September 2011

Mannlicher-Style Hunting Rifles: CZ Outduels Ruger and Steyr

In the Teutonic tradition, the Steyr Mannlicher Classic exudes Mannlicher-Schonauer heritage, but at a steep price. The CZ 500 FS and Ruger No. 1 Int’l are less traditional, with lesser costs.

The full-length stocks of Mannlicher-style rifles make them distinct, evoking the aesthetics of one of the most iconic rifles ever manufactured. In 1903 the military rifle company of Mannlicher-Schonauer introduced a sporter rifle. This Austrian-made Mannlicher sporter became the stuff of legends and would be used on all types of game from African savannas and the mountain ranges of Europe to here in the U.S. They were fast-handling carbines that offered a silky smooth bolt-action and packed a punch. Ernest Hemingway owned and wrote about the "little Mannlicher," and W.D.M. "Karamojo" Bell used one exclusively on elephant. These short rifles had characteristics unlike other bolt-actions then or now. Along with the full-length stock that ran to the barrel muzzle, originals had a split bridge action. Since the bolt handle was positioned forward of the trigger assembly, unlike most bolt actions where the bolt handle is aft of the trigger, the bolt needed to pass through the bridge to cycle. The Mannlicher-Schonauer is also known for its fixed rotary magazine, set triggers and a flat, butter knife bolt handle.

We wanted to find some current representatives of the type that we hoped would evoke the performance and styling reminiscent of original sporters—fast handling, smooth-cycling action, short barrel, butter knife bolt handle, and full-length stock. To our delight, we found the $2999 Steyr Classic Mannlicher CL FS, the $894 CZ 550 FS, and the $1222 Ruger No. 1 International. All three of our test guns sported full-length wood stocks with checkering. They also shared 20-inch-long barrels—the CZ’s barrel is actually 20.5 inches—iron sights, and sling swivels. Open sights are rare on today’s hunting rifles, and the iron sights on our test carbines gave them even more charm and begged to be used. Accordingly, we test the set with and without optics. The two Europeans were chambered in 6.5x55mm, and the Ruger came in 7x57mm, aka the 6.5 Swede and 7mm Mauser, respectively.

Let’s see which one of these carbines stays truest to the spirit of the originals.

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