Česká Zbrojovka's CZ 550 FS Part I
a 9.3x62mm retro beauty
Joseph D'Alessandro Editor
few exceptions, the American firearms industry has gone the way of the American
auto industry; a cost reduction march to unimaginative, cookie cutter products,
that will eventually be followed with a dramatic loss of market share. It has become increasingly
difficult to uncover a unique aspect of a newly introduced rifle to underscore
when writing. Universal plastic molded stocks and universal spray on metal
finishes, a handful of popular chambers; most guns no longer have a discernable
With little to differentiate one firearm from
another, consumer interest has shifted from firearm design and craftsmanship
to the worship of all things new and a need for instant gratification. The following
isn't a review, but rather a short
story about a firearm that I selected for my personal use. A firearm, I believe, that recaptures the component of firearm ownership that is sorely
missing from so many newly manufactured firearms.
At the center of the CZ 550 FS is a stout medium
length, or 30-06 length, square bridge Mauser type action, with controlled feed
and a hefty claw extractor.
CZ produces rifles in two action lengths; 30-06 8
3/4" and 375 H&H / 416 Rigby 9 3/16"
with applicable bolt face. The medium action is slightly longer than the typical
30-06 action, which offers handloaders a little bit of more cycling room for
maximum overall cartridge length. Additionally, the receiver's M26x2sp3 barrel
thread means a 1.1" barrel shank and thicker chamber walls than: Remington,
Ruger, Savage non-WSM models, Weatherby and Winchester.
(Ed. note - M26 is actually 1.020" the Magnum is M28 and 1.100").
The CZ 550 medium action has a magazine
capacity of five rounds. The fixed magazine has a hinged steel floor plate with
push button release forward of the trigger guard. Trigger guard, floor plate and
internal box are all steel pieces. CZ 550 rifles include a single
set trigger. My rifle's pull measured a very clean and consistent 3 lbs standard and
1 1/2 lbs set. The trigger is set by simply pushing forward on the back of the
trigger. Trigger pull is adjustable externally through a small
set screw situated just forward of the trigger. All other aspects of trigger
adjustment such as sear engagement and overtravel can be accomplished by
removing the action from the stock.
The 550's bolt is streamline shrouded with a
central cocked indicator (1). The bolt assembly is released from the action with a small thumb
lever, the bolt is push button disassembled. The bolt handle, unlike the 550
magnum action version, is solid with a full round profile.
Contrary to the CZ catalog, the CZ 550 has a
three position safety (2). Full forward for off, white and red indicators
visible. One click back for safe, bolt can be actuated, white indicator visible.
Full back for safety on, bolt locked closed, no visible indicators. The safety
is positive. All parts are heavy steel stock, none are plastic or stampings.
The rear receiver bridge is keyed to locate a
proprietary scope base/ring assembly front to rear, both bridges have 19mm
dovetails for base/ring mounting. the front receiver ring is gas port
drilled adjacent to the bolt face. yes, I've used a lot of words to describe the
rifle's action, which illustrates an earlier point. This is a rifle that is
worth picking over because it is a rifle with a lot of mechanical nuance. There
are many small design touches that translate into practical use in hunting and
The CZ 550 FS has a 20.5" hammer forged barrel,
with a reamer cut chamber. It is longer than a carbine, shorter than many
rifles, perfect for the gun's 9.3x62mm Mauser cartridge, where appropriate
powder selection will result in a 99% burn. Consider the CZ 550 barrel is
a half inch longer than the barrel Ruger selected for its Alaskan model, where
the 375 Ruger cartridge has a capacity 30 grains greater than the 9.3x62mm. The
FS is compact at 40 1/2" overall, or approximately 6" shorter than my CZ 550
Safari. At 7 1/2 lbs the FS is also about 1 3/4 lbs lighter.
Sights that work...
The rear and front sight assemblies
are made of steel. The rear is indexed for windage and elevation
adjustment. The front sight is ramped and hood guarded with a top opening to allow
ambient light to illuminate the front post. Posts are available in different
heights. They are removed from the rifle by depressing a spring loaded button
located forward of the post.
Again, this is nuance, but I
honestly hate picking up a $1,500 American rifle and finding a set of injection
molded plastic sights front and rear with a giant glowing light pipe for light
gathering illumination. I don't hunt in predawn or post dusk hours and, if I
did, I would not want what amounts to a flashlight waving at whatever I am
trying to draw a bead on. The truth of the matter is, plastic isn't better, it
is just a cheap way to make a rifle. I think the sights on the CZ 550
are...elegant and quite practical.
OK. What's up with the stock?
are lots of interesting things up with the stock. The Austrian style, or hog's
back stock, is designed for use with both optical and metallic sights and to
direct recoil away from the shooter's face and shoulder. The appearance of a
steep drop at the heel is exaggerated by the high rise at the comb and is mostly
optical illusion. In actuality, the comb is slightly higher than the typical
American pattern stock and the drop at the heel slightly greater. Compared to a
very traditional Model 700 Remington, the CZ's comb is 1/8" higher and only 3/8"
lower at the heel. While the two stock types appear radically different, the
drop at comb and heel of the CZ are the same as a Weatherby Mark V or Weatherby
My body type is transitional Neanderthal -
Cro-Magnon. By leg length I am 5'8" tall, but by trunk length I am 6'2" or so.
