December 15, 2011
By Brad Fitzpatrick
Available in a variety of chamberings and stock configurations, the CZ 550 — a Mauser-inspired, controlled-round feed action — offers reliability and accuracy at a competitive price. And now, with the unveiling of the company's new 550 Aramid Composite, CZ-USA offers a near-perfect rifle for hunters who prowl heavy timber.
The 550 Aramid Composite takes all the same features found in the traditional 550 and shortens the overall package. The 550 Aramid Composite I was sent for testing wore a very nice stock with a spider web pattern and an excellent recoil pad that did an admirable job absorbing punishment. It came quickly and smoothly to the shoulder, swung easily and pointed like a quail gun. It had all of the ergonomics of a rifle designed for long walks through heavy brush.
CZ did not try to shave weight (the gun still weighs seven pounds) by adding a thin barrel or narrowing the fore end of the stock. There is nothing wispy or dainty about the Aramid Composite. The cold-hammer-forged, blued barrel is 20.5 inches long, making the gun's overall length just over 41 inches — perfect for a gun designed to swing easily. The barrel is standard contour and has a recessed crown and 1:12 rifling twist.
One of the major hang-ups with carbines and light sporters is that the majority of the rifle's weight is centered back at the action, making the gun "whippy" as shotgunners like to say. The 550 Aramid Composite is heavier at the front end, and it feels balanced and smooth coming to the shoulder and through the shot. Having to take a shot at an animal moving through cover is never easy, but the CZ's natural balance makes it easier to follow a target with this rifle than with other carbines.
At the heart of the CZ 550 is its Mauser-style action complete with dual locking lugs up front and a full-length, non-rotating extractor. Many Mauser 98s require loading of the cartridge into the internal magazine and then pushing the bolt forward to chamber a round. CZ has designed its extractor so that it will slip overtop of the rim of the cartridge case when a cartridge is loaded into the chamber. The front of the extractor slides into position on the cartridge case and will function properly, whereas most Mauser actions will not.
Chambering throughout the test was smooth, solid and reliable — exactly what you would expect from any Paul Mauser-inspired action. I dropped rounds directly into the chamber and shut the bolt. The extractor did indeed grab the rim of the case. For all range tests, however, cartridges were fed from the magazine into the chamber.
The attractive Aramid Composite stock is far nicer than any injection-molded stock. It comes with a full-length aluminum bedding block, and the barrel is free-floated. These accuracy-enhancing features prove that the 550 Aramid Composite was not designed to be a one-trick pony. It is not only a short-range rifle good for snap-shooting but also has enough accuracy for longer shots in open country
Other features found on the 550 Aramid Composite include an internal magazine with four-round capacity and a steel floorplate with a magazine release button located at the front of the trigger guard. A three-position safety is mounted on the right side of the receiver.
Adhering to the idea that hunters might actually use their iron sights instead of a scope, CZ built the 550 Aramid Composite with functional sights. The rear sight is fully adjustable for windage and elevation, and the front bead is protected by the company's signature oversize removable hood. Sans scope the CZ Aramid Composite really shines, coming quickly to the shoulder, balancing well and swinging smoothly, so if you're considering buying a short bolt gun and using the irons, then the CZ Aramid Composite should be on your short list of rifles.
But the fact is that most hunters will put a scope on this gun. If you choose to do so, CZ-USA has made things relatively simple and straightforward. Like other 550 rifles, the Aramid Composite comes standard with 19mm dual dovetail mounts integrated into the receiver. I used the supplied Alaskan Arms scope rings and locked a Leupold Vari-X II 1-4x scope in place on the rifle. CZ-USA also provides friction paper with the rings, and while the company recommends its use on rifles chambered in .375 H&H Magnum and larger, I decided to go ahead and place the paper inside the rings as an extra measure of security.
The Alaskan Arms system is smooth and simple, locking into the receiver mounts with a vise-like grip. Throughout the test the scope and rings stayed planted, although I did periodically check the screws; they never backed out.
CZ rifles have a reputation for accuracy, and I did not expect tthis one to be any different than its larger cousins. Like all 550s the Aramid Composite is equipped with a single-set trigger. Pressing the blade-style trigger forward sets it and greatly reduces trigger pull. Greatly reduces it, dropping the trigger pull from about four and a half pounds to less than a pound. That's frighteningly light, although it worked well from the bench. All test shots were fired with the trigger in the set position, and although the set trigger is adjustable, I shot it right as it came out of the box.
The set trigger is a polarizing feature on the 550 rifle. It is neither fish nor fowl, too heavy when it is not set and too light when it is. But for target shooting the set trigger breaks cleanly with no creep (how could there be on a trigger breaking under 16 ounces?) and overtravel. For a rifle designed for quick snap-shooting in the dense ccover a trigger that breaks at 4.5 pounds is not awful, either.
Despite its truncated pipe, the Aramid Composite performed admirably at the range and did not lose too much velocity compared to a standard sporter barrel. None of the groups broke an inch, although one of the groups of Hornady Superformance 165-grain SSTs came close and the first cluster of Federal Sierra GameKings nearly broke into sub-m.o.a. territory. Results are shown in the accompanying table.
As I mentioned, velocities did not drop dramatically despite the Aramid Composite's shorter barrel. Velocities are also listed in the chart, but I think it's worth noting that the Superformance load's 2,875 fps average was faster than my Winchester sporter in .30-06 with a 24-inch barrel shooting standard ammo.
After finishing up the benchrest testing, I decided it would be a sin not to cut the mooring lines of the bench and let the CZ do what it was meant to do. I fired the rifle from kneeling, sitting and prone positions, shooting quickly and at various angles. The Aramid Composite handled perfectly. This was the part of the test where it really shined, coming quickly to the target and proving to be a joy to carry.
- Type: Bolt-action centerfire
- Caliber: .30-06 Springfield
- Capacity: 4+1, hinged floorplate
- Barrel: 20.5 in., 1:12 twist, target crown
- Overall Length: 41.25 in.
- Weight: 7 lb.
- Stock: Kevlar stock with aluminum bedding block, 1-inch recoil pad
- Finish: blued
- Trigger: adjustable single set; 4.5 lb. pull (unset), 14 oz. pull (set)
- Sights: fully adjustable rear, hooded front; integral 19mm dovetail bases
- Price: $999
- Manufacturer: CZ-USA
- Smallest avg. group: Federal Sierra GameKing — 1.46 in.
- Largest avg. group: Nosler AccuBond — 1.78 in.
- Avg. of all ammo tested (3 types) — 1.61 in.
- Accuracy results are average of three three-shot groups at 100 yards from a Caldwell Lead Sled Solo.