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Since the early 1900s, the Czech Republic has been in a unique position regarding small arms and their use. The best analogy I can come up with is a banquet. If the banquet represents conflict, then the Czech Republic has always been forced to be the indentured caterer. They have supplied arms, rather successfully, for their occupying minders for decades. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, they were finally freed to turn their very skillful small arms manufacturing to supplying their own armies and other legitimate customers. In addition, the nation also joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
This brings us to the subject at hand, which is the Czech Republic’s take on a 5.56 NATO caliber rifle in its 805 Bren. The CZ 805 Bren S1 Carbine is the civilian version of this rifle, and it’s now available in America.
- Chambering: 5.56 NATO
- Barrel: 16.2 inches
- OA Length: 39 inches
- Weight: 8.02 pounds
- Stock: Side folding, collapsible
- Sights: Flip-up, two rear aperture sizes
- Action: Piston driven
- Finish: Matte black
- Capacity: 30+1
- MSRP: $1,999.00
The first thing that pops into your head when hearing the phrase “Bren gun” is probably a visual of the iconic British light machine gun. The Bren machine-gun was a licensed version of the Czechoslovak ZGB 33. The name Bren was the English translation of the Czechoslovak city of Brno, Moravia, where the gun was designed by Václav Holek; thus the name. The British version featured a top-mounted curved magazine box, a quick-change barrel, and a unique conical flash suppressor.
A New Take
In 2005, a project to modernize the standard rifle of the Czech Republic’s military forces began. Several paths and calibers were explored. One of the projects was designated 805. In 2009, the Czech Republic’s Armed Forces began rifle trials with 27 entries. When the trials were over, there were two contenders left: the CZ 805 and the FN SCAR-L. The CZ 805 was declared the winner, with domestic production being the primary deciding factor.
Having met the needs of the domestic customers, CZ was able to begin taking the steps necessary to comply with 922(r), regarding the importation of rifle parts that are assembled in the United States. Once this hurdle was addressed, Americans finally got to have our turn with this new entry to the gun market.
My immediate impression of the new Bren was that it is reminiscent of the FN SCAR. After having a chance to actually handle the rifle, I realized that this was not a simple re-hash of the same gun. When I picked the Bren up it felt solid and tight, which is exactly what you want in a rifle of this class. There’s nothing worse than a stock that is loose or rattles with plastic parts that don’t fit tight. The next thing that I noticed was that CZ had avoided some of the most annoying things that companies do today. For instance, when I receive a rifle that does not come equipped with sights or magazines, I get the same feeling that washes over me when I pay big money for an airline ticket … and then get hit with a baggage-checking fee. I’m happy to report that the Bren comes stock with front and rear flip-up sights and two AR-15/M16 pattern metal magazines (which the rifle employs). No nickel-and-dime job here!
The Bren utilizes a piston-driven operating system and features a reciprocating charging handle that can be fitted to either side, based on the shooter’s preferences. The adjustable gas block has two different settings, and features gas ports at the front of the rifle for venting excess gas.
The selector switch and magazine release are both ambidextrous as well, but my favorite thing about this rifle, both on first blush and after shooting, is the trigger. It is smooth like butter and a joy to shoot.
The stock is side-folding and has four adjustable positions to fit most shooters length of pull. There is a removable cheek piece, which I simply left in place, as it tended to work well and was not annoying no matter how the rifle was fired.
The top of the rifle features a full-length accessory rail, along with a short matching version on the bottom of the forend. The sides of the forearm have two accessory-mounting spots for hanging stuff off the rifle. I counted at least four sling attachment points: Two at the front of the rifle and two at the pivot point of the stock.
The final feature that I noticed is that the Bren has a shell deflector that protrudes immediately behind the ejection port, which should be a great benefit to left-handed shooters.
On the Range
I had three main objectives going into this testing: Verifying accuracy, reliability of the piston system, and ease of use for both left-and-right-handed shooters.
The first hurdle was determining the inherent accuracy that CZ 805 could bring to the table. I decided that an appropriate optic for this task would be the Burris XTR II™ Riflescope 1-5x24mm. I have to say, this scope is just about perfect for where I see this rifle performing well, which is close to medium range.
