The CZ 527 Varmint is a tack-driving .17 Hornet that’s perfect rifle for eliminating some of the more pernicious biodiversity here on the farm. One of the neat features of this gun it has a novel CZ single set trigger. You can shoot it as a fairly normal hunting trigger, or you can click it forward to break at about one pound. With a flat shooting cartridge like the 17 Hornet and ridiculous “call your shots” CZ accuracy, this can make a huge difference in stretching the capabilities of the gun out to its ballistic max, and to the top of your own game in precise shooting. Our test gun came in a Turkish Walnut stock and is absolutely gorgeous. The 527 is an heirloom quality gun at an an expected fairly pricey $725 MSRP, and this varmint version is available in .204 Ruger, .223 Remington, this .17 Hornet, and they plan to also make some .17 Remingtons this year. I’ve been having some issues with skunks lately. But now that I have a rifle that can send a 20 grain bullet downrange at more than 3,500 fps, it is a bad time to be a skunk in this neck of the woods.
The 527 Line
Before we get into the details on the 527 Varmint model, let’s talk a bit more about the 527 family. The rifles are available in a multitude of configurations. Mannlicher stocks. American stocks. Mauser stocks and Carbines. With or without iron sights. And they come in chamberings as light as the .17 Hornet, up to .223, even 7.62×39. All are full-sized rifles based on scaled-down and “micro” Mauser actions.
The Varmint model has a traditional walnut stock. The walnut itself comes from Turkey and is handsomely finished in a hard clear coat. If walnut isn’t to your liking, it is available with a laminate stock, too. The forend is checkered, as is a portion of the grip. The checkering is functional as a grip, and well cut, though not as decorative as it is functional. The heavy barrel is 24 inches long. It is chambered in .17 Hornet (the Hornady version, not the older wildcat style). The rifle is fed from a robust five-round detachable magazine. The rifle weighs in at 7.5 pounds. Considering the weight of the barrel, that isn’t much. The rifle is light enough to carry but heavy enough to handle the punch of the zippy little .17 Hornet.
The overall length of the rifle is 41.5 inches. It has 13.5 length of pull. The rubber pad on the butt seems to be designed more for the protection of the wood than any reduction of felt recoil, as the gun doesn’t push much at all. All told, the 527 is a full-sized rifle, though one that is scaled down to an appropriate build for the lighter rounds it is designed to shoot. In addition to its utilitarian functionality, the 527 would be a great way to introduce a slightly larger rifle to a small-framed shooter or a child. Yet it still fits my six-foot frame. While I’d like two more inches on the stock, I’m not hunched over the scope like I am on some smaller small-caliber rifles.
The 527’s Mauser action is an ingenious design made even more versatile by scaling back the traditional Mauser action to allow for the short throw needed for the .17 Hornet case. The external extractor is huge, especially when compared to the size of the Hornet’s case, and it rocks the brass from the chamber. On the way back in, rounds are picked up by the bolt and held in place by the extractor as they’re slammed home. Out of the box, the action had some sticky spots. It was difficult to work from the shoulder. Yet it smoothed out appreciably in the first 100 rounds. After a modest break-in, the bolt snicked in and out more gracefully. The rear bolt shroud cocks the bolt as it travels rearward, and it is easy to see if the rifle is cocked by visually checking the back of the bolt. The safety, a simple rocker on the right side of the bolt, will only engage if the rifle is cocked. Be sure to seat the magazine fully. If you don’t, the bolt will skim over the rounds and you’ll pull the trigger on an empty chamber (which I did more than once).
The traditional trigger on the 527 would be considered an asset on many guns. It is simple. Operate the bolt and pull the trigger. It is not quite as polished as I’d like. The trigger breaks at 3.5 pounds, exactly, which is respectable for a hunting gun. Yet there is a minute take-up just before the break. If there were any accuracy issues with the gun, I would be inclined to blame them on this tiny movement. It can be deceptive. There were several instances when I pulled the trigger and knew, before looking at the target, that I’d pulled the shot. If you don’t hit the trigger with enough crisp emphasis you will feel the slightest give. Yet even when I pulled shots, the impact point deviated less than an inch. And, as is the case with every gun, I developed a pull that worked. All I had to do was pull with a bit more determination. Once I’d habituated, placing shots was easy.
But you may never use the trigger in that mode. There’s a different feature that makes this rifle shine. If you run the bolt and then push the trigger forward, it becomes a set trigger that breaks below one pound. The increments on my scale aren’t small enough to give an exact reading, but it is less than a pound. In this mode, there’s no take-up. No slack. Groups tighten up just as you’d expect.
