Bolt-Action Hunting Rifles for Compact and Youth Shooters

Tested: A Browning A-Bolt Micro Hunter in 7mm-08 Remington, a 7.62x39mm CZ 527 Carbine from CZ-USA, and a garish, but good, Savage Muddy Girl Camo in 243 Winchester.


CZ 527 Carbine in 7.62x39mm

Not every shooter averages 6 feet in height. Some people are physically closer to tank drivers than football defensive ends. With children and the increasing number of women participating in the shooting sports and in the hunting fields, there is growing need for rifles for more compact shooters. Therefore, we tested three compact centerfire hunting rifles in three short-action chamberings: the Browning A-Bolt Micro Hunter in 7mm-08 Remington, the CZ 527 Carbine in 7.62x39mm, and the Savage Axis II Compact in 243 Winchester.

Browning A-Bolt Micro Hunter in 7mm-08 Remington

As usual, we shot each rifle with three different kinds of ammunition. After sight in and chronograph testing with the Magnetospeed V3 chronograph, we shot five 5-round groups with each kind of ammunition from the bench using a Caldwell FireControl rest. Our shooting panel was a little differently configured than usual. Along with some of the usual testers, we had a youth group ranging from 8 to 17 years of age participating. You can imagine our fun with this enthusiastic group of testers! We also included some experienced women shooters. These two groups provided useful and sometimes surprising input.

Range Data

PPU 7mm-08 Rem. 140-gr. Pointed Soft Point Boattail
Average velocity 2750 fps
Muzzle energy 2350 ft.-lbs.
Power factor 385
Smallest group 2.1 in.
Largest group 2.7 in.
Average group 2.4 in.
Hornady Interlock 7mm-08 Rem. 139-gr.
Average velocity 2727 fps
Muzzle energy 2295 ft.-lbs.
Power factor 379
Smallest group 1.6 in.
Largest group 3.3 in.
Average group 2.4 in.
Federal Fusion 7mm-08 Rem. 136-gr.
Average velocity 2745 fps
Muzzle energy 2325 ft.-lbs.
Power factor 382
Smallest group 1.3 in.
Largest group 3.4 in.
Average group 2.1 in.
Prvi Partizan 7.62×39 123-gr. Pointed Soft Point Boattail
Average velocity 2367 fps
Muzzle energy 1530 ft.-lbs.
Power factor 291
Smallest group 2 in.
Largest group 3.1 in.
Average group 2.8 in.
Hornady Interlock 7.62×39 123-gr. Z-Max Tipped Hollowpoint
Average velocity 2363 fps
Muzzle energy 1525 ft.-lbs.
Power factor 291
Smallest group 1.6 in.
Largest group 3 in.
Average group 2.6 in.
Wolf 7.62×39 124-gr. Hollowpoint
Average velocity 2441 fps
Muzzle energy 1640 ft.-lbs.
Power factor 303
Smallest group 1.4 in.
Largest group 3.4 in.
Average group 2.4 in.
Prvi Partizan 243 Winchester 90-gr. Soft Point
Average velocity 2966 fps
Muzzle energy 1757 ft.-lbs.
Power factor 267
Smallest group 1.5 in.
Largest group 3.5 in.
Average group 2.5 in.
Prvi Partizan 243 Winchester 100-gr. Soft Point
Average velocity 2855 fps
Muzzle energy 1809 ft.-lbs.
Power factor 286
Smallest group 0.9 in.
Largest group 2.5 in.
Average group 1.5 in.
Hornady 243 Winchester 95-gr. Hollowpoint
Average velocity 2872 fps
Muzzle energy 1739 ft.-lbs.
Power factor 273
Smallest group 1.6 in.
Largest group 2.4 in.
Average group 2 in.
To collect accuracy data, we fired five 5-shot groups from a Caldwell FireControl rest. Distance: 100 yards. We recorded velocities using a MagnetoSpeed V3 Ballistic Chronograph.

Savage Axis II Compact in 243 Winchester

As two very different types of shooters tested this rifle, we will provide two sets of recommendations to reflect the different needs and experience of each type of shooter. Let’s see if one of these rifles belongs in your gun safe.

Browning A-Bolt Micro Hunter 035020216 7mm-08 Rem., $578


Probably too much rifle and recoil for the youngest shooters; otherwise, it’s a great choice for an experienced shooter who’s small of frame or any shooter wanting a light, compact rifle.

