Searching for a Replacement Small Pest Control Rifle: Part TwoBy Mark Wheeler
- 21st Sep, 2020 Sep 21, 2020, 1:21 PM
- 1 Comment
In Part One we set ourselves a list of what a good small pest control rifle should do:
- Use a cartridge of adequate power.
- Be ruggedly built but not excessively heavy.
- Handle well.
- Achieve good accuracy.
- Capable of rapid follow up shots without losing the sight picture.
- Reliable and easy to maintain.
Ammunition and relative accuracy from each rifle were covered in Part One, now we look at each in depth and do some real-world testing.
INITIAL IMPRESSIONS AND HANDLING
CZ American overview: We reviewed the 512 American version, the conventional stocked sporter. There is also a European version with iron sights and hogsback stock, and a tactical version (unavailable at the time) with a fully adjustable pistol grip chassis stock and a shorter factory threaded barrel, features which should make it suitable for this kind of work. All use the same mechanical action; they are just dressed differently.
The rifle arrived in a sturdy box with foam packaging inside a reusable woven polyester gun sleeve. There is a comprehensive instruction manual and parts list with diagrams for disassembly, and a printout of the rifle's factory proof target which is a nice touch.
The CZ is a beautiful piece of blued steel and walnut with an exceptionally high standard of machining and finish. It comes with a 5-round magazine as standard, but 10 round mags are available. The stocks wrist is well proportioned and solid feeling and the fore-wood taper just fits your hand. It carries well and points intuitively for snap shots.
“The CZ is a beautiful piece of blued steel and walnut with an exceptionally high standard of machining and finish.”
There is a small gap between the stock and the receiver for adding or removing spacers to change the length of pull. The blueing is a deep blue/black satin sheen, the upper receiver is anodised aluminium, the lower portion housing the trigger and magazine well are glass reinforced polymer, no doubt selected to reduce weight and cost. GRP is just as durable and functional as metal in areas like this something H&K proved 30 years ago.
A single large screw in the fore-end controls disassembly which is simple and intuitive but if you get lost the manual will take you through it in baby steps with pictures.
The small lever at the front of the lower is the magazine release, which is protected from accidental operation. The protrusion in the roof of the receiver is the recoil delay. After 200 rounds a minute amount of unburnt powder had accumulated.
The stock checkering provides an excellent grip wet or dry, but the factory finish water spotted badly on its first outing and “washed off” pretty quickly. The controls fall well to hand, and with the rifle shouldered the safety can be disengaged by the trigger finger in the standby position.
If you engage the safety with the action decocked the rifle cannot be recocked till it is disengaged. Something we discovered by accident that it pays to be aware of. The trigger is non-adjustable and has some creep if fully released between shots, but from the reset point it's crisp.
“Being a CZ we suspected that no break-in period would be required, and true to its pedigree none was, we had one stoppage in the first 200 rounds due to a case that only just failed to fully clear the ejection port.”
There is 3cm of clearance in the trigger well, however the manual bolt hold open at the front of the trigger gets in the way if you're wearing thick winter gloves. There is no auto hold-open function. We set the scope's eye relief for use prone and when shot off-hand it is easy to adjust the eye relief by sliding your cheek thanks to the generous length of the stock.
Being a CZ we suspected that no break-in period would be required, and true to its pedigree none was, we had one stoppage in the first 200 rounds due to a case that only just failed to fully clear the ejection port. The CZ occasionally cycled subsonic ammunition but not frequently enough to be considered reliable.
Excel overview: The Excel comes well packaged in a sturdy box. There is a 2-page photocopied instruction manual over half of which is the legal warnings required in the States but there is room left to detail the simple disassembly procedure and operation in two short paragraphs. There are no pictures to assist you.
Also highlighted is the gun's requirement for a “normal 200 round break in period”. There is also a 2-page printout devoted solely to the magazine and how to load it, the magazine by the way holds nine rounds and comes with a little metal loading assist tool.
