You don’t have to look very hard these days to find a lot of hunting rifles made with advanced, lightweight materials, and there’s no shortage of flashy new rifles adorned with cool camo patterns, Cerakote finishes, threaded muzzles, and other refinements. Such guns are very much in vogue, and there’s nothing wrong with that — if you can afford them.
For those who can’t or don’t want to pay the price for such guns, there’s a lot to be said for no-frills, no-nonsense rifles that you’re not afraid to drag through rough country, especially when they have solid, smooth-cycling actions, accurate barrels and good triggers that work together to produce repeatable accuracy and performance you can count on. To draw an analogy from the equine world, a plow horse has the same four legs as a thoroughbred. He’s not as glamorous or quick out of the gate, but he will get his assigned job done reliability, efficiently, and predictably.
One such gun is the new CZ 557 Eclipse. It doesn’t have quite the refinement of CZ’s 557 American rifles with its oil-finished, Turkish walnut stock, but neither does it have the American’s price. CZ’s goal with the Eclipse was to distill the 557 down to its basics while retaining the same good barreled action in a package with a more affordable price tag. After putting an Eclipse chambered in 308 Win. through its paces, I would say that CZ has succeeded admirably.
Offered initially in 6.5 Creedmoor, 308 Win, and 30-06 Springfield chamberings, the Eclipse has an MSRP of just $659. While that price doesn’t buy you a lot of bells and whistles, it does buy you one very well-designed rifle, starting with the action, which is CNC-machined from solid steel. One outstanding feature of this rifle is how smoothly the bolt cycles. It’s a simple push-feed, monolithic design with two large lugs, a short extractor, and a plunger ejector. That’s a big change from older CZ controlled-round-feed rifles that earned reputations as great rifles for large and dangerous game, but the vast majority of American hunters seldom hunt dangerous game. Push-feed actions are perfectly acceptable for most applications, especially when the action is as slick and smooth as the one on the 557 Eclipse. Notably, the action has two dovetails milled into the top for attaching CZ-style scope rings. I used a set of Warne Maxima rings for this purpose, and they worked wonderfully.
The Eclipse has an internal box magazine with a hinged floorplate, and the magazine capacity is a generous five rounds. I struggled a bit when first loading rounds into the magazine until I figured out that I needed to position the rounds fully to the rear and push them down with sufficient force until they audibly clicked into place in the magazine. After that, I had no difficulty, and rounds fed, extracted, and ejected with monotonous reliability. I also found it easy to load one round at a time during range testing.
One thing that took a bit of getting used to was the bolt release, which is actually a recessed blade positioned at the top left rear of the receiver. It took a fair amount of force with a thumbnail to depress it far enough that the bolt could be removed from the action. The blade has a robust amount of spring pressure behind it, and you can bet that the bolt on this rifle will never accidentally fall out. The bolt release is actually hidden by the bolt shroud when the action is closed. You have to cycle the bolt to the rear to uncover it. The bolt has a 90-degree throw, but I still had enough clearance to mount a sizeable Trijicon scope on the gun.
You’ll find a prominent red cocking indicator at the rear of the bolt shroud. The safety is a simple two-position design that does not lock the bolt handle down when engaged. Positioned within easy reach of the thumb, the safety lever has a grooved surface on top that gives your thumb solid purchase even when wet.
Although the rifle is not especially light at 7.9 lbs., it’s fairly handy to maneuver because the chrome-moly steel barrel measures 20.5 inches. These are not, mind you, pencil-thin barrels. I would classify them as having a bit heavier profile than many sporter-profile barrels. The cold hammer-forged barrels are truly free-floated, and are – wonder of wonders – lapped at the factory so there’s little need for break-in. The rate of twist is 1:10 for rifles in 308 Win. and 30-06 Springfield, while rifles chambered for 6.5 Creedmoor have a 1:8 rate of twist. The bluing on the barreled actions was uniform and well-executed, and the fit and finish are quite good. In a nice touch for a rifle in this price category, the barrel’s muzzle has a recessed crown.
Another outstanding feature of this rifle is its trigger. CZ really got it right with this one, which is considerably better than triggers on many factory guns these days. The trigger is adjustable for creep, pull weight, and overtravel. The one on my test rifle, chambered in 308 Win., broke cleanly and crisply at an average pull weight of 3 lbs., 2 oz. I could have adjusted it down further, but I left it at the factory setting to see how well the rifle would shoot as it arrived from the factory.
The black synthetic stock of the rifle isn’t particularly flashy, but its beauty lies in its functionality. The stock has clean, straight American-style lines and a soft-touch texture that’s complemented by raised, sculpted patterns on the pistol grip and forend to provide a sure grip in wet weather. The forend is somewhat flattened on the bottom, providing a stable setup when the gun is rested on sandbags or shooting sticks, and the stock is equipped with three sling swivel studs that allow you to attach a bipod as well as a sling. A substantial rubber recoil pad does a decent job of moderating recoil. My only knock on the stock is the same issue I have with many economically priced rifles, and that’s the fact that the bottom metal isn’t actually metal. It’s plastic, and that could present an issue if you accidentally break the trigger guard or magazine floorplate.
For range testing, I topped the rifle with a Trijicon Credo HX 2.5-15×42 scope, which has become one of my favorites for range testing due to its magnification range, parallax correction, and variable illumination, among other factors. That brought the rifle’s full-up weight to a bit more than 9 lbs., so it’s not a package I would like to haul up steep mountains all day. It is one I would be perfectly happy with on a deer stand or in any form of hunting that doesn’t involve putting high mileage on your boots. Extremely lightweight rifles are quite popular now, but guns with a bit more heft provide more stability and are easier for many people to shoot more accurately.
I tested the rifle with four 308 Win. loads, including two using 150-grain bullets and two with 168-grain bullets. As you would expect from a rifle with 20.5-inch barrels, velocities were a bit slower than factory-stated numbers for those loads, ranging from 49 fps to 161 fps slower than the numbers stated on the ammo boxes. That is not surprising because factory loads are often tested with barrels up to 26 inches long to maximize velocity.
Accuracy testing on a day when the wind blew 6-15 mph didn’t yield any stunningly tight groups, but the rifle did demonstrate solid, dependable, and repeatable accuracy that will handily get the job done in the field. Surprisingly, two hunting loads shot just as well as the single match load-tested, with three of four loads producing one-inch average groups and sub-MOA best groups. Top honors went to the Barnes VOR-TX 168-gr. TTSX BT load, which produced 0.97-inch average groups and a best group of 0.87 inch. Federal’s 168-gr. Gold Metal Match load, using Sierra MatchKing bullets, was mere fractions of an inch behind.
The rifle showed a preference for heavier bullets, as Hornady’s 150-gr. American Whitetail load produced slightly larger average groups measuring barely over one inch, but the rifle was less fond of another 150-gr. load, which printed average groups measuring 1.89 inches. Taking that load out of the equation, the rifle shot everything else I fed it into one-inch or smaller groups, and it did so consistently, group after group.
That’s great performance for a rifle in this price range, and you can find it at a real-world price of a bit less than $600. That puts it at the high end of the economy rifle category. You can, of course, find cheaper rifles, but you won’t find many that match the quality and performance of this rifle.
CZ 557 Eclipse
Caliber: 308 Win.
Action: Bolt action
Barrel: 20.5-in. 1:10 twist
Magazine: 5-round, hinged floorplate
Stock: Black synthetic
Sights: None, integrated 19 mm dovetails
Trigger: Fully adjustable
Overall length: 41.5 in.
Weight: 7.9 lbs. empty