It’s ironic when you think about it. American gunmakers continue to develop more efficient, high-volume, low-cost manufacturing processes and finding ways to cheapen materials. Instead of blued-steel, walnut-stocked hunting rifles, the norm is becoming a color-coated-barrel action assembled with cast-metal parts that’s then placed into a plastic stock.
But as I mature, I find myself more often reaching for a bolt gun chambered in .270, .308 or .30-06 with a premium-wood stock. I enjoy associating my hunting adventures with an heirloom-quality rifle. I’m not a big fan of the latest barrel-burning chamberings, and I don’t much care for wood protected by multiple layers of glossy varnish or a weather-resistant plastic stock.
As European rifle makers strive to impress their products on the American hunter, companies such as CZ are learning that there’s a real demand for an accurate deer rifle in a caliber of a long-standing reputation that’s set in a simple, yet classic walnut stock. Who wants them? Hunters of the old guard who were never easily persuaded by trends.
The 557 retains the CZ 550’s machined receiver, integral dovetails for scope mounting and the all-important cold-hammer-forged barrel. While touring the CZ plant in the Czech Republic, I observed pallets of steel barrel blanks intentionally exposed to the weather and rusting. I learned that this natural stress-relieving process is one of the secrets behind the long-standing reputation CZ has for making barrels that can hold accuracy for the life of the rifle. The rusting process re-forms the metal structure at a molecular level and hardens the core. CZ then turns down each barrel blank on a machine and removes the rusty surface area, leaving a stronger barrel that is then hammer forged on a rifled mandrel. CZ calls this exposure to the weather “seasoning.”
<h2></h2>Right on the money: The 557’s 201/2-inch barrel is free-floated.
Unlike the larger CZ 550 Safari Magnums with controlled-round feed, the 557 utilizes a short extractor and a plunger-style ejector for smoother operation and enhanced ejection. This push-feed system is popular with shooters who like the option to single-load a cartridge because the extractor can more easily ride over the cartridge rim. Whether feeding from a round loaded through the ejection port or stripping a cartridge from the three-round internal magazine, working the two-lug bolt is clean and effortless.
A two-position safety is mounted on the rear of the receiver, a familiar position for shooters who use an American-made bolt action. This 557, however, allows the user to work the bolt and unload a live round from the chamber while the selector remains in the Safe position. Though the rifle is on Safe, you’ll notice that the firing pin is still cocked by the red ring indicator protruding from the rear of the bolt.
With the bolt closed and the safety lever set forward to reveal the red Fire indicator, it only takes between 3½ and 4½ pounds of pressure to the chromed trigger to send a round downrange. For those who are already familiar with CZ rifles, no, this trigger is not the CZ SST trigger system with the “set” function. The 557 has been equipped with a crisp, single-stage and fully adjustable trigger. Using a hex head, you can determine your own preferred pull weight, as well as how much takeup and overtravel you want.
Unlike the stocks found on many European-manufactured rifles, the premium walnut found on the 557 is perfectly contoured for the American style of shooting. Europeans often shoot models with iron sights and require a unique stock contour that naturally positions the eye low. Though many American big-game rifles once came with iron sights, scopes now dominate the American hunting scene. To position the eye properly behind the scope, our shooting positions evolved to accommodate a two- to 2½-inch scope height. The walnut stock on the 557 is every bit American, with its 14½-inch length of pull (including the textured rubber recoil pad). The security provided by this pad works with the rifle’s laser-engraved checkering for controlled handling under any condition while providing the 557 with a subtle, yet contemporary style.
Many will argue that the accuracy potential in the 557 is greater than rifles with a controlled-round feed because the push feed’s extractor and ejector configuration doesn’t place side pressure against the cartridge when it’s locked in the chamber. Additionally, devout bench shooters tend to single-load cartridges rather then cycle a round up from the magazine.
I’ve invested a lot of time getting familiar with a 557 in .30-06 and have come to conclude that the barrel twist is optimized for .30-caliber bullets ranging from 150 to 165 grains. It’s easy to print inch-wide three-shot clusters, but if you don’t give the barrel time to cool between shot strings, group sizes will increase beyond two inches. In the field this is of little concern. If you’ve done your part in setting up the scope and sighting it in, there’s no chance you’ll exceed this rifle’s capacity in taking down game.
I’ve used heavier bullets such as the 180-grain Winchester E-Tip and haven’t had the same success. My favorite load in this rifle for deer hunting has been the Federal Fusion with a 165-grain bullet. Though I’ve been taking a 557 in .30-06 to the field for some time now, it is important to note that in 2014 CZ-USA will be introducing this model in short-action chamberings such as the .243 and .308 Winchester.
In the 557 Sporter, CZ revives the American spirit in this classic outfit. You can enjoy shooting it, you can actually find ammo for it, and it won’t break the bank.