Other goodies include an Allen key for disassembly and a cable lock as required by Californian law. With it's solid polymer thumbhole stock, black anodised aluminium barrel shroud/upper with a full-length rail and a massive 22mm diameter stainless barrel, the Excel looks like it wouldn’t be out of place in a Starship Troopers movie! Both the upper and the stock are attached by screws sunk into the barrel.
The magazine loads through the pistol grip and sits flush with it. The grip itself is significantly fatter and shorter than a standard AR type grip. It is the only rifle to have a proper automatic last round hold-open, it can be applied manually but only released by withdrawing the charging handle.
The safety does not fall naturally to hand, and some gymnastics with your thumb are required to operate it with the rifle shouldered. In front of the safety is the manual bolt lock. The trigger guard opening (clearance) is 2.5cm - the smallest of the three rifles tested.
The Excel points well with your cheekbone slotting hard up against the bump in the stock. This bump also limits scope placement and effects eye relief when changing from standing to prone. It makes the stock feel shorter than it is. I would have preferred a straight-line style.
We needed a riser mount (2.5 inches above the bore) to get proper eye alignment with a scope and although it works, an extra half an inch of height would be a lot better. Mounting any lower and your neck is twisted uncomfortably to the side. Disassembly is simple, two Allen screws in the rail and one in the charging handle and the rail comes off to reveal the guts.
Note: When cleaning the Excel, it is necessary to remove the top rail and along with it the attached scope, reattaching the rail has no effect on the zero.
The spring in the roof of the action is the recoil spring and the Excel's action is pull forward rather than push forward. The trigger pivots on the roller pin above it and the hammer is under where the cocking lever is - there is a 2-piece linkage between the two.
The trigger is the heaviest of the three, this is no doubt due to the bullpup layout and the need for a linkage between the trigger and the hammer. It is not adjustable but has no creep. Interestingly there is also a disconnector that prevents the hammer from falling even if tripped until the bolt is forward. This is the only rifle in the group with this feature.
“The spring in the roof of the action is the recoil spring and the Excel's action is pull forward rather than push forward.”
The Excel is the heaviest rifle, most of which is the barrel. A fluted version is also available but doesn’t save much weight. The barrel makes it very muzzle heavy and partly negates the control advantage a vertical grip gives when shooting free hand. A thinner profile threaded barrel would make the rifle more serviceable.
An opportunity was also lost in not fitting a short Picatinny Rail under the stock for accessories such as a torch mount, something we suspect owners will do at the same time as fitting some sling swivels.
During the first 120 rounds we encountered on average two stoppages per magazine mostly with the first or second rounds. Typical stoppages were short stroking and rechambering the fired case, or stove piping. By 200 rounds the number of stoppages had diminished but never actually ceased till we passed 250.
It definitely needs running in to smooth and mate the bearing surfaces, we tried graphite on the rails but to no avail. Being the most expensive rifle in the group I honestly would have expected a better standard of finish on the important bits. The Excel will not cycle with subsonic ammunition.
Rossi 7122M overview: The Rossi came well packaged and with a comprehensive instruction manual like the CZ. It is the most agricultural looking rifle of the group, with a one-piece slightly flexible plastic stock, a dull parkerised finish on the barrel and a receiver made of blued steel with a section of rail fixed on top. It did require a short initial run-in period, refer to Kelvin Dixon's article on the Rossi for more details on this.
The rifle can be re-cocked with the safety on. There is 3cm of clearance within the trigger guard and you can operate this rifle wearing thick winter gloves.
The trigger feels flimsy; however, it is possibly the best of the three, no doubt due to the adoption of a version of the Savage Accutrigger and its safety blade design. Like the Accutrigger it is also fully adjustable.
There are also other similarities to the Savage A22, both rifles bolts lock and operate in the same fashion and the cocking levers are coated in plastic and nice and large.
