A few years ago, I attended the U.S. Marine Corps Scout/Sniper Advanced Course in Quantico, Virginia. The course was six weeks long and brought snipers predominantly from the Marine Corps together with an Army officer (myself) and a Dutch Commando attending as part of an exchange program. The instruction was first-class, as were the students.
The course had us shooting almost every day at distances out to 1,000 yards. Part of the program involved the best practices and drills discovered from both military and law enforcement sniper schools from around the world. One of my favorite courses of fire came from the British Royal Marines.
The Brits start their shooting exam with all students lying prone behind the berm, 1,000 yards from the targets. On command, the students crawl up on top of the berm into their shooting position and engage the target with 10 rounds (if my round count is off, it’s because my memory fails me). The first shot is the toughest because students have to estimate wind speed and shoot based off their estimate. It is a tough shooting qualification but one that all the students enjoyed.
At the conclusion of the exam, I struck up a conversation with the British Royal Marine serving as a guest instructor at the school. As expected, our talk centered around guns, and he asked me at what age I began shooting. I answered, “Around 10, I guess.” He then said something that I’ll never forget. He said that the rest of the world’s militaries would always be trying to catch up to the Americans when it came to marksmanship because so many of us learned to shoot as children and knew how to handle firearms before we ever entered the service.
Colors (that’s what we called him) is right. We are fortunate enough to live in a country where parents can teach their children to shoot. This is a responsibility that we should take seriously, if for no other reason than that the child we teach may one day defend this country.
That conversation has been rattling around in my head for a few years now, and when I saw the CZ 455 Varmint Precision Trainer (VPT), I recognized it as the perfect rifle with which to teach someone how to shoot, especially if he is entertaining the idea of training to one day become a sniper. It is also an excellent rifle with which precision shooters can practice without going broke.
THE 455 EVOLVES
The CZ 455 has been on the market for a few years now after replacing the company’s highly successful CZ 452. The 455 design comes to us thanks to newer manufacturing techniques at CZ, and all of the 455 models allow the owner to easily switch calibers thanks to a barrel that’s easy to remove and replace.
This 455 VPT is only available from CZ in .22LR, although any of the company’s barrel kits in .17 HMR or .22 WMR will drop right in. Other 455 rifles are available in .17 HMR, .22 WMR and .22LR.
The barrel is a straight-profile, .866-inch diameter that looks very much at home in the Manners stock. The barrel is hammer forged and 20½ inches long, plenty long enough to get all the velocity out of a .22’s case capacity. CZ laps each barrel, and their bores are snug, so accuracy across the line is exceptional.
The trigger is user-adjustable from 3 to 5 pounds. There is some creep in the trigger, but the light pull weight and smooth engagement surfaces make it less noticeable and very manageable.
The most recognizably unique feature of the VPT is the Manners stock. Manners is one of the best premium-stock manufacturers. The Manners stock is made of carbon fiber and fiberglass. This gives shooters the ability to build a rifle that closely mimics the handling characteristics of their centerfire precision rifle. The standard VPT stock weighs 3 pounds, 4 ounces.
New for this year is the molded-in camouflage finish. It’s not uncommon to paint fiberglass and carbon fiber stocks; most of them are. The paint can scratch and chip over time through use, especially if we make it a habit of tossing the rifle in and out of the truck. The new, molded-in camouflage finish offered with the VPT means that we don’t have to worry about damaging a painted one. The stock also has a final topcoat of Armor-Grip paint that gives it a very flat appearance and adds some texture to the stock. Even with wet or sweaty hands, the stock won’t get away from us. The VPT’s new stock is olive drab with splotches of tan and black. It’s an attractive arrangement.
The Manners T4 that comes on the VPT is inletted for CZ 455 bottom metal and fits perfectly. Often the bottom metal will protrude slightly from the stock unless the manufacturer pays careful attention to detail. In this case, everything was done right. The stock is also inletted for the heavy barrel and ensures that it is free floating, an additional measure optimizing accuracy.
The shape of the action and the inletting of the T4 stock make the CZ 455 VPT a prime candidate for bedding, should the owner desire to experiment with accuracy. While a .22LR doesn’t generate much recoil, most rifles will benefit from a good bedding job that keeps the action from moving around during transport or recoil. The 455 VPT is my top pick if I were going to bed a .22. The stock is one of the best available, and the action’s design lends itself well to the practice. There are large, uninterrupted radii that run along the bottom of the 455 action (like on a Remington 700, the world’s easiest action to bed) that mate well with the stock, as would the large, square tang at the receiver’s rear. A bedding job would ensure complete and consistent contact along all of these surfaces.
