Now is a great time to break out your .22 LR rifle and get in some practice for big game season, still a few months off in most places. What’s that, you say? You don’t have a good .22? Well, maybe we can help you choose one. In the past few days we checked out three magnificent .22 bolt-action rifles, and we’re here to tell you what’s good and what’s not so good about them.
This go-around we grabbed one of the more costly .22 rimfire bolt rifles made today, the Cooper Custom Classic ($1,895). We also secured the less expensive but still somewhat pricey Anschutz Model 1710 D KL ($1,295), and followed that up with the lovely and inexpensive CZ ZOM 451($250). Because the first two are commonly mentioned as being marvelously accurate rifles, we thought it would be a good idea to find out just how accurate they were. Therefore, we tried the trio with two types of some of the finest match ammunition available. We also threw in some high-speed ammo. We mounted the best scopes we could fit, and shot the rifles from a solid machine rest, trying for one-hole groups. If a fine rifle can shoot match-grade .22 ammunition well, it will do okay with normal ammunition, though the groups will generally be larger. In other words, if you’re spending nearly two grand for a .22 LR, we think you’ll want to know just how small of a hole it’s capable of, and that was our primary interest here. We could bore you with tales of near-inch groups with Stingers or Remington high-speed, but if you’re like us, you’ll want to know the real skinny on what these costly bangers can do with some of the best ammo, and how well a far-less-costly rifle would do against them.
The three rifles were all bolt actions, and all had fancy quarter-sawn walnut stocks. The overall weights were significantly different, yet all had fine balance. All three were attractive rifles with varying degrees of premium extras. During our tests, we got some pleasant surprises. Come along and see what we found.
Out of the box this rifle had a rich look of high quality. The wood was magnificent, and well finished in what appeared to be matte oil, so you could see all the grain. And what grain it was! It had tiger stripes with black figure evenly distributed on both sides of the butt. The rich figure continued, though slightly muted, into the forend. The walnut had a red color to it that made it look sublimely rich, much like what we’d expect to see in an English gun room a century ago.
The stock design was distinctly European, with a Schnabel forend and no contrasting tip. Anschutz offers several different stock configurations and sight setups, so you have lots of choices. The Monte Carlo comb was a rollover design that many shooters don’t like. We weren’t impressed with that particular touch, but it was comfortable. The pistol grip was capped with contrasting wood that might have been rosewood. The inset into the bottom of the grip was a round-cornered white diamond. The checkering was skip-line, which some of us could well have skipped. Coverage was adequate, and the work was well done. There were sling swivels and a hard-rubber butt plate with horizontal serrations. The butt plate was set off, as was the pistol-grip cap, with a white-line spacer.
The cheekpiece was high enough that some of us had slight difficulty getting our faces low enough on the stock to use the iron sights. Others said it felt like their head became part of the rifle when using the iron sights. Many who buy fine .22 rifles do so to get iron-sighted practice for a serious heavy (powerful) rifle equipped with iron sights, and we think it’s a good thing to check the fit to your face before you buy a rifle.
The iron sights were a U-notch rear with white center-marker. The rear sight was mounted well forward on the barrel (ideal for older eyes) in a dovetail notch cut into the barrel. It was adjustable for elevation via two tiny screws and two slots. The front was a ball on a post, mounted on a beautiful serrated ramp that also had a dust cover. The usual query with such a sight picture is: Exactly where are you supposed to put the ball within the U-notch? Do you sink it to the bottom of the U? Line the center of the ball up with the top of the rear blade? We put the top of the ball level with the top of the blade and put the target on top of that, and from our rest (before we scoped the rifle) we were able to get three or four shots out of each group touching, at 50 yards. So the iron sights can be made to work if you’re consistent. We’d have preferred a flat-topped front post. Some of us think iron sights are a lot more fun than a scope, at least for casual shooting. However, with the immense accuracy potential of this rifle, a scope would seem to be more in order, and the stock shape was ideal for that.
The metal finish was superb throughout. Fit, finish, inletting, and most of the overall finish of the Anschutz was excellent. If anyone were exceptionally picky, he would see slight evidence of unfilled wood pores when the light hits the stock just right. Most shooters would never notice it. The five-round magazine went in and came out easily via a button just behind the mag well.
The bolt had two extractors and a recess for the cartridge. Bolt movement was like oiled glass. The bolt turned through about 45 degrees, and felt entirely natural. One unnatural item was the safety, which was a wing similar to Mauser 98s, but on the left side of the bolt. Pressed downward was Safe, and it locked the bolt closed. Lifting it was unnatural for some of us. The wing was large enough, but took some getting used to. A slot milled into the left side of the bolt accepted the keeper and guide. Pressing a lever on the left side of the action permitted bolt removal.
