimble the CZ is — ideal qualities for any rimfire as you are usually walking around hedgerows and crawling through ditches. At least I am.
- The soft finish is a nice touch, literally, and though it can attract dust it will clean easily with a damp cloth when you get home.
- It is said that CZs never die, they just get smoother and I have to agree, and its accuracy reassures you of a confident shot.
- The smart stainless-steel finish is better than the nickel version as it is more subdued, making it better for hunting. As mentioned, the finish contrasts well with the black Arcor finish of the bolt and handle.
The idea was to sling the rifle and stalk the field margins, looking for rabbits with the binoculars as I went, but every evening there was something — the wind, a dog walker or my forgetfulness (failing to pack my ammunition) — that put paid to any plans.
A hare for the BBQ
However, an early start at 3am had me scouting the Buckinghamshire countryside for a hare, as I had a request for one for an evening BBQ. With crops now having a growth spurt, I had some excellent cover among the trees lining the field where the hare would lie up in the field tracks or folds. I loaded some Winchester 42-gr Max bullets and slipped on the safety.
The first field was devoid of hares but full of crows; the next full of rabbits but no hares. I resisted the temptation and ploughed on to the next field. I slid in behind some ivy-clad trees and soon spotted the telltale ears of a hare. I eased up the CZ and focused the Hawke scope’s reticle where I hoped the hare’s head would rise. A few whistles from me had his head up and ears rotating like radars, but to no avail as the Winchester Max 42-gr hollowpoint was on its way for a clinical head shot.
I actually like hares, but tonight keeping the landowner happy was the order of the day and the CZ did not disappoint.
Accurate, reliable, affordable and works well with any ammunition