CZ 455 Varmint Thumbhole .22LR review

Mike Powell tests something a little different: a CZ 455 Varmint Thumbhole .22LR with a striking yellow stock. But will the unusual looks grow on him?

I have always liked CZ rifles; though they were always accurate, in the early days they did tend to be a little ‘agricultural’, but all that has now changed and the company now produces rifles that are not only renowned for their accuracy, but are extremely well finished and look good, too.

The updated Fly Trigger is versatile and adjustable to suit individual preferences

I recently was sent a 455 thumbhole laminate in .22LR calibre to test, which turned out to be very interesting indeed. Firstly, I would like to address the feature that makes the 455 rimfires somewhat unusual. With the exception of one other manufacturer, I believe I am correct in saying that this is the only switch-barrelled rimfire available. The choices that you have cover three calibres, .22LR, .17HMR and .22WMR. There are several centrefire rifles made with the switch barrel facility, which for some users can provide useful alternatives, though I suspect that while the facility is there, not many people actually take advantage of it. Where rimfires are concerned, though, it could well be the case that a change of calibre might be of use.

Where switch barrels are concerned, the system has to be simple and reliable with, ideally, no noticeable change of zero when the barrel is changed. As for calibres, I would imagine that in the case of the 455 rimfires the normal combination of calibre would be a starter of the .22LR for general, inexpensive small vermin and “plinking” use, and a change to a more suitable calibre for the occasional fox. There are pros and cons where the two other calibres are concerned; the WMR would possibly be the slightly more effective fox round, but ammunition costs more and it’s a bit hard on rabbits if you want the meat. The diminutive .17HMR is effective on Charlie out to 100 yards maximum, and ammo costs are not too expensive. Anyway, with the CZ455, the choices are there.

The stock is a long way from Mike’s usual preference for walnut, but it’s practical and well proportioned, giving a stable grip

How simple, then, is it to switch barrels? The answer is: very. Firstly, you remove the bolt and magazine, then the two trigger guard screws. Remove the guard, and you can then lift the barrel from the stock. Underneath the barrel where it enters the action body are two grub screws that, when removed, allow the barrel to be pulled from the action. The replacement barrel is then pushed fully home, the two grub screws are tightened (they locate in machined recesses) and the barrel and action are replaced in the stock. The whole process is extremely simple and foolproof. Although I didn’t have a replacement barrel, a friend of mine does and he says that when switching barrels there is virtually no loss of zero from the settings he has on his scope for the two calibres he uses.

That is the CZ455 in its switch-barrel mode. Returning to the actual rifle I was sent, though it is a 455, it is different from standard versions. First and foremost, the thing that struck me was the stock; it is a standard, well-proportioned thumbhole, the dimensions of which are excellent, giving a great and stable grip. It has a high gloss finish which accentuates the black and yellow of the stock itself. I have always been a walnut and oiled finish man myself, so initially this rather unusual stock rather took me aback. However, I have to confess that after a day or two the appearance grew on me and I ended up rather liking it. I could certainly see the appeal it would have for many shooters, particularly those not obsessed with walnut! As mentioned, the stock was very well proportioned with the thumbhole not overly large which is fine for shooters with smaller hands. There is a thick, soft, rubber butt pad and the usual sling swivels.

You can easily switch barrels if you need to – these release screws form part of the changeover process

Turning to the barrel, this model had a 20-inch varmint weight and was deeply fluted; this certainly helps with the weight and can’t be directed at heat dispersion since it would take an awful lot of rimfire ammunition to heat up a barrel. The barrel is factory threaded and the thread protector looks very much like a muzzle brake as it has a number of perforations in it. I suspect it is for cosmetic purposes, but it does look smart and finishes the barrel off a treat. The muzzle is slightly domed and has a slight recessed crown. Moving to the action, this is typical CZ, which has a long history of reliability. The bolt was, for a new rifle, very smooth in operation, extraction is by two claw extractors, which again have proved to be extremely reliable. The ammunition from the five-shot magazine (a ten-shot version is available) fed into the chamber smoothly and, together with excellent extraction, provided a reliable and efficient firing cycle.

The two-stage safety catch is located on the right-hand side, just behind the bolt handle. In operation the catch was quite stiff, but I have no doubt this would ease off after some use.

The rifle is finished to a good standard and maintains CZ’s reputation for accuracy

The review rifle was fitted with CZ’s Fly Trigger update as standard. This unit enables the user to select either single or double stage trigger pulls, as well as trigger let off weights. To alter the trigger you will need to remove the stock, which allows access to the trigger unit. Adjustment was straightforward via the four screws on the unit. I opted for the single stage system, and the trigger when in use proved first class. The Fly Trigger is a very useful piece of kit and certainly improves the owner’s ability to get the trigger set up exactly as they want.

Turning the rifle over reveals the yellow anodised base to the magazine, and the matching yellow trigger guard. It’s this trigger guard on this particular 455 model that poses a problem where the switch barrel system is concerned. The guard is specific to this model and, because of its dimensions, does not allow the fitting of ether the .17HMR or .22WMR magazine, so anyone requiring a switch barrel system would need to go for one of the other choices in the 455 range. It would be possible to exchange the guard for a standard black version, which would enable the larger magazines to be fitted. However, that would spoil the appearance of this particular model, so I guess it would be a non-starter. The magazine release catch is located at the front of it and has been thoughtfully recessed so that it can’t be inadvertently operated if shooting off sticks or other rests.

The main test was to see how the rifle performed in the field. I didn’t really expect there to be any problems as far as accuracy was concerned, and there wasn’t. In fact, unlike some .22LRs, it wasn’t even particularly choosy when it came to ammunition. I was using a mix of subsonics from Eley, CCI, and some of the relatively new Winchester 42gn. Although it showed a slight preference for the Winchester ammo, it performed well enough for any of them to be used on rabbits out to sensible distances. I tested the rifle at 30, 50, and 75 yards. Sticking with the Winchester 42gn subs, putting five shots in a one inch circle at the two shorter ranges proved straightforward, and at 75 yards just one of the five was just outside the circle – although that could have been down to either the freezing weather or my shooting. I have no doubt under better conditions and with more rounds through it, the rifle would be good for taking rabbits out to much further distances. As usual, CZ has produced a very accurate rifle.

The test rifle came with a five-shot magazine, though a 10-shot version is also available

I thought this was a very nicely presented rifle, different to the others in the range with its very distinctive appearance, and by the end of the test I had really grown to like it. As a matter of interest most people who saw the rifle really liked its very unusual appearance, which proves that you don’t necessarily have to stick to tradition to please everybody. Remember, though, should you want the ability to switch barrels you would need to go for one of the other 455 rimfires in the range.

Prices for the 455 range vary. The yellow laminate version is at the top end with an RRP of £942 including VAT. The standard thumbhole with a 16-inch barrel retails at £638 (including VAT), and should you go for one of the other models a switch barrel kit will cost you £168, which, considering you will have two calibres to use, isn’t over the odds.

Whatever you decide on, the very attractive yellow model or something more traditional, you will end up with an accurate, well-built rifle that will give you years of use.

More information: 01625 613177, www.edgarbrothers.com

Proven capable of good groups out to 75 yards in bad weather, it accounted for these three rabbits on a test outing

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Posted in Reviews, Rimfire

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