March 2010

375 H&H Rifles from CZ, Ruger, and Kimber Go Head-to-Head

Once we obtained the elusive Kimber Caprivi, we went looking for the CZ 550 American Safari Magnum and Ruger M77 Mark II Magnum rifle to get a $1K, $2K, and $3K bolt-action matchup.

At age 98 this year, the 375 H&H Magnum is still one of the best cartridges in existence. One of our test crew calls it his favorite cartridge. The 375 is undoubtedly very versatile, especially for the reloader. Although some ammo companies today, notably Hornady, load the cartridge up to higher power than it originally had, there’s little or nothing to be gained by so doing, as we have repeatedly seen here. In fact, the shooter gains more from this cartridge, we feel, by loading it down, not up. He can even shoot round lead balls from the 375 if he is a clever and determined reloader. Although the usual realm of the 375 is hunting larger game including elk, moose, bear, and most African plains game, some of us have found over the years that modest jacketed-bullet or cast-lead-bullet loads in the cartridge make it an excellent deer cartridge.

Here’s Ray Ordorica showing how to take the recoil of a hard-kicking rifle. The left hand supports the forend and is bedded into the machine rest. Both hands pull the rifle hard into the shoulder, and the rest of the entire body is relaxed. The cost of each round of 375 ammo cost about as much as the cigar. That’s the Kimber 8400 Caprivi 375 H&H Magnum, a $3196 combination of gorgeous wood and steel.

 

The weight of a 375 rifle can be a problem for the deer hunter. A proper 375 is going to weigh around 9 or 10 pounds, while an ordinary deer rifle might weigh 6 pounds. Why carry the extra weight? If you can shoot it well, there’s no harm in using a powerful rifle for all your hunting. There is really no such thing as overkill, but there is such a thing as using an unsuitable rifle that fails to kill quickly, which no true hunter wants. The only way to learn to shoot a big rifle well is to shoot it a lot, and sub-power loads make that easy. Some of us have experienced great satisfaction from mastering a big rifle. We’ve found it more rewarding to shoot a sub-inch group with a 375 with full-power loads than with a 22 centerfire. Light handloads make the 375 into a fun gun, one you can learn to shoot well, but overpowered heavy loads take a lot of the fun out of it.

We finally obtained one of the more elusive rifles on the big-game scene, the wood-stocked Kimber Caprivi in 375 H&H Magnum (also available in 458 Lott). Once we had this gorgeous rifle in hand, we went looking for other 375 rifles for our comparison testing. We finally decided to do a one-two-three setup, to see what you can buy for roughly $1000, $2000, and $3000. We acquired a CZ 550 American Safari Magnum, which lists for a bit over a grand ($1179). Next we got a Ruger M77 Mark II Magnum rifle selling for just over two grand ($2404), and of course the Kimber 8400 Caprivi was at the top, listing for about three grand ($3196). These all appeared to be fine rifles with a whole lot going for them. Could they compare?

They all had Express-type iron sights, with a wide-angle V rear and a bead at the front. This setup, for those who have never tried it, gives a very clear sight picture, the rear V acting to some extent like an aperture and making even aging eyes able to discern the front bead. In all three rifles the iron-sight picture was outstanding. One common problem with Express sights is the maker sometimes sets the rear sight too close to the shooter’s eye, but all three rifles had it plenty far out on the barrel. CZ’s V notch left two shoulders on the sides of the rear blade, which maybe helped prevent canting the rifle. The other two had full-width Vs. Kimber and CZ added a protective cover to the front sight.

All three rifles also had two folding leaves, the CZ alone marked for 200 and 300 yards. All three blades on the CZ had a prominent white centerline beneath the V. The Ruger’s unmarked folding leaves had small U-notches in the two folders, and no center line. These gave a relatively poor sight picture, compared to the V. The Caprivi had a scribed line on each leaf, but in the old British style the folding leaves were unfiled, that being a job for the owner’s gunsmith once he has settled on his one hunting load. Our shooters’ eyes were most pleased with the sights on the Kimber Caprivi, largely because of the big front bead on that rifle.

We tested these rifles with Hornady Heavy Magnum with 270-grain JHP, Remington Express 270-grain RNSP, and Federal Power-Shok 270-grain RNSP. Be advised 375 ammo sells for about $3 a shot, at a time when you can still get a decent handmade cigar for that price. Thus handloading is probably the way to go if you want to shoot your big rifle a lot. We shot the three with iron sights to get a feel for them, and then scoped them for our bench testing. Here’s what we found.

