The folks at CZ have introduced several line extensions of late, the two most interesting of which are the CZ 455 Varmint Evolution and the CZ 527 Varmint Target. The CZ 455 Varmint Evolution is a heavy-barreled, bolt-action .22 set into a wild-looking, laminated, Boyds’ SS Evolution stock of alternating layers of blue/grey veneers. The CZ 527 Varmint Target, another bolt action, has a target-weight barrel chambered for the .223 Remington family of cartridges and is outfitted with a Kevlar stock featuring a hand cutaway behind the grip for shooting off of sandbags.
As bizarre as some folks may consider the Boyds’ SS Evolution stock to be, it is both functional and ergonomic. The near-vertical grip positions the hand in a more natural attitude than with a conventional open grip and provides superior trigger control. The CZ 455’s non-tapered, free-floating bull barrel measures 0.87 inches in diameter, and the barrel channel—what little there is—will accommodate any barrel contour.
The CZ 455 Varmint Evolution represents the latest generation of CZ’s rimfire action, on which several other models are based including the CZ 455 Varmint, which differs only in that it sports a straight-comb, classic-styled Walnut stock, and the CZ 455 Varmint Precision Trainer, which is set into a Manners Composite T4 stock and described in the catalog as being “designed to provide the same look and feel as your full-sized tactical rifle while allowing for much more economical training.”
What sets the 455 action apart from most bolt-action rimfire rifles is that it offers barrel/caliber interchangeability. The Varmint Evolution will accept user-interchangeable barrels in .22 LR, .22 WMR and .17 HMR—just like any in the 455 line. The shank portion of the barrel, which is 1.2 inches long, slip-fits into the receiver, where it’s locked in place with two rearward-angled Allen-head screws. These screws bear against similarly angled flats on the barrel shank. Switching barrels, of course, has been made idiot-proof, as the barrel cannot be fully seated and locked unless a flat surface on the breech, just below the chamber, is aligned with a matching flat in the receiver ring. It takes but a minute to change barrels, and when changing from .22 LR to either .22 WMR or .17 HMR, the only other change required is to remove a plastic baffle in the magazine well to accommodate the longer magazine, which of course is furnished when you purchase the accessory barrel. My test rifle was chambered in .22 LR, but I also requested the .17 HMR barrel to check out the caliber-swap aspect.
For a rimfire, the CZ 455’s receiver and bolt are quite massive. The locking system is fairly standard in that the root of the bolt handle lowers into a recess in the right side of the receiver. Up front, the bolt head has so-called “dual extractors,” but the one on the left is actually a tensioner that keeps the cartridge or empty case flat against the bolt face until it contacts the ejector.
The fire control system is impressively sturdy, fully worthy of a centerfire action in my opinion. It’s a simple arrangement similar to the Winchester Model 70 trigger. As such, it has a wing-type safety rotating horizontally within the shroud at the rear of the bolt. Pushed forward, it withdraws the cocking sear and firing pin unit from engagement with the trigger sear. With the safety housed in the bolt shroud, the trigger mechanism itself is fully exposed—like the Model 70 and military Mausers. Trigger adjustment is for tension only, and straight out of the box, my test gun’s trigger broke at 3.5 pounds. I was able to get it down to 2.5 pounds before coming to the end of the adjustment range. At that, it was crisp, but there was a noticeable amount of creep.
The magazine housing is of poly-carbonate and held to the receiver by two sturdy machine bolts. The furnished magazine has a five-round capacity and is of the same material as the housing. And, like all CZ actions—both rimfire and centerfire—the CZ 455 has integral dovetails for direct scope ring attachment. All in all, given the rimfire rounds it was designed around, everything about this 455 action is more robust than it has to be.
My other test rifle, the CZ 527 Varmint Target in .223 Remington, is one of many models comprising this line designed around the .223 Remington cartridge family. Depending on model, the CZ 527 is offered in .17 Rem., .204 Ruger, .17 Hornet, .221 Fireball, .22 Hornet, .222 Rem., .223 Rem., and in a 7.62x39mm Carbine version for those who like to burn up vast quantities of surplus ammo. Rifle Firepower was informed that the CZ 527 Varmint Target I tested will not be produced with this particular stock configuration for 2014, though the rifle as tested will still be available from online sources and gun shops with decent inventory.
The CZ 527 Varmint Target can best be described as a mini-Mauser in that it has the outrigger claw extractor, controlled-round feeding and inertia ejection of the ’98 Mauser. The receiver is a flat-bottomed forging with an integral recoil lug in the usual place beneath the receiver ring. Like its smaller and larger brothers, the top of the receiver has an integral, parallel dovetail for direct scope ring attachment, but it has a wider span than the CZ 455 and thus requires different rings.
