The .17 HMR and the Hornady Mach 2 made a huge splash several years back with rimfire hunters and shooters who felt the need for something above and beyond the old .22 Long Rifle. But as cute and efficient as they were, they never struck my fancy nearly as much as the original rimfire hotshot—the .22 Magnum Rimfire, introduced all the way back in late 1960. When you factor in bullet weight (admittedly, the .17s can top it on raw speed), it’s still pretty much the rimfire to beat in my book.
When I first starting fooling with .22 Magnum rifles back in the 1960s and ’70s, the basic load consisted of a 40-grain HP or FMJ at a velocity somewhere in the 1,800 fps range, with an accuracy potential—condescendingly described—as being less than that of your average .22 LR. But 11/2- to two-inch good at 50 or 100 yards seemed a pretty good trade-off for a hyped-up number capable of handling things larger than the squirrel and rabbit menu reserved for the Long Rifle. Not to mention stretching things out to a bit past 125 yards.
Back in those days, most .22 Magnum bolt actions—with the exception of some expensive Anschutz imports—were utilitarian Mossbergs, Marlins and Savages. They weren’t 50-foot smallbore competition rifles, but that was OK because the guys who used them hunted with them. And back then, five- or six-buck-a-box .22 Mags were considered too pricey to target-shoot with anyway.
Paired with CZ’s elegant, classic-Mannlicher look-alike, the .22 Mag is still capable of handling anything in its weight class. The new 455 FS—in terms of price, looks and performance—should shoot to the top two or three .22 Mag turnbolts in terms of desirability. It retails for a bit more than most American-made .22 Mag bolt actions, but considerably less than other Euro imports (i.e. Anschutz).
It features the somewhat humpy “Lux” stock configuration popular in Europe and serious, fully adjustable open iron sights. It also accepts the clamp-on CZ proprietary scope mounts that constitute a somewhat more attractive take on the old Weaver Tip-Off rimfire mount system. In keeping with the trim lines of the rifle, I let aesthetics overrule magnification and installed Nikon’s very trim, objective-less Monarch UCC 1.5-4.5X.
In rounding up as many different .22 WMR loads as I could, I quickly discovered there were more options available than the 40-grain offerings I’d remembered. Bullet weights ranged from 30 grains to 45 grains. As I quickly found out over the chronograph, average velocities ranged from nearly 1,540 fps on up to an impressive 2,143 (putting the .22 Mag into “close but no cigar” .17 HMR territory).
I took a look at the factory test target that came with the rifle. The CZ tech had gotten a five-shot 50-meter group that measured a hair under 11/2 inches—pretty darn good for open iron sights.
My situation was a bit different. I had the scope cranked up to 4.5X and did most of my shooting—between wind gusts—at 50 yards, trying only two of the better-performing loads at 100. The two best turned out to be 40-grain CCI Maxi-Mag and Hornady’s heavier 45-grain Critical Defense FTX (designed, oddly enough, for short-barreled handguns). Both loads shot just under an inch for five shots. Both managed to produce four-shot clusters of around a half inch.
Pesky flyers are overused as an alibi for pulling a shot. I’d question whether they qualify as an arbitrary act of God, but the trigger on the rifle—despite a relatively light 4.2-pound break—was rather creepy and tough to manage (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). The little Nikon provided plenty of magnification, particularly when I managed a 11/4-inch group at 100 yards—again with the CCI Maxi Mags. Besides, I like less magnification. Sometimes the illusion of steadiness is almost as good as the real thing.
I’m not saying the rifle can’t do better in better hands, but the results were considerably better than what I remember from my experience with the cartridge a couple of decades ago. Some of the features on the rifle make a lot of sense, such as the open “sun roof” hole atop the front sight hood and the excellent iron sights themselves.
Although I’d like a steel magazine instead of the polymer unit the 455 FS employs, it’s tough to argue with the ruggedness and cost-saving aspects of it. The wing-type safety pulls backward to put the gun in Fire mode, which takes a little getting used to. Most Americans are used to pushing forward to deactivate the safety. And somebody had enough sense to put a rubber buttpad on it so you can stand it in a corner.
But this is a very cool little rifle. It looks good, shoots good and represents a good buy for the money. Although the trigger can be adjusted for weight, smoothing it out would make the 455 FS well suited to any hunting task falling between the rimfire .22 Long Rifle and the centerfire .22 Hornet.
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