Eye of the Taiga: Byron Pace tests the Zoli Taiga rifle package from Edgar Brothers

02 zoli rifle2

The first Zoli rifle I tested was over two years ago now. I knew them primarily as a maker of fine shotguns, with their rifles taking a back seat. Receiving the original test rifle from the distributor, Edgar Brothers, I was sure it had a strange familiarity. Cycling the bolt and inspecting a little closer, it soon became apparent why the rifle was far more familiar than seemed reasonable. It was an action I had most definitely set my eyes on before, but couldn’t quite place it. The model name ‘Zoli 1900’ stamped on the side should have been a massive giveaway, but for some reason I missed that, and ended up digging through my rifle action bible.

Eventually I came upon the Husqvarna 1900. Renowned for their build quality and strength, the Swedish gunmaker originally built rifles designed around a modified Mauser action. They exported rifles the world over, providing Smith and Wesson with actions for their rifle debut in 1968. By the 1970s the design took a radical departure from its origins, building on their solid knowledge base to produce a more refined tool. The modern Zoli bolt-action rifle draws its design and construction almost entirely from these model 1900 rifles, and later series 8000 actions.

The new Macctecc moderator is super-light and quiet

The new Macctecc moderator
is super-light and quiet

The new Zoli Taiga is very similar to the original, but has been updated to include some more modern functionality. Supplied as a ready-to-go package with a Leica ERi 2.5-10×42 scope and Macctecc moderator, it gave me the bonus of some extra kit to test. Leica as a scope manufacturer is really gaining ground in the UK now, and its compact design, combined with impressive picture crispness and overall image quality, puts it up there with the best.

The Macctecc mod really was light, coming in at 200 grams. Compact, neat and seemingly well-constructed, the sealed unit is a front-mounted can design, whipping out the sting of a fullbore crack. Not an overfit, the full 13cm length extended the 23 5/8in barrel to the point where it felt a little long. Certainly for woodland stalking it may be a bit ungainly with this set-up. That said, on the hill, where I predominantly used the rifle, everything balanced well. Not being a light rifle, the minimalist spec of the scope helped keep overall weight down, but I couldn’t help feel it would have been the perfect companion to a lightweight mountain rifle. I’ve just received a Leica Magnus of similar spec on test, and that is where it will find a home.

Back to the Taiga. Scanning from muzzle to butt, there is something about the rifle. A flare, a hint of flash that says, “Hey, I’m Italian, look at me.” If a rifle could have its teeth whitened, this rifle probably would. It likely has something to do with the highly lacquered finish of the Turkish walnut stock, giving a distinct gleam in the light, or maybe it’s the flashy unblued bolt knob set against the deep finish of the rest of the metalwork. It is not a subtle rifle but it does look nice.

Integral recoil lug: The Zoli offers the most solid platform around

Integral recoil lug: The Zoli offers
the most solid platform around

The original model copied the old Husqvarna design almost identically, with a few minor exceptions like the lack of bolt jeweling on the Zoli. It was basically a remake, and that was no bad thing as the original rifle was well designed and constructed. For the most part the action is the same on the Taiga, with the exception of a modification to the rear of the bolt shroud.

Large dovetail locking lugs make the Zoli Taiga a strong rifle

Large dovetail locking lugs make
the Zoli Taiga a strong rifle

This change is, however, fundamental to how the rifle operates. Whereas previously the rifle functioned in a traditional way, cocking with an uplift of the bolt, the new design has followed the modern move towards cocking levers. Much safer, most shooters will be familiar with the concept by now. Essentially the action of cycling the bolt only serves to eject and reload a new cartridge, while the firing pin remains under no tension in the forward position. The large plunger on the back of the Zoli bolt shroud slopes ergonomically towards the receiver, knurled on the surface to aid application. Firmly pushing it with your thumb cocks the rifle ready to fire.

This works reasonably well, but it does require a fair force to engage the plunger into the fire position. This is true of a number of cocking-lever type rifles, and though it is quiet, I have struggled on a couple occasions with similar concepts when hunting in cold conditions. Applying any kind of force with frozen hands in horizontal sleet isn’t a particularly comfortable task. But the Zoli design has allowed the rifle to keep much more traditional lines than a lot of the modern rifles sharing the same functionality.

