Mike Powell gets his hands on a new .17 HMR

Mike Powell gets to grips with the newest and quite possibly the best .17 HMR on the block: The CZ 457 Royal

It’s now around 16 years that the little .17 HMR has been with us. I remember the furore this fast, flat-shooting round created when it first appeared and the subsequent shortage of ammunition that followed.

I, too, was swept away by the biggest step forward in rimfire history for a long time and soon was the proud owner of an Anschütz 1717, which is still with me.

All went well for a while, then ammunition problems surfaced, all of which have been too well documented to go over again. Fortunately, these problems appear to have been addressed and seem to be becoming a thing of the past.

This is undoubtedly good news as without a doubt the .17 HMR is an excellent all-round vermin cartridge particularly for rabbit work. Sadly, rabbits, certainly in my area, are becoming a bit of a rarity – and as I write this the General Licence has been revoked, so even avian vermin are more-or-less off limits. Let’s hope by the time this article comes out, things will have been sorted.

Anyway, I have always liked the .17 HMR, and despite the fact I have an Anschütz in this calibre, I also like the CZ rifles. Having owned several of this make in varying calibres over many years, I can only speak highly of them.

Their longevity and accuracy could never be questioned; in days gone by they certainly weren’t renowned for their aesthetic appeal, but even that aspect of this excellent make has been addressed, in particular by the appearance of the CZ 457 Royal rimfire kindly sent to me for review by CZ’s importer, Edgar Brothers.

The cocking indicator and the safety in the fire position

I have to admit to being taken aback when I opened the box for the first time. Inside was what could only be described as a little gem! This particular model came with a 16in barrel which gave it a somewhat Stutzen-like appearance and the overall appearance oozed quality.

Handling the Royal, what struck me was just how light and manageable it was. There are very few rifles today that I can shoot freehand, which is down to a combination of my increasing age and the fact that many rifles really are quite heavy when scoped and moderated.

The Royal, though, was a piece of cake to handle owing to a combination of its weight – just over 7lb with scope and mod, and the short barrel.

Removing the woodwork showed a very high standard of inletting. Surprisingly, the stock was pillar bedded – not a common thing to find in rimfires, and CZ are to be commended on incorporating this in the rifle. To be able to tighten the securing screws onto the pillars ensures consistency – a big advantage.

The wood was of high quality and the sharp chequering was complemented by a fleur-de-lys design. The chequering on the forend ran practically the whole length and was on the underside only, which was rather different.

The forend was quite slim and tipped with a contrasting (possibly rosewood) darker-coloured wood. The stock was well proportioned with a comfortable cheekpiece, and the comb was quite high, giving good eye-scope alignment.

Finishing off the package was a thick rubber butt pad and two rather smart sling swivel attachments. The only tiny reservation I personally had about the appearance of the rifle was the ‘CZ 457 Royal’ engraved into the wood on both sides of the rifle – it just didn’t seem quite right, but I really am being picky here.

As with everything else, the stock was extremely well designed and finished. The recoil lug and pillar bedding make for a secure joint of action to stock

The all-black metalwork looked good in an attractive matte finis. The only relief to the black finish was the silver polished bolt body and the trigger. The 16in barrel was free-floated, and as mentioned earlier, the inletting was very well machined. It came factory threaded ½x20 TPI, with a slightly recessed crown.

The Royal is a switch-barrel rifle and the removable barrel is held in place by two hex screws. Possibly not the quickest of removable systems, but to be honest I’m not too sure that users will be using the function that much!

Some years ago I asked a sales executive from one of the foremost rifle manufacturers about switch-barrel functions, and he admitted that in reality, very few of their switch barrel rifles actually got ‘switched’. However, you don’t lose anything by having the facility.

Scope mounting is by the usual 11mm dovetails, and the action body itself is neat and simple and, with its low profile, blends well with the overall lines of the rifle.

The bolt handle, unlike earlier CZ models, has a relatively low lift and allows more than adequate clearance from the scope. The bolt itself is fitted with twin claw extractors, which together with a fixed ejector spur efficiently and very effectively deal with the spent cases. In fact, the whole loading, extraction and ejection process worked extremely well.

The trigger unit has been redesigned, and looks really neat and tidy compared with earlier CZ models. The trigger pull on the review rifle was a little under 3lb and broke with no apparent creep. 

The safety has also undergone design changes. It operates on a ‘forward fire, rearwards safe’ system and is smooth and silent in operation. In keeping with the other changes, bolt removal can be carried out even if the rifle is cocked and without pressing the trigger simply by pressing a neat catch on the left hand side of the action body.

The trigger unit showing the improved safety

Finally, as well as the ‘safe/fire’ colour spots on the right side of the action, there is a red cocking indicator that protrudes from the centre of the bolt shroud that is clearly visible and can also be readily felt by the thumb. Really, the whole rifle is a really big step into the future for CZ.

Next on the agenda was to try out the Royal in the field. It would be nice to report that a run round the local farm after dark produced a decent take of rabbits, but sadly this wasn’t the case.

Nothing whatsoever to do with the rifle, but instead the unfortunate fact the rabbits have all but disappeared. Whereas in the past I could have guaranteed coming back after an hour or so run round in the pickup with 30 or 40, now I’m lucky if I even see half that number. We did take half a dozen or so, though, and having zeroed the Royal at 100 yards, it really was a matter of point-and-shoot. 

My own .17 HMR, it has to be said, is a bit of a ‘fishing rod’ when it comes to night shooting from the truck. When I’m out on my own during the evening waiting for a rabbit or two, if one appears on the other side of the vehicle, there is nothing I can do about it – it’s a real struggle to get the rifle out of the other side window. However, with the little Royal, after unloading it was simple to get it out the other side.

I was using Hornady ammunition for the test but also put a few Winchester and CCI rounds through it (all 17gn) and the rifle handled all well. I was interested to see how the 16in barrel worked in the accuracy stakes.

My own Anschütz printed slightly tighter groups, and I suspect that over longer .17 HMR ranges (100-150 yards) it would be a little more accurate than the CZ. But that wouldn’t be noticeable when using it on rabbits. Certainly the CZ was able to put five shots into under an inch at 100 yards, which is more than good enough.

The magazine as supplied held five rounds, but there is a 10-round magazine available. This would certainly be a better bet for those who are fortunate to have a decent rabbit population, as without a doubt five, particularly at night, is a bit restrictive.

Overall, I think CZ have done a really good job in moving their products forward, phasing out their older models and not only maintaining what has always been an extremely functional, reliable and accurate rifle but also progressing it into something that exudes quality.

Compact, light and accurate – what more could you ask for?

This has been evidenced not only by this .17 HMR but also by the CZ 527 Thumbhole laminate .17 Hornet I bought a short time ago. This again has proved to be an excellent and attractive rifle and has retained the high standard of accuracy CZ is so well known for.

For anyone looking to get a .17 HMR that is something a little special, the CZ 457 Royal is certainly one to think about. Expect to pay around the £650 mark for one – not cheap for a rimfire but certainly excellent value for money.

Clearly a rifle that will last for a very long time, looks good, works well and is accurate. It has to be at the very top of the .17 HMRs available. CZ have really excelled themselves!

More information:
01625 613177, edgarbrothers.com

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