The CZ 527 Varmint in 17 Hornet
In a break from the usual Deer Stalking Calibres and Rifles, Chris Parkin takes a look at the CZ 527 Varmint in 17 Hornet.
After testing the Savage model 25 a few months ago, I was quite intoxicated with the new 17 Hornet cartridge that has been formalised by Hornady from the previously wildcatted 17 Ackley Hornet. With tiny powder consumption, good barrel life and low noise, what isn’t to like for a miniature plinking round that brings all those `long range` needs closer to home?
Although I loved the cartridge and the Savage rifle proved more than accurate enough for fun shooting, the mechanical design of the bolt and action did lead to a few minor cartridge feed problems and consequent bullet suitability. The fine pointed nature of the polymer ballistic tips on Hornady’s own fine V-Max bullets fed well but the slightly larger flat of the meplat on Berger’s target bullets caught the base of the feed ramp with every shot, sometimes feeding but regularly jamming in the action. Single feeding was impossible due to the tight ejection port opening and limited finger space to feed a round that is tiny in size off the top of the feed lips on a magazine that won’t single feed. This made the gun fantastic as a vermin shooting gun but for those wanting to stretch its target ability, the inability to use a `match` bullet was problematic. I eagerly awaited the CZ model 527 with its mini-Mauser controlled feed action. Centre feed magazine and a recessed bolt face that would accept the mag spring sliding a rimmed Hornet case under the extractor claw has fared extremely well in the 22 Hornet for many years, its application to the rimmed 17 seemed like a simple solution. Of course one could say the 17 hornet has an intrinsic design flaw, it will always invite a stuttered cartridge feed because the rebate around the chamber mouth for the case’s rim will always represent a hurdle to cross with such a tiny pointed bullet and case combo. The relative diameter between bullet and case gradually decreases as overall cartridge size and volume diminishes and can cause problems even with `modern` case designs like 223 based rounds so can’t be ignored in any rifle build.
Varmint or target but no use of Varget
The CZ starts out with a neatly screw cut crown with the popular ½” thread to accept a moderator or muzzle brake. No real reason to fit a brake here as the recoil is minute with bullet splash easily spotted in any visible backstop, if the tiny pill actually kicks up enough of a splash to see? With a diameter of ¾” the hammer forged tube flows back through 24” with a very gradual taper until swelling out to a delicately swamped 1” at the face of the action. The action is a compounded shape of round barrel tenon region with a flat bottom interspersed with rebates for magazine cut-out, an integral recoil lug and moving rearwards into various machined sections for the trigger sub-assembly. The trigger shows multiple adjustment points and although arriving with it set at 64 oz and considerable gritty creep in its travel, I had it adjusted within 5 minutes to 38oz and just the tiniest feeling of movement as it broke. On a single sear design like this it is all very well balancing the trigger to `knife edge` delicacy so it will break like glass, this all comes contrary to safety though as you trade sear engagement for feel. The trigger also has a single set facility where you can push the blade forwards until it clicks so that the pull is now really knife edged but safe with this secondary stage, now breaking at 28oz. The trigger blade is slim and quite long so does vary in feel in its set and unset modes as the reach does change, and also your finger position in its length, so effectively changing the leverage exerted to. Over travel is also adjustable along with the set function stop point, although I left these two alone as they felt fine. If the shot is declined with the trigger `set` application, the safety allows the trigger to be clicked back to normal position. I used the trigger in normal mode at all times other than `set` testing, it felt fine to me as it was and I preferred the slightly more controlled feel of squeezing it gently to the `dead drop` feel of the set unit with extra time, noise and travel on the blade. Set triggers are a bit of a Marmite option, you either like them or you don’t. The smooth trigger blade would have also felt a little more tactile had it featured some vertical serration.