Even though the set trigger breaks under a pound, it is engineered well enough to take a solid jolt and remain in place. I set the trigger and then bounced the (unloaded) rifle on its butt and hit the stock from all directions with sharp blows from the heel of my hand, and the trigger held. Brush the trigger and it falls. It makes what is already an accurate gun even more deadly.
And it is incredibly easy to shoot. The .17 Hornet is a center-fire cartridge. It is hot. Yet it isn’t big enough to create much recoil or muzzle rise. The gun makes a sharp crack, but stays very level. If the rounds weren’t so small, you would be able to see the point of impact through the scope.
The 527 Varmint is well balanced, too. The heavy barrel stretches the weight out over the rifle’s length, so it isn’t a challenge to hold up. I found that I could stabilize the 527 well enough for standing shots by pulling my left hand down toward the trigger and bracing my elbow on my chest. The mass of the barrel also prevents the rifle from overheating. Even after several magazines, the barrel remained cool enough to hold with an ungloved hand.
Shooting the 527
Hornady’s V-Max .17 Hornet is a wicked little round. By little, I mean a paltry 20 grains. The wicked part is the round’s velocity. Hornady advertises 3,650 fps at the muzzle. Our chronograph results averaged 3,632. The round shoots fast and has a flat trajectory that makes it great for small varmints. The trajectory holds reasonably close to that of a 55 grain .223, at least to the 200-yard range. Because the bullet is lighter, it loses a tremendous amount of its punch at longer distances, and the round is considered ineffective past 300 yards, as it has lost most of its transferable energy. Under 200 yards, or so, is the sweet spot, in my opinion. With a traditional 3-9×40 (like this Leupold VX-2), there’s no real challenge.
We sighted in the gun easily enough. The last time I’d used this scope, I’d had it on a .308. When the CZ wasn’t punching paper, at all, my spotter suggested we go old-school. I pulled the bolt and aimed the barrel at the bull’s-eye. With the rifle in the rest, it was easy enough to align line-of-sight with the crosshairs. The rifle punched the target, and three rounds later we were zeroed.
After that, groups were predictably consistent. With the standard trigger, groups came in at or under an inch. Standing, those groups widened out to 2.5 inches. With the set trigger, the group size shrank: .37 of an inch. I think it would be possible to empty an entire magazine into one hole. We didn’t get that tight. Yet. But we only had one type of ammo, and a limited amount of it. More on that below.
After determining that the groups were going to hold steady under an inch, I pushed the gun a bit more. This isn’t a target gun. As such, there comes a time when measuring group sizes becomes superfluous. Can it hit what you are aiming at? That is far more important to varmint hunters. If you have a prairie dog sitting out at 200 yards, you won’t get a chance to measure groups. If you hit it with that first shot, you may not be able to measure much of anything.
And yes, the 527 is very capable. Check out the five-shot target with five identifiable holes on the one diamond. I’d grouped enough shots to know where the rounds were going to hit, and so I played with it. The first shot hit the top corner, which was an accident. The second shot hit the center, exactly where I was aiming. So I pulled the crosshairs over to the right and clipped the second corner. Then the bottom. Then the one on the left. Needless to say, I was pleased.
This is the sort of accuracy that makes this gun an ideal hunting tool. While the .17 may not be allowed for whitetail hunting in many places, I think it should be. The 527 would be ideal for hunting from a stand. I would use it on a wide variety of varmints. With this type of accuracy, the .17 could be used on anything from hogs to woodrats. That’s part of what makes the .17 Hornet such a kick-ass round. It flies fast. I remember stories from a few years back of people talking up the performance. The rumor was that the .17 Hornet blew up small game. The round creates such an expansive wound channel that small critters often disintegrated, or liquefied inside their skins (which made it attractive for hunters who collected furs).
I haven’t had a chance to test the killing potential of the 527. As this is a varmint rifle, and I have plenty of varmints I’d like dispatched, I should be out hunting and not inside typing. There’s a catch. .17 Hornet is harder to find than .22 LR. When the rifle arrived at my FFL, I began searching in earnest. There was none to be had. Impassioned pleas to Hornady and CZ secured enough to do some decent accuracy and reliability testing, but not enough to really play with. Yet. We’ll be getting some more as it comes off line and will continue the evaluation process. Would I let the scarcity keep me from buying a rifle chambered in .17 Hornet? No. This round will continue to grow in popularity. As more of us begin asking and begging for it, other ammo companies will answer.
CZ-USA suggests a retail price for the 527 Varmint at $725. It would likely sell for less. It is so versatile. Everything on the rifle seems well thought-out. The controls are all very easy to use. The accuracy, especially considering the price, is remarkable. I can’t see how you can miss.