Gun of the Week: CZ 452 American

Stuart Wilson familiarises himself with this week’s Gun of the Week CZ 452 American – the ‘first and last’ firearm for the hunter gatherer.

My introduction to shooting came at an early age: rabbiting with my dad, keeping football pitches clear of damage from quite a healthy population of bunnies. I remember the enjoyment and even privileged feeling of joining the hunting foray. It has fuelled my own passion for hunting, and the memory is still very clear despite some 44 years passing.

Skip forward to my first solo hunting foray: armed with a BSA Meteor topped with the simplest 4×20 scope with integral mounts. Crude, but fairly accurate to 20 yards or so, the name of the game was getting within range of securing a clean headshot.

After honing my skills, patience and perseverance started to yield its rewards, with the first brace of bunnies causing plenty of surprise to both my dad and elder brother.

Years of airgun hunting, using good old spring-powered weapons, eventually moving onto PCP – which I still hunt with today, even the spring guns – there is a purity to getting up close and personal with your quarry.

It’s a great leveller for hunters trying to get within 30 yards of airgun quarry like bunnies, woodies and if you are very sneaky, magpies and crows. The natural progression was moving towards a .22 rimfire, particularly for nighttime lamping sessions of bunnies.

I think this is the foundation that many of our hunting careers are founded on – a gradual curve from keen observer to novice hunter, to then finally seeing success as a solo hunter.

My first firearm purchase was a CZ 452 in .22LR. I put thousands of rounds through that weapon, and bagged a lot of game and vermin alike. The inherent rugged reliability sees me back on the CZ wagon, in the shape of the American 16” threaded variant, and, as expected, the accuracy and reliability have not disappointed.

The model I owned previous to this CZ was the Varmint 20”, which was great, but I have to say that this little American Sporter weight barrel is just as accurate, if not a smidge better, and the handling and balance are both superb. Screw a JakSak on the muzzle, and it’s a deathly quiet little hunter.

The forward ‘safe’ safety catch. I have been using this for years without issue

I have had several CZ/BRNO 452/Mod 2 in various guises, and I have even customised a couple, adding thumbhole laminate stocks, shortening and recrowning the barrel in the process. The older Mod 2 has the rear sight ramp mount on the barrel, serving as a dual purpose bedding mount for the front stock screw and housing the sight ramp.

This is notorious for getting in the way of the modern standard of larger objective scopes – it is possible to carefully turn and mill a good portion of this away, leaving a slimmer flat-topped section to give better scope clearance, while retaining the stock bedding mount underneath.

This work usually arises because the owners are so pleased with their CZ/BRNO that they won’t part with it. Reliability and accuracy are the driving forces here, and when the custom work is carried out to a good standard, the overall accuracy and feel are enhanced.

CZ pedigree

The CZ 452’s ancestry dates back to the original design in the mid-1940s, where the requirement was for a training type rifle, and the first few were let into Mauser stocks to provide a familiar training model.

1947-1954 saw the first CZs and BRNO .22LR rifles appear, and it’s still possible to find older models for sale – and if they have been looked after they will still shoot, I have one tucked away waiting for a stock at the moment, if I ever get round to the work I will document the process.

Production of the CZ 452 was discontinued in 2011, being replaced by the CZ 455, which still holds many of the original features. This is testament to the solid design of the 452, remaining largely unchanged over more than 60 years of production.

My current CZ 452, as I mentioned earlier, is the American 16” model, tipped with a JakSak screwed onto the 1/2×20 UNF thread, and as of a few days ago, topped with the Pulsar Digex N450 (thanks to Thomas Jacks Ltd).

The bottom metal, trigger guard and magazine well

I have hunted with both day and night scopes on this rifle for the last couple of years, even tackling some squirrels on one of my feeders. The American model is a step away from my usual preference of a heavier barrel, but on this .22LR, the shorter 16” barrel and slimmer stock have not posed any problems.

I was pleasantly surprised with the accuracy, with 60-yard groups printing a tight ½” cluster of five shots, with both Eley Subs and Winchester Subs, I would give the edge to the Eleys on this occasion.

I have always found range estimation to be the key for really successful .22LR work, particularly night shooting, by either lamp, and now the more popular night scopes, and even thermal scopes – quick shots where a range finder is just too slow.

Learn your trajectory and keep a record of it, once I have a scope set up and zeroed at my chosen range (usually 60 yards), I then shoot at a handful of different spots all on the same cardboard target, 30-80 yards. You will see very clearly where the group is low or high.

Once you have sussed that quicker, almost instinctive shooting will help build your bag, seeing more shots find their mark. Tip: photograph the target board with all the groups, 30-80 yards, label each distance, and you will have a permanent record for reference.

The stock on the American is a nicely proportioned, semi pistol grip, with crisp chequered panel on both sides of the pistol grip and forend. A satin finish allows the tight grained walnut show through – nothing too fancy, but functional and pleasing nonetheless.