The wrist is the thinnest of the two conventionally stocked rifles and feels slightly insubstantial compared to the CZ, but the rifle carries and points well and like the CZ the controls fall well to hand with the rifle shouldered.
Most people found the comb could have been a bit higher to gain a better cheek weld. A temporary one was added and certainly improved the sight picture.
As it's threaded it usually wears a suppressor which makes for much more pleasant shooting. The unit it came with for some reason still splits groups as mentioned in the original review, so I use the one off my .308 Russian which has the same thread.
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As Kelvin's review noted the rifle leaves unburnt powder in the action, however it does not seem to interfere with reliable operation. Unburnt powder can also be found in the suppressor (see photo). The black stuff round the outside of the baffle is just surplus grease - it’s the yellow pellets we are interested in.
It would pay to clean any suppressor regularly to prevent powder build up and avoid a possible flash-over. We can’t compare the performance of the CZ and Excel suppressed in this regard, but as both leave far less powder in the action than the Rossi, it is safe to assume that it will be less of an issue with them. The Rossi will not cycle with subsonic ammunition.
SO HOW DOES THE CLASSIC HECKLER & KOCH 300 STACK UP AGAINST THE NEW BOYS?
The H&K is a well designed and manufactured rifle. The quality of machining and blueing is unmatched by any of the modern rifles, but as this was made by a company famed for innovation where no compromises were made, that’s not surprising.
Its three most obvious innovative features are a polymer drop-in trigger group, a 2-stage adjustable target grade trigger and a non-reciprocating bolt handle/bolt lock. It has a full length adult sized stock that is perfectly balanced, iron sights and HK's 05 proprietary quick detachable optics mounting system.
These mounts alone are worth more than some .22 rifles! Only one of its innovations, the polymer trigger group, appears to have been retained by modern manufacturers and they didn’t make it a drop-out unit like H&K did. Sadly, no one today has installed a really good trigger like the H&K has.
“The H&K is a well designed and manufactured rifle. The quality of machining and blueing is unmatched by any of the modern rifles, but as this was made by a company famed for innovation where no compromises were made, that’s not surprising.”
The non-reciprocating bolt handle is a nice feature, but no doubt adds a degree of complication and not much else. As the stock is designed for the open sights and the scope mount allows for their use when fitted, it naturally places the scope quite high necessitating a chin weld with optics which is initially a little awkward.
Initially I thought the safety (which is on the left side) was its only weakness as your master hand can’t operate it, but it sits in the right spot to be operated with your left thumb when the rifle is shouldered. The magazine release is on the right side behind the magazine well in a natural position for your fore finger to operate it.
Just two examples of the clever Teutonic thinking that went into the design of this rifle. Accuracy-wise it performed pretty well, consistently grouping around 20-25mm with all ammunition types. Malcom says it prefers the Hornady V-Max and the results seem to confirm it.
Everyone who used the H&K liked it especially the trigger but mentioned the scope height as initially being a bit awkward. The rifle more than holds his own with the new boys but I hate to think what it would cost to manufacture one today. The H&K will not cycle with subsonic ammunition.
The Rossi and CZ are the easiest to use, the finger grips on the Rossi follower allows you to ease the spring if you want to when loading but it is not essential. The CZ is the classic push and tip design for rimmed cartridges and the 10 round version is just longer with no follower assist function.
The Excel has a tool that fits into the hole in the follower which helps to release spring pressure (which is significant) during loading. You can load the magazine without it using the push and tip method, but the last few cartridges can be a bit of a struggle.