The 23.5-inch barrel was fairly large in diameter and was free-floated back to the receiver. The Anschutz 1710 felt more like a centerfire rifle than a rimfire because of its weight of 7.0 pounds, unscoped. That was all to the good, we thought. This rifle had enough weight for steadiness offhand, but not (quite) too much for carrying. It could have been lighter, but we liked it as it was. It would be a fine understudy to, say, a .416 Rigby in a similar-styled rifle.[PDFCAP(2)]
The single-stage trigger pull was a dream (options include a 2-stage trigger), breaking cleanly at 2.6 pounds. We mounted our 36X Leupold and took it to the range. Our test day’s conditions were generally calm, definitely calmer than when we shot the Cooper (below). Our range is protected from winds that might affect bullet flight, except for .22s. We mention these details because of what we’re about to tell you. With this Anschutz we fired the smallest five-shot group of our experience. We measured it at just over 0.2 inch, essentially a one-hole, five-shot group. This was with Lapua Match Gold ammunition. Now, with a 36X scope you can easily see the group at 50 yards, so imagine our feelings when we tried to make the rifle fire that fifth shot.
There were no real problems with the Anschutz. We found the bolt needs to be moved smartly rearward to guarantee ejection of the fired case fully out of the rifle. If you drag it slowly, the ejected case can stay in the opening. The same thing happened with the Cooper rifle. Closing the bolt usually swept the empty out of the way. But brisk bolt operation flung the empties a long way out of the gun, so any problems were with the operator.
What a price! But… Ye Gods! Look at that thing! Opening the box on the Cooper was a sheer delight, and it takes quite a rifle to impress our somewhat jaded crew. Even at the end of our test sessions, everyone who picked up the rifle still had to say, “Man, what a lovely rifle!”
The metal, wood, and all the components that bound them together as a completed rifle were nearly perfectly done. A slight fly in the ointment was the stock finish, which had significantly open pores. One of our test crew is a master stock finisher, and wondered why the Cooper people had not completed the filling job on the stock of so costly a rifle. However, others of the test crew didn’t seem to notice the open pores, or didn’t comment on them. The factory says it’s an oil finish, so it would be easy to complete the pore-filling at one’s leisure, and gain stock richness along the way.
The wood was really nice. The checkering was really nice. The ebony forend tip was really nice. The fit of the Niedner steel butt plate was really…. You get the picture. This was a looker. It reeked of quality. The one thing missing from this particular model, we thought, was iron sights. If you want them, just ask. Cooper will provide nearly anything you want.
The bolt had two extractors, and the overall design was similar to that of the Anschutz. The bolt turned through about 80 degrees. Bolt removal was identical to that of the Anschutz, requiring only pressing a button on the left rear of the action. The five-shot magazine was also similar, including its release. Here we had a minor complaint. The serrations on the magazine release button were not sharp enough, and we had occasional trouble getting the mag out of the rifle. The safety of the Cooper was a rocking lever located at the right rear of the action. It was well serrated for ease of use. Forward was fire, which revealed a red dot.
All the metal was well polished, with no dishing nor rounded corners. This fine work extended to the sides of the trigger, the inside of the graceful trigger guard, and to the bolt knob. The two-screw sling-swivel studs also were carefully polished and perfectly inletted. The rear tang resembled that of a Model 70, but was flattened. All the inletting was perfectly done, better even than on the Anschutz. Although the main action screw slots didn’t line up, the sling stud screws and butt plate screws did. The cheekpiece had a shadow line, and the wood had obviously grown into the steel pistol-grip cap.
The balance was superb, belying the rifle’s weight of 6.7 pounds. It was slightly muzzle heavy, which we liked. The straight-tapered barrel was no lightweight. It measured 0.58 inch at the muzzle, compared to the thicker swamped barrel of the Anschutz, which was 0.67 inch at the muzzle. The Cooper barrel was also shorter, at 22 inches. Some of us didn’t completely like the feel of the deep forend, and preferred the slimmer one of the Anschutz. The Cooper’s hand checkering was extremely well done. It wrapped completely around the forend, and the grip panels touched on top.
Intricate high-quality checkering like this that is extremely well done is sometimes glossed over or missed entirely, but one of the people who saw this rifle was a stock maker, and he said he’d spend a long time getting checkering that good. Each diamond was perfectly pointed up, especially in the corners. There were no overruns or mistakes. The lines were straight, and the pattern was tasteful. Hand work at this level has always been expensive. The AAA Claro walnut also would have been an expensive blank. Individual inletting, which the Cooper had, is yet more expense, and when you add it all up, you’ve got a rifle costing nearly two grand, and we think every bit of that was justifiable. Presuming, of course, that it shot well in the test.
