The Steyr Mannlicher Zephyr II rimfire sporting rifle

Con Kapralos

The longevity of firearms manufacturers is something that can be attributed to the global popularity of shooting sports and hunting. All the major players must keep apace of developments in materials-science and how to use this information to produce items that are not only superior to their predecessors, but as accurate as ever. In the firearms marketplace, blink and you’re left behind.

On the flipside we’re lucky to have some excellent firearms of bygone eras which appear now and then and are highly collectable and the popularity of post-war sporting rifles has led to a few manufacturers ‘re-birthing’ the classics of yesteryear. The much-respected Steyr Mannlicher of Austria last year released the Zephyr II rimfire rifle, a reincarnation of the original produced from 1955 to ’71. Original Zephyr rimfires would certainly be collectables, standing side-by-side with Steyr Mannlicher’s centrefire rifles available after World War II.

Importer Winchester Australia supplied Australian Shooter with a Zephyr II rimfire in .22LR (.17HMR and .22WMR also available) with a neat Meopta Meopro 3-9x42 riflescope and rings to suit along with a selection of Winchester .22LR rimfire ammunition.

Zephyr II action

This has all the hallmarks of Steyr Mannlicher in that its profile seamlessly flows with no harsh edges or scalloped flats or slabs, the designers having taken their lead from the layouts that encompass the centrefire models and scaled them down accordingly to produce the action honed for rimfire calibres.

The action on the .22LR measures 190mm and is 30mm wide with a generous ejection port which permits unhindered extraction of chambered rimfire cases - fired or not. The top of the action has an integral dovetail fore and aft of the ejection port, which at 11mm wide lets you mount the scope in a straightforward way. The cylindrical profile of the receiver is engraved on the left-hand facet with the maker’s name and country of origin as well as proof marks.

The bolt is highlighted by the trademark ‘butter-knife’ styled bolt handle which gives the rifle all the class it deserves, the bolt body highly polished. The receiver, bolt handle and shroud are treated with Steyr Mannlicher’s patented Mannox finish which also extends to the barrel.

The barrel

This features another Steyr Mannlicher trait - the cold hammer forged unit with the forging ‘striations’ rotating along the length of the barrel which is just shy of 500mm and chambered for the .22 Long Rifle (LR) calibre. It’s of a sporter profile, tapering from 21.4mm at the knox form to 15mm at the muzzle, the crown neatly finished in a recessed target-style fashion which would assist greatly in the accuracy stakes. The barrel is pinned to the receiver in the usual way as with many of today’s factory-produced rimfires.

Safety and trigger

The safety is a two-position unit retro-fitted behind the rear tang of the receiver. Its sliding button blocks the trigger sear when pushed rearward (‘Safe’) and allows the trigger to ‘Fire’ when in the forward position, a red dot visible to the rear of the button. The bolt can be cycled and the action cleared with the safety engaged.

The trigger unit is one of the best I’ve seen on a rimfire rifle with about 5mm of travel before breaking cleanly and crisply around the 900g mark, making accurate shooting a formality. A metal triggerguard/magazine housing is just what you’d expect on a fine European sporting rimfire and is Mannox finished to match the barrelled action.

Three screws are positioned through this bottom metal, two either side of the magazine well which anchors the stock to the barrelled action, and one behind the triggerguard which secures the rear of the guard to the stock itself.

The magazine

This is the only negative on what is otherwise a superb rifle. Being five-shot capacity it’s made entirely from polymer and plastic with only the follower and spring being metal. It functions without fault and is perfectly serviceable but on such a fine rifle that follows in the footsteps of the original Zephyr, a pressed-metal five-shot magazine could have been expected.

The stock

To say the stock on the Zephyr II is the rifle’s identity would be spot-on. It’s not only well finished in fine European walnut but is aesthetically superb and ergonomically without compromise. From afar it looks like a typical rimfire stock with a schnabel-tipped fore-end and straight combed, American-style profile but on closer look the stock surprises and shines. The oil-finished walnut has some very fine figures, further enhanced by the panels of ‘fish-scale’ chequering around the pistol grip and either side of the fore-end.