Leaving the magazine loaded for prolonged periods may ease the spring and help make loading easier, and if you desire the capacity can be increased by one round by cutting the tail of the follower, as it appears to specifically long to allow for this. Also, if you lose the tool a 2-inch nail or piece of wire can be used in its place.
|Overall length||39”||32 1/2”||39”|
|Barrel style||Bull||Heavy Bull||Tapered sporting|
|Length of pull (LOP)*||13.5”||15”||14”|
|“Useable” stock length*||7 1/2”||6 1/2”||8 1/2”|
|Bare rifle weight||2.67 Kg||3.2 Kg||2.57 Kg|
|Stock style and materials||Conventional synthetic single piece||Thumbhole synthetic single piece||Conventional Walnut 2 piece|
|Magazine capacity||10||9||5 1|
|Magazine ease of loading||Easy||Takes practice 2||Easy|
|Magazine change||Easy; straight in||Takes practice; angled||Easy; straight in|
|Auto last round hold open||Yes 3||Yes||No|
|Sling attachment points||Yes||No||Yes|
|Safety||Conventional button behind trigger||Lever on left above the trigger 4||Conventional button behind trigger|
|Rifle layout||Conventional||Semi Bullpup||Conventional|
|Optics attachment||Picatinny Rail||Picatinny Rail 5||11mm dovetail|
|Trigger pull||5 1/2 lbs “crisp” adjustable||7 1/2 lbs “no creep”||5 1/2 lbs “slight creep”|
|Ergonomics||Very good||Confused 7||Excellent|
*LOP is the distance from the butt to the trigger. Useable stock length is the distance you can move your cheek up and down the stock to compensate for changing shooting positions and optic eye reliefs.
Coupled with the LOP it determines how a rifle feels on the shoulder. Small changes in either have a big effect on how “natural” a rifle feels on the shoulder.
- 10 round magazines are available, but none were in the country at time of test.
- The Excel magazine spring is especially powerful and coupled with the angle of the feed lips makes loading hard work without the supplied loading tool.
- The bolt is retained by the magazine follower and unless manually locked open will close when the magazine is removed.
- The safety cannot be easily reached by the hand holding the pistol grip and is best operated with the “weak hand”.
- Optics on the Excel need high rings or a riser to raise them to eye level.
- All can be fired left-handed however they throw unburnt powder particles backwards that can hit the right side of the shooter's face.
- Ergonomics of the Excel are a mixed bag, it shoulders well and although having the largest LOP the bump in the stock makes it feel short as it dictates the placement of your face and therefore optics. It is very muzzle heavy and the pistol grip is a bit wide and too short for comfort.
IN THE FIELD
The CZ: I took the CZ out for its first night's hare shooting in a newly planted pine block. accompanied by a friend with a suppressed Savage bolt action .17HMR. We took turns shooting.
The CZ/Maxtoch combination doesn’t noticeably affect the balance or carrying ability and worked superbly taking 15 hares at ranges from literally at our feet to “that’s too far you’ll never hit it, oh good shot!” before the torch batteries died. As I had no spares we carried on with Gordon's handheld HID spotlight.
We tallied about the same number of hares with each rifle but the difference in noise was remarkable. With the suppressor off the .17 it was as loud and painful on the ears as the .22 Magnum but with it on, you could barely hear it. Another point in favour of suppressing these rifles.
Several further outings showed that the CZ just works. The appearance and solid feel instil confidence. It’s a pleasure to carry, shoulders intuitively and all the controls are centralised.
The fact we only had one 5-round magazine was a minor annoyance but once you got into the habit of topping off after every shot it was not a major problem. I can see at the end of the trial handing this back the CZ to Ken will be difficult, as at heart I'm a walnut and blue steel kind of guy.
The Excel: I took this south on a wallaby and rabbit trip as it was the one I’d had no real field time with and apart from sighting it in on the first day it was used exclusively for spotlighting.
Sighting-in confirmed the rifle is suitably accurate and due to its weight recoil is minimal meaning from a static position you can really precision shoot with it. However, spotlighting from a quad or on foot is a different story. I found the rifle awkwardly balanced and very muzzle heavy, the point of balance being midway along in front of the trigger where it’s too deep to readily hold.