Why does the Cooper cost so much? We must say, if you have to ask, you’ll never know. If you know best-quality rifles (and a great many shooters have never seen a really top-notch rifle, and can’t appreciate it when confronted with fabulous quality), when you see the Cooper you’ll recognize what you’re seeing. Quality absolutely dripped from this rifle. But for those who have more questions, we’ll let the factory tell it in its own words. Some of our own questions were: How is the action made? What kind of barrel does it have? What special steps are taken with the stock, inletting, checkering, and so on?
The factory says, “Our actions and stock hardware are machined from solid bar-stock steel. All our barrels are premium match grade and [are] air-gauge inspected. Our stocks are hand crafted every step of the way. They are cut, shaped, sanded, filled, checkered, and oil finished all by hand. When our stocks [are attached to] the finished barreled actions in assembly, they are hand [fitted] to the individual rifle. This assures our famous custom wood-to-metal fit. The actions are glass bedded behind the recoil lug and one inch forward of the breech. The barrels are free-floated…. Each rifle is shot for accuracy…. Test targets are provided with each rifle. [Our] 22 LR’s are guaranteed to shoot 0.25 in. five-shot groups at 50 yards using premium-grade ammunition.”
The company-guaranteed accuracy was something we could test, so we mounted our Leupold 36X in Cooper-provided twist-on bases and rings, and we were off to the range. Right off the bat we’ll tell you feed and function were flawless. The trigger was, like that of the Anschutz, a dream, and it was fully adjustable, as was the Anschutz trigger. During the test session we had some gusty wind that could have caused some fliers. We mention that because this rifle shot extremely well, but we got only one group that was as small as the factory-claimed 0.25 inch, with Lapua Match Gold ammo. However, many, many groups were 0.3 to 0.4 inch, and we had several 0.2-inch clusters of four shots with one flier, so in light of our prevailing weather we felt the Cooper accuracy claim was justified.
Almost an afterthought after the two high-priced doozies above, the CZ rang in with a whole lot going for it. First thing to grab the eye was the attractive quarter-sawn walnut, with tiger striping and black streaks all along its length. Nearly gaudy in its look, the CZ’s wood got everyone’s attention. The shape was…well, different — but not so different as to cause anyone to reject it. One of the odd stock features was the placement of the front sling swivel at the extreme tip of the forend. This got it completely out of the way, and some of us really didn’t like the Cooper’s front stud bumping the forend-grasping hand. The semi-gloss stock finish was well done, and the pores were almost completely filled. The flat-top checkering was evenly cut, and worked, too. This type of checkering, formerly popular in England, shows the wood grain better than pointed or sharp-top checkering. It covered an adequate area on the pistol grip and forend. There was no cheekpiece. The black matte-finished plastic butt plate was checkered for traction.
The bolt was distinctly different from the previously tested rifles. It was a straight-pull, which means that as soon as you’ve fired a shot, all you need to do is yank backwards on the handle and shove it forward again, and you’re ready to go with a fresh round chambered. Though it worked perfectly, this bolt took some getting used to, and some of us never mastered it. We wanted to turn it, and that didn’t work at all.
The safety was integrated with the bolt. It took the form of a wing that, when pressed inward against the rifle, locked the bolt and rendered the rifle safe. A simple flick of the right-hand thumb released the wing to spring outward, showing a red dot. This same lever acted as a bolt release. Pulling outward on it while pulling back on the open bolt got the bolt out.
When we examined the mechanism on the open bolt, it seemed to be attached to the side of the bolt securely, but it looked haphazard. The mechanism was made of cleverly bent sheet metal. The bolt knob was turned of steel and had a hollow base. The safety button was plastic. Odd or not, the bolt worked. It had only one extractor. Ejection was from a fixed blade within the action, and like the other two rifles, depended on how hard you worked the bolt. In our tests, it worked flawlessly.
The seven-round mag had a shape that was eye-catching, to say the least. We liked it. The shape directed your finger to exactly the right position to release the mag from its well. A simple press upward and a slight tug forward got the magazine into your hand. Reinstalling it was easy and positive. This magazine was easier to load than either of the other two rifles’ mags, because it had two follower buttons that you could drag down to relieve spring pressure as you dropped rounds into the top. The other mags required you fight the spring.
