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Big Iron, Little Iron: CZ Model 550 American Safari Review

by Wayne van Zwoll   |  July 25th, 2012 4

He loaded up as if the rifle were a .30-06, thumbing the cigar-size .505 Gibbs rounds onto the follower as if he’d done it every day. In fact, he had never fired a rifle this powerful. I suggested he stand, rather than bench it.

He nodded, leveled the .505 and pulled the trigger (this would have made good film). In concert with the concussive blast, the muzzle went vertical. The man staggered and lost his footing, landing hard. Like a baton, the 11-pound rifle launched itself through the air, end-over-end.

I retrieved the rifle while the fellow picked himself up. “Golly,” he grinned sheepishly. No harm to anything but his pride, I decided. Certainly none to the CZ 550.

In the Field
My first hunt with a 550 dates some years back. The rifle, a 9.3×62, downed a mountain goat and a moose in British Columbia with Norma ammo loaded with 250-grain Swift A-Frames. Equipped with a 4X Cabela’s Alaskan Guide scope, it shot the Swifts flatter than traditional 286-grain softpoints. The goat was scrambling away at 220 yards when the first bullet struck.
The second landed as the billy halted at 250.

The moose appeared, as moose often do, between the chalk arcs of its antlers far away. We sneaked through a maze of alder, willow and spruce. The bull rose when we got inside 40 steps, then dropped dead to my shot through its shoulders. Still with me, this CZ 550 has one crossbolt behind the magazine, a fore-end with reverse-angle tip that on current rifles has been upgraded to round. For hunting in a remote place, where durability and reliability matter, it remains a go-to rifle.

Later, I carried a 550 in .30-06 with Federal ammo to hunt deer on the prairie. It endeared itself to me, a solid rifle with the checkered walnut and long extractor I covet and the heft to make slinged-up prone as steady as sandbags on a concrete bench.

A Bread-and-Butter Action
The CZ 550 is essentially a modified Mauser, so its action has a muscular double-square-bridge profile. It looks, and is, as rugged as an armored personnel carrier. You fasten a scope with mounts that clamp onto integral 19mm dovetails front and rear. The big, flat footprint of the receiver makes for plenty of bedding area, and epoxy bedding ensures full contact at recoil lug faces on the most powerful 550s. Magnums have a second, barrel-mounted lug that bears against a steel stock insert to distribute thrust. The fore-end screw and double crossbolts on these rifles are absent on CZ 550s chambered to less potent rounds.

The 550’s traditional two-lug bolt features a full-length Mauser extractor and controlled-round feed. A fixed ejector emerges from a slot below the left locking lug as the bolt reaches the end of its throw. A Winchester M70-style bolt stop arrests the left lug. The two-position thumb safety locks striker and bolt. The adjustable trigger is CZ’s own, a single-set mechanism you can ignore or push forward to set the trigger for a lighter pull. All-steel bottom metal includes a one-piece guard bow and magazine housing, and a hinged floorplate secured by a button in front of the guard.

Most CZ 550s are stocked in plain American walnut, either in the Czech Republic with imported wood or stateside after the barreled action arrives at the Kansas City headquarters of CZ-USA. Laminated wood is an option; so is Kevlar-reinforced fiberglass (with aluminum bedding block).

Safari-Style
The 550’s brawny profile and construction complement accurate barrels. Even the bigbores, I’ve found, print small groups. The Safari Classic is as fancy as the 550 gets and is chambered for traditional Africa-inspired rounds—the .404 Jeffery, .450 Rigby, .500 Jeffery and .505 Gibbs—as well as for the .300 H&H and .338 Winchester, the .338 Lapua, .375 H&H and .416 Remington. A mercury recoil reducer in the buttstock is standard on rifles in .500 Jeffery, .505 Gibbs and .338 Lapua. Safari Classics, which start at around $3,000, feature trued and lapped actions glass-bedded into figured walnut. Iron sights and barrelband front are standard. You can add options including a muzzlebrake, rust blue, ebony fore-end tip and special chamberings.

Want lots of horsepower at a discount? CZ’s Safari Magnums in .375, .458 Winchester, .458 Lott and .416 Rigby list for half as much as the Safari Classics. Besides a more limited choice of chamberings, Safari Magnums feature fore-end-mounted swivel studs and plain walnut. (Laminated and Kevlar-fiberglass stocks are available, too.) You can buy a .375 Field Grade for just $1,180. I’ve used Federal’s Trophy Bonded .375s on animals as big as buffalo. A professional hunter who culled elephants with a .375 told me he preferred it to a .458 because “hurling 500-grain solids makes my head hurt. Also, I get as much penetration with the .375—sometimes more.” A CZ 550 in .375 holds a capacity advantage over most of its competitors: The magazine takes five belted magnums. I also like the 25-inch barrel. It enhances the cosmetics and balance, and puts muzzle blast a comfortable distance from your face. Barrel contours on bigbore CZs are just right, though the stocks are a tad generous. These rifles point quickly but hang well on target. They’re stout, but not ponderous.

On most CZ Safari rifles, a barrelband front sight complements a trio of rear leaves, two folding. Their shallow V notches feature white center lines for fast aim. And the company offers 15 heights and sizes of front sights, so you can tailor the irons for any load you want.

At 9½ pounds, the CZ 550 in .375 is no mountain rifle. But that heft makes it more civil at the bench and helps with offhand aim when you’re out of breath shadowing a Zambian tracker who’d qualify for the Boston Marathon running backward.
Weight also contributes to accuracy. My handloads—300-grain Herter softpoints launched at 2,420 fps by 81 grains H4831—printed inside 1¼ inches. My friends Sam Shaw and Rich McClure got similar results. In fact, the CZ shot the smallest groups of four .375s on the line that afternoon. Thank the hammer-forged barrel. And, of course, that single-set trigger, which broke at 2¾ pounds as-is and one pound when set. I’ve cradled and shot just about every CZ rifle, from the 452 rimfire to the UHR (Ultimate Hunting Rifle). The UHR is an eight-pound 550 with a 24-inch barrel in .300 Winchester Magnum. Designed for accuracy at extreme range, it comes with a one-MOA guarantee at 600 yards. I hung a bullseye at 500, hiked back to the line and snugged up the sling. Despite a cold wind, my five-shot volley centered the black, with a group that met CZ’s standard.

The .375 Safari Magnum had years earlier instilled dreams of long grass and crinkled footprints the size of manhole covers. Still, I had yet to get cozy with a bigbore Safari Classic. CZ’s Jason Morton took care of that just the other day with a beautifully stocked rifle in .404 Jeffery.

But that’s another story.

CZR-1B

Slinged up in a sitting position, the author steadies a CZ .30-06 for a long shot across the prairie.

See photos and specifications of the guns mentioned in this article and order from an inventory of thousands—all online through Gun Locator. Visit GalleryofGuns.com.

  • Jack

    Boy, whatever happened to Ross Seyfried?. These reviews ALL sound like an annoying infomercial.

  • Johnny

    Now that is one big gun. Still, if hunting is what gives you an adrenaline rush, you'll need the best tools for the job. There's no denying anything about this simple fact.

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