CZ 550 American Safari Magnum No. 04211

375 H&H Magnum, $1179

Our first impression was that the wood on the CZ was extremely nice. It was supposed to be American black walnut, but we’ve never seen such nice tiger-striped, fine-grained wood in black walnut before. At any rate, the quality of the wood left nothing to be desired. The trigger was a single-set. To use it, you first shoved the trigger forward, and then a light touch would fire the rifle. This was adjustable, but we left it alone. We used the trigger normally for our bench testing.

As noted, the iron sights were excellent, and also matte-black finished like the rest of the rifle. The front sight was mounted in a ring that wrapped the barrel, and the rear was dovetailed into an integral base on the barrel. There’s an additional recoil lug under the barrel at the location of the front sight, and the stock was screwed securely to it there, which we appreciated.

The stock was formed in classic U.S. pattern. There were two cross bolts to prevent stock splitting. The recoil pad was generous in size and very soft, and it proved to be very comfortable on the bench. One complaint was that CZ put the front sling swivel on the forend, not on the barrel as it was on the other two rifles. It succeeded in cutting open one of our shooters’ fingers on the forward hand. We’ve seen CZs with the sling swivels simply removed, which solves the problem but leaves no easy way to sling the rifle. The stock finish was outstanding, with all pores filled, the wood grain showing through, and with a near-matte and extremely durable coating over the entire stock. The cut checkering was also outstanding, even better than on the Kimber, though not quite as large in area. It wrapped the forend completely, and had two panels on each side of the pistol grip.

The magazine held five shots, and the bolt would

The Kimber (left) and CZ (right) show very nice stock woods, but the Ruger’s wood leaves a lot to be desired, we thought. Speaking of the recoil pads, Kimber does it right, with a huge area and a soft, thick Pachmayr Decelerator pad. CZ and Ruger have smaller pads, but that of the CZ is thick and soft and forgiving. That of the Ruger is thin and hard as a rock.

close over them, giving a total of six ready to go. The floorplate was hinged, with the button release outside the trigger guard. Thus recoil would not let the trigger finger fly forward and release the rounds, which sometimes happens, always at the worst possible time. The safety was at the right rear corner. It locked the bolt closed, and required a push forward—unlike the European versions of this rifle—to put it into the firing position.

The CZ, like all three rifles in this test, had a controlled-feed bolt. A sprung lever on the left-rear corner of the action permitted its removal. The bolt itself had a takedown feature that’s one of the slickest things about the CZ. With the rifle empty, cock the firing pin by closing the bolt. Then, press and hold a button on the left side of the bolt shroud, open the bolt, remove it from the rifle, and you can then spin out the shroud and striker for inspection and cleaning. Except for the stock, all the parts of the CZ were steel. No plastic was found anywhere. The rifle was no lightweight, tipping the scales at 9.7 pounds empty, no scope. We found it to have excellent balance, which made it feel lighter than it was. Of course the extra weight made it a lot of fun when shooting off the bench, especially with a scope added to all that heft.

The CZ came with no scope rings. After a few rounds offhand with the iron sights, we borrowed the 1.5-5X Leupold in QD mounts from a staffer’s CZ 375 and secured it to the test rifle. This scope is one of the best hunting scopes available, we feel, and is fitted with coarse, easily seen crosshairs. These blotted out most of our aiming point at 100 yards, but still did the trick. With that scope we proceeded to shoot the smallest group of this entire test, 0.9 inch with three full-power Federal loads.

There were no problems of any sort with the CZ, other than one cut finger. We thought the trigger could have been a bit crisper, but obviously it worked well enough to deliver the goods. We must add that some shooters will not be completely happy with all this weight. In our experience a 375 need not weigh more than about 8.5 pounds before scoping, or perhaps 9.5 scoped, and still be reasonable to carry and use. That makes this CZ about a pound too heavy, but some will like that. If you take it to Africa you won’t be carrying it, and if you choose to take it after whitetails, well, be sure to eat your spinach and you’ll do just fine. The bolt was not as slick as that on the Kimber, but you can lap it and improve it somewhat. Ditto the trigger pull, which was a touch creepy, but broke at 3.3 pounds. With the trigger set, it broke at 1.2. We liked that the bottom of the bolt knob, which is hollow, now has rounded edges. In earlier versions, it’d cut you.

