August 2002

.22 Hornet Buzz: CZ’s 527 Lux Varmint Rifle Is Our Pick

Rugerís 77/22 and the costly Anschutz bolt guns are OK; but Donít Buy Rugerís heavy No. 1 for this kind of field work.

With the CZ in our machine rest, Tech Editor
Ray Ordorica takes a bead through the Leup-
old 36X target scope.

The .22 Hornet cartridge evolved out of the black-powder .22 WCF, which originated in 1885 for the Winchester single-shot rifle, and was also chambered in the 1873 Winchester. The tiny Hornet first saw the light of day as Winchester-loaded ammunition in 1930. Yes, that’s right, Winchester loaded Hornet ammunition before any commercial rifles were available for it. Commercially made rifles were produced by Winchester, and then Savage and Stevens, beginning around 1933. The first experimental rifles for the Hornet, for which Winchester made the ammo in 1930, were built at Springfield Arsenal in the 1920s.

The tiny cartridge still has many followers, and a good variety of rifles are available for it. However, we could not find a great variety of ammunition types, and speculate that today’s Hornet owner ought to be a reloader if he wants the most versatility out of the cartridge. Today’s Hornet rifles take commonly available 0.22 bullet sizes of 0.224 inch, not the 0.222 or 0.223 diameter of earlier rifles. We had little trouble finding three types of loaded ammunition to use in our test rifles, but all the ammo we could find came from only two manufacturers, Winchester and Hornady. Other makers seem to avoid the Hornet, so we guess it’s not the most popular cartridge these days.

The Hornet is vastly more powerful than the .22 LR, giving similar bullet weights around three times the velocity. The Hornady folks very cleverly filled the big gap between the .22 LR and the Hornet with their new .17 Rimfire, and the .17 HMR is, right now, a very popular cartridge, just as the Hornet was when it was first introduced. Yet the Hornet remains the smallest commercially produced, reloadable .22-caliber round.

This brings up the question of the various blown-out versions of the Hornet, the first of which was the K-Hornet, first achieved by Lyle Kilbourne. The K-Hornet was the very first “improved” wildcat cartridge ever developed. Brass is formed by firing normal ammunition in the improved chamber. This increases powder capacity and thus velocity significantly, but may or may not improve accuracy. Those who have tried this simple-to-make wildcat generally are enthusiastic about results.

There is a charm to the .22 Hornet cartridge that has made it popular with shooters for under-200-yard varminting, and for use in areas where the blast of a Swift or .22-250 would be intolerable. The Hornet works well enough on prairie dogs, woodchucks, and other small varmints, but anything larger than a coyote would probably be stretching the cartridge’s capabilities, never mind that someone probably killed an elephant with one.

As noted, several makers still build Hornets, and they seem to make a variety of configurations and styles of them. We acquired bolt-action rifles by CZ, Ruger, and Anschutz, and also obtained a single shot Ruger No. 1B for our testing. From CZ we got the bolt-action Model 527 Lux. In the Ruger brand we had a Model 77/22 RH and the No. 1B single shot, and we had an Anschutz Model 1730 D with heavy stainless barrel.

We tested with Winchester 46-grain HP, Hornady 35-grain V-Max, and Winchester 34-grain Supreme JHP ammunition. The bullet used in the Hornady ammunition was pointed, with a plastic tip, but both Winchester loads had round-nose bullets that looked a lot like the normal .22 LR bullet shape.

Click here to view "Accuracy and Chronograph Data."

We did not have .22 Hornet loading dies on hand, but we encourage the handloader to look for improved accuracy through carefully tailored loads. Undoubtedly the cost of ammunition for this tiny delight can be drastically reduced through reloading. The Hornady ammunition was nearly 70 cents a round, purchased locally. Here is our evaluation.

CZ Model 527 Lux, $566
We liked this rifle’s European styling. The rifle, with a street price of $500, had decent walnut, excellent bluing, and useful iron sights. It also had a nifty and very useful single set trigger. The rifle had pleasant balance and a light feel that really called for either a lightweight, unobtrusive scope or perhaps an aperture rear sight for greatest handiness. The serious hunter of tiny game would most likely prefer a scope to get the most out of the rifle. Our sample came with extra-cost CZ bases/rings, which easily let us attach our Leupold 36X target scope.

Click here to view the CZ Model 527 Lux features guide

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Numerous markings were deeply and somewhat tastelessly stamped into the left side of the action. These included the importer, model designation, serial number, and “Made in Czech Republic.” By contrast, the caliber designation was tastefully put onto the top of the barrel just in front of the action.