Browning A-Bolt Micro Hunter 035020216 7mm-08 Rem

ACTION Bolt, 3 lug; matte blued steel;
60-degree bolt lift
OVERALL HEIGHT (w/o scope) 7.5 in.
MAX WIDTH 1.9 in.
BARREL 20 in. long; 1:9.5 twist; matte blued carbon steel; recessed target crown; sporter contour
BUTTSTOCK One-piece satin-finish black walnut with semi-pistol grip; rubber buttpad
FOREND Rounded black walnut
TRIGGER STYLE Single stage
SAFETY Tang-mounted, 2 position, fire forward; ambidextrous
MAGAZINE TYPE Hinged floorplate w/ detachable box
MAGAZINE RELEASE Front of trigger guard; ambidextrous
BOLT RELEASE Mauser lever
SIGHTS None supplied
TELEPHONE (800) 333-3288

This was a recent price from As the predecessor to today’s X-bolt line, the Browning A-bolt first came out in 1984. The 7mm-08 Remington Micro Hunter we tested is a shortened and lightened version of the rifle, having a 20-inch barrel with recessed target crown. Our rifle weighed in at 6.33 pounds, had a very straight stock with little drop, and a length of pull of 13.3 inches and a total length of 39.4 inches. These dimensions placed the Browning in the middle of our test rifle lengths.

Browning A-Bolt Micro Hunter 035020216 7mm-08 Rem

Brownings have usually been considered a premium factory rifle and typically display above-average fit and finish. Our test rifle was no exception. Despite our test rifle having extensive real-world field experience, the quality of the rifle showed through, displaying good stock fit with straight, densely grained black walnut and a nice satin finish that has held up well to the rigors of hunting. The metal work has a nice, even matte-blued finish. The action has a distinctively sloped shape that helps it stand out from other rifles in the gun rack. The three-lug bolt is also unusual and works with a short 60-degree lift that is fast and helps with scope clearance. Every tester complimented the sleek and comfortable bolt handle and its flattened circular end for ease of use. Some testers stated that it was their favorite bolt handle on any rifle regardless of cost.

Browning A-Bolt Micro Hunter 035020216 7mm-08 Rem

All controls were easy to operate. The safety is located on the tang and moved forward to fire. This shotgun-style safety is naturally ambidextrous and quick to snick off in the field.

The bolt release is a basic Mauser-style lever. Even the younger children found the bolt release and safety easy to work with their smaller, weaker hands. Inside the floorplate rests a removable box magazine holding three rounds of 7mm-08 Remington. This is useful in the field as best safety practices encourage the unloading of rifles when entering vehicles and going over fences or through streams. The trigger was the lightest in the test averaging 3.5 pounds over five pulls. It was smooth and consistent, with very little take-up, but showed some over-travel. As some of the testers were young and had weaker hands, the light trigger was a benefit to them.

Browning A-Bolt Micro Hunter 035020216 7mm-08 Rem

The testers generally enjoyed shooting the Browning. The 7mm-08 Remington is a very well regarded hunting cartridge. This particular rifle is the property of a young lady who, while still in high school, cleanly put several Colorado cow elk into the freezer, so it does not lack for power. Some of the testers thought it was a little heavy to carry and hold. Recoil was noticeable, though the weight, along with a very good rubber butt pad, made the rifle reasonably comfortable to shoot. We noticed that many of the younger shooters found the recoil tiresome by the end of the evaluation session, so the recoil is something to keep in mind. For new shooters, we recommend that you keep the shooting sessions short. While a little too heavy for the smallest shooters, more experienced shooters found the Browning performed well in our snap-shooting drills, which consisted of shooting five times at a paper dinner plate at 50 yards off hand starting from the hip. The Browning consistently placed five out of five well-centered hits with this drill.

Though not a competition benchrest rifle, the Browning’s accuracy is certainly adequate for its intended purpose. This example has the virtue of consistency, averaging 2- to 2.5-inch groups with all three types of ammunition. That consistency could come in handy if the user had to pick a different brand off the shelf on her way to a hunting trip. The Prvi Partizan boat-tailed soft point and Hornady Interlock both averaged 2.4-inch five-shot groups at 100 yards. The best ammunition in our test was the Federal Fusion, with the smallest individual group of 1.3 inches and an overall average of 2.1 inches. This testing took place during the height of a South Texas summer, which exposed the one weakness in the rifle. Despite the fact we never shot the rifle hotter than we could comfortably grab the barrel, this example exhibited some slight vertical stringing tendencies during the heat of the day and the end of the longer strings. Most shooters would probably never see this issue arise, but that is one of the reasons we test so vigorously. Because a shooter would likely never see this in the hunting fields, we did not consider this to be a significant issue. The rifle was flawlessly reliable, exhibiting no functional issues of any kind.