De-cocked and disengaged...

De-cocked and disengaged…

De-cocking the rifle is a bit of a fiddle. To return the rifle back to safe quietly without firing, you have to contort your finger and thumb to press in the cocking plunger at the same time as depressing the release lever on the right-hand side. I can see why Zoli have done it this way, holding onto traditional lines, but it’s a bit of an ergonomic nightmare. If you are not worried about the resulting click, then simply depressing the return lever allows the cocking lever to eject back.

...and now cocked ready to fire

…and now cocked ready to fire

The rest of the bolt is the same as before, boasting two large dovetail-shaped locking lugs and an enclosed bolt face with a similar extractor/ejector set-up to a Remington. Cycling is pretty slick, picking up and ejecting cases without complaint. Just as with the first Zoli I tested, I wasn’t fond of the bolt, but only because it was shiny – a bit too bling for my liking. Otherwise it worked very well.

A positive improvement is the way the bolt release works. On the last rifle, Zoli adopted a similar system to that found on a number of rimfires, allowing the bolt to be slid out when the trigger is depressed with the bolt up. Although on a rimfire this is fine, I have never liked this system on a fullbore rifle. In a dangerous game calibre, in harsh environments, it’s simply a no-go, with a small but non-trivial risk of ending up with the bolt in one hand and the rifle in the other. On the Taiga, this has been upgraded, fitting a standard bolt release on the left-hand side of the action.

Another alteration is the trigger, which was originally a set-trigger. It’s now a crisp direct trigger, and I have to say I much prefer it. I started off a little perturbed at the noticeable hesitation in the trigger before breaking, but after I fired a box of ammo it seemed to disappear. In a straight-out-of-the-box rifle, this isn’t too much of a surprise, and it wasn’t long before I had a trigger I could work with. The pull weight was just on 3lb, and can be adjusted if you know what you are doing. Another option is to order the rifle with the pull weight you desire, which I thought was a nice touch.

Nicely shaped, after a bit of use the trigger broke well

Nicely shaped, after a bit of use the trigger broke well

The bottom metal is made from some sort of cast alloy, coated with a kind of nitride finish – unlike the rest of the rifle, which is polished blue. Sitting nicely flush with the woodwork, the magazine is housed neatly, with the plastic bottom protruding marginally from the rifle. The mag release is inside the trigger guard, like many floor-plate releases on older rifles. The mag is a simple straight-stack design, requiring a bit of a knack to load efficiently. The plastic bottom wasn’t really in keeping with the rest of the rifle, and when ejected the edges were a bit harsh. It worked, though. You just had to make sure that when replacing it back into the magazine well, it is pushed in firmly in so it clicks into place.

Extracting the action from the stock revealed a round receiver, inlet into the wooden stock without any form of bedding. This was a little surprising given the ‘hand-finished’ factory build. The recoil lug is solid and chunky, just the way it should be. It looks like it is formed from the same piece of metal as the receiver, but it is possible it is fitted afterwards – it’s hard to tell. Either way it’s good. At the rear of the stock an aluminium pillar is visible through the action screw hole. On the inside this sits flush, contacting the rear tang. However, on the bottom metal side it sits shy, making it a pointless exercise fitting it all.

Straight stack: The magazine worked well but required a firm hand for re-fitting

Straight stack: The magazine worked well but required a firm hand for re-fitting

The rifle I had on test came in 6.5×55, generously supplied with a batch of Hornady Superformance ammo. I really do like this stuff – in most rifles and bullet weights it just seems to work. As with my previous experience, the Zoli wasn’t a one-hole tack driver, but a respectable stalking shooter. The 140-grain Superformance was about on par with the best I achieved from the rifle, which was just on the 1MOA mark. I did average slightly less with 140-grain RWS, just coming in under the inch mark at 100 yards, but there wasn’t much in it. I am sure that with some handloading it would be a ¾in rifle, especially with the introduction of a bit of bedding around the recoil lug area. It was also a brand new rifle and the barrel won’t have settled in during my testing, so this has to be considered.

The Taiga is a solid rifle, much the same as the original, and will likely find its fans. They still need to enjoy the exposure of other manufacturers, but this is changing. More aimed at the recreational stalker than the professional, it would be a nice addition to the rifle selection.

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