The barrel had an integral “band” with an enlarged top portion that held the drifted-in rear sight. The hammer-forged, 23.5-inch barrel was free-floated all the way back to the action. Drifting was the only way to change windage. It, however, was right on the money, as was elevation. We tried a few shots with the iron sights, and got a few inside of 2 inches at 100 yards, and they were pretty close to where we aimed. The rear notch was U-shaped, with a flat top. The front was an easily seen bead mounted on a ramp. The front sight was dovetailed in from the front and could be changed, if desired, by pressing a button and driving the blade forward. There was a large protective cover or shade over the front sight, and it had its top portion cut away.

The stock was “Turkish” walnut with very little figure, finished with a soft material that left the wood pores not well filled. There was a checkered, hard-rubber butt plate, and sling swivels. The checkering was well done, if small, and serviceable. The stock also had a cheekpiece. Either you like the “Bavarian” shape of the stock or you don’t. If you are clever with wood tools, you could easily change the profile of the rear-most portion of the butt stock to be more angular, which some shooters prefer. All of our shooters liked the shape just fine. CZ offers several variants of the Hornet, one in traditional American styling for the same price, with scope rings and no iron sights. There is also a full-length-stocked Mannlicher version for a hundred dollars more.

The CZ had a detachable magazine, which came out readily by depressing a tab on the right side of the rifle adjacent to the magazine. The magazine was easily disassembled for cleaning via a button on its bottom. One complaint we’ve heard is that some shooters don’t like the protruding magazine. Some of our test crew didn’t like it, and others didn’t notice it or complain. The mag was easily grasped and removed, and we felt it was easier to get out than Ruger’s flush-mounted rotary magazine. It went back into place easily and stayed put.

The CZ fed perfectly from its five-shot magazine, but was reluctant to chamber a loose round dropped into the feedway. The chamber was far enough forward to defy attempts at inserting a loose round part way into it, making one-round shooting problematic.

The action was a miniature controlled-feed Mauser type with full-length extractor. Like the Mauser 98, ejection depended on how hard you worked the bolt. The bolt came out of the rifle just like a Mauser 98, by pulling outward on a lever (which also held the ejector, just like on the 98) mounted on the left rear of the action. There was a safety at the right rear corner of the action. Forward was on, and a pull rearward revealed a red dot, indicating the firing position.

The metalwork, except for the bolt body, was all finished in a rich-looking matte blue. The bolt body and the trigger were white. Inletting, metal polish, and overall workmanship were excellent. We could find no parts on this rifle that were not steel. The trigger guard machining was a delight.

The trigger was a single set, and the adjustment for the set letoff was in the form of a small screw just in front of the trigger. Setting was accomplished by pressing forward on the trigger, and it gave a solid click as it set.

We really liked the single-set trigger of the CZ. The normal trigger was a bit creepy and not as light as we’d have liked (4.4 pounds), but was thoroughly serviceable. But when we pressed forward on the trigger to set it, the trigger became magical. A very slight touch fired the rifle. It may have been set too light for some, but we were very careful to not touch the trigger until we were fully ready to fire. All who tried it liked it as it was.

Accuracy of the CZ was pretty good, averaging a little over an inch with all rounds fired. With the Winchester 34-grain JHP, two shots of most groups were almost touching, with the third an inch away. That ammo averaged 0.9-inch groups.

Ruger Model 77/22RH, $589
Ruger’s Hornet (street price $465) featured a six-shot detachable magazine that fit flush with the bottom of the stock. The rifle had a fancy-walnut stock and all-blued metalwork, all of which was excellently done in typical Ruger high-quality fashion. We found exactly none of the sharp edges that in the past were commonly found on Ruger bolt rifles. With its slim, 20-inch barrel, this rifle had (excessive) between-the-hands balance, more than decent wood, and it looked just great.

Click here to view the Ruger Model 77/22RH features guide

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The Ruger Hornet was whippy, and we felt it didn’t handle as well as the CZ. In our opinion, the 77/22 could have used some additional muzzle mass. Its balance or handling was helped with a scope mounted. There were two scope-mount positions on the rear of the action to permit a large variety of scopes to be fitted. We put our 36X Leupold target scope on for our tests. With that powerful but lightweight scope mounted, we liked the feel of the Ruger a whole lot more than when it was bare.

