Review: CZ 550 Western Series Rifle
August 26, 2016
We hunters who live to enter the back-country, those of us who hunt the wildest places on earth, are often looking for a rifle that will live up to the lessons of our past experience.
A field rifle needs to be as rugged as the hunters who carry it, accurate so as to ensure a quick and ethical kill on the game animals we respect so much, impervious to inclement weather and able to be relied upon. The CZ 550 Western Series fits all of these requirements.
When one first looks at the CZ 550, the design of the stock immediately stands out. CZ has elected to use a Manners carbon fiber stock in olive drab color for this lineup. Traditionalists may cock an eyebrow and question the lines, but upon handling it, it becomes evident that Manners knows what it's doing.
The pistol grip is a bit more vertical than a conventional rifle stock, but the palm swells offer a very comfortable feel. The grip angle is reminiscent of the Savage F-class rifle stock, and I noted that it has been fitted with a good-quality recoil pad that sits comfortably on the shoulder.
The pistol grip and forend grip area have a pebbled, or distressed, texture, which isn't aggressive but does well to help us keep a firm grasp regardless of field conditions.
With certain models I've handled in the past, the CZ 550 action has been a bit on the sticky side out of the box. Not so with the CZ 550 Sonoran I just finished evaluating. From the initial insertion of the bolt into the receiver, cycling the action feels smooth as glass, and cartridges feed very well from the five-round magazine, making follow-up shots no issue at all.
My test CZ 550 came chambered for the venerable .270 Winchester, a tried-and-true favorite that has been with us since 1925. Being the little brother of the king-of-the-hill .30-'06, the .270 has been criticized throughout history for not having a wide-enough range of bullets to make it a true all-around rifle.
Bullet weights for this caliber generally run from 90 to 150 grains, with some specialty bullets made in 160 and 170 grains. The bullet technology of today has changed all that.
Whereas in the past folks such as the great Elmer Keith designated the .270 as a marginal rifle for game in the elk/moose/kudu weight range, the bonded-core and monometal bullets that are offered in .277-inch diameter may very well have changed that opinion.
With a rifle such as the CZ 550 Sonoran that gives a practiced hunter the ability to accurately place the bullet into the vitals of his quarry, a hunter should be able to successfully take most of the world's game animals that a medium-bore rifle would be suitable for.
Bison, Cape buffalo and brown bears sensibly require a larger bore and heavier bullets, but if this were the rifle in hand on an African plains-game hunt, confidence would abound. Perhaps opting for the premium 150-grain bullets would help to hedge your bets when license and trophy fees add up to half a year's mortgage payments.
In this era of giant-case super-magnums, many of the sweet-shooting cartridges such as the .270 Winchester are too often overlooked. If you were to study your history, you'd find that there was a fellow named Jack O'Connor who made a bit of a reputation using this cartridge.
This particular rifle has a 24-inch fluted barrel, and it and all the metal are treated with a ferritic nitrocarburized finish inside and out. While that may sound really cool, it is designed to be tough. That doesn't mean we ignore CZ's recommendation to apply a light coat of quality gun oil on occassion. Do that and this finish should offer a lifetime of protection.
The 24-inch barrel length is an intelligent choice for this caliber, as it will give the shooter enough barrel length to wring out the velocity needed to get the flat trajectory that put the .270 on the map, yet not be unwieldy in field situations. The barrel is free floated in the carbon fiber stock without having a considerably large gap.
One of CZ's signature features has always been its single-set trigger. Oh, how a trigger can make or break a long-range shot. Many feel that CZ has a gem in that single-set design.
Simply slip your finger behind the trigger, push forward until you hear and feel a click, and you've set the trigger to break at a fraction of the weight of its normal setting. I went from having a three-pound trigger pull to one that was two pounds lighter.
In this mode, there is virtually no creep and very little overtravel. It is a feature that long-range shooters have always benefited greatly from, especially in a prone. Be sure and check that the safety is engaged before pushing the trigger forward to ward off the effects of Mr. Murphy and his entourage of potential tragedies.
Even in the normal setting, the CZ trigger is a crisp and clean affair. Regardless of your preference, you should experience no issues with trigger pull in either mode.
The CZ 550 is equipped with a three-position safety on the bolt side of the action. Forward is Fire (revealing a small red dot indicator); the middle position is Safe, preventing the trigger from firing but allowing the shooter to work the bolt to unload the rifle safely; and the rearward position blocks both the bolt and the trigger.
The safety has a positive feel and is located in a spot where the shooter can easily feel it without taking eyes off the target.
For optics on my CZ 550, I used a Zeiss Conquest 4.5-14x44 MC equipped with a #20 Z-Plex reticle. I mounted it in a set of high rings to give proper scope alignment with the high comb of the Manners stock. This scope gave plenty of eye relief, with the crystal-clear image that Zeiss is famous for, and even with a 1-inch maintube, it offered plenty of light transmission.
The parallax adjustment made for crisp focus of long-range objects, and the top-end magnification of 14X would make a sensible choice for sane shooting distances without sacrificing much on the lower end. At 17½ ounces, the scope added a bit of weight to the package, but, overall, it maintained a nice center of balance to give the rifle a natural rise to the shoulder.
At the bench, the CZ 550 really came into its own. Factory loads produced a respectable level of accuracy, hovering between 1 MOA and sometimes a bit more.
With handloads, the rifle revealed its true potential. The Massaro Ballistic Laboratories 140-grain Hornady boattail, my handloadbullet, printed five-shot groups besting at .85 inch. A Thorne Customs handload printed exactly 1 MOA with 130-grain Speer Hot-Cor bullets, both of which should prove more than accurate enough for any hunting situation.
Felt recoil from full-house factory loads was easily manageable, more than likely due to the design of the lightweight Manners stock. The Hornady Custom Lite reduced-recoil ammunition featuring its 120-grain SST bullet proved to be aptly named; felt recoil dropped right off to the point where it would make a good choice for a shooter whose experiences are limited and who wants to develop good skills while being able to kill effectively.
Know how your loads perform and the CZ 550 will offer acceptable accuracy given any bullet weight.
As mentioned, the single-set trigger was an added bonus, especially at the range. If you're not familiar with using one, I recommend spending some time with it. It is a very touchy affair and can feel as though you've sent a round downrange before you realize you've touched the trigger.
However, the single-set trigger is a huge help when trying to wring out the rifle's mechanical accuracy, when assessing load accuracy and for precise zeroing for long-range work.
All said, the CZ 550 Sonoran will make a great companion. While it's not a lightweight mountain rifle, I'd could see it being slung up a sheep mountain or accompanying an elk hunter on forays afield in the autumn. The modern .270 bullet handles almost all of the game in the lower 48 states, possessing plenty of killing power and the accuracy that hunting requires.
With premium bullets, even African plains game could be confidently hunted. But it's those Western senderos and whitetail, bean-field hunters for which the Sonoran was made. Give this rifle a long, hard look, and rethink the .270 Winchester. Even in this era of Magnum-Mania, this CZ 550 Sonoran in .270 Win. is a wonderful combination.