At the 2019 SHOT Show, German manufacturer SK, a maker of premium rimfire cartridges, introduced a .22LR load designated “Long Range.” On the box are even printed the words, “For targets 100 yards and beyond.”
I’m a sucker for new concepts and innovative new ammo, so as soon as the Utah snow receded toward the peaks, I began shooting distances that I’d previously considered absurd with a rimfire.
Due to the burgeoning popularity of down-scaled Precision Rifle Series-type (PRS) matches geared for rimfires, a plethora of fine, precision-oriented bolt-action .22LR rifles have been recently introduced. These range from the quite-affordable, space-age Ruger Precision Rimfire up to the superbly built, obscenely accurate, gaspingly expensive Vudoo Gun Works’ rifles.
CZ-USA rimfires in particular are quite popular amongst the .22 rimfire PRS crowd, especially those that don’t have $3,000 to lay down on a competition rifle. The company introduced a new version of the Model 457 this year featuring a configurable, laminated wood AT-ONE stock by Boyds, and I figured this assignment was a great opportunity to prove all those competitors right or wrong.
Before diving into a discussion of reaching out with SK’s new ammo, let me give you the skinny on this CZ rifle. The company claims the 457 is the finest rimfire action the company has ever offered, and I wholeheartedly agree. It’s almost an inch shorter than predecessors and is sculpted to additionally reduce weight.
Of critical importance are two features: a safety that pushes forward to the “OFF” position, rather than the backwards rocker-type safety common to earlier CZ rimfires, and a re-engineered bolt with a 60-degree lift rather than the older 90-degree lift. Remember how high scopes have to be mounted on most CZs to clear bolt travel? That’s not an issue with the Model 457.
As mentioned, the 457 AT-ONE version features a configurable laminate stock. It offers length of pull (LOP) adjustments from 12.5 inches to 14.25 inches and an adjustable comb so shooters can achieve a consistency-enhancing cheekweld.
Two different barrel lengths are available — one with a 16.5-inch tube, the other stretching to 24 inches. Both are semi-heavy varmint profiles, and both feature threaded muzzles for easy suppressor attachment. Plus, for those that like adaptability, the 457 readily accepts CZ’s swappable barrels.
Finally, the trigger is adjustable for pull weight, overtravel and creep. Right off the shelf, the go-switch on my test rifle has a 3-pound, 1-ounce pull as measured with my Lyman digital trigger gauge. It’s crisp and creep-free.
All things considered, this is one shootable little precision rimfire.
Shooting long with a .22 rimfire requires a scope that you can dial up. Way up. It should also come with a reticle that enables you to consistently hold over when you run out of turret adjustment.
I mounted a 3-15x44mm Leupold VX-5HD in Talley’s superb steel 11mm dovetail rings. This particular scope has dual-rotation turrets with a zero stop and zero lock mechanism and an Impact 29 reticle with lots of holdover capability.
Were I to begin this project over, I’d probably opt for a gargantuan mil-based scope with a 34mm or 35mm main tube to provide a huge amount of vertical adjustment. However, 34mm and 35mm rimfire rings are difficult to find, and the Leupold fits the rifle perfectly.
According to Geoff Esterline, director of marketing for Capstone Precision Group, which handles SK’s marketing here in the U.S., SK produces just two different loads with the 40-grain round-nose .22 projectile. One is factory rated at 1,073 feet per second (fps), the other at 1,106 fps.
“Each production run is sorted by quality, measured through accuracy and group size at 50 meters from their lot acceptance testing tunnel with a return-to-battery-style test fixture,” said Esterline. “The best-shooting 1,073-fps ammunition is packaged into SK Rifle Match. And it’s equivalent in the 1,106 fps variant is the new SK Long Range Match.
“These are the two best performers,” Esterline said. “From there, you work down. Second-best quality for 1,073 fps is SK Standard Plus, then Pistol Match and lastly Magazine. Second-best quality for 1,106 fps is Biathlon Sport, then Pistol Match Special.”
The ammo coming off the lines at SK often rivals the accuracy produced by the best-in-the-world rimfire loads by Eley and Lapua — at one-third the price. And quality is so consistent that, according to Esterline, even SK’s lowest grade ammo goes quick.
“At times, we’ve seen SK Magazine (the lowest quality — but still great stuff) be out of stock for extended intervals. Why? Because production is churning out incredibly accurate ammo, and it’s all making the Rifle Match or Standard Plus quality grade,” said Esterline.
Prone on the 100-yard range, I ran several 5- and 10-shot groups to get familiar with the CZ 457 AT-ONE’s accuracy potential. For a $660 rifle, it performed just fine, averaging less than 1 MOA with the SK .22LR Long Range load. I also tested some of Eley’s subsonic hollowpoint hunting ammo that I had on hand; the SK actually outperformed it.