Attaching the action to the stock are two action screws. The forward-most screw passes through a small aluminum pillar in the stock. The pillar has been cut to accommodate the front of the magazine well. The magazine well attaches to the bottom of the receiver with a large metal screw that rests against the aluminum pillar.
I like to see pillar bedding on precision rifles, as it provides a solid foundation for the action to rest against in the stock and prevents the stock from being damaged by overtightening the action screws. The single pillar in the VPT is plenty solid for a rimfire, especially when paired with the cylindrical-shaped action and flat, square tang. All of that surface area helps keep the action in place.
<h2></h2>The 455 action is one of the most popular .22s on the market.
HANDLING AND TRAINING
The Manners T4 gives the CZ 455 some unique handling characteristics and offers the shooter some additional training opportunities not found with traditional stocks. The T4 has a high, flat comb that does an excellent job of keeping the shooter’s head directly behind the scope without requiring the additional weight and complexity of an adjustable comb. I have pretty high cheekbones, and even with my head completely relaxed and resting on the comb, I can see down the center of my scope. For those with lower cheekbones, a stock-pack is an inexpensive way to get some additional height off the comb if needed.
The stock also has a flat, 4-inch toe (5 inches if you count the recoil pad) with the forward edge curved to accommodate the shooter’s support hand if he wants to grab the rear of the stock and pull it into his shoulder. Flat toes are crucial for rifles fired most frequently from the prone or off a bipod. In either of these positions, our best accuracy will always be with a rear bag in place, and a flat toe gives that vital rear bag plenty of real estate to support the back of the gun. This pays off in spades, accuracy-wise. Most stocks on .22LR rifles have a pointed toe that is much harder to anchor firmly in place.
The T4 has an almost vertical grip that has an appropriately sized palm swell. When spending the majority of our time in the prone, a vertical grip alleviates much of the stress placed on our wrist when shooting conventional stocks. The vertical grip with palm swell does a much better job of filling our hand and giving us something to hold on to. The grip is also textured to prevent it from slipping.
The forend on the CZ 455 VPT extends well past halfway down the barrel, is 2½ inches wide with rounded sides and is textured on the rear half. It is made to ride bags well, and it does. The wide forend provides exceptional stability off of sandbags or flat rests, and the wide sides ensure that even bags that wrap around the forend don’t touch the barrel. There are also two sling swivel studs in the forend to accommodate a bipod and sling simultaneously.
The detachable magazines and Manners T4 stock make the VPT the perfect rifle to use as a precision rifle trainer for new shooters or those who want to stay up on their skills without going broke doing it. Prone shooting off a bipod is the most basic of all shooting positions, so it makes sense if we spend a fair amount of our shooting time in it. Most precision rifles have a stock very similar to the T4, so time spent on the 455, and the skills acquired there, transitions easily to other rifles.
The VPT’s T4 is also a good stock to help us work on our positional shooting since it was designed for use on centerfire rifles. While the flat forend is predominantly meant for riding bags, it also fits well in the support hand and is long enough for almost any positional work.
AT THE RANGE
I tested the VPT off the bench at 50 yards using three different loads. Not surprisingly, the stock was very comfortable once I settled in behind it. The bolt throw is about 80 degrees, and the bolt lift is fairly stiff, but I expect that would smooth up over time and use. The trigger is a bit heavy for precision work but not prohibitively so.
Of the three loads tested, the VPT liked the CCI Mini-Mag the most. The best five-shot group measured .39 inch and averaged .47 inch. The Mini-Mag load performed very consistently for the duration of the evaluation.
The next ammo tested was the Federal new bulk-packed 36-grain load that comes in a nitrogen-filled oversize tuna can. (It’s a great idea from Federal, and I expect it will sell a bunch of it.) The VPT’s best group with the Federal load measured .98 inch and averaged 1.02 inches.
The final load tested was the Wolf Match Target 40-grain loading. Its best group measured .65 inch, and the group average came in at .78 inch.
After spending some time on the VPT, it would be the rifle I would use to teach anyone how to shoot off the bench or in the prone or to introduce a younger shooter to the basics of sniping. It would also work as an inexpensive substitute tactical trainer for a more seasoned shooter.
I am sorely tempted to use the CZ 455 VPT as the foundation in an experiment to see how accurate a tactical/trainer .22LR can be. Lilja (manufacturer of match-grade barrels that hold a number of records) makes a drop-in .900-inch-diameter barrel for the 455 that would fit perfectly in the T4 stock. Timney makes a trigger for the 455 as well. Couple those two components with the attention of a premium custom rifle builder, and I get excited to see what would happen. The VPT comes with the best rimfire stock on the market, and the CZ 455’s action is a solid and worthy foundation upon which to build, especially when we consider the robust aftermarket support available for it. There are almost too many options for such an exciting and well-made rifle. Almost.