Gun of the Week: Steyr Mannlicher

Stuart Wilson gets his hands on the Steyr Mannlicher CLII SX in .243 topped with a Nightforce SHV scope, and goes in-depth on it’s features!

Sportsman Gun Centre were good enough to send me a Steyr Mannlicher CLII SX in .243 Win. The rifle arrived fully assembled and cocooned in a foam-lined hard case with a Nightforce SHV on top, in a set of Warne rings.

All I had to add was a moderator and some ammunition. Unscrewing the thread cap, I spun on on my old faithful S5.

The stainless build has seen the moderator last through many years, and the ability to change the thread bushing easily has allowed me to cater for the numerous threads I have encountered on review rifles.

Zeroing

June was decidedly wet, which has made hunting and zeroing forays more difficult. On an initial zeroing at 100 yards on an uncut silage field, with target board pegged high and shooting from the bonnet, the CLII SX was printing where I wanted it within 15 shots (which included the nut behind the trigger adjusting completely the wrong way after the first two shots!)

Ammunition of choice was Hornady’s 95gn Superformance, which in a .243 at this time of year is perfect for testosterone-fuelled bucks, while doing a suitable job on any foxes despite the higher bullet weight.

The final group out of the CLII SX printed ¾in at 100 yards, coming in an inch high – perfect for relaxed shooting out to 200 yards without any holdover or dialling.

Stock

I have owned a Steyr Mannlicher Pro Hunter in the past, and am familiar with the SBS system and the other features, which remain largely unchanged as they work well.

The Pro Hunter stock seemed to flex for quite a few shooters; I loved mine, and after a few tweaks it shot as well as any factory rifle I have ever shot. I only draw reference to the old Pro Hunter because it is part of the CLII’s foundation, and the wooden CL is an update of the Classic models, and now the CLII SX is the synthetic version.

The green synthetic stock has a textured feel on the hard durable section, providing grip, and the matt finish blends into a hunting environment. The matt black rubberised pistol grip and forend inserts further complement the look and feel, with a shallow ridged and indented finish.

This is the first thing that grabbed my attention as I opened the case. Lots of rifle manufacturers use this layout on their synthetic stocks, and it suits my kind of hunting and shooting very well – no bling, just quiet functionality.

Shouldering the rifle for the first time reveals just how pointable the CLII SX is. The gentle palm swell suited my hands, the very natural trigger hand positioning gives solid hold with trigger, and the safety is intuitively placed. You will quickly come to appreciate the layout of a rifle that allows confident operation without the need of visual confirmation.

The flat-bottomed forend sits nicely in the hand when standing, and is just as at home in the sticks. It really shines when rested on the front rails of a hunting box or high seat, and also takes a bipod really well – and in my case, the heavier SL5 moderator seemed to enhance the balance.

The important feature that is not visible from the outside is the aluminium bedding. This provides the best stability for holding an action inside a stock, it offers repeatable removal and re-insertion, and has a proven track record for significantly improving many rifles’ performances.

Barrel and action

It’s hard to cover the Steyr’s barrel and action without leading into the safety and trigger that makes up the SBS system. Starting from the front, the hammer-forged barrel sports the usual spiral twist that is synonymous with Steyr rifles.

I did check the twist rate using a nylon bore brush and a tape flag on the cleaning rod; my results showed a 1-in-10in twist. Just be mindful of choosing any 100gn or 105gn rounds and make sure they will stabilise before buying a bigger batch.

The muzzle is threaded ½x20 UNF and protected with a thread cap. The crown is slightly recessed and the machining is accurate and clean. The flat-topped action had pre-installed weaver bases, with a neat ejection port to allow single shot loading. Barrel and action are finished in matt black, somewhere between parkerising and conventional bluing.

The rear of the bolt has this same finish, along with a cocking indicator pin protruding through the shroud. The bolt handle’s flattened top works – the thumb naturally rests into the curve at its end, with the forefinger taking the bottom round profile. Normal cycling sees the twin lug design close into the action low enough to allow the bolt to avoid fouling an optic in the open position.

I would only see a problem with some of the digital night sights, which generally end up being mounted higher anyway. The twin lug design of the bolt head sees two lugs stacked, giving a pair of lugs to each twin. Calling it ‘twin lug’ better describes the inherent angular bolt handle throw compared to a three-lug design.

Along the bolt body, cutouts allow for ingressed dirt to escape. To the bolt face you will see a single ejector plunger and a claw extractor with a fully enclosed bolt face offering good case support.

Shooting and cycling the action is solid and reliable. The SBS system (safe bolt system) is safe, dependable and easy to use; I would recommend you get familiar with this system before you put any rounds into the rifle.

In essence, the SBS is a three-position safety catch, but it is a bit more than that, offering a bolt lock and bolt removal with the bolt closed. The three positions are: Red dot – live, white dot – safe with bolt operable, white dot and white tag – safe and bolt locked.

Continuing from here, the bolt can be depressed into its stock recess, so with the white dot and tag showing and the bolt clicked into the stock recess, the bolt is fully locked and can only be released by rolling the safety while depressing the white tag.

A little careful upward lift on the bolt makes this easier, being careful not to roll all the way to red. My preference is to only use the bolt lock if I am stalking a good distance with a loaded round in the chamber. I can roll the white dot and white tag and depress the bolt, which will click when home.

Just be aware that rolling to the white dot without holding the bolt at all will see the bolt unlock with a bit of a clunk.

The bolt can only be opened/cycled while the red or white dot are showing. Raise the bolt, and with the bolt fully forward, roll the safety back to reveal the white tag.

The mag clicks into place securely, leaving the rounds below the bolt
Taking four rounds double-stacked, the Steyr will accept a fifth round into the chamber before fully engaging the mag

Now the bolt can be removed for safety, security or cleaning. Moving to the trigger, rolling the safety to red will allow the trigger to release the firing pin and fire a round.

If you want to use the single set trigger, while the safety is on the white dot, push the trigger forward to the ‘set’ position, then when ready to fire roll the safety to red and the lightest touch will see the trigger release.

Get familiar with this system while the rifle is unloaded! And be aware: If you have set the trigger and then do not fire, make the rifle safe by rolling the safety to the white dot again and the trigger can be safely ‘un-set’, or roll to the white dot and tag and the trigger will automatically ‘un-set’.

You will also find it is impossible to ‘set’ the trigger in the white-dot-and-
tag position. It is easy to set the trigger and forget that it is still set if a shot is not taken. Get familiar and stay safe – the set trigger is fantastic when used correctly.

Final Thoughts

The Steyr CLII SX seems to pull from the Pro Hunter and some of the SS range. That said, the stock is a distinct improvement, and overall I really enjoyed using it. It was accurate, pointable, and I like the unique features, even if they need learning.

The facility to load a magazine and click it positively into the mag well’s first clip allows the bolt to be cycled without picking a round from the magazine, for closing the bolt on an empty chamber over a full magazine – a good feature.

The single set trigger? Love it or hate it, use it or don’t, but do get familiar with it because it is a cracking option to have at your disposal. Try it on the range and see if your groups improve – you might be pleasantly surprised.

The dimensions are pretty standard across length of pull, barrel length, and consequently overall length; finished with a rubber butt pad and rubberised pistol grip and forend panels, this rifle will find favour with plenty of shooters.

The Steyr Mannlicher CLII Stainless retails around £1,591.

More details: 01392 354854, www.sportsmanguncentre.com

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