April 2012

Semi-automatic Rifles: We Test CZ, Remington, Savage Rimfires

Choosing between the CZ USA 512, Remington’s 597 TVP, and the Savage Arms 64 TR SR V 22 LRs was a win-win. We’d buy any of the three, but there are distinctions worth considering.

As centerfire-rifle ammunition prices jump up and down, many shooters get more interested in accurate rimfire rifles that shoot affordable, available 22 Long Rifle cartridges. We recently tested three semi-automatic rifles chambered for 22 LR that showed promise of being more than just plinkers: The $325 Savage Arms model 64 TR SR V Savage, CZ-USA’s $465 model 512, and the $595 Remington 597 TVP. Each gun fired from a detachable magazine, but offered different profile stocks. The Savage resembled a precision rifle that might be used for tactical applications or benchrest competition. The Remington stock was a thumb-through design fully relieved to offer a full pistol grip to the shooter. The CZ offered the most traditional outline with a somewhat rectangular receiver mated to a fine wood stock. All three rifles came with scope mounts in place, and only the CZ rifle was equipped with sights.

Recently rotated out of Iraq, one of our private-security contractor friends dropped by the range. He couldn’t resist shooting the $325 Savage Arms TR SR V rifle. The somewhat miniaturized tactical stock was still plenty comfortable for the big man, and the dropped pistol grip didn’t cramp his wrist either. The shorter 16.5-inch barrel resulted in slightly less velocity. This rifle was a lot of fun to shoot and priced well below our other test rifles. The rifle sits atop Sinclair International’s Gen 1 F-Class bipod, which has been supplanted by Gen 3 models (www.SinclairIntl.com).

To test for baseline accuracy we fired each rifle from the 50-yard line utilizing benchrest support. For optics, we chose low-power variable power scopes with circle-X reticles for rapid target acquisition. Test ammunition consisted of three high-velocity rounds topped with 40-grain bullets. Both our CCI Mini Mag and AR Tactical rounds were copper plated. Federal’s new Auto Match fired a solid lead slug with a smooth gleaming finish.

What we found were three very good rifles. Each one deserved an A rating, in our view, with downgrades that may or may not apply, according to the individual. By the end of our range days, the only job left was to accurately describe each gun in print so that our readers could choose which rifle would best meet their needs or suits one’s tastes.

CZ USA 512 No. 02160 22 LR, $465

The CZ 512 rifle is made in the Czech Republic and shipped to CZ USA headquarters in Kansas City, Kansas. CZ uses the term “modular construction” to describe the 512. This refers primarily to the receiver that houses the barrel and the bolt assembly in its alloy upper half and the fiberglass-reinforced polymer lower that contains the trigger and the magazine.

The top of the receiver was machined to provide an 11mm dovetail measuring about 6.5 inches long. A sturdy pair of matching steel rings was supplied. Magazine capacity was five rounds held in a single-column magazine with removable basepad. One plastic-body magazine was supplied, but we tried several older steel-bodied CZ magazines we had in house, both 5- and 10-round capacity, and they all worked flawlessly. Pressing rearward on a vertical lever located immediately in front of the magazine well released them from the gun.

The $595 Remington TVP (Target Varmint Plinking) rifle was well balanced. The Shady Camo stock helped us shoot offhand with superior weld at the shoulder and on the cheek. No one who fired the 597 missed not being able to use a sling. The Caldwell 7 Rest proved to be a useful portable shooting rest. We used Wheeler Engineering’s Professional Reticle Leveling System ($65 from BattenfeldTechnologies.com) to save time mounting the scope.

Sights on our 512 were attached directly to the barrel by slotted screws. The front sight was mounted on a stanchion, which was grooved to reduce glare. Additional glare-reducing measures included an undercut face to the blade itself and a partial hood that surrounded the blade. This also protected the blade from impact. CZ 512 rifle sights are factory-adjusted for a distance of 50 meters, but the sights were adjustable for both windage and elevation. Up front, the sight blade was held by an Allen screw seated inside a channel. Loosening the set screw allowed the blade to be moved forward and back to make changes in elevation. To change elevation via the rear unit, we loosened the larger of the two screws located directly behind the rear sight blade. The rear unit was seated on a ramp. Elevation was raised by sliding the unit forward. Maximum adjustment to both the front and rear sights would change sight radius about 1 inch. Windage was changed by loosening the smaller screw and shifting the rear notch left or right.

