According to the 16th Edition of Cartridges of the World, development on the 223 Remington case started in the late 1950s and was adopted by the U.S. military in 1964. As of this writing, the cartridge’s use in M16/M4 variants make the pair the longest-serving rifle/ammunition combo in our nation’s history. One of the reasons for that longevity is that both the platform and the round lend themselves to further development, including different powders, barrel twists, barrel lengths, bullet weights, bullet shapes, bullet construction, sighting systems, and much more.
The 223 Remington (the military version is called the 5.56 NATO and is slightly different) may easily be the number-one-selling centerfire rifle round in the U.S. right now. While the 223 may be the most popular centerfire rifle round in the U.S. at this point, we have no intention of claiming it is the best — for anything. But many people forget how many roles there are in which it serves very well, such as a varmint and small-game hunting round, along with, believe it or not, long-range shooting.
We selected three rifles from three companies to see how well and how easily they fired the 223 Remington cartridge. The first was a Ruger Hawkeye Predator 17122, $1359. The second was a CZ Model 527 03019, $785. Last was a Tikka T3X Varmint JRTXH312, $999. We wanted to test bullet weights from across the spectrum. Since that kind of selection was impossible to find during the ammo drought, and because we have several decades of experience in loading good 223 rounds, we rolled our own. We relied heavily on the Lyman 50th Edition Reloading Manual and Hodgdon’s online reloading sources at Hodgdon.com. We used bullets from Barnes (36-grain Varmint Grenade 30171), Berger (55-grain Flat Base Varmint 22311 and the 80.5-grain Fullbore Target 22427), as well as from Sierra (69-grain Tipped Match King 7169). We tested various loads, using all Hodgdon powders: H322, H335, Varget, and CFE 223. We also made exclusive use of CCI BR4 Benchrest primers and Lapua brass.
Gun Tests Grade: B+
Once locked behind the Iron Curtain, CZ (Ceska Zbrojovka) is now set to become a major player on the world stage, especially after CZ’s recent acquisition of Colt Manufacturing, The CZ Mauser-type actions have been coveted by dangerous-game hunters for decades. Here, we got to check out one of the CZ rifles designed for hunting varmints and smaller predators.
|Overall Length||44.5 in.|
|Barrel Length/Twist||26.0 in., 1:9|
|Overall Height w/o Scope Mount||7.0 in.|
|Weight Unloaded||7.1 lbs.|
|Weight Loaded (55 grain, 5+1 rounds)||7.3 lbs.|
|Magazine Type||Detachable Box|
|Drop at Comb||0.5 in.|
|Drop at Heel||0.75 in.|
|Length of Pull||13.75 in.|
|Receiver Scope-Base Pattern||CZ|
|Trigger Pull Weight||0.8 lbs. using single set trigger|
|Safety||Two position rotating|
|Warranty||Limited 5 year|
|Made In||Czech Republic|
The stock was Turkish walnut with smooth lines and a figure to the grain. Both sides of the wrist and the fore end were checkered. Double lines were cut as a border on the checkering. That was a pretty fine pattern, clean and well executed. Included on the stock were dual sling-swivel studs and a recoil pad. The barrel was free floated in the stock, though the stock can be compressed so that it touches the barrel. Bottom fixtures were polymer with a lot of room in the trigger guard for gloves and to operate the single-set trigger — more on that in a minute. The trigger guard and magazine well attach to the receiver via two action screws threaded through pillars.
While both the Ruger and the Tikka employ receivers sized for standard short-action cartridges, using a spacer of some kind to fill in any gap, the CZ action is sized specifically for a 223. The action on our Model 527 American measured less than 7 inches from the front of the receiver to the rear of the tang. The Tikka, in contrast, measured almost 9 inches in length. The Tikka and the CZ look to be the same overall length, but the CZ has 2 more inches of barrel because of the shorter action. That extra length on the tube produced 5% to 10% more velocity and correspondingly higher energy for the CZ versus the Tikka, and in a package that weigh less. The round bolt knob was big enough to grab and small enough to stay out of the way of any optics we tried. The magazine inserted and dropped freely, though we had a bit of trouble feeding rounds from it. On inspection, we found longitudinal scratches on the brass we believe were left by the magazine feed lips. Time and further break in, or perhaps some 600-grit sandpaper, might well fix this problem. As Mauser-style actions tend to be, the bolt was controlled-round feed with the ejector being a blade that slides through the left locking lug. Everything operated smoothly, though this rifle liked to be operated enthusiastically for the empties to eject properly. The safety was a two-position piece that rotated front and rear from just behind the bolt handle.
Operated in a conventional manner, the trigger required 2.7 pounds of compression with a bit of creep and overtravel. However, if the shooter preferred, he could use the mechanism as a single-set trigger, requiring the operator to push forward on the trigger first. Once set, the trigger had very little creep, though still a good bit of overtravel — watch your follow through on this one. Required compression for the trigger when set averaged a mere 12.75 ounces. It took a little bit of work for us to get used to the trigger, but we really liked it.
The CZ 527 American came in second in our accuracy tests, averaging 1.08 inches for multiple five-shot groups for three kinds of ammunition. It showed a definite preference for the Sierra 69-grain Tipped Match King load, posting a 0.82-inch average for those groups. We graded it down half a mark for the rough magazine, but we honestly suspect that problem might sort itself out.
Our Team Said: The CZ is easy to handle and balances well in the hand. If we were choosing one of these rifles to walk around with all the time, the CZ 527 American might well be our choice.