The semi pistolgrip suits the trigger placement, with the chequered panel offering good grip

Mine has now had quite a bit of punishment, several dints and knocks adorn the length of the stock – the rifle is there to be used after all – but all the same, the dings aren’t bad. I may treat it to a rub down and lacquer over winter.

Sling studs fore and aft allow easy attachment of a sling and/or bipod. I tend to shoot from sticks more than anything, but the rifle does see a bipod from time to time when zeroing, or if a prone bunny sniping session presents.

The stock has a metal trigger guard that also functions as the magazine well, and three slotted screw heads are present: the front is a wood screw holding the bottom metal in place; the middle one sets into a threaded hole between the magazine well and the trigger, and the rear screw sets into small pillar with a dovetail pin cut on its base. This slides into a dovetail slot in the rear of the action that allows some centralising movement on the stock.

All action rifle

On purchasing this rifle, which was second hand, I popped the action from the stock and cleaned where necessary, and just dressed the barrel relief channel of the stock to ensure the barrel was fully floated.

You will see any rub marks from barrel – stock contact on the blueing, a little care and adjustment here will see good accuracy across a multitude of shooting positions.

The action of the CZ 452 is a simple tubular design, with a sturdy tubular bolt. The bolt handle slips over the rear of the bolt with the safety catch and firing pin coupling the whole unit as one.

The bolt face, extractor and ejector, 22LR is quite a dirty cartridge, but the CZ is very forgiving, and rarely stutters in operation

It is possible to strip the bolt for cleaning and maintenance – if you aren’t sure then be advised to leave it to a gunsmith. The firing pin acts as a cocking indicator, the safety catch will only engage on a cocked bolt, and the action can’t be cycled with the safety on. 

The last point to make a note of is the forward-safe rearward-fire configuration of the safety system. It’s the only rifle I can think of that has this design – I have had no issues with this setup, but it pickles some people’s heads!

The top of the action is an 11mm dovetail. Some earlier models sometimes had a wider 15mm dovetail, which is thankfully now outdated. The generous ejection port sits between two portions of this dovetail, offering good clean ejection.

The front of the bolt has extractor and ejector, both of which give a very long service life. I have never had to change one, and ejection/extraction problems are invariably down to dirt in and around the area of the bolt face, and the two recesses the extractor and ejector slide into when a round is chambered. A dirty chamber will also not help extraction.

Cleaning a .22LR, a careful pull through with a bore snake has always been my approach. In my case, I leave the moderator in place, taking care to let the weight of the bore snake drop centrally through the moderator’s body.

This is a little more difficult than with the mod removed, but it maintains a central pull of the bore snake, avoiding uneven contact with any sides of the crown/muzzle, which should be avoided as the boresnake is pulled through.

A sensitive subject

The trigger is a simple single stage affair, which can be a touch heavy. I have, in the past, fitted the Brooks trigger shim and lighter springs to make the unit much sweeter; two shims, brass tubes with differing wall thicknesses, slipped over the stripped trigger, effectively increasing the diameter of one of the mechanisms pins, lessening the sear engagement and minimising creep. Couple this with one of the weaker trigger springs, and the CZ trigger could be transformed.

I think a lot of the trigger sensitivity arises because of the path people follow before they acquire a .22LR. In my experience, enthusiastic airgunners who are naturally progressing further into shooting sports, and the sweetness of expensive PCP air weapons, highlight the somewhat heavier CZ trigger.

The Pulsar Digex N450 suits the CZ, and opens up all hunting situations, with the integral recording unit capturing your shots with the push of a button

CZ are not the only manufacturer whose rifle have after market trigger modifications. I have left the CZ American’s trigger alone, being more than happy with the function. It’s more than sweet enough, and the curved blade fits me well from the semi pistol grip.

The barrel is a sporting weight 16” chrome moly blued barrel, screw cut ½”x20 UNF, with the muzzle having a rounded crown, with a small chamfer to the inner edge forming a neat little recessed crown.

The barrel has a small parallel section for around the first inch, before a small concave swamped section flows into a pleasing taper towards the muzzle. The proportions are pleasing to my eyes.

I am looking forward to getting out with my CZ, freshly topped off with the Pulsar Digex N450, complete with clip on IR illumination, a night scope that can be used in daylight with the restricted front lens cap in place, giving a black and white sight picture that is very clear.

Hopefully the pictures show the conventional scope design of the Digex N450, enabling standard 30mm dovetail mounts to be used, or weaver/picatinny offering plenty of options for mounting.

The front focus, which is similar to the position of a front parallax ring, is within easy reach of my left hand, and turns with only thumb pressure, coupled with on board recording. I am looking forward to recording some hunting forays.

I am sold on CZ rimfires, as they perform extremely well, have a huge following, and have stood the test of time. Even today they represent fantastic value, factoring in performance, reliability, and a solid range of options to suit many shooters’ tastes, and across most all the popular rimfire calibres. Happy hunting and gathering. 

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