Our Team Said: While the rifle and recoil as tested were too heavy for the smallest shooters, the Browning is a great rifle for an experienced compact shooter or any shooter wanting a lighter, more compact rifle.

CZ-USA CZ 527 Youth Carbine 03050 7.62x39mm, $650


All said and done, the CZ 527 Youth Carbine was a tool we would trust to work over a lifetime of hard use.

CZ-USA CZ 527 Youth Carbine 03050 7.62x39mm

ACTION Bolt, 2 lug; blued steel
OVERALL HEIGHT (w/o scope) 7.5 in.
MAX WIDTH 1.9 in.
BARREL 18.5 in. long; 1:9.5 twist;
blued carbon steel;
recessed target crown
BUTTSTOCK Turkish walnut, carbine style, rubber buttpad
FOREND Turkish walnut
TRIGGER STYLE Single stage
SAFETY Action-mounted 2 position, safe forward
MAGAZINE TYPE Detachable box
BOLT RELEASE Mauser lever
FRONT SIGHT Ramped interchangeable blade
REAR SIGHT Windage adjustable U-notch
RECEIVER SCOPE PROVISIONS Integral base and rings
WARRANTY 5-year limited
TELEPHONE (800) 955-4486
MADE IN Czech Republic

This was a recent price listed at Ceska Zbrojovka, more commonly known as CZ in the states, was first established in 1936 and has been responsible for the design and manufacture of many excellent firearms, including the famous CZ-75 9mm pistol. Here we test the company’s bolt-action compact hunting rifle, the Model 527 Youth Carbine. The CZ 527 Youth Carbine uses a smaller and lighter version of the famous Mauser-controlled-feed bolt action. This renowned action has seen military and hunting service for more than 100 years and has a well-deserved reputation for safety and reliability. The action is dovetailed with an integral base for the CZ-supplied rings. The handle for the two-lug bolt was bent down to improve scope clearance. While the rifle is also available in 5.56 NATO and 6.5 Grendel, our sample was chambered for the 7.62x39mm (aka 7.62 Soviet) round. The action and light-profile 18.5-inch barrel were evenly blued steel and had a recessed target crown. Unique in our test was the sturdy steel front post and rear U-notch open sights with a 13.5-inch sighting radius mounted to this rifle. The experienced testers liked that the rifle had these iron sights in reserve. Interestingly, some of the younger shooters liked the iron sights more than the scope, probably due to head position on the stock.

CZ-USA CZ 527 Youth Carbine 03050 7.62x39mm

The rifle features an in-line detachable metal magazine holding five rounds that is released via a small tab on the right side of the rifle. As mentioned above, the removable magazine is a plus. The safety was also on the right side of the action and had two positions, forward for Safe and rearward for Fire. The bolt release was in classic Mauser style on the left side of the action. The rifle wore a one-piece Turkish walnut stock with a semi pistol grip and a quarter-inch-thick rubber buttpad. The CZ 527 Youth Carbine was the lightest rifle in the test at just under 6 pounds and the shortest at 37.25 inches in length. The stock showed moderately grained wood that was straight through the wrist. Our test sample was another loaner rifle that had experienced honest wear but has held up well and still looked good.

CZ-USA CZ 527 Youth Carbine 03050 7.62x39mm

Most testers found the controls easy to use. The one exception was the left-handed shooter in the group who found that the safety and the magazine release were not easily accessible. The more experienced shooters did not care for the safety having to be moved to the rear to fire as it was awkward and counter to most of their experience. The trigger had some grit on take up but very little overtravel. The trigger felt lighter than its average pull weight of 5.5 pounds. The bolt travel on this rifle was particularly smooth and had a 90-degree lift. As a true Mauser action, the bolt is easily assembled and dissembled without tools.