No doubt a Vudoo or Anschutz rifle would have turned in even better accuracy averages, but as with all gear, you pay substantially more — in this case four to six times more — for a few percent increase in performance. For all-around work, this fine little CZ will serve beautifully.
Light springtime breezes kept shifting from right to left and back again, and I was intrigued to find traceable amounts of aerodynamic shift even at just 100 yards. Groups fired during wind shifts printed oval patterns at an angle on the target.
When stretching any rifle out, velocity consistency quickly becomes critical. With a 22 LR, “critical” happens much closer than with a centerfire. So I was delighted to find that the Long Range load provides tight extreme spreads (ES) and standard deviations (SD). Out of the 24-inch barrel of my test rifle, it averages 1,090 fps with a 15-round extreme spread of 20 fps and an admirable standard deviation of just 6 fps. I was impressed.
You’ll note that the ammo is subsonic, so you may wonder if a faster hunting load wouldn’t reach out to extreme range (for a rimfire) more effectively. It’s a catch-22, if you’ll pardon the pun. More velocity does flatten the trajectory and can buck the wind better, but it typically reduces accuracy. There’s a very good reason that basically all competitive-grade .22LR match ammunition is subsonic. Not only does it tend to group better than even the best high-velocity loads, it typically has much tighter SDs. And velocity consistency is critical at long range.
In short, even if accuracy was equal with high-velocity .22 ammo (which it never is), you’re far better off opting for the greater amount of wind drift and bullet drop of the subsonic match-quality stuff because it’s almost exactly the same from shot to shot.
Steel targets beckoned from 200, 300 and 400 yards. Thankfully, SK provides a G1 ballistic coefficient (BC) for the round-nose 40-grain projectile loaded in its 22 LR Long Range ammo. It rates a humble BC of .172. That’s very low compared to long-range centerfire bullets, but it is as good as any .22 rimfire projectile. Plugging that into my ballistic app along with rifle setup details, muzzle velocity, atmospherics and all the other pertinent data, I dialed up an eyebrow-raising 17.5 MOA for 200 yards.
Ping-g-g-g went the 16-inch 200-yard target. Gratified, I proceeded to empty the magazine without a miss. Too easy.
Dialing to 300 yards required maxing out the elevation turret and adding a bit of hold using the Leupold’s Impact 29 reticle for a total of 42 MOA of elevation. A breath of wind drifted my first two shots off the 10-inch target, but once I found the hold, I ran a five-round magazine without a miss. Handing the CZ off to my buddy, he, too, went five for five at 300 yards.
The following day, I went back out with intentions on a life-size steel torso E-50 Action Target at 401 yards. My ballistic calculator suggested a 60-MOA holdover. I was alone and worried about spotting my own impacts, but I needn’t have. Dust puffed near the target, I made a correction and rang the steel 9 of 10 shots. Tiny black smears in the fresh white paint marked my impacts.
Running the bolt fast and smooth and reloading the magazine quickly each time it ran dry, I attempted to run 20 of 20 before a wind shift changed conditions and thus my hold. I missed the final shot. Still, 19 straight was gratifying.
At that range, it was clear that the “accuracy cone” was no longer in effect. There was no MOA correlation, meaning 1-inch accuracy at 100 yards equated 2-inch accuracy at 200 yards, 3-inch groups at 300 and 4-inch groups at 400 yards. I do think the “cone” held to 300 yards, but for whatever reason, it came apart at the seams somewhere between 300 and 400 yards. In all, I hit the big steel plate 27 times out of 30 shots — for a 90-percent impact rate — but the impacts produced a shotgun-like pattern rather than a tight cluster.
You know what? I’m just fine with that. After all, I did hit the durned thing a whole bunch – at 400 yards – with a .22.
Reining in the fun, I dutifully accuracy-tested the CZ Model 457 AT-ONE with several additional loads, including a Winchester 45-grain Subsonic load that I hoped would provide adequate accuracy and a bit more BC-boosting momentum, and CCI’s fast-paced 32-grain Stinger, just wondering if it had the consistency to be a 400-yard player.
As you can see in the accompanying chart, neither held a candle to the SK Long Range load in either accuracy or velocity consistency. It appears that the new long-range designated load accomplishes just what the company intends. Only SK’s own Rifle Match ammo provided similar consistency, and it was slightly slower, conceding the edge to the Long Range load.
Shooting a .22LR at 300 yards and beyond is akin to shooting a centerfire such as the ubiquitous 6.5 Creedmoor at 1,000 yards and beyond. It’s not just challenging fun, it’s a fantastic way to polish your skills at reading wind and preempting other trajectory-affecting elements. And while match-grade .22 ammunition starts at about triple the price of plinking-grade stuff, it’s still a whole bunch cheaper than match-grade centerfire ammo.