Our Team Said: We think this is the best value of the three guns tested. We gave the CZ an A-, the minus for the extra weight and the forend sling stud, which can’t be easily changed. It was our second-favorite rifle of this test series, and its lowest cost and very nice wood helped that opinion a lot. The CZ’s wood, though, was not in the same league as that on the Kimber. The CZ also had an extremely tough stock finish, outstanding accuracy, great care to details, and the neat set trigger. Its extra weight let us shoot it easily off the bench. We think shooters will like this rifle.

 

Ruger M77 Mark II Magnum, Model 7501

375 H&H Magnum, $2404

We were severely disappointed in the Ruger before we ever fired a shot. When we opened the box we were slapped in the face by what appeared to be a plank into which the metal had been inletted. Per the Ruger website, this particular rifle comes with a Circassian walnut stock, and the online photo shows gorgeous wood, just like you’d expect, especially on a rifle costing over two grand. But the wood grain here had almost no figure. The grain may have been tight and the wood may have actually grown in the Circassus, but in a brief search online we found Circassian blanks costing less than $250 that would knock your eyes out, compared to this one. To our eyes, this stock is a plank, not worthy of being on this rifle.

There was no cheek piece on the stock, and we wanted one. The checkering and stock finish were well done, fully up to Ruger’s usual standards. The stock was attached to the barrel by the usual slanted Ruger bolt at the action, and also by two screws through the bottom of the forend.

The recoil pad was much harder than the pads on the other two rifles. It was fairly large in area, but still only a fraction of the area of the Kimber’s soft pad. We thought it would hurt us on the bench, and we were not disappointed. Despite Ruger’s recently putting an updated recoil pad on all its rifles, the company still has not got it right on rifles that kick really hard.

The metalwork was notable in its excellence. The Ruger’s rear sight was set into a marvelously machined rear ramp, or quarter rib, integrally cut into the steel of the barrel. This is by no means an easy operation, but it was flawlessly done, as was its juncture with the flat-top rib on the action. No separation line could be seen at the joint. The overall metal finish on the Ruger was just off shiny, very uniform, and perfectly executed. There was a hinged floorplate, so the unfired rounds could be removed by diligent poking of the stiff release button. We found the front corners of the rear sight sharp enough to cut you easily, and the same problem was on the Kimber. A file would fix this.

The front sling-attach point was on the barrel, where it belongs on hard-kicking rifles. We already discussed the rear sight shape. We found it was windage-adjustable by drifting, and clamped in place by a screw. The front blade is easily replaceable by pressing on a plunger, so it’s possible to change the impact point of the iron sights rather easily. We’d like to see a protective hood over the front blade. The trigger pull was excellent but way too heavy. It broke cleanly at 6.2 pounds, about three pounds too much. That’s not easily fixed, if we understand Ruger’s new trigger.

We again borrowed the 1.5-5X Leupold and put it onto the Ruger in the fine rings that came with the gun, and took it to the range. Like the other guns, the Ruger didn’t like the heavy Hornady loads, but with the Remington and Federal ammo it shot about as well as the other two rifles. Best groups were just over an inch, and there were no problems at all with the rifle’s function. But we got kicked into next week by that lousy pad. Once again we wish the designers could be made to spend a day on the range shooting these poorly set-up rifles from the bench. They’d quickly change their ways, we’re sure. It matters not that some shooters might shorten the stock. If they do, wouldn’t it be nice to simply move a really good recoil pad forward and trim its edges, thereby reducing the cost of fitting a new pad? A pad like this one on such a rifle is nearly worthless, we thought. The rifle was also a heavyweight, tipping our scales at 10.9 pounds scoped, but all that mass didn’t make up for the brick of a recoil pad.

Our Team Said: All in all we were disappointed with the Ruger M77 Mark II Magnum Model 7501 and gave it a grade of C. In light of what you can get from CZ for $1200 less, half the price, we could not justify spending $2400 for this rifle. In fact, for $2251 you can get the fancy CZ Magnum Express rifle, set up any way you want it, with fancy walnut, barrel-band swivel, your choice of matte or glossy finish, and other choices that can make your rifle suit you and only you. And it still costs $150 less than the Ruger. If the Ruger’s stock were of decent wood, if the pad were thicker and a lot softer, and if the trigger pull were half as heavy, then we’d say this rifle is worth a good look. Despite its wonderful metalwork and excellent scope rings, we’d pass on this Ruger as we found it.

