Nick Latus gets his hands on a popular rimfire from CZ and soon fills his boots on a rabbiting mercy mission for a local lady landowner
I have been using a CZ 452 American .22 rimfire for many years specifically for vermin control and had been impressed from day one with its accuracy. Once I learned the trajectory of the 40-grain hollowpoint loads, head shots on rabbits and hares became second nature. But with all the hype the .17 HMR has been receiving in recent years, it was only a matter of time before I added one to my arsenal.
I trawled the local gun emporiums, and the one rifle that really impressed me was the CZ 455 Thumbhole Varmint. My first impression was of how well the laminated thumbhole stock fitted, with a large, scalloped-out section behind the pistol grip. It suited my build perfectly, and coupled with the thin rubber butt pad, it meant the rifle didn’t feel anything like its 3.4kg weight. The 16in cold hammer forged varmint barrel is threaded for the obligatory moderator, and for the first time CZ has made this interchangeable between the three calibres on offer.
The trigger is CZ’s traditional curved blade and fully adjustable, though this procedure requires the stock to be removed. I think this rifle would benefit from one of the aftermarket trigger sets on offer – fitting one would further enhance its performance. Nevertheless, I was more than impressed with this lovely rimfire set-up from the Czech Republic. Although the rifle comes with a five-round magazine as standard, a 10-round mag is available and would bring it in line capacity-wise with some of the other popular rimfire makes.
On top of the receiver, which is incidentally made from a single billet of steel, sits an 11mm dovetail ready to accept all manner of bases and rings. I fitted a rail as I had a spare from another outfit, and married a Zeiss Duralyt illuminated scope to this little lovely. With a magnification of 2-8×42, this model was perhaps not an ideal match for a small varmint rifle, but with its fine crosshair and minute illuminated dot reticle, coupled with Zeiss’s excellent glass, I couldn’t see any problems shooting vermin out to 150 metres.
Down on the range I was even more impressed with the 455’s inherent accuracy, using a diet of 17-grain Hornady V-Max the outfit was printing 0.75in groups at 100 metres – more than acceptable for head shooting rabbits. With the zeroing completed, I couldn’t wait to see how the rifle performed against live quarry compared to my old faithful .22 American.
However, as frequently happens at this time of year, the fog came along to dampen my enthusiasm, and owing to its stubbornness, night after night was cancelled. After four days had passed, things looked more promising, and a chance conversation with my neighbour Mark saw him tell me a story about a fox bothering a local lady with a bantam coop. Apparently she kept seeing the fox in her garden, and fearing the worst for her resident egg layers, she was keen to see its demise. Furthermore, she was becoming increasingly concerned about the rising rabbit population that lived in the exercise paddocks next to her substantial stables.
“Would it also be possible to thin out their numbers as well as sorting out the fox?” she had asked. Mark had answered in the affirmative, and the rabbit problem would be the ideal test arena for the CZ. Arrangements were soon made for the following evening; first we would try and cull the troublesome fox, then as we would be on foot anyway, we would cull as many rabbits as possible on the return journey back to the vehicle.
The knock on my front door at 9.30pm meant Mark was home from work and raring to go. The night sky was clear – a complete contrast to the previous week – and the air was still. Not exactly ideal conditions for a lamping foray, but we were not going to let that put us off after missing a week already. If you aren’t out trying, you ain’t going to shoot anything – simple as that. Taking the CZ out of its slip, I slid the bolt in but left it open. The magazine was still in my pocket, and easily at hand. With the rifle over my shoulder and stalking sticks extended, we soon set off, with me following Mark’s footsteps.
We reached the entrance gate to the exercise paddocks. The owner, aware of our excursion, had been kind enough to stable her horses for the evening. This would provide peace of mind for all concerned. For a reason unknown to me, a moderated shot seems to be as unnerving to horses as a standard muzzle crack. I certainly didn’t want a stampede situation should they bolt at the sound of a shot, so it was a welcome relief that a bit of forethought had been applied.
A quick sweep with the lamp revealed only minor rabbit movement as they scurried back to their warrens. Whatever quarry we were after tonight, it would certainly be hard work in the current conditions. The slightest snap of a twig underfoot on the stillest of nights would carry for far more distance than was comfortable, alerting every creature around to our presence.
It took some 15 minutes walking clockwise around the paddock to reach a large beech tree from where we would have a good view of the grass field. Upon reaching this position, Mark got the Mini Colibri caller going, giving it a minute before making another sweep with the lamp in hope of picking up the fox’s eyes. After an hour of seeing nothing but rabbits and an occasional hare, we both agreed that if the meddlesome fox had been in the vicinity it would have shown itself, so turning off the caller, I snapped the magazine into the action of the CZ and chambered a round. Time for a bit of bunny bashing.
Bringing the rifle onto the sticks, I activated the illuminated reticle of the Zeiss and shouldered the nifty rimmy. Mark powered up the lamp and immediately caught a coney some 70 metres in front of our position. I placed the illuminated dot on its computer room, and squeezed away the diminutive round. The almost inaudible ‘phuft’ of the moderated shot was drowned by the sound of 17 grains of V-Max striking the coney’s skull. Reloading immediately, I swung on to another rabbit sitting mesmerised in the red beam. It too met its maker.
No doubt because of the sound of shattering bone, the other field inhabitants made a run for the far hedge. Upping sticks, we carefully made off around the headlands towards a new position. Once we were in place, Mark picked up a distant rabbit in the high-performance beam. If I’d been using my .22LR I would have thought he was having a laugh. But it was time to see what the .17 HMR was capable of. Drawing a bead on the tips of its ears, I sent away another round. The resulting smack lifted the rabbit right off its feet.
Dropping out the magazine for a refill, I acknowledged that the 10-round mag would definitely be the better option if night-time shooting is your preferred discipline. Over the next half an hour we systematically worked our way through the veg patch and back to the car. I was regularly making shots at ranges out to 150 metres, which in my eyes proves that the CZ 455 is a great out-of-the-box accurate varmint rifle. The stock fitted me like the clichéd glove, which no doubt contributed to the achievable accuracy.
By the time we completed the circuit we had 20 rabbits in the bag – that’s 20 rabbits that won’t be digging potentially lethal holes for the horses, not forgetting the increased longevity of the cabbage patch.
I had high expectations of this little Czech varminter, which were all realised and then some. We didn’t get the fox this time, but I have no doubt this rifle is up to the job in the right conditions and at sensible ranges. Indeed, close to a homestead it is absolutely the perfect tool for foxing.