The fore-end has a heavily-scalloped recess on either side for a super-comfortable grip with the leading hand, eliminating any bulkiness in feel. Likewise, these scalloped segments flow along the underside of the stock all the way to the pistol grip featuring a recess which perfectly nestles the thumb  and gives a comfortable grip and reach to the trigger blade.

The left side of the buttstock features a double-flame cheekpiece which looks great and brings the shooter’s face to precisely the correct position for scope alignment. The buttstock has a 15mm sorbothane recoil pad and sling-swivel loops fitted. These are a European favourite whereas QD sling-swivel studs would give a neater look and be more practical, as a bipod can’t be fitted to the front swivel loop.

The inletting of the stock is clean, well finished and sealed with oil, the action itself resting on the stock inletting with the barrel free-floating along its entire surface. On a rimfire no special recoil lug is necessary as recoil is almost negligible. The Zephyr II in .22LR measures 100cm and weighs 2.7kg.

At the range

Winchester Australia supplied a quantity of its highly-regarded .22LR rimfire ammunition in the Power Point and Browning BPR and I had some of the Winner, Subsonic and 555 loads for a good mix of high velocity, standard velocity and subsonic loads, Federal Hunter Match loads completing the testing regimen.

Being a .22 Long Rifle the standard testing distance of 50m was used with five 5-shot groups fired through the Zephyr II and a quick barrel clean between changes in ammunition. The rifle shot superbly with all loads easily shooting groups of 30mm or less, all of the averages under 25.4mm (1^). Some tiny 5-shot groups ranging from 11mm (Winchester 555) to 18mm (Winchester Power Point) were indicative that the cold hammer forged barrel and fine trigger unit has resulted in an excellent small game, informal target and plinking rifle. The Zephyr II not only has looks, it has performance too.

Summary

Steyr Mannlicher’s marketing strategy to re-introduce the Zephyr rimfire marque with the Zephyr II has been a bold one in a marketplace full of quality rimfire rifles, many from highly esteemed European manufacturers. Muscling into the fray would require a seriously brilliant rifle and one with aesthetics and performance to match.

The Zephyr II was a joy to use, no more than you’d expect from Austria’s rifle-making masters, and retails around the $1395 mark. More at winchesteraustralia.com.au

Table 1. Range testing – Steyr Mannlicher Zephyr II rifle in .22 Long Rifle – 50m

Factory ammunition

Best group

Worst group

Average*

Federal Hunter Match 40gr Match HP

15mm

25mm

20mm

Winchester Power Point 42gr HP

18mm

27mm

24mm

Winchester 555 36gr HP

11mm

22mm

18mm

Winchester Winner Standard Velocity 40gr lead bullet

16mm

22mm

19mm

Winchester Subsonic 40gr HP

15mm

26mm

21mm

Browning BPR 40gr RN Target

10mm

18mm

14mm

 

 

 

 

*Average calculated from five 5-shot groups at 50m

Specifications

Make: Steyr Mannlicher, Austria

Model: Zephyr II

Action: Bolt-action repeating rifle, steel receiver and bolt, Mannox metal finish

Calibres: .22LR (tested), .17 HMR, .22 WMR

Trigger/safety: Single-stage trigger, two-position tang-mounted safety

Barrel: Cold-hammer forged sporter profile, 500mm in length, treated with patented Mannox finish

Sights: None supplied - clean barrel fitted

Magazine: Composite polymer/plastic with metal follower and spring. Capacity: Five rounds (in .22LR)

Stock: European walnut, oil finished, schnabel fore-end tip, ‘fish-scale’ chequering pattern, double-flame cheekpiece. Sling swivel loops and recoil pad fitted

Overall length: 100cm

Weight: 2.7kg

Distributor: Winchester Australia

RRP: Around $1395

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