My sleeve and neck length split the difference. The CZ's 13 3/4" pull and
slightly increased drop work well for me. My 375 H&H Safari model has a similar
hog's back stock and I can painlessly shoot it with heavy handloads from the
bench with frequency.
My rifle's stock has...personality.
Even through the satin finish it is easy to see lots of subtle vertical stripe on both side and the full length of the stock,
but not so much to compromise strength or cause it to walk in damp weather. The checkering
pattern is clean and conservative, cut at 18 lines per inch. I like Ruger
rifles, but next to the CZ 550 FS, the Ruger International looks like a piece of
water pipe strapped to a rough 2x4.
The question often arises, "What
purpose does the long stock serve?" Humans have approximately eight vestigial
ear muscles that were, at one time in the distant past, used for directional
control of the external ear. An absence of cave bear, and the emergence of wives
seeking project assistance, have lessoned our need for acute hearing, so the
muscles remain where the function does not. Think of the full
length stock as vestigial in purpose. At some point in the past they protected
soft steel barrels and prevented hands from freezing to bare barrels. Today we
do not use our rifle barrels for crow bars and we tend to wear gloves when it is
Full length stocks are attractive.
There is more nice wood to look at than would be found on a sporter with a bare barrel and its
presence can deliver the intangible of owning a rifle that doesn't look like
everyone else's. Every time I see one of these rifles I think of guns of the late
19th and early 20th centuries that made their way through Africa and Asia on
expeditions and safari. They look like the contents of a Stoeger's Shooter's
Bible in the early 60's when that company catalogued so many interesting and varied
types of gun. They look and smell like wood, oil and steel...sort of like
an old wood floor machine
shop that makes precision parts. Yes, these guns are of course made from modern
manufacturing technology, but CZ took the time to not lose the essence of a well
made hunting rifle.
Full length stocks are often
criticized for the theoretical problem of the forearm warping in bad weather,
applying uneven pressure to a barrel and thereby adversely effecting accuracy.
In this case, I don't believe the inclement weather warp theory applies.
The parallel relationship between
barreled action and stock inletting is maintained by the three large mount pad
surfaces where the stock is sandwiched between the barreled action and heavy
steel trigger guard and floor plate assembly. The guard bolt holes are steel
bushed to ensure the wood won't compress over time and alter the relationship
between metal and wood. Guard bolts are torqued metal to metal, not metal to
soft wood. Front to back relationship of metal and wood parts is
established and maintained by the two recoil lugs that fit into wells in the
stock, the rearmost lug is secured with a guard screw and backed by a steel plate
embedded in the stock. This is where the barreled action is supported, not the barrel
manufacturers utilizing this type of stock gut the wood along the barrel
channel. They hold the wood in place with barrel bands
and a nose cap that clamps the wood against the barrel. The CZ's channel is slightly
relieved, like any floated barrel gun, and only the very end of the stock is
secured with a nose cap. The front end of the forearm channel has an embedded nut. When the cap is slipped over the muzzle, tightening the cap's lower screw
pulls the wood away from the barrel and into the lower form of the cap. The cap
is trapped and prevented from moving forward and over the muzzle without
stressing the barrel. I could slip a piece
of paper under the barrel and pull it along under the barrel from receiver to
cap without it binding.
I've spent some time working with
military forearms that have full length stocks and handguards. They can be a
real pain to take down and thoroughly clean. They often reply on hidden spring
keepers, and barrel bands may be held in place by ten coats of old varnish. Not
the case here. The gun comes apart and goes back together as easily as any
standard sporter type rifle; two guard screws and one front cap screw.
The 9.3x62 Mauser
this is one of the dumbest things I've ever written, and that's saying a lot.
The picture on the right is a comparison between the 9.3.62mm Mauser and 325 WSM
rounds. Now me and the two other guys in the universe who shoot the 325 WSM have
a visual point of reference. For everyone else, the picture the Mauser is 3.291"
long and roughly .476" in diameter at the case head. The water capacity of the
case is 78 grains, spill over full, about 8 grains more than the 35 Whelen, 17
grains less than the 375 H&H and about 8 grains less than the 338 Winchester
Magnum. The 9.3x62mm Mauser round has been around since 1905 and is widely popular
The 9.3x62mm Mauser is typically loaded as a
heavy hitter; factory loaded ammo of 286 grains clipping along at the 2500 fps
level and 250 grain loads crowd 2700 fps. The price of loaded ammo from A
Square, Lapua, Norma and Nosler is excessively high, typically in the $75
- $85 range. Recently Prvi Partizan, selling through companies like Graf & Son,
have ammo out there in 286 grain soft point form priced at $19.95/box. This may
or may not bring down the other company prices, but it illustrates their
opportunistic pricing. I think a break in ammo prices, such as this from Prvi,
could really increase the cartridge popularity.