This is a rear-focal plane scope, which means that the reticle maintains its size, whether the scope is on one power or five. This Burris also features the ability to eliminate the center of the reticle, making it easy to acquire targets in low light or while shooting and moving with both eyes open on close targets. You get 11 brightness settings that will work with night vision, low light or daylight. One of the things that I particularly liked was that between each setting is an off position, so once you decide where you want the brightness to be it is one click for “off” and one click back to the correct setting. This is a 30mm scope with a huge field of view; even at the full five power setting you still have 21.5 feet at 100 yards.
The eye relief was no issue, as you can set the scope anywhere from 3 ½ to 4 ¼ inches from your eye. Using the full-length accessory rail, I had no trouble finding the sweet spot for mounting.
Reliability and functionality are really two different things that get lumped together sometimes. You can have a rifle that functions well, but as the environmental conditions worsen it becomes more and more problematic. I decided that one of the potential issues would be working with any AR-pattern magazine. In the 1980s, it was proposed that all NATO countries use a STANAG magazine. This objective was never ratified, but the CZ 805 is touted as accepting STANAG magazines all the same. I felt like it would be appropriate to feed it as many different kinds of magazines as I could find, along with a variety of ammunition. This gun ate everything I fed it without complaint; it accepted and ran with six different kinds of magazines without a single hiccup. The Bren also suffered through countless mag dumps with only minimal hang-up.
I tried to recruit as many different shooters, with different physical characteristics, as possible. I made sure to shoot this rifle with 50% of the rounds being fired left-side dominant. I felt that this was going to be critical, as the gun features a reciprocating charging handle.
There are so many things that this gun does well, but there is one positive feature of the CZ 805 that is absolutely undeniable: It has a wonderful trigger. The trigger on this gun is the best I have ever felt on a military rifle. I have no higher praise that I could possibly offer, nor would I want to modify this trigger in any way.
Next on my “pros” list would be how solid this gun feels. This is a polymer gun that doesn’t rattle, flex or feel cheap. The fit and finish are just exceptional. The stock can be easily folded by simply depressing one button with your thumb. The length of pull can be adjusted, and when it is, it never rattles or flexes—it simply acts as if it is in the only position it was ever designed to be in.
The controls are easy to operate without being sensitive to accidental engagement—a line that can sometimes run thin. I’ve had rifles with controls that were so stiff they could not be manipulated correctly. I’ve had others that would change position or unleash something they should be holding back due to a stiff wind. This gun is exceptionally engineered in this respect.
Target acquisition was easy while using the flip-up sights, and the rear aperture changed between the large and small settings with ease.
This gun consistently delivered sub-1-inch groups at 100 yards with the cheapest ammunition I could find to feed it. When shooting fast and hard, the recoil was minimal, allowing for quick second, third and fourth follow-up shots. The muzzle brake topping off the threaded muzzle really did a superior job in making this a flat-shooting gun.
While shooting the CZ 805 both left-and-right-handed, I was pleasantly surprised that I never got that obnoxious blast of gas in the face. This gun actually vents all of the gas forward from the gas block, which I found to be quite pleasant. The ejection of the brass was well-mannered, thrown several feet to the side and slightly forward of the shooter in a neat pile, making retrieving the brass simple.
I titled this section “Opportunities” because I view these points as being less than over-the-top awesome, rather than failures. I think that I could have even titled this “Things That Are Acceptable but Less Awesome Than the Rest of the Gun.”
The selector switch was difficult to operate with my thumb, but it was easy to knife-hand with my fingers from either side of the weapon. The bolt handle was impossible to catch from a left-handed shooting position without switching it to the opposite side; this could be an issue if you were to transition shoulders to clear cover and needed to reload.
The sights on this gun are good when they are folded down or when they are in the upright position, but a significant source of frustration was had by all when transitioning them from one state to the other. The controls were stiff, and the sights were rough while moving between positions. The sights are the one thing I think I would replace on this CZ 805.
When more than a single magazine was fired rapidly through the gun the front of the gas system would begin to smoke, along with the barrel. The gun never stopped running, and I never lubricated or cleaned the gun throughout the 1,000 (or so) rounds I ran through it while testing. The smoking could be something that stops over time, or it could be a permanent condition. I got used to it, but the other shooters always seemed to comment as if it were unnerving to them.
The bottom line is this: With a $2,000 suggested retail price, I think this gun is a good purchase for someone looking for a top-quality .223 piston-driven gun. I like the fact that it is not a rehash of the gas impingement conversion to piston. I also like the fit, finish, and accuracy, which outperforms other guns in this class and price range in my opinion. The CZ 805 is certainly a gun I would recommend in its category and class.