The safety mechanism is similar to the CZ 455’s in that it blocks movement of the bolt shroud, which of course is part of the firing pin assembly, but it does so in a different way. The safety lever, located on the right side of the receiver bridge, pivots through a vertical arc to arrest the shroud. It engages with a smooth forward movement, but it’s impossible to release the safety silently with just the thumb. I had to use dynamic tension by pushing rearward with my left forefinger while pushing forward with my right thumb and easing it back against the spring. In other words, it took two hands to release the safety silently. It’s a bit inconvenient, but, then again, that’s not a big thing for a varmint rifle.
The trigger itself is a lot more sophisticated than the CZ 455’s because this model comes standard with a single-set trigger that’s adjustable for tension, sear engagement and overtravel. When pulled, the trigger acts like any conventional single-stage trigger, which on my test gun broke at a very light 2.5 pounds, but with noticeable creep. When pushed forward, however, to where it audibly clicked, it was then in set mode, which reduced the trigger pull to a crisp and light 0.5 pounds.
What’s distinctive about this particular model is its Kevlar stock. Like any good varmint/target handle, it has a wide, flat forend measuring 2.35 inches across for extra stability when shooting off sandbags. The cutaway behind the grip looks kind of silly, but it’s really quite functional. Any time you’re shooting off sandbags, the normal position for the left hand is behind the grip, where you can squeeze or slide the rear sandbag fore and aft to affect subtle changes in elevation.
The fiberglass/Kevlar stock is hand-laid around a hardened-aluminum bedding block, a feature we’re seeing in more and more upscale rifles. The process was originally developed by Tom Houghton of H-S Precision fame, and it works well! Another distinctive feature of this stock is the deep notch at the back at the grip, allowing for a nearly vertical orientation of the hand. It comes close to providing the same feel as a thumbhole stock. Other than finger flutes along the forend, a notch at the point of the extra-high comb to clear the bolt and a Pachmayr Decelerator buttpad, that about covers the Kevlar stock’s design features.
Anxious to get these guns to the range, I mounted a Swarovski 3-9x36mm scope on the CZ 527 and a Nikon Monarch 4-12×42 scope on the CZ 455, using CZ’s own rings in both cases.
First up was the CZ 455 Varmint Evolution wearing the .17 HMR barrel and loaded with 17- and 20-grain Hornady loads. This cartridge is very competent out to 100 to 125 yards, but since I was also going to switch to the .22 LR barrel, I chose to compromise and shoot from 50 yards with both. At that distance the gun showed only a slight preference for the 17-grain load, averaging 0.46 inches for five 3-shot groups. Extrapolate that out to 100 yards and you’ve got a 1-MOA rifle.
Switching the barrels and inserting the baffle into the housing to shorten it for the smaller magazine took about five minutes. Naturally, the gun had to be re-zeroed, but the first shot was only about 3 inches down and to the right of where the .17 HMR was printing. As expected, the match ammo shot better than the high-velocity stuff, with the Federal load edging out the Green Tag fodder with an average group size of 0.55 inches for 15 shots. The consistency was unreal, with all five 3-shot groups measuring between 0.50 and 0.65 inches.
There was a tendency of the bolt to bind about halfway in the ejection stroke, but on returning home, I noticed that both the bolt and raceway were bone dry. A little Break Free and the stickiness went away. Other than that, the gun functioned just fine and was equally accurate in both calibers. Obviously, the bull barrels contributed to that accuracy, and since the gun weighed only 7.1 pounds unloaded with either barrel, I wouldn’t consider the sporter-weight stout. The CZ 455 Varmint Evolution carries an MSRP of $522. The accessory barrel and magazine in .17 HMR (or .22 WMR) goes for $149.
The basic CZ 527 has been around in its present form for a long time, and I’ve had several pass through my hands, so there were no surprises at the range. The gun functioned perfectly, the magazine snapped into place with a positive feel, and the set trigger—breaking at 16 ounces—made it that much more pleasant to shoot. Two of the four loads averaged under 0.9 inches from the 100-yard line, with the gold going to Black Hills’ 55-grain Barnes TSX load; it averaged 0.63 inches for five 3-shot groups.
This 527, according to the CZ catalog, “has won more awards in the ‘light rifle’ category in Europe than any other. Ever.” For more information, visit cz-usa.com or call 800-955-4486.