 

Kimber 8400 Caprivi 375 H&H Magnum, $3196

 

This was a gorgeous rifle. The wood was some of the best we’ve seen, with great color, lovely figure, and lots of contrasting grain that delighted the eye. That was the first thing we liked about the Caprivi. The next thing was the huge, soft, red recoil pad, reminiscent of the old Silvers pads on English rifles, but much softer. It was a Pachmayr XL Decelerator. We also liked the overall appearance of the rifle with its matte bluing, excellent inletting and borderless wraparound checkering, and the attention to detail seen throughout the rifle. One of the details we particularly liked was the securing of the front-sight hood to its beautifully serrated ramp. The hood could only be removed rearward, so it can’t fly off from recoil. And if you want to take it off, you have first to turn in a tiny Allen screw. The front edge of the hood was knurled to give a good grip for removal.

The stock appeared to be very well inletted to the barrel, with pressure on the forend against the barrel. There were no screws attaching the forend to the barrel. The sling swivels were high-class, the rear inletted into the butt and held in place with two screws, and the front integrally formed in a barrel band. The bolt was slick, though not as smooth as the Ruger’s with its stabilizing lump on the bolt barrel. Two cross bolts prevented splitting. The safety was much like that on the Winchester Model 70, three positions with the middle permitting cycling the rounds out of the magazine. The firing position was forward.

The rear sight was, like that of the Ruger, drift adjustable for windage and secured with a clamping bolt. Even better, the base was marked with tiny graduations so you could tell how much to move it. We would, however, round over the points of the rear blade. As with the Ruger, we nearly cut ourselves on their forward edges. The front sight blade, with its huge white bead, is also readily replaceable, so again the shooter would have a relatively easy time adjusting the iron sights to his best load.

There were two things we didn’t like about the Kimber, and of course we’re nit-picking. Item one, which won’t bother a lot of folks, is the release for the hinged floorplate. It’s a button inside the trigger guard, where it’s possible for the trigger finger to fly forward, bump it, and open the magazine. This would be more serious with the 458 Lott version with its greater recoil and more likelihood of its being used against dangerous game. The second thing was the stamping of all the information identifying the maker, address, and caliber on the left side of the barrel next to the rear sight. It was done in a manner that threw up a noticeable burr next to all the letters. We thought this detracted from the first-line look of the rest of the rifle. We thought that laser cutting or -- even better -- engraving would be the way to do this, and not simply mash it into the barrel’s steel. The serial number and "Kimber 8400" on the side of the action did not share this problem.

On the range there were no problems. We chose the option of rotating-dovetail-type scope bases. The other option was Talleys, but there was a delay in getting them. We mounted our 30mm, 10X Leupold Mark 4 Tactical scope on the Caprivi and began our bench testing. The pull of the smooth trigger was the best of the test, and one of the best rifle triggers we’ve experienced. It broke like a glass rod at 3.3 pounds, and that pleased our shooters immensely. Despite its having the lightest weight of all the rifles, at least before we mounted our big Leupold, the Kimber was comfortable to shoot offhand with its iron sights, even with the heavy Hornady loads. The rifle’s balance was just right, something that’s hard to define. But the weight was concentrated in the right places so that it was easy to hold, and thus to shoot, the Kimber. With the big scope adding to the rifle’s weight, recoil was acceptable, though there was no joy in the Hornady rounds off the bench. Our best average groups were with the Federal ammo, 1.3 inches. The smallest, Remington at 1.1 inch.

Our Team Said: We gave the Caprivi an A. We could not seriously fault it. It had what appeared to be a thousand-dollar piece of wood, and when you combined that with its outstanding workmanship, smooth function, fine oil finish, great balance, superb trigger, outstanding overall looks, shooter comfort and fine performance, we though it was well worth the money.

ACCURACY AND CHRONOGRAPH DATA

CZ 550 American Safari Magnum No. 04211 375 H&H Magnum

Ruger M77 Mark II Magnum Model 7501 375 H&H MAGNUM

Kimber 8400 Caprivi 375 H&H Magnum

GUN TESTS REPORT CARD