No rainbow trajectory
The 9.3x62mm Mauser is not a short range plinker. A
250 grain bullet with a 6" kill zone has a point blank range of 257
yards. Not a varmint rifle, but it will actually stay with a 7mm-08
Remington with 140 grain loads for 300 yards and, even at that
range, it hits with a ton of residual kinetic energy. Remember, this
is from a gun with a 20 1/2" barrel. Here's a clip from the
Real Guns External Ballistics
Best Zero Results
Near-Zero - yds.
Midrange - yds.
Far-Zero - yds.
Max Ordinate - in.
Point-Blank - yds.
Range - yds.
Velocity - ft./sec.
Energy - ft.-lbs.
Path - in.
Drift - in.
Time of flight - sec.
The 9.3x62mm Mauser is an easy cartridge to
handload, especially when loading for the CZ 550 FS. Bullets can be
seated to maximum COL and clear the action on loaded cartridge ejection, without
contacting rifling. Brass from the high priced guys noted above runs about $1.25 per
however, Graf & Sons house brand brass runs $33/100 cases. I believe the
Graf brass is made by Prvi. Reloading dies are available from Hornady, Lyman, RCBS and
Redding. Only Lyman and RCBS are comparable in price, the rest are in the $60
per set range. I went with the RCBS full length sizer / seater set at $30. The shell holder
is the very common size used for all 30-06 based cartridges. If unavailability
of brass or ammo is a concern, RCBS sells a forming die that makes 9.3x62mm
brass from 30-06 brass.
Companies like Hornady and Speer offer a reasonably
priced product, others, not so much. Barnes follows its theme of
near a dollar a bullet, as does Nosler and Woodleigh. Norma, Lapua
Swedish for "You've got to be kidding me"), offers $2/bullet wonders.
The truth of the matter is, this is not a blazing velocity cartridge
that requires special considerations in jacket and construction
selection. The high prices don't reflect special construction as,
again, opportunistic pricing driven by what has been limited
The bullet selections for this project were made
mostly to be representative of popular weights and bullet types.
They are not necessarily what I would select for routine use. The
Barnes bullet, because of its construction, is too long for a light
weight bullet and robs case capacity where it is most needed.
Additionally, the cartridge's moderate velocity may not result in
proper expansion on game with the TSX. The Hornady bullet was
they are of primary bullet weight for this round and offer an OK value at $23/50.
The Hornady bullet is manufactured for their 9.3x74mm rimmed load
and is listed as an "SP RP", Spire Point and Recoil
is a little high in price, but they are extremely tough bullets and
they offer a super heavy 320 grain .366" bullet.
My real world choice for most situations would be the Speer 270 Gain
SP that sells typically at $19/50 and Hornady 286 grain at $23/50.
The Speer product wasn't available when I was putting this together.
I'd also like to try the Prvi .366" 285 grain soft point that is
priced at $33/100. If they are the same as their loaded ammo, they
should make a good general purpose selection.
I'm sure there are lots of medium speed powders that
would work well with this cartridge, however, Alliant Re15 and
Hodgdon H414 seemed to work the best and in that order. I ended up
with near full cases, no compressed loads and a high degree of powder
burn. Winchester 748 or 760 ball, or IMR 4350 would deliver similar
performance. I used CCI large magnum primers, a habit I developed
with case full, larger capacity cases. Both pressure and velocity
readings seem to validate the selection and application.
I suspect I would use this cartridge on just about
anything in North American. Muzzle energy is edging up into the
3,700 ft/lb range and it retains energy well.
250 grain load velocity is consistent with 250 grain loads for the
338 Winchester magnum and 200 to 300 fps faster
than a 250 grain 35 Whelen load. The cartridge can also be loaded
down for woods deer hunting for softer recoil when hunting wooded
I bought the CZ 550 FS after sifting through tons of
new rifle information and cartridge comparisons. I was looking for
the perfect Maine gun; deer, bear and moose. The local area terrain is
heavily wooded, wandering and steep in grade and, at the moment,
pretty much snow covered. I also wanted a rifle that was classic in
appearance and anything not covered in make believe Mossy Oak. I
think it was a good choice. I know sometimes the minutia obscures
the excitement, but that really wasn't the intention here. UPS
delivered the gun and, after opening the box and taking a look at
the contents, no one could shut me up for the rest of the day. I own
lots of rifles, as my wife likes to remind me from time to time.
They are old and new, factory and custom and some from factory
custom shops. The CZ 550 FS sells, from our shop and others, in the
mid to high $600 range. If you held one of these in your hands you
would share my enthusiasm for the gun and its price. CZ is providing
an excellent product and value to American firearm enthusiasts.
I'll be back shortly with coverage of scope mounting,
handload performance and range measured accuracy.
Česká Zbrojovka's CZ 550 FS Part I
Česká Zbrojovka's CZ 550 FS Part II
9.3x62mm Handload data