223 Remington Range Data
|Barnes 36-grain Varmint Grenade||CZ Model 527||Ruger Hawkeye Predator||Tikka T3X Varmint|
|Average Velocity||3786 fps||3726 fps||3595 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||1146 ft.-lbs.||1110 ft.-lbs.||1033 ft.-lbs.|
|Best Group||0.70 in.||0.99 in.||0.96 in.|
|Average Group||1.19 in.||1.25 in.||1.47 in.|
|Berger 55-grain FBHP||CZ Model 527||Ruger Hawkeye Predator||Tikka T3X Varmint|
|Average Velocity||3289 fps||3278 fps||3235 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||1322 ft.-lbs.||1313 ft.-lbs.||1279 ft.-lbs.|
|Best Group||1.00 in.||0.93 in.||0.44 in.|
|Average Group||1.23 in.||1.17 in.||0.62 in.|
|Sierra 69-grain TMK||CZ Model 527||Ruger Hawkeye Predator||Tikka T3X Varmint|
|Average Velocity||2884 fps||2848 fps||2806 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||1275 ft.-lbs.||1243 ft.-lbs.||1206 ft.-lbs.|
|Best Group||0.72 in.||0.86 in.||0.44 in.|
|Average Group||0.82 in.||1.15 in.||0.64 in.|
All testing was done at American Shooting Centers (AmericanShootingCenters.com) in Houston. Multiple five-shot groups were fired from each load tested. Muzzle velocities were determined via LabRadar ($559, MyLabRadar.com). All shots were fired from a Caldwell TackDriver shooting bag (Brownells.com, $49) aided by a T.A.B. Gear rear bag (TabGear.com, $39). For optics, we chose the Vortex PST II 5-25x50 with their EBR-7C reticle. This is a first focal plane, MRAD scope that has done yeoman’s duty for us in the past (OpticsPlanet.com, $999).
Value Guide: Short-Action Bolt Rifle Scores
|CVA Cascade CR3907C 350 Legend, $658||Jul. 21||A||Our Pick. Outstanding trigger and tons of features on a value rifle. Tied with the Savage M110 Hog Hunter.|
|Masterpiece Arms MPA BA MPR PRO 6mm CM, $2499||Apr. 21||A||Our Pick. A heavy, yet graceful beast of a rifle. The MPA is one of the most popular rifles on the PRS tour.|
|Christensen Arms MPR 801-03035-01 6mm CM, $1799||Apr. 21||A-||Lightest sample included in this group, tested for a sport that prefers heavy rifles, and it still almost won.|
|Ruger Precision Rifle 18032 6mm Creedmoor, $1599||Apr. 21||B+||Good accuracy and dependability. We would have liked a crisper trigger and a wide, flat fore end.|
|Savage M110 Elite Precision 57558 6mm CM, $1999||Apr. 21||B+||Least accurate with the Federal ammo. Black Hills and Berger ammunition were much better.|
|Savage Arms 110 Hog Hunter 223 Rem., $599||Feb. 2021||A-||Oversized bolt, adjustable iron sights, adjustable LOP, a box magazine, and a threaded barrel.|
|Christensen Arms Ridgeline 801-06015-00 6.5 PRC, $1793||Jan. 2021||A||Our Pick. Accurate with factory ammunition — even better with reloads. Carryover winner from Nov. 2020.|
|Seekins Precision Havak Pro Hunter 2 0011710059-F 6.5 PRC, $1895||Jan. 2021||A||Outstanding accuracy. We loved the stock and the trigger.|
|W’by Mark V Backcountry 6.5 RPM, $2249||Jan. 2021||B+||Beautifully put together, but downrange accuracy wasn’t up to what we saw with other rifles.|
|Bergara Premier M’tn 2.0 BPR28-65PRC 6.5 PRC, $1999||Nov. 2020||A||A 100% carbon-fiber stock and trim 24-inch barrel make this a premier mountain rifle.|
|Browning X-Bolt Max LR 035438294 6.5 PRC, $1180||Nov. 2020||A||A little longer and a little heavier than our other test rifles. Beanfield rifle rather than a mountain rifle.|
|Savage M110 Hog Hunter 57534 350 Legend, $487||Jul. 20||A||Our Pick. Compact size with a short, stiff, accurate barrel and a great trigger. Straight-wall chambering.|
|Ruger American Ranch Rifle 26985 350 Legend, $442||Jul. 20||F/B+||First sample failed when the bolt disassembled itself. The replacement rifle wasn’t all that accurate.|
|Winchester XPR Hunter 535741296 350 Legend, $635||Jul. 20||A-||A full-length rifle that looked great and handled well; dropped off half a grade for its just-average accuracy.|
|Winchester M70 F’wt SS 535234220 308 Win., $951||Apr. 20||A||Our Pick. Smooth handling, very good accuracy and classical styling.|
|Tikka T3x Lite Stainless JRTXB316 308 Win., $748||Apr. 20||A-||Best Buy. Functional polymer stock, the smoothest bolt in the group, and the best out-of-the-box trigger.|
|Remington Model 7 CDL 26423 308 Win., $798||Apr. 20||A||A nice piece of wood, a good trigger and a compact 20-inch barrel on a rifle that could really shoot.|
|Ruger Hawkeye Compact 37139 308 Win., $691||Apr. 20||B+||This rifle has a short length of pull and a 16.5-inch barrel. Could be a great truck gun.|
|Browning X-Bolt Micro Midas 22-250 Rem., $879||Dec. 2019||A||Our Pick. This is trim rifle from Browning is made for the small-statured or still-developing hunter.|
|Howa Model 1500 Youth 22-250 Rem., $529||Dec. 2019||A||Best Buy. With youth- and adult-length stocks available, this is a great rifle.|