The Ruger’s wood finish was very good. It mostly filled the pores, was hard enough to protect the good-looking wood, and was matte finished to permit the eye to see the wood figure. Inletting was very good. The stock was fitted tightly to the barrel at the front of the forend, and then floated to an inch just in front of the action, which again was tight to the metal. The checkering was sparse but well done. There were QD swivel studs fore and aft. There was a half-inch-thick black butt pad that kept the rifle from slipping on the shoulder, and of course helped reduce the smashing, bone-crushing recoil of the mighty .22 Hornet.

Polishing and bluing were excellent. All the metalwork except the bolt and trigger was nicely matte blued. The magazine was of plastic and stainless steel, and its release button was aluminum. All the rest of the rifle’s metalwork appeared to be steel. The white-finished, full-size bolt came out of the rifle by depressing a small tab just behind the left rear side of the action. A three-position safety on the right side of the bolt locked the bolt fully, or permitted cycling the bolt without being able to fire the rifle. The bolt was very slick in the action.

Some shooters would have liked iron sights, and Ruger provides them on their model 77/22 RSH, which lists at $609. There is also a new laminated-stock version, with longer barrel and Target Gray stainless finish, for $625. Ruger provided a set of scope mounts with our test rifle that generally are extra-cost items with other makers. With our 36X Leupold mounted, we proceeded to the shooting evaluation.

The Ruger 77 fed well enough and ejected perfectly, but feeding was rough from its six-shot magazine. It felt as if the rounds were passing over a sharp edge on their way home. Inspection showed no reasons for it. There was a small but adequate extractor on the bolt head, and ejection was by a stud within the action, and again depended on how hard you worked the bolt. Single-loading was much easier than with the CZ because we could easily start a round into the chamber with the fingers. We thought the magazine was a bit harder to get out than the CZ, requiring a strong push and pinch with the fingers.

The trigger of the Ruger was excellent, but you had only the one choice. We had fired the CZ first, and it spoiled us with its fine set trigger. The Ruger’s trigger was very clean, no creep, and broke at three pounds consistently . It was possible to do very good work with the Ruger’s trigger, but we’d have liked it lighter. The Ruger 77 did okay with the 46-grain Winchester and the Hornady ammo, averaging 1.2 inches with each. For some reason this rifle didn’t like the light-bullet Winchester stuff at all, giving groups in excess of 2 inches.

Anschutz Model 1730 D HB Stainless $1,199
This German-made rifle, with a street price of $1,050, came with a moderately heavy, 23.5-inch, free-floated stainless barrel finished in the white. For all the accuracy we could wring out of it with a 2-8X Burris scope (our 36x didn’t fit the available rings), we would have preferred a lighter-contoured barrel for greater handiness and ease of carrying. Yet, the mass of this barrel gave a slightly muzzle-heavy feel that helped steady the rifle for difficult shots. Anschutz offers a variety of configurations on the same (Model 54 Target) action, with slight cost variations, so it’s your pick. One variant we spotted in the Anschutz catalog was a sporter version with slim barrel, iron sights, and double set triggers. They call it the Model 1730 ST KL Monte Carlo, and it lists for about $1,200.

Click here to view the Anschutz Model 1730 D HB Stainless features guide

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The stock was fancy hardwood that Anschutz called walnut. It resembled some nice birch stocks we’ve seen on older Anschutz target rifles. The wood was a rich brown, and the finish was as good as we’ve seen on any rifle. The pores were filled, the surface was smooth and clean, and the finish was matted just enough to show the wood grain. There was no discontinuity between the wood and the serrated, hard-rubber butt plate. The checkering was extremely well done, tasteful, and did its job well. It appeared to have been done by hand. The trigger reach was longer than we’d have liked. The trigger was clean, and broke at 2.5 pounds.

An extension of the firing pin protruded rearward from the bolt when the rifle was cocked. A safety lever stuck out from the left side of the bolt shroud, and you pressed it down to put it on. The bolt was retained by a pin that entered its left side from the left rear of the action. Bolt removal was accomplished by pressing inward on the bolt stop. A small, effective extractor dragged cases out of the chamber, and ejection was by a lip that engaged cases from the bottom of the bolt when the bolt was far enough rearward. Ejection strength depended on briskness of bolt operation. Feeding and ejection were flawless.

A detachable, all-steel magazine held five rounds. It was held into the rifle by a sprung tab at the rear of the magazine well, and it fed rounds perfectly. However, it was a bit tricky to get loose rounds into the chamber, because when we placed a round into the feedway, its nose tended to sink into the front of the magazine. It was easy enough to single-feed rounds with the magazine removed.

