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CZ 550 Magnum – End of an Era

Iconic African Dangerous Game Rifle

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The CZ 550 Magnum production rifle series has become one of the highest-rated among those who hunt big and dangerous game. The popularity of the 550 Magnum rests largely on its quality, proven reliability, strength and adaptability – all at an affordable price. In Africa, you will find these rifles in the hands of many professional hunters, game rangers, field-guides and sport hunters. The action safely handles very powerful rimless cartridges. Many custom hunting rifles in calibres from .375H&H all the way up to .505 Gibbs are built on CZ 550 Magnum actions. Some hunters bought these rifles in more affordable calibres like the .375H&H and later rebarrelled them for bigger cartridges.

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Developed out of a robust and reliable ancestor

The 550 Magnum is a modified version of Czechoslovakia’s highly successful CZ ‘Brno’ ZKK 602 action for rifles in magnum–length and big-bore sporting cartridges. In the 1971 edition of Bolt Action Rifles, Frank de Haas wrote that the CZ ‘Brno’ ZKK series of rifles included three models: the standard length action ZKK-600 for ‘standard calibres’ such as the .30-06; the ZKK-601 for short cartridges like the .308 Win; and the ZKK-602 for magnum-length cartridges such as the .375H&H. The earlier 601 and 602 actions had pop-up aperture sights built into the receiver bridge; later this sight was discontinued. Apart from action length and bolt-face/extractor dimensions appropriate to calibre, all ZKK actions were alike. The ZKK 602 is celebrated for being as robust and reliable as its ancestor, the Mauser Model 98, regarded by many as the most successful bolt-action ever.

Extractor claw

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While the CZ 602 and 550 Magnum designs are not precise copies of the Mauser, both employ the Mauser 98’s broad, non-rotating extractor claw. In Africa’s tropical climates, temperatures reach levels that can significantly increase chamber pressures, potentially causing the fired cases of powerful cartridges to bind themselves to the chamber walls, rendering them very difficult to extract. In such hot and dusty conditions, the Mauser 98 extractor design becomes a form of life-assurance. The broad, robust extractor claw grips a very generous section of the case rim, and in conjunction with the massive camming power of the Mauser-type bolt action, affords maximum reliability of extraction and ejection. Conversely, in non-Mauser 98 type designs, the narrow, hinged, hook-type extractor claws recessed into the bolt head have been known to break or rip through the soft brass rim of a case that has stuck in the chamber. This is what makes actions of the Mauser 98 pattern, namely the Pre-64 M70 Winchester, CZ 602 and 550, et al, the preferred choice of Africa’s professionals. The CZ’s -Mauser-type extractor claw is its most important feature.

Control-feed action

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As in the case of the Mauser 98, another very positive feature of the CZ 602 and 550 is their controlled-feed action design. This means that the cartridge case rim slips under the broad non-rotating extractor claw as the cartridge is scooped from the magazine, thus the cartridge remains firmly in the grip of the claw on its way into the chamber. This differs from the ‘push-feed’ action designs whose bolts simply bump the loose cartridge forward into the chamber. A controlled-feed action will feed reliably even if held upside down. It also makes double–feeding (if the bolt is initially ‘short-stroked’) practically impossible. Many hunters of dangerous game consider the controlled feed design more reliable in emergency situations, again making it the preferred choice of most professional hunters for backing up clients. The production 550 action’s bolt handle is designed for use with a low-mounted scope and, with the 19mm dovetails milled into the receiver’s front and rear square bridges; this makes scope mounting simpler, stronger and less prone to working loose. Another benefit of this action is that its magazine holds five belted magnum .375H&H cartridges, four rounds in .450 calibre such as .458 Lott, and three rounds in .500 or 505. That is enough ammo to solve any problem faced by an experienced PH.

Discontinued

Recently, Formalito, CZ’s agent in South Africa, indicated that a batch of CZ production rifles, using the 550 Magnum action in .375H&H, would be available in SA for the last time. The 550 Magnum action is being discontinued as CZ is concentrating on newer actions.The CZ 550 Magnum rifle in .375H&H features the traditional straight comb stock, which is ideal for scoped use. It has all the features described above, including the 
double square bridge receiver with 19mm dovetailed scope mounting rails, meaning fewer screws and less to go wrong (such as misalignment). The rifle has a single set trigger system. Trigger adjustments require the removal of the stock; use the setscrews for trigger pull, travel before, and reset travel after a shot. The set trigger can be replaced with a conventional trigger mechanism. The two-position safety catch is within easy reach on the right side of the receiver and is thumbed forward to fire. In the rearward position, it blocks the sear and the bolt together. A red dot appears on the bolt shroud when the safety lever is forward. The bolt release button is on the left side of the receiver.

Express Sights

The rear ‘express sight’ has wide ‘V’ leaves for fast target acquisition. The permanent rear sight is for 100m, with folding blades for 200m and 300m. The rifle has a hammer-forged barrel for accuracy and longevity. The bolt is the conventional dual-opposed lug design with the bolt handle serving as a third locking lug. The robust ejector is the inertia blade type. The bolt handle is swept back for fast access. The high-grade walnut stock has two cross-bolts to prevent cracking under recoil.

CZ opted for a sling-stud on the fore-end rather than a barrel band. With heavy recoiling calibres the stud might bite your supporting hand. Many hunters remove this stud, preferring a strapless dangerous game rifle, but a gunsmith can fit a barrel band. The chequered grip and fore-end afford a firm grip even with sweaty palms.

Introduced by Holland & Holland of London in 1912, the .375H&H is a proven dangerous game and all-purpose cartridge, which has been well tested in Africa throughout this past century. It remains an enormously popular choice for African hunting and is widely considered the most versatile hunting cartridge to take on safari. It is flat-shooting enough for longer shots on plains game and powerful enough for use on dangerous game, being renowned for its penetration. In most African countries, the .375 is the minimum calibre required for legally hunting dangerous game. These .375H&H rifles are accurate and reliable. CZ 550 Magnum rifles are not as finely finished as some rifles, which is why they are affordable. However, their many advantages, described above, render them the most popular workhorse rifles among professionals and regular dangerous game hunters and trail guides. Do not delay if you want one of CZ’s classic .375s or any calibre on a CZ 550 Magnum action.

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A buffalo hunted with the Ruger .375H&H (right). The PH used his .416 Rigby on a CZ550 action as a back-up rifle (centre). Photo Henno Cronje.

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