July 28, 2016
CZ has a history of firearms development dating back to the mid-20th century, but it wasn't until the late 1990s that the company became well known in the United States. In 1998 the company established CZ-USA in an effort to control the brand's future in the American market, and it didn't take long for U.S. shooters to embrace the new company's wide range of firearm offerings.
Chief among these was the CZ 550 - a controlled-round-feed bolt-action rifle with a modified double-square bridge Mauser 98 action. Though it was a brand-new gun to most American hunters, the same rifle -under the Brno 602 name - had earned an enviable reputation among African professional hunters, perhaps the most meticulous and cynical of all rifle shooters, with good reason.
The 550 featured a full-length claw extractor and blade ejector and was sturdy enough to house cartridges such as the hulking .505 Gibbs. Despite its impressive history with dangerous game cartridges, the 550 was also chambered for popular cartridges like the .270 Win. and .30-06. Soon the CZ name was being tossed around in conversations about the best bolt action rifles on the market.
Last year, CZ announced it would be offering a brand-new bolt action rifle, one not based on the 550 action. And when the CZ 557 broke cover, it wasn't just a freshening or a modified version of the 550 - it was a brand-new rifle from the ground up.
The most obvious and most basic change is the action itself. The CZ 557 dumps the Mauser controlled-round-feed design in favor of a push-feed bolt with dual opposed locking lugs, a plunger-type ejector and short extractor. It's similar in basic design to the Remington 700, Savage 110, push-feed Winchester Model 70, Nosler Model 48 and a host of other commercially successful rifle designs.
"We have always had a great product with our controlled-round-feed big game rifles, and they have deservedly earned a very dedicated following among our customers," says CZ-USA's Jason Morton. "The problem is that while the full-length claw extractor is a big advantage for dangerous game, it really isn't needed for the deer and plains game hunter."
This change also marks a major step forward in the development of CZ as a rifle company. The 550 was a modified version of the Mauser 98, so the basic design concept was already in place. The CZ 557's push-feed design was built from the ground-up by CZ's engineering team. And while there's nothing particularly new about the CZ 557's dual front lug design with a short extractor and plunger ejector, it's an important first for CZ and perhaps a more popular CZ option for American hunters.
The war to offer the most accurate rifle for the least amount of money has manufacturers locked in a battle to drop manufacturing costs while providing a gun that shoots well, so I assumed CZ was throwing its hat in that ring. Not so, says CZ's Zach Hein. The CZ 557 was designed to be a higher-end rifle that was accurate and robust with the level of fit and finish that customers had come to expect from the company.
Morton echoed those sentiments.
"There has been a race to the bottom in price with other rifle brands in recent years," he says. "We chose not to go there. In order to build a rifle at the $350 to $450 prices, decisions have to be made that ultimately lower the quality and long-term value of the rifle to a point we don't find acceptable. I don't want to be stuck with a rifle that sacrifices quality, finish or performance to that point, and I won't put hunters who buy our rifles in that position either."
The CZ 557's receiver is CNC machined from billet steel and retains the integral 19mm dovetail scope bases you'll find on the 550. Integral bases offer a solid mounting platform and eliminate the need to buy separate bases, and the rings CZ offers are strong and easy to use. The barrel of the CZ 557 is cold-hammer-forged and factory-lapped, just like the barrel on the 550s. The CZ 557 utilizes an internal box magazine with a hinged floorplate with the release located on the leading edge of the trigger guard. The rifle's bluing is bright and even, and it fared well during range handling.
The bolt is locked in the receiver via a blade at the rear, and the blade must be depressed to release the bolt. The first few times I pulled the bolt out I wrestled with the system, but it doesn't take long to get the hang of the release mechanism, and by the end of two days of testing I could drop the bolt without looking at it. But it's not going to fall out unless you want it to, which is a good thing.
One additional change from the 550 to the CZ 557 is the trigger. The 550's set trigger allowed shooters to push the trigger forward to reduce trigger pull, changing it from kind of heavy to extremely light. It was a polarizing feature; some shooters loved the set trigger while others wished for a good, light, single-stage model.