The beech stock showed a pleasing grain and was finished without checkering. The fore end had a mild trapezoidal shape that lent itself well to shooting from a rest. It surrounded the hammer-forged barrel with very little relief. The contour of the barrel itself began rather heavy but tapered, creating a medium to heavy sporter profile. There were sling studs front and rear, and the buttplate was hard plastic with classic checkering and CZ logo.

A crossbolt safety located at the upper rear corner of the trigger guard was easy to use, and due to the fact that the bolt of our CZ 512 would not lock back, we applied it religiously. Not being able to lock back also interfered with the cleaning method we performed each time we changed ammunition during the bench session. For cleaning, the CZ the bolt had to be tied back to gain access to the ejection port. Unlike bolt-action models wherein the bolt can be removed and a cleaning rod easily inserted chamber first, we inserted a folded 1-inch patch from the muzzle. Once the patch cleared the chamber, we replaced it with a clean patch and pulled it out through the muzzle. This type of cleaning is a good way to reduce the need for a complete takedown of the action, but care must be taken not to damage the barrel crown and always make sure the last stroke is in the direction of chamber to muzzle. This way debris is not pushed into the chamber. The only maintenance we performed on our rifles was a spray of Rem Oil on the bolt and a light brushing on the bolt face. No malfunctions were encountered during our test of the 512.

The $465 CZ USA 512 was the complete package, sans scope. It came with an impressive set of steel rings that attached directly to the 11mm dovetail machined on top of the receiver. The rings themselves were marked, indicating the proper way to attach the upper half. The sights were mounted so that there was no need to remove them when mounting a scope. The rear sight was adjustable for windage and elevation, and the front sight could also be moved to add or subtract elevation. Set at the factory in the Czech Republic, the sights were dead on 50 meters. The beech stock was handsome, too. The trigger did seem to have some rough spots, but we still made accurate shots with the 512, no matter what type of ammunition we tried.

The CZ owner’s manual does a good job of illustrating how to perform maintenance. Stripping the rifle began with removing the fore end, which was held in place by a large slotted screw that could be turned with a coin if necessary. The next step was to press down on the barrel and remove the body locking pin from the connection point, which we think resembled the construction of an AR-15 rifle. Preliminary separation of the barrel and stock began with pulling in opposite directions until the cocking lever stopped our progress. With the cocking lever removed, we could then remove the barrel and the receiver. At this stage of the takedown, there was adequate access to thoroughly clean the chamber and the barrel. The bolt face was also exposed, but since the bolt is under pressure of the recoil spring, you’ll probably want to remove it for deep cleaning. To remove the bolt, pull it back and lift it up and out.

From the 50-yard bench we fired groups with our scopes turned up to 4X power. Adjusting eye relief was easy because we didn’t have to conform to positioning the rings over a given slot along the length of the mount. We didn’t worry about the scope shifting or loosening up because the CZ rings clamped the scope and the integral rail with authority. It was our intent to shoot groups with the scope in place and then remove the scope and shoot more groups using the open sights. For this part of the test we shot only the most accurate choice of ammunition, but we had to resort to fractions to tell the difference. Federal’s new Auto Match produced, on average, five-shot groups measuring about 0.75 inches across. CCI’s AR ammunition was in the hunt but produced some fliers with one group as bulbous as 1.1 inches wide. We chose CCI’s Mini Mag as the most consistently accurate round. With the scope removed and fighting a 5-mph full-value crosswind, we managed an average group size of about 1.1 inches across at 50 yards.

The accuracy of the CZ USA 512 was perhaps more remarkable because there was a fair amount of interference presented by the trigger. It was not entirely smooth and seemed to compress in stages. This was our only complaint about the 512. But somehow we always knew where we were. Even when we fired offhand, with or without a scope in place, we nevertheless found it easy to time our break with proper sight alignment.

Our Team Said: Upon first viewing, the CZ 512 looked a little boxy or old fashioned compared to our other rifles. But the closer we looked, the more we liked it. Once on the shoulder, the 512 was easy to handle and pointed quite naturally. Some of our staff wished the bolt would lock back, but all it took was one shot from the 512 to gain the confidence of the shooter.

Savage Model 64 TR SR V No. 45200 22 LR, $325

Manufacturer’s websites often lag behind what is new. As of this writing our Savage rifle varied a little bit from the SKU shown on the website by the addition of a heavy “Varmint” barrel. If the tactical-style wood stock with textured black coating wasn’t bad-boy enough, the barrel was shorter than the other guns in our test and threaded to make room for a suppressor. The threads were covered by a screw-on protector that showed a checkered surface. Suppressors are not silencers for the nefarious, as Hollywood would have you to believe. As pointed out by the Texas State Rifle Association in a recent email, “The benefits associated with suppressor use include increased accuracy due to reduced recoil and muzzle blast, protection from hearing damage and reduced noise pollution.”