Metalwork was excellent and inletting, superb. The polish on all metal parts was well done. The blued metal was finished glossy, and the barrel was white, but polished to match the rest. Once again we could find nothing but steel parts. No aluminum or plastic was apparent. The action had both grooves for scope mounting, and drilled and tapped holes if you prefer to use that type. We clamped a 2-8X Burris in place with mounts that fit the grooves.

At the range we were a bit disappointed in our results, which averaged around an inch for all groups. We were somewhat heartened that this rifle showed no great preference for bullet type or weight. The CZ also showed that characteristic, but as you’ll see, the Rugers had distinct preferences. Our very best group was 0.4 inches with the Winchester 34-grain fodder, but another fine group that happened to contain five, not three, shots was fired with Winchester’s 46-grain ammo, and it measured 0.6 inch. Clearly, the Anschutz was trying to shoot, but ultimately we couldn’t prove it.

Ruger No. 1B, $850
This rifle, with a street price of $685, felt all wrong for the Hornet. First, it was very heavy, more than a pound heavier than the heavy-barrel Anschutz. It felt not quite clumsy, but the weight sure gave the impression you had a lot more rifle in your hands than a .22 Hornet. There were no iron sights, but it came with scope rings. We mounted our 36X Leupold for our shooting testing.

Click here to view the Ruger No. 1B features guide

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The wood was not as fancy nor as attractive as that on the Ruger 77/22, but it was a cut above average. Wood finish on butt stock and semi-beavertail forend was very good, though no better than on the bolt Ruger. The checkering was outstanding, and inletting was excellent around the action, but we found the forend had a slight gap on the right side into which we could slip a piece of paper, but was touching the barrel on the left side. That didn’t bode well for finest accuracy, but the medium-heavy, tapered 26-inch barrel might, we hoped, overcome any bedding problems. The butt stock had a black rubber recoil pad similar to that on the Model 77/22, and there were sling-swivel studs fitted.

The falling-block action loaded and ejected perfectly, polishing and bluing were outstanding, and the rifle had the graceful good looks of all Ruger single shots. A tang safety pressed forward to fire, and rear to lock the rifle. The action could be opened or shut with the safety engaged. The trigger had a trace of creep, and broke at just over 4.5 pounds. That was not the sort of trigger, we felt, for best shooting. With our 36X Leupold mounted, it was time to wring out the Number One.

In a nutshell, the rifle had reasonable accuracy only with the Hornady ammunition. Its best three-shot group measured 0.9 inches, and averaged 1.1. But with both types of Winchester ammunition, the rifle was a disaster. The 46-grain ammo averaged 3.2 inches, with its worst three-shot group approaching four inches. The 34-grain Winchester ammo delivered 2.3-inch groups on average, both thoroughly useless. (The Ruger 77/22 also averaged only 2.3 inches with the latter ammo, so it would appear that Ruger’s barrels don’t much like that bullet design.) Given that only the Hornady ammo performed adequately, and it didn’t really shine, we didn’t much like this rifle.

Gun Tests Recommends
CZ Model 527 Lux, $566. Our Pick. We liked the CZ very much, and could not seriously fault it. In fact, its questionable wood finish was the worst thing about it we found. This rifle cost significantly less than the Anschutz and had about the same accuracy. It had that neat set trigger, giving it the lightest and best letoff of all four rifles, and we really liked the Mauser-copy action.

Ruger Model 77/22RH, $589. Buy It. The Ruger was an attractive, handy rifle that performed nearly, but not quite, as well as the CZ for essentially the same price, depending on the best deal you can make on each. Some of us actually liked the look of the CZ, protruding magazine and all, more than the clean lines of the Ruger. We would probably choose the CZ over the Ruger 77/22 for the CZ’s slick set trigger and slightly better accuracy.

Anschutz Model 1730 D HB Stainless $1,199. Conditional Buy. Comparing price with performance, we felt the CZ had more to offer than the Anschutz, but conceded the Anschutz was a mighty fine rifle, with great looks, fine workmanship, an excellent trigger, and good if not famous performance. We could not fault it, even though we had hoped for more accuracy.

Ruger No. 1B, $850. Don’t Buy. If the Ruger No. 1 had shown stunning accuracy, we’d have liked it a whole lot more. As it was, it was a big, heavy rifle for a tiny cartridge, and it didn’t produce. The others, even the other Ruger, had a lot more to offer in rifles that were more closely tailored to the tiny Hornet cartridge. In the massive No. 1’s chamber, the .22 Hornet seemed out of place.