For those in the latter group, your wish has come true. The CZ 557 features a light, crisp, clean trigger that breaks at a measured 3.5 pounds on the rifle I tested. CZ did its homework here, and the trigger is one of the best you'll find in a production rifle.
Measuring a trigger pull tells only half the story, though. The real test comes at the range when you're punching holes in targets. Really good triggers are so light and clean it's easy to be surprised by the trigger break, and the new CZ 557 has just such a unit. It's user-adjustable for creep, weight and overtravel, but I found it was just fine the way it came out of the box.
The CZ 557's action is smooth and slick, and it's plain to see the fingerprint of CZ's updated CNC machining on the metalwork in this rifle. It features tight tolerances and a smooth, clean finish on the internal parts. Feeding, extraction and ejection were flawless in the rifle I tested, something Morton says was a top priority before the CZ 557 rolled out.
"The CZ 557 feeds more smoothly than the 550 and other controlled-feed rifles," says Morton. "The accuracy potential is greater due to a couple of reasons, the extractor only being one. The tolerances are tighter because the 557s are built on new CNC machinery. Last but certainly not least in today's market, the CZ 557 offers a considerable cost savings over the 550 that we pass on to the consumer."
There are two stock options for the CZ 557: traditional walnut and Manners carbon fiber. Although I didn't test the walnut-stocked version, the ones I've seen have good wood and a straight, American-style comb.
I think the Manners was a good synthetic choice. While many composite stocks on the market rely on the same basic process for production, the Manners stocks are slightly different. Its models are built of the same carbon-fiber material used in wind turbines. The exterior of the stock is a carbon fiber shell, and the interior incorporates light or heavy fill as needed to ensure proper rigidity without excess weight. Action screws are supported 9/16-inch pillars, and the CZ 557's barrel is free-floated.
The tan Manners stock has rippled texturing on the pistol grip and the fore-end for a secure hold. Like the wood stock, the Manners stock has a straight comb, and it comes with a black Pachmayr recoil pad that does a good job of sucking up recoil.
The pistol grip is also wide enough to provide a stable grip on the gun without crowding fingers, and it's long enough to comfortably grip while shooting even if you have large hands.
One minor difference between the wood and composite stocks is the relation of their combs to the bore axis. The wood stock has a straight comb, but it angles slightly downward toward the recoil pad. The Manners stock has a top line-profile that is parallel to the axis of the bore, a feature Morton says makes it more comfortable to shoot from a prone position.
The rifle I tested was chambered in the light-recoiling 6.5x55 Swede, an old but versatile round that's been the top choice of Scandinavian moose hunters over the last century. The CZ 557 is also available in .270 Win. and .30-06. (Short-action versions in .243 and .308 with hinged floorplates and detachable magazines will be available down the line.)
Suggested retail prices are $792 for the wood stock and $1,268 with a composite stock. There's also a wood-stocked carbine version with iron sights, and it retails for slightly more than the walnut sporter.
On the range, the push-feed action made single loading cartridges easy, and the two-position safety allows you to work the action with the rifle on Safe. I mounted a Trijicon Accupoint 3-9X on the rifle and used three different 140-grain 6.5x55 loads: Winchester soft point, Fusion bonded and Nosler Trophy Grade AccuBonds. The Nosler ammunition produced the best group of the day (0.80 inch), and the Fusion load brought the most consistency with each group measuring between 1.18 and 1.24 inches. Full results are shown the accompanying table.
The rifle felt solid and smooth, from the safety to the trigger and the bolt. The rear of the receiver is enclosed, with a prominent cocking indicator sporting a red ring that juts out directly from the rear of the bolt shroud when the gun is ready to fire. It's easy to identify when the rifle is cocked, and on the range a simple swipe of the thumb was sufficient to know if it was ready to go.
The scope bases and rings held up well, and they were easy to tighten to the proper torque. The soft, black recoil pad made the CZ 557 in 6.5x55 a pleasure to shoot, and I left the bench feeling confident the gun was field-ready.
Some will lament the CZ 557's lack of a full-length claw extractor, but I think offering a push-feed gun at a reasonable price with all these features is a good move. Whether you want a traditional-looking walnut-stocked rifle or a tough composite stock, the CZ 557 has you covered, and it's built to last.