The CZ seemed to be the happy middle ground for our testers. Not too heavy in either weight or recoil, most of our testers (youth and adult) found the CZ to be their favorite from field shooting positions, as long as time in position and the round count was kept reasonably low. While the 7.62x39mm Soviet will not win many long-distance competitions, its power is roughly equivalent to a 30-30 Winchester and is perfectly adequate against medium game (deer, hogs, coyotes) at commonly encountered hunting distances (under 200 yards). The 7.62x39mm also has the virtue of being one of the cheapest centerfire cartridges to shoot, with surplus ammo being plentiful. This can be a critical factor as increased shooting experience tends to promote increased shooting skill.

CZ-USA CZ 527 Youth Carbine 03050 7.62x39mm

While the CZ 527 was the least accurate of the three rifles with the ammunition tested, the accuracy was still effective for its intended purpose. The CZ 527 secured five well-centered hits out of five times with the snap-shooting drill, though the groups were slightly larger than the Browning. The most accurate ammunition was also happily the least expensive tested: the Wolf 124-grain jacketed hollow point. The Wolf averaged a 2.4-inch group, with the largest being a 3.4-inch outlier and the smallest 1.4 inches. The 123-grain Federal Fusion followed closely at an average of 2.6 inches with the largest of 3.0 inches and the smallest being 1.6 inches. We would probably choose this excellent controlled-expansion round for hunting. The PPU 123-grain soft point trailed with a 2.8-inch average with the smallest group being 2.0 inches and the largest group at 3.1 inches. One thing we noted in our shooting log was the first round often shot a little low. We did experience a couple of issues with this rifle. The younger shooters found the fourth round was consistently balky to load into the magazine. It didn’t affect reliability but was a little frustrating for some of the younger shooters. The more significant issue occurred while testing the Federal Fusion. We experienced two misfires while shooting for groups. This was where the Mauser design shone. We were able to disassemble the bolt at the bench without tools, clean out the grunge, reassemble the bolt, and start shooting again in just a few minutes. (While we can’t know for certain, we suspect that a lot of surplus ammo has cycled through this rifle and may have contributed to this malfunction.) We experienced no other malfunctions once we cleaned up the bolt interior.

Our Team Said: Though a little more accuracy would be appreciated, the CZ 527 Youth Carbine proved to be a pleasant, reliable, and effective tool for its purpose and was well liked by most testers. The CZ 527 was the favorite of the adult shooters looking for a light and compact rifle that was affordable.

Savage AXIS II XP Compact 243 Winchester


The lightest-recoiling and most-accurate rifle. Clear winner as a youth rifle — in particular for young ladies. For adults, this rifle might actually be too light. We couldn’t locate the source of the occasional flyer.

Savage Axis II Compact Muddy Girl 22230 243 Winchester

ACTION Bolt, 2 lug; matte-black steel
OVERALL HEIGHT (w/o scope) 6.6 in.
MAX WIDTH 1.9 in.
BARREL 20 in. long; 1:9.25 twist;
matte-black carbon steel;
button rifled; rounded crown
BUTTSTOCK One-piece composite
w/semi-pistol grip; Pink Muddy Girl camo;
rubber buttpad
FOREND Rounded composite; textured, grooved
TRIGGER STYLE Single stage
TRIGGER WEIGHT 4.3 lbs., adjustable AccuTrigger
SAFETY Tang-mounted 2 position, Fire forward; ambidextrous
MAGAZINE TYPE Detachable box
MAGAZINE RELEASE Front of magazine; ambidextrous
BOLT RELEASE Trigger and tab
SIGHTS Boresighted Weaver 3-9x scope and rings
WARRANTY 1-year limited
TELEPHONE (800) 370-0708

Founded in 1894 by Jamaica-born Arthur Savage, Savage firearms have built a variety of civilian and military firearms over its history. The rifle we tested from Savage was the Axis II XP Compact in 243 Winchester. This particular model wore a synthetic one-piece stock with a textured and grooved fore-end and a very thick rubber buttpad. Our sample was in the pink Muddy Girl camouflage pattern. Girls were our largest test group. They all loved the stock. (The 8-year-old boy did not. Go figure.) One knock on the hollow stock is that the stock is noisy when struck. This could be an issue in the hunting fields. The action was drilled and tapped and came with a serviceable Weaver 3-9x scope. The fact that a scope came with the rifle as a combo provides a clear economic advantage for the Savage.