The barrel was fluted along its 16.5-inch length. Without a “can” in place, the fore end appeared to be a little long, covering all but the final 6 inches of barrel. It was thinned below the area of the receiver but returned to full width for greater stability. Savage made good use of the extra-long fore end by adding a second sling stud that can be used to mount a bipod. The high-quality 5.9-inch-long Picatinny rail mounted atop the receiver more than made up for the lack of supplied sights.

Varmint targets by Fabriman Specialties, LLC can take a lot of abuse. Once knocked down, they rise automatically, ready for another shot. Normally, they’re sunk into the ground and bunkered by camouflage, but due to heavy rain, ASC sat them above ground.

The buttstock was wide, with the comb extending in a straight line directly below the bore. Comb profile was symmetrical, making the 64 TR SR V comfortable to mount for both left-handed and right-handed shooters. The stock was backed by a rubber buttpad that, given the caliber, probably wasn’t necessary. But its soft, checkered surface did promote a superior weld at the shoulder. The pistol grip was deep and generous filling the shooter’s hand. We found it easy to pull the stock into the shoulder without any sign of strain or cramping of the wrist.

The safety lever was located on the right-hand side of the action on the same line but well behind the bolt lever. A sizable red bead rather than merely a dish filled with red paint was highly visible when the gun was off-Safe. The lever could not be reached without leaving our shooting grip. The bolt handle was a roller-style unit, and pushing the roller inward at the rear of its stroke locked it open. By its length and listing on the www.SavageArms.com website, we expected the magazine to hold 10 rounds. But eight rounds were all we could load into the rigid steel-bodied magazine with sealed base pad. We also expected to seat the magazine by pushing it directly upwards into the receiver. Instead, the trick was to use the forward surface of the magazine body to push the release lever forward and then insert the magazine. After a couple of tries, this method became natural and we didn’t give it another thought. However, the lips of the magazine tried to bite our fingers as we loaded each round.

Stripping the Model 64 rifle was straightforward in that it began by separating the barreled action from the stock. Removing the receiver from the barrel required putting the action in a padded vise. Then remove the magazine housing, front stud, and barrel clamp, followed by taking away the receiver and the ejector. The cocking handle can now be removed, and the bolt slid forward free of the receiver. The owner’s manual only describes reassembly as following reverse order. There was but one picture supplied, so we might recommend taking a series of digital photographs during takedown.

Our Model 64 did not come with the Savage AccuTrigger. The first time we pressed the trigger it felt a little hard. Not rough at all, but stiff. After just a few rounds, the trigger felt much better. From then on there was a little bit of takeup and a hard break. By the end of our tests, the 64 seemed to be enjoying rapid fire as much as we were.

Standing and shooting at the Varmint Village was a real pleasure. Easy to handle and point, it was tough to miss. Our primary test rounds were all high velocity. When we tried some standard velocity rounds, the bolt slowed enough to cause a malfunction. We checked our notes and realized that we had failed to spray the bolt with Rem Oil before beginning the session, as we had done with the other rifles. We sprayed a light coat of Rem Oil on the bolt and had no further stoppages.

From the bench we learned that our Savage showed a clear preference for copper-plated rather than solid lead slugs. The Federal Auto Mag produced groups in the 1-inch range, which certainly is not bad. But the remaining test rounds, which were copper plated, were superior. Firing the CCI Mini Mag ammunition, our Savage tied for the smallest overall group measuring about 0.50 inches across.

Our final destination in testing the Savage rifle was Tactical Firearms, Texas’ largest Class III dealer (www.TacticalFirearms.us). By the time you read this Tactical Firearms in Katy, Texas, will be home to the most advanced indoor shooting complex in the United States. We visited the shop to have our Savage rifle fit with a SilencerCo 22 Sparrow suppressor ($400, plus a one-time licensing fee of $200 that, according to Tactical Firearms can be applied in any state). Firing Fiocchi subsonic ammunition without any hint of malfunction, the 22 Sparrow was efficient enough so that the sound of the bullets hitting the backstop was actually louder than the report of each round.

Our Team Said: Whereas the shorter barrel did subtract velocity, the prospect of adding a suppressor makes this a viable small-varmint rifle. It’s the opposite of adding a compensator, which makes the gun louder. With its sniper-style stock and low price, we found this rifle hard to resist.