The slim barrel was fitted with a permanently attached and fully adjustable rear sight, which had a U-shaped notch. The front, bless Moses, was a post, made integrally with its ramp, which was sweated to the barrel. The ramp had no matting to cut glare, but it didn’t seem to bother us. We tried the iron sights and liked them very much. As with the Anschutz’s iron sights, we were able to get a few rounds from our iron-sighted groups nearly touching at 50 yards. (This report includes only the scoped results.) Our best iron-sighted group had four in 0.6 inch. The fifth flyer made it 1.7 inch. Clearly, this rifle called for a scope.
Matte bluing followed decent metal polish. All the metal except the magazine had a matte finish. The trigger guard was a bent strip of steel that flowed into the magazine receptacle. Its edges were the only rough metal we found on the rifle. The receiver was grooved for half-inch tip-off mounts.
The CZ was greatly handicapped with a foul trigger. It was long, creepy, and came up against what felt like a solid stop. The force required to get it to that stop was about 4.5 pounds. Then it took about 2 more pounds to get the striker to fall. The trigger was supposed to be adjustable, and there were two screws visible behind the trigger. Turning them didn’t seem to make much difference.
The CZ’s slim barrel was almost rusty inside because a staffer had shot it and put it up dirty. We shoved our requisite dry patch through, and it came out blackened. We put oil onto a patch and it came out black too. The bore looked shiny, so we gave the bore a diligent cleaning with Hoppe’s No. 9.
The CZ’s willow-wand of a barrel was the thinnest of the lot. We were unable to mount our 36X Leupold scope in the available mounts because of the permanently mounted rear sight, so we substituted a Burris 2-8X Signature. With it, the CZ felt sporty, but this was still too much scope for the rifle, we felt. It’s a heavy scope that had too much power for most rimfire needs. We believe a 2X to 4X fixed lightweight scope would be ideal for the CZ and the package would be a delight to handle and shoot.
We got excellent accuracy from the CZ. Our best group was with Federal Gold Match fodder. It measured 0.5 inch for five shots. On average, the groups we got from the CZ were about twice as large as those from the other two rifles. This doesn’t mean the CZ wouldn’t shoot. Not one scope-fired group was larger than 0.9 inch, so you can get some idea of the outstanding accuracy offered by the two higher-priced rifles. As we’ve said before, the scope’s power makes about zero difference in test results from our machine-rest setup.
Gun Tests Recommends
Anschutz 1710 D KL, $1,295. Our Pick. We really liked the Anschutz. It delivered everything: accuracy, looks, fit and finish, pride of ownership, and more. The trigger was a dream, the iron sights useful, the balance superb, and it all worked well. Some might question the cheekpiece or stock design, but what the heck, it’s a Bavarian rifle and has the right to look that way. We felt the Anschutz was easier to hold steady from offhand than the Cooper. If you can’t hit your target with this rifle, you’ll know the rifle was not at fault. We think the buyer of this rifle will be happy with it for a long time.
Cooper Custom Classic, $1,895. Buy It. We thought the Cooper was an excellent rifle, extremely well made (entirely in the U.S.), and we thought its cost was justified by the immense amounts of hand work done on it. Of course it would not be for everyone, but if you’re in the market for one of the world’s finest rifles, this may be it. The Anschutz had accuracy as good as the Cooper, metal polishing just as good, nearly as nice wood, not-as-nice checkering or inletting, one or two fewer fancy touches, and it costs less. The Anschutz 1710 was slightly heavier, and we’d be slightly happier carrying the Cooper all day. The Cooper’s wood was just superb, and that makes a big difference to a lot of shooters. The overall workmanship was outstanding, the balance was excellent, and the accuracy was all anyone would ever want. We think the Cooper will hold its value well, and all the time you owned it we feel you’d be justifiably proud. Our personal preferences would be for iron sights, barrel-mounted front sling stud, slightly better stock filling, a less-deep forend, and enough time to fully enjoy it, as it demands to be enjoyed. Man, what a lovely rifle!
CZ ZOM 451, $250. Best Buy. Any shooter would rather carry the CZ all day than the Anschutz or Cooper, but most would rather own the Anschutz or Cooper — if they didn’t have to pay for them. Given the cost of the CZ we believe a whole lot of shooters who want a fancy .22 with outstanding wood are going to buy the CZ 451 over either of the other rifles. While we have reservations about the bolt system, one of our test crew will continue shooting this rifle and if we have any problems, we’ll let you know. We liked the rifle, its look, its balance, and even the slick operation of the bolt once we got used to it. We particularly liked the iron sight picture, and the ease of adjusting the sights. We did not like the trigger at all, and felt it needed looking into. Some of us thought the CZ was too light, but only personal experience in the field can tell you, the buyer, if that makes a difference to you.