Savage Axis II Compact Muddy Girl 22230 243 Winchester

The Savage had the greatest drop at the comb at 1.7 inches. This made it a little difficult for some of the smaller shooters to get good sight alignment with the scope. For youth shooters, this could be easily and cheaply fixed with some tape until the shooter grows up. However, this could be a more significant comfort factor for mature shooters. The Axis II possesses a user-adjustable AccuTrigger, which was universally liked by all the testers as it came out of the box. The AccuTrigger is easily recognized by the internal lever set in the middle of the trigger shoe. This lever must be depressed before the trigger can be pulled. This additional part allows for a light and consistent trigger pull (4.3-pound average) with very little take up or over travel. All this happens naturally without a second thought from the shooter, while still allowing a greater margin of safety.

Savage Axis II Compact Muddy Girl 22230 243 Winchester

The Axis II has a matte-black carbon-steel action, a two-lug bolt, and a 20-inch barrel with a rounded crown. The bolt handle has a slightly flattened profile. Bolt travel was smooth, but some of the younger shooters found it occasionally difficult to close. The bolt release required the simultaneous pressing of the small and stiff bolt-release lever and pressing the trigger. Every shooter found this awkward, but the shooters with smaller hands found it very difficult to operate. Youth shooters would almost certainly require assistance to remove the bolt. The rifle features a plastic four-round detachable magazine with the release latch on the front that pressed inward. At first, the release tab was a little balky, but it quickly broke in and caused no further trouble. The serrated plastic safety is mounted on the tang and was easy for all testers to use. The testers liked the fact that it was ambidextrous and that it slid forward to fire. While some of the testers didn’t care for the fact that the safety was plastic, the design of the tang allowed for some protection for the safety button.

As to be expected for a rifle in 243 Winchester, the recoil from the Savage was the lightest in the test. Everyone enjoyed shooting the rifle, but the youngest and lightest shooters strongly preferred the recoil of the Savage. For the other two rifles, many of the test shooters were happy to stop after five rounds. With the Savage, the test shooters wanted to keep shooting even after 20 rounds. This is a really important factor for new shooters because they are likely to get more quality practice with the Savage than with the other two rifles. Though the Savage kept all five shoots on the paper plate during our snap-shooting drills, the spread was greatest with the Savage. Our testers attributed this to the light weight of the rifle making it less steady (more whippy) for the shooter performing the snap drills. Of course, shooters with less upper body strength might find this rifle’s weight and balance to be perfect. As a prospective buyer, we would recommend that you try some gun-mounting drills in the shop before you purchase the rifle to see how the rifle performs for you. That being said, the Savage proved to be the most accurate rifle from the bench. The Prvi Partizan 100-grain soft point was the star of the test, with an average group size of 1.5 inches at 100 yards. Smallest group was 0.9 inches, with the largest group measuring 2.5 inches. With speeds in excess of 2800 fps, energy was above 2500 foot-pounds. The next-best cartridge was the Federal 95-grain Fusion, with very similar velocity and energy results as the Partizan 100-grain soft point. This consistent round averaged right at 2.0 inches, with a best of 1.6 and a worst of 2.4 inches. This is a well-constructed bullet with plenty of energy, so it should perform well on medium-sized game if the shooter does his or her part and would be our choice for field work. Coming in third was the Partizan 90-grain soft point, with a still-respectable 2.5-inch average group. At almost 3000 fps muzzle velocity, the largest group came in at 3.5 inches and the smallest group was 1.5 inches. While pleasant and relatively cheap to shoot, we would probably pass on this round in this particular rifle.

Savage Axis II Compact Muddy Girl 22230 243 Winchester

While the rifle did shoot well, when reviewing the targets and shooting logs, we did note that many groups experienced a flyer (a round hitting away from the main body of the group). This happened with all three types of ammunition we sampled. However, analyzing our shooting logs, we could not find any pattern to the flyers. While not a significant issue, the frequent flyers did somewhat reduce our confidence in the rifle if we needed to make a particularly demanding shot. The rifle was very dependable, and we experienced no functional issues while testing this rifle.

Our Team Said: Our lightest-recoiling and most-accurate rifle, the lightweight Savage would be our clear choice for a youth rifle. The young ladies in the group loved this distinctive stock. For adult mature shooters, this rifle might actually be too light. For more experienced shooters who are truly capable of a high level of precision, the occasional flyer presented by this sample prevents it from being our first choice.

Written and photographed by David Tannahill, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.


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