Above the action, CZ’s own 15mm dovetailed rails are present, which accept a number of ring options. Here Edgar Brothers supplied a set of 30mm Millet rings that are windage adjustable with separate jaws each side to clamp onto the rail, each adjustable to tweak the ring from side to side if you should want to? The ejection port is spacious with good access to the chamber; a full length Mauser claw guides the bolt as it slides smoothly after about 20 shots of break-in time. Extraction and ejection of fired or live rounds was seamless along with very smooth feed from the magazine. It was quiet too which is important to the hunter who wants to close the bolt with the least amount of disturbance. What are effectively two locking lugs give the bolt a 90 degree lift and with a 50mm scope objective mounted close to the barrel, the angled down handle didn’t foul the scopes ocular bell. Bolt lift was nicely weighted and gave a good feel for cartridge pressure, more of which later! The safety catch is a thumb operated lever high on the right side of the action in front of the bolt shroud. It moves forward for safe and rearward to fire, the opposite way to normal but does lock the bolt handle too in safe setting. The left side of the action shows a serrated push button for bolt removal which doesn’t require the trigger to be operated in conjunction. If the need arises, the bolt can be field stripped without the use of any tools in 5 seconds flat. It isn’t difficult to reassemble either, but be careful to rotate the inner body into correct alignment with the rear shroud to allow the bolt handle to slot in, otherwise frustration might make you force something incorrectly.
The underside of the gun features all steel bottom metal and magazine system. Holding five rounds, it’s easy to load and looks indestructible to use slotting easily in and out of the recess with a single side mounted sprung catch to lock it in place. There are two action bolts holding everything together with a neat functional inlet in the stock that although fine to use, will accept a bedding job for those wishing to further reinforce this guns straightforward nonsense free build. The recoil lug pocket in the stock does actually show very small amounts of some factory bedding compound in its outer corners to reinforce the centralisation of the barrelled action in the stock. The rear action screw hole has got a rolled steel barrel inserted to act as a pillar and prevent compression of the stock. The barrel is free floated in the straight grained and profiled lightweight Walnut stock showing neatly executed sharp chequering at both grip and forend. The grip is nicely open in radius so doesn’t cramp the firing hand and reach to trigger when un `set` is about perfect. A ¼” recoil pad at the back of the gun doesn’t need to shield off any pain, but its rubberised texture grips the shoulder pocket nicely, certainly suiting a field shooter or prone user who wants the gun to grip the shoulder, a factor I find actually eases muscle strain and relaxes the positional setup for the shot. It’s only 13 ¾” which is on the short side for me, but could easily be spaced out and is certainly better than the 13 ½” featured on many U.S. guns. The entire build has a hand finished feel that carries old world charm and a bit of culture, especially with the iconic Mauser styled action. I liked the trigger unit and complete lack of threadlock on any of its adjustments, it invites you to refine it that little fraction from the easily applied, brute strength factory setup the lawyers like but shooters can bypass, so well done to CZ.
A scope and factory ammo were supplied with the gun, the 20gr V-Max Superformance ammo advertises 3650 fps and happily ran the gun in while the Bushnell scope was also zeroed. Bushnell optics really started to come on-stream last year from Edgar Brothers and I have seen quite a few examples myself. After initially seeing them and being very interested at IWA, both Editor Vince Bottomley and I were expecting a little too high a pricing structure and I must say, we were wrong! You can look forward to a review of some of the high powered tactical line-up over the next few months and I will leave it now by saying I was impressed, I actually put my short Yorkshiremans arm/hand into my far distant deep pocket for one!
Anyway, back to the CZ, I never got chance to Chrono the factory ammo, two chronos and a multitude of atmospheric lighting conditions refused to register these tiny little pills speeding over the optical sensors. Needless to say the gun shot reasonably well with 1” groups at 100 yards little problem. I was using a 10x scope at this point with a 3” dot on target to aim with so wasn’t expecting magic as my own aiming error was easily likely to be around ¼”. I upped the scope to a 30x Bushnell and the groups sank quickly but after three separate visits to the range, I still couldn’t Chrono the rounds and was getting frustrated.