The pistol grip I found too short for my hands leaving my little finger curled uncomfortably under the magazine and the grip is too fat for a long-term comfortable hold, something that wearing gloves exaggerates.
The trigger guard is too small for use with winter weight gloves, I had to resort to a merino liner and fingerless glove plus a reusable crystal hand warmer in my jacket pocket, soft North Islander that I am!
Out in the cold with the Excel: I was disappointed at the large number of stoppages typically short stroking or stove piping of ejected cases, something I thought was behind us. Perhaps the -4 degree temperatures played a part in that but fiddling around in the dark with a headlight and gloves regularly clearing stoppages sort of destroys the magic, and I was quickly second guessing myself when using it.
There was another probably personal issue when spotlighting. My technique is to acquire, verify, disengage safety, and fire all without dismounting the rifle from my shoulder or losing sight of the target, then after shooting I reapply the safety before continuing.
“Sighting-in confirmed the rifle is suitably accurate and due to its weight recoil is minimal meaning from a static position you can really precision shoot with it. However, spotlighting from a quad or on foot is a different story.”
This works with all my semi .22s and the CZ and Rossi, but the position of the Excels safety means that I was unable to do this. After two nights we put it away, but it did account for two wallabies and about 40 rabbits and hares at ranges out to 100 yards.
It got a few more outings back in the winterless north and worked flawlessly again but although I could hit my targets efficiently enough, I still found it tiring and uncomfortable to carry for long periods. I don’t believe it’s an ideal walkabout gun for field use.
The Rossi: This rifle now wears a previously reviewed Tasco Rimfire 2-7x32 which seems to suit it. Although it doesn’t feel as solid as the CZ, the Rossi just works.
The controls are central, the mag release is the best of the bunch, the mag is the easy to load and reinsert. With a torch strapped on top it's still light and well balanced.
Mud is easily wiped off the plastic stock, and it works when soaked and plastered in mud. I had already temporarily added a spacer to extend the butt and also taped a piece of split alkathene pipe to the comb as a riser to improve cheek weld which vastly improved its point ability, something most of the other users agreed with even if they didn’t like the look of the modification.
The rifle has had multiple fittings and refitting of rings and optics, and the edges of the aluminium rail have become worn at the most common fitting points, meaning it is not possible to tightly mount rings in those positions anymore. It’s a problem most users are unlikely to encounter but is worth mentioning.
We fixed the problem with aluminium shims. However, the rail is held to the steel receiver by two screws so it should be a simple job to replace it if ever the need arose.
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Included in this evening's haul were three goats. They provided valuable insight into what the .22 Magnum is capable of and were part of the inspiration for the quick study of terminal performance that is another article in this series. I would not have attempted shooting them if I weren’t using the Fiocchi 40gr ammo that evening.
EASE OF MAINTENANCE
For all the rifles, maintenance, and cleaning regimes to ensure reliable operation are simple, and no different from those for a .22 LR semi-auto. They are well documented in their respective manuals.
Stoppages are generally due to underpowered rounds failing to cycle the action fully but if this occurs repeatedly then it's time for a good clean especially in the chamber and breech area.
In this regard we found all the rifles shot their best when the barrels were fouled and that unburnt powder build-up in the action made no difference to their functioning during the test. If you clean the bore, you can expect a brief settling in period before full accuracy potential returns.
All the rifles we reviewed required minimal cleaning and are easy to disassemble when necessary.
The Rossi: With the factory rail a small cheek riser will help with good consistent cheek weld as the height from comb to scope centre is 2 3/4”.
A butt pad was also added to increase the LOP to make it more comfortable for taller shooters but not everyone would need that modification. It carries well but the stock being plastic is slightly clammy, the checkered grips don’t add any real purchase, that said even when wet the plastic is not slippery.
The fact that it comes factory threaded is a bonus. It’s such a pleasant rifle to shoot suppressed but like the other two it barks like a dog without one.
