Trio determined by all-round attributes
Rifle: CZ 453 Varmint
Scope: Bushnell Elite Tactical 5-15x40mm
In the final instalment of our favourite rifle-cartridge-scope combination series, Senior Correspondent Rod Pascoe outlines a truly versatile option
Choosing a favourite rifle/cartridge/scope combination was not as easy as it may sound as all my rifles are favourites for one reason or another, so my decision came down to selecting the most versatile in the field and on the range. Added to which, my fellow writers have been covering centrefire rifles so I thought I’d stand up for the humble .22.
As with any firearm purchase decision, I wanted a .22 Long Rifle (LR) rifle which had to meet a number of requirements, so I settled on the CZ 452 Varmint as it complied with the rulebooks of the target competitions I was interested in shooting. But apart from satisfying the myriad of technical, weight and dimension requirements it had other attributes which appealed, namely a short and weighty varmint barrel, accessible and easily adjustable trigger, a stock that would accommodate an accessory rail for a single point sling - and I’m also a fan of European-made firearms.
My Ceska Zbrojovka or CZ 452 Varmint in .22LR is first and foremost a target rifle currently used for the SSAA events of Rimfire Metallic Silhouette and BR30, although it has also taken its fair share of bunnies and a few foxes. It’s blued with a walnut stock, chequered palmswell and rubber buttplate, supplied without sights and with a 530mm heavy barrel (a tad under 21”), adjustable trigger and five-shot magazine.
Twenty years ago I bought the Varmint specifically for the NRAA Rimfire Class Target Shooting match (RCTS), a competition requiring an off-the-shelf hunting rifle in original condition with no after-market custom barrel allowed. The match involves firing 20 shots each at 30m, 60m and 90m from the standing, sitting and prone positions respectively and even though RCTS is a field competition, it runs along the lines of a military format course-of-fire using a series of timed exposures of the target.
Targets are operated manually by ‘markers’ in the butts gallery and scored after each string of five shots, individual bullet holes ‘spotted’ with coloured discs to show the fall of shots which also allows the shooter to confirm scores being recorded. Obviously a five-shot magazine is required as is a reliable action, as malfunctions means lost shots and there are no reshoots and in that respect I found the CZ faultless, with smooth bolt operation and rounds feeding from the magazine freely and consistently.
The CZ Varmint is probably not one of the top-shelf rifles but the brand is well respected and popular and all .22 models are value for money and accurate with the right ammunition. Mine has operated faultlessly and despite thousands of rounds through the bore has retained its accuracy. The rifle is equally at home being fired from the standing, sitting or prone positions with the aid of a sling in the RCTS match, as it is from the standing unsupported position in Rifle Silhouette and even from a rest on the bench for BR30 (Metallic Silhouette requires the rifle to be fired from the standing unsupported position so a sling can’t be used).
I find the balance of the CZ with its short, heavy profile barrel excellent for this match and, unlike most right-handed silhouette shooters who prefer to use their left hand to support the rifle close to the trigger and magazine area with thumb and fingertips, I tend to support mine with a more traditional hold just under the scope’s objective lens.
Although the RCTS match requires an unmodified hunting rifle, the rules allow the use of a target-style sling and fittings. I added a Gehmann leather rifle sling typically used in big bore rifle matches but, unlike those matches, I needed something which could be adjusted to suit the three firing positions.
A friend routed a channel in the timber fore-end and fitted an accessory rail. With this attachment, the sling can slide back and forth to suit each of the three shooting positions without having to unbuckle and adjust the sling itself. The only other modification was to the trigger, also allowed by the rules. As such there’s no minimum trigger weight for RCTS or Rimfire Silhouette so long as it’s safe and passes the test for accidental discharges.
Thanks to an excellent trigger job by Robert Tobler of RDT Products in Robertson NSW, the Varmint has one of the nicest let-offs I’ve experienced. I don’t know exactly what the trigger weight is in its ‘light’ setting but there’s still plenty of adjustment to bring it back to the Silhouette ‘Hunting’ Rifle requirement of 2lb (907g). Overall weight of the rifle including scope and unloaded magazine is 3.7kg and is within limits for Rimfire Hunting Rifle.
The one currently on the rifle is a Bushnell Elite Tactical 5-15x40mm but was not the original scope fitted as that was an older Simmons ‘target’ model transferred from another rifle. Unfortunately the Simmons suffered an accident and being out of warranty necessitated a replacement. The Bushnell ticks the boxes in terms of its magnification and large, easy-to-read turret knobs and Japanese-made optics.
There’s nothing special about this scope and the reticle isn’t too busy, the target - or centre of the target - unobscured by the crosshairs. I use around 10-power for Metallic Silhouette, between 12 and 15 for BR30 and for RCTS I adjust magnification to suit the shooting position and conditions on the day - somewhere between eight and 12 power.
The scope is attached via a pair of Sports Match mounts which fit directly to the dovetailed receiver of the CZ, these being reasonably high mounts which places my cheek perfectly on the high comb of the stock.
As with the scope, the ammunition I’m currently enjoying isn’t what I started out with 20 years ago. Back then my choice was simply called Geco .22 LR Rifle which functioned well in all my .22s, rifles and pistols at the time. Over the years, reviewing different ammunition brands and types, I’ve settled on the Eley Sport round, a little more expensive than Geco but I believe the Sport has slightly better quality control on their production line and, as a result, I find I’m experiencing fewer ‘flyers’. This subsonic ammunition provides enough energy to topple the 100m rams in a Silhouette match.
As stated, my CZ .22 set-up is a versatile mix of rifle, scope and ammunition put together for a specific job. There’s nothing remarkable about any of its individual components, all are readily available value-for-money items and the combination shoots perfectly well, at least to my ability. In the intervening 20 years much has been done by manufacturers to make their products more marketable, and CZ has a number of fine-looking rimfire rifles offering a variety of stock and barrel options based on the newer 457 action. Eley has a huge range of .22LR ammunition which caters to all budget and precision options and Bushnell continue their Elite Tactical line of scopes.
Despite the new offerings by all three manufacturers I have no immediate plans to change or replace anything, certainly not the rifle or scope. If I do find .22LR ammunition which performs better than my current choice I may consider a switch, otherwise what I have is a fit-for-purpose and versatile combination.