Remington 597 Stainless HB TVP
No. 80852 22 LR, $595

The Remington 597 HB TVP (Heavy Barrel Target Varmint Plinker) offered a third way to stock a rifle. Its bold laminate stock was referred to as Shady Camo, and it offered a large rubber buttpad and a generous sloping saddle–like comb on which to rest the cheek. The pistol grip was fully defined as the greater interior surface of the stock was open. If we were to cut away the comb and the connecting length below, we thought the 597 might resemble one of Remington’s XP100 pistols that were sometimes referred to as hand rifles. Distinctive in appearance and comfortable to shoulder, we found this design appealing.

In lieu of a prairie dog hunt in the field, we visited the Rimfire Ranch at American Shooting Centers, (www.AmShootCenters.com).

The heart of the 597 was a matte-stainless barreled action. The barrel was 20 inches long with a medium heavy contour. The scope mount, bolt, bolt handle, and trigger were rendered in a contrasting black, as was the polymer trigger guard. There was a crossbolt safety at the upper rear corner of the trigger guard. The magazine release was located on the right side of the action just above of the trigger guard. It was nestled inside a cutaway of the stock that was artfully contoured to accommodate its operation, which required sliding it to the rear. The aluminum magazine was a double-column design with a removable polymer basepad. Ten rounds were held inside its stubby 2.3-inch-tall body. In a category where the general standard of performance is high, small features show up big. Among our three rifles, living with the Remington’s magazine was the most pleasant and trouble free.

Takedown of the 597 began with separating the action from the stock by removing two takedown pins located fore and aft of the trigger guard area. The action had two major parts, the receiver assembly and the housing. Two more pins were removed, and the housing was able to pivot downward and out from beneath the bolt. The next step was to remove the two guide-rail bolts from the receiver. After cycling the bolt a few times, the guide rails began to protrude from the receiver. Once the guide rails were pulled free and the bolt handle removed, the bolt can be removed. We thought it was helpful that the trigger housing could be taken out as a unit. As far as performing a complete takedown, we don’t think it was worth the trouble unless the system was entirely stalled with debris. Even after a complete takedown, access to the chamber was not much more direct than if we had simply locked back the bolt and used the muzzle entry push/pull method described earlier. In any event our shooting sessions with the Remington was trouble free.

At the bench we discovered that our 597 liked lead bullets best. We could blame it on gusts of wind that were more prevalent during the test of our Remington rifle, but the high-velocity copper-plated ammunition landed groups that often measured in excess of 1.1 inches across. The Federal Auto Match ammunition delivered most of its hits inside of a 0.75-inch circle, including a best five-shot group measuring about 0.5 inches center to center. This exceptional accuracy was repeated with other lead-topped ammunition, including subsonic target rounds. The trigger was also very helpful. Of our three rifles, the Remington 597 was the one most comfortable being manipulated in a technique of press, hold, release until reset, and press again.

At the Varmint Village we fired standing unsupported. The balance and ergonomics of the 597 TVP made up for the lack of sling studs or other means of attaching a sling. Firing in this manner further underscored how smoothly the 597 cycled. In our view, perceived recoil generated by the bolt changing direction from open to closed was distinctly less when firing this rifle. Another impression we had from standing and shooting the Remington was that it was okay to cant the rifle. Whereas the CZ seemed more effective held straight up and down and shooters seemed to relish pulling the stock of the Savage straight back into the shoulder, the Remington stock was more open to interpretation. More than a thumb-through stock, we might refer to it as hand-through or palm-through design. In any case, we felt free to tilt the rifle however way our wrist desired. The buttpad was wide, felt bigger than it actually was, and seemed happy to settle anywhere we put it.

Our Team Said: We liked the big cheekpiece and the way we could play with the reset of the trigger, too. Handsome and well balanced, this rifle was a conversation starter. That it preferred lead bullets could mean more attention should be paid to keeping it clean. Whereas the other rifles may be adaptations of other more traditional designs, we enjoyed the Remington 597 because it made us feel that it was designed to be a rimfire rifle from the ground up.

CZ USA 512 No. 02160 22 LR

ACCURACY AND CHRONOGRAPH DATA

Savage Model 64 TR SR V No. 45200 22 LR

Remington 597 Stainless HB TVP No. 80852 22 LR

Gun Tests Report Card

GUN TESTS VALUE GUIDE: TOP-RANKED 22 LR SEMI-AUTO RIFLES