The rail on ours did suffer some damage with repeated fitting and refitting of mounts trialling different optics and rings but in normal use this is unlikely to be a problem. It was the ugly duckling surprise package that impressed everyone who used it.
The CZ: Basically, it just jumped out of the box and “got about the business”. It functioned without problem right from the start. Scope height off the dovetail with medium rings is perfect for a solid cheek weld, something that assists with the rifle's good shooting character.
The use of a traditional 11mm dovetail may annoy some people who are used to rail mounts. Dovetail to rail kits are available but these will require fitting a riser to the stock to regain that all important cheek weld.
The feel and balance of the rifle impressed everyone who shot it and it was a clear winner in the looks department although when asked just about functionality and “fit for purpose” all agreed the Rossi was every bit as good.
The Excel: The rifle continued to have occasional feed issues till 250 rounds after which it settled in and worked properly. It is a comfortable rifle to shoot especially from a rest or bench, but it's trigger pull, though crisp, is extremely heavy.
The general consensus amongst shooters was that the concept was good, but that it missed the mark. The control group layout is disjointed. I always compare pistol grip setups to the AR's layout which is pretty much perfect. The bump in the stock, the grip, and its weight and balance were common points people raised where it could have done better.
Some liked its trigger as while very heavy, it had no creep. Try as we could we failed to find anything that made it particularly suitable for the tasks we were evaluating it for.
The aim of this exercise was to evaluate three rifles and the .22 Magnum cartridge for pest control, it was never about picking a winner and as it turns out there isn’t one.
Assessed against our initial criteria both the CZ and the Rossi tick the boxes. The CZ is naturally ahead on quality of finish, but in terms of accuracy, reliability, and handling etc the Rossi is its equal. Time will tell if this difference in finish translates to longevity.
“The aim of this exercise was to evaluate three rifles and the .22 Magnum cartridge for pest control, it was never about picking a winner and as it turns out there isn’t one.”
But Rossi have certainly improved their quality in the last few years. The Rossi also comes with two magazines and is already threaded 1/2-20 for a suppressor which are plus points in our view.
In the time we have had these rifles they have been put to good use and have no doubt saved the lives of countless pine and manuka seedlings as well as helped feed our cat.
BY WAY OF BALANCE
One of the people who trialled the rifles suggested why not use a lever action, specifically a .38 Special / .357 Magnum instead, as it has many of the attributes of a semi (rapid follow up shots, 10 round mag capacity) and fires a round with more energy.
It is a good point especially regarding larger animals such as goats, but for rabbits and hares I’m not so sure. However, although magazine capacity is adequate reloading is where a tubular magazine falls down, so it just won’t do the job as effectively as a semi-auto .22 Magnum will.
When I began this review, I had a pretty low opinion of the .22 Magnum and rifles chambered for it, mostly based on experiences with a Ruger semi-auto 20 plus years ago and the ammunition that was available at the time.
I now have to admit that I was wrong, that it is a capable cartridge. The ammunition and firearms manufacturers appear to have learnt from previous mistakes and now produce “some pretty good stuff.”
I am now contemplating the idea of adding a .22 Magnum to the cupboard, something I would have laughed off several months ago.
Special thanks must go to Ken and 55Six for putting three rifles up for evaluation, critical review, and extensive use. We got all of the mud off them eventually.
Austin and Malcolm for letting us use their Sako and Heckler & Koch respectively, and also for their views and opinions of the test rifles.
Kelvin Dixon for his assistance and insights on the Rossi and doing the bulk of the chronometer work while I was having fun down south.
Gordon, Jordan, Rhys, and Jordon, for their opinions on the rifles before and after “a bit of test firing”.
Kilwell for supplying the 30 grain Winchester .22 Magnum ammunition no one seemed to stock.
In Part Three we take a look at the terminal performance of the .22 Magnum round.
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