Handloads using Hodgdon LilGun with the 20gr v-max were supplying superior accuracy and consistency but the tiny volume of 9gr charge weight had to be very carefully measured as even the 0.1gr variation caused significant effect on the cartridge. I had run the rounds in two grain increment ladder tests all the way up to 10 grains but above 9.6gr I got a couple of high pressure moments indicating the charge was on a knife edge and critically intolerant to mediocre charge weight consistency. Anyway, moving forward to the match bullet realm, Hannams Reloading supplied me with some of the excellent Berger 25gr match bullets that carry a reputation for perfection in these small 17’s and they did not disappoint me here. My previous experiments Handloading the Savage had shown a truly loving partnership between the 25s; both V-Max and at the time, tricky to feed Bergers and I was straight on the case here with Hodgdon H4198. The powder had shown fantastic flexibility and just the right burn rate to get towards 100% volumetric fill on the case as the pressure started to reach its maximum. Velocities were a tiny bit off what one might want to achieve but with a cartridge that is inherently limited by low B.C. projectiles and never going to be a super long range performer, isn’t accuracy king? Well it applied here and the gun was addictive to shoot. Handloading had to be done delicately as before due to the tiny cases and bullets but the sliding collar design of the Hornady Dies allowed the flat base bullet to be rested in the case mouth and then vertically centralised with its tip in the centre well of the seating die. The mechanical advantage of any press is huge compared to the force required to deform a case and bullet as tiny as these so almost fingertip pressure was required to maintain a `feel` for the process. Because the bullet was held securely vertical and centred throughout the ram’s ascent, I got a 99% record on the 100 loaded rounds I produced. Settling at 11.1 grains of 4198 in this CZ ( a touch more than the Savage had liked) gave me consistent accuracy with 10 and even 15 round groups fired quickly, remaining close to an inch at 100 yards. Stretching things as far out as 300 yards on steel plates was tricky as the `clang` heard is faint but gave fun shooting and wind calling practice at much shorter distances than larger 6/6.5mm centrefires require, with a huge fun factor retained. Shooting on paper doesn’t produce smiles as often as “bangin & clangin” and can invite too much investigation toward perfection when you just want to shoot. Those 11.1 gr of powder some cheaply and the Riflecraft Hardy moderator does a very good job of suppressing the noise. I remembered to wear ear defenders this time but even though gunshot noise ALWAYS damages hearing, the 17 never actually made you feel the need? A Blackhawk Sportster bipod was supplied along with the gun and it looks very similar to a 9-13” Harris, but arrives fitted with a “Podlock” style handle and rather uniquely, allows the gun to be panned laterally as well as canted. On a gun with a weak forend this might just help avoid intermittent barrel contact through flex in the stock. The walnut unit fitted to the CZ although slim was plenty stiff enough to prevent this anyway and the gun never suffered any movement in the point of impact from multiple shooting positions, partly helped by zero recoil!
Let there be light
The first time the sun showed its face a little higher in the sky, I shot off to try the Chrono again and sky screens fitted, I finally measured some speeds. The few remaining factory rounds I had were clocking 3520 feet per second with LilGun fuelled handloads clocking some un-publishable speeds with the 20gr V-Max. Needless to say if you want to meet factory specifications for the 3650 fps promised in the advertising campaign, you will have no problem but be aware, the LilGun combo was VERY susceptible to sudden overpressure and I backed down significantly for a safer life. Running at 3600 fps, one shot every now and again would suddenly crater a primer unusually badly and tighten up the bolt lift, one even sooted the rim of the primer and I called it a day at that point. I never push speeds but few powders have seen such favour with the light bullets to other hand loaders I have consulted like LilGun has? 9 grains is very small and as a percentage, any tiny charge variation is significantly high in percentage terms. On the other hand, the H4198/25gr combo was delightfully consistent. I am tempted to get hold of some 30gr bullets to fully test the versatility of the 1 in 9” twist barrel but like 90% of the recommended powders, they are unavailable everywhere I look! The 25gr/H4198 loads were zipping through the air at 3130 fps and the final positive was a very subtle one! Previously the 17 Hornet Hornady brass has been a little shallow on the primer pockets and required uniforming to seat primers correctly. This was finger breaking work even with a power trimmer as the cases are tiny to grip BUT, the new Fiocchi primers, also from Edgar Brothers are 0.003” thinner than Federal or CCI and seat just fine with no protrusion……..ahhh bliss!
The fun gun the 17 Hornet demanded offering long range practice at short range prices with minimal noise, recoil and cost.
Model - CZ 527 Varmint
Calibre - 17 Hornet
Magazine Capacity - 5 round
Barrel - 20” Hammer forged screwcut ½” UNF
Length - 42 ½”
Weight - 7 ¼ lbs
Moderator - Riflecraft Hardy GenIV 17 cal
Ammunition: £95.90/hundred 20gr V-Max Superformance
17 cal 25gr Berger match varmint bullets