A couple of issues ago we reviewed CZ’s 455 FS, a very traditional-looking Mannlicher-stocked bolt-action sporter in .22 WMR—definitely on the sedately elegant side of things. Now some scary-smart Czech engineers took the company’s Model 452 rimfire bolt-action gun and reworked it to quickly swap from one barrel/chambering to another, each time creating a precision target/varmint rifle.
It’s called the Model 455 Varmint Evolution, and aside from the fact that it’s a bolt-action rimfire, it’s anything but conventional. The general staff opinion on the radical-looking, blue-gray laminated hardwood stock was mixed. Some loved it. Some gasped in horror. Its semi-skeletonized (for lack of a better term) stock is fully ambidextrous, including the cheekpiece and palm swell.
The 20½-inch bull barrel(s) free-floats above a rounded, abbreviated fore-end that resembles, in the words of G&A staff photographer Mike Anschuetz, “a dolphin’s nose.” OK, the laminated, sporty stock is playing to the youth market, and to some it may look like it belongs on a ski slope. But it shoulders easily and settles down on target quite nicely.
Our particular test rifle came “as issued” in .22 Long Rifle. The spare barrel was in .17 HMR (other barrel options include .22 WMR and .17 Mach 2). The Varmint Evolution comes with the only two tools required for barrel swapping—a large Torx L-wrench for the twin action screws and a small Allen wrench for the two barrel set-screws. Our first barrel-swapping efforts took about six minutes. Once you read the very straightforward instruction sheet, even the most fumble-fingered types could cut down that time considerably.
The barrels slide into a smooth recess, with perfect headspacing guaranteed (if there isn’t any dirt or assorted debris in the action or on the barrel). Then the flat noses of the set-screws engage angled facets cut into the barrel. The sockets for the small Allen wrench are quite deep, giving the wrench excellent purchase and, unless you just go Neanderthal on it, it won’t do the classic Allen strip-out. We’d recommend a Wheeler Engineering FAT torque wrench and appropriate bits to get the recommended poundage.
The action is a conventional bolt but with an optional magazine well filler block for use with the .22 LR mag. This plastic block is loosely pinned, and caution must be used during disassembly or the pin is liable to jump free and hide under the filing cabinet or carpet edge.
Blessedly, CZ cut the receiver for conventional 11mm rimfire dovetails, so mounting a Redfield’s new 3-9X Revenge was easy and inexpensive, using CZ mounts. The scope model is the Revolution with the Accu-Ranger reticle. This looks like a Celtic cross with fine crosshairs and is very easy to shoot on round bullseye targets.
Redfield is to Leupold as DeWalt is to Black & Decker, and the scope looks good, functions flawlessly and is still affordable on a family-friendly budget. This scope no doubt helps make Leupold proud of its Redfield acquisition. And with smaller chamberings, unless you’re in a rimfire benchrest match, you’re not really going to need massive magnification. If you’re hunting and the opportunity for a close shot comes up, that 3X setting could really pay off.
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Since most of us are used to real-world trigger pulls, the four-pound factory setting on our test gun was perfectly OK. But many are going to want things in the two- or three-pound range. This is not an issue, as the trigger is adjustable for poundage, eliminating the need to leave your rifle at the gunsmith for months.
It really feels good, and it’s our guess that, regardless of cosmetics, graybeards and kids are going to like the Varmint Evolution equally.
Both the .22 LR/.17 Mach 2 and .22 WMR/.17 HMR mags are polymer with metallic followers and hold five rounds. Loading was a breeze, with no lacerated fingertips and flawless feeding. Neither a stovepipe nor porpoise. The magazine catch is conveniently placed in front of the mag and operated with a simple pinching.
We got the Redfield dialed in with some loose ammo and headed to the range for some informal “get acquainted with the rifle” shooting. By the time a couple of staffers had handled and shot it, it really began to grow on everyone. One staffer, an admitted tyro, managed an inch-plus group at 50 yards.
Later we got a bit more serious. With the .22 Long Rifle barrel installed, we set up a target at 50 yards and tried the grandfather of all lightweight, hyper-velocity offerings, CCI’s 32-grain Stinger. Results were disappointing. Then we tried some of Winchester’s hot (1,650 fps) 26-grain tin HP stuff. Again, not so hot. Clearly the 1:16 rifling in the cold-hammer-forged barrel of the Varmint Evolution wasn’t fond of ultra-light hyper-velocity ammo.
Next up was Winchester Supreme 40-grain Match loads, which produced fine groups, averaging ⅝ inch and one great little ⁷/₁₆-inch bunch.
Next we tried some Federal Champion 36-grain HPs. They performed almost as well as the Winchester Match stuff, averaging ¾ inch. Not bad for bulk high-velocity “plinking” ammo.
After we took a break, we swapped out for the .17 HMR barrel. The .17 HMR was a whole different story. After dramatic scope adjustments, we got zeroed and started smacking a 200-yard steel plate, which was easy game. On paper, 50-yard results were impressive. The CCI 20-grain averaged ¾ inch and the Hornady ⅝ inch.
Whether centerfire or rimfire, a switch-barrel option makes a lot of sense. Being able to shoot low-cost .22 Long Rifle ammo, then gear up to a hot .17 for varmints (or the .22 WMR if you prefer) is a real selling point. And that capability, paired with something as eye-catching as the Varmint Evolution, looks like a no-brainer to us.
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