It’s amazing to think only a few years ago the name CZ would have brought blank stares at your local shooting range. How quickly things have changed. Today, CZ is widely known amongst serious shooters as a manufacturer of top quality firearms, especially rimfire rifles.
While their products were basically unknown (and unavailable) to American consumers until 1991, Ceska Zbrojovka a.s. Uhersky Brod (CZUB) has been manufacturing rimfire rifles in what is now the Czech Republic since 1936. Initially imported and distributed by firms like Bauska, Action Arms, and Magnum research, CZUB quickly realized the need to have a corporate presence in such a significant firearms market. In 1997, CZ-USA was founded in Oakhurst, California and shortly thereafter was relocated to its present location in Kansas City, Kansas.
The CZ 452 action, manufactured since the late 1940’s, was originally offered in numerous stock configurations ranging from a basic beech to full-length walnut Mannlicher. Unfortunately, most of these models shared a very distinct European styling with a rounded comb profile and thick pistol grip. Just as CZ recognized the significance of having a storefront in the U.S., they quickly realized most Americans prefer sporting rifles with classic American lines – regardless of how well the rifle shoots.
In 1999, CZ-USA launched the 452 American Classic. Chambered in .22 LR, the American Classic featured a sporter-style premium Circassien walnut stock with 18 LPI checkering, slim pistol grip, and near straight comb profile. Instead of iron sights like those found on the European models, the 452 American Classic was sold without sights and featured a full-length receiver dovetail in 3/8″ for mounting a scope. Shortly after the release, CZ dropped the moniker “Classic” and the rifle has since been known as the 452 American.
It didn’t take long for word to spread that this new rifle from CZ wasn’t just a “looker”. In the initial review by Field & Stream (12/1999), the average group from all testers and ammunition was 0.642 inches at 50 yards, with several brands of ammo turning in groups under a half-inch. Not only did the American look good, it could shoot.
Take the above at an initial street price of less than $300 (as of January 2009 it is approximately $350), and you’ve got a rimfire that can compete with rifles twice its cost.
By 2003, the 452 American had established a solid foundation for the success of CZ in the U.S. market. Meanwhile, with the introduction of new loads by Federal and CCI, it was becoming evident the hot, little .17 caliber rimfire introduced by Hornady just over a year earlier was going to be a big success. Designed around the .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire (.22 WMR) case, the .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire (.17 HMR) provided better velocity, trajectory, accuracy and wind-bucking ability than its predecessor.
In another excellent business decision, CZ quickly jumped on the .17 HMR bandwagon. By mid-2003, CZ 452 American rifles in .17 HMR were on the shelves of American dealers.
I’m a traditionalist. I love my .270 Winchester, .30’06 Springfield and .22 LR. I try to buy American – especially when it comes to guns. With that said, I can appreciate quality and value, regardless of where it comes from. By 2006, I’d heard enough about the CZ 452 American and the .17 HMR to make up my mind.
The first thing I noticed about the CZ 452 American is the outstanding fit and finish of the external parts. From the seamlessly mated buttplate to the deep bluing of all metal surfaces, the American looks and feels like a rifle well above its price point.
The Turkish walnut stock is nicely figured and well finished. Although not as sharp or well done as what can be expected on a more expensive rifle, the checkering on the 452 is excellent for a rifle in its price range.
While the 452 American is clearly above its class in most areas, it does fall short in several others. It amazes me that such a well made rifle would have a cheap piece of sheet steel as a trigger guard. Obviously, this piece has no impact on the functionality of the rifle. Unfortunately, it does detract from the appearance. Although I can’t speak for others, I’d certainly be willing to pay a higher price for the American if it were fitted with a solid steel trigger guard.
Another issue I had with this rifle out of the box was the trigger. Although adjustable for weight of pull, the trigger on my American had a tremendous amount creep. Luckily, due to the popularity of CZ rifles, there are several aftermarket options available to remedy this problem. Even though there were cheaper options offered, I chose to install a Rifle Basix Adjustable Trigger.
For a product that can be installed at the kitchen table in less than 30 minutes and is priced around $80, the improvement is significant. The trigger now breaks like glass at less than 3 lbs, rivaling triggers offered on high-end sporting rimfires like Kimber and Anschutz.
My final gripe with the 452 is the operation of the safety. Unlike most rifles, in which the safety is engaged by pulling back toward the shooter, the safety on the 452 is actually off when in the rear position. For a shooter who is used to a “forward to fire, back for safe” safety, this takes some getting used to and could possibly lead to an accident. In my opinion, CZ should change the operation of the safety to work in a manner consistent with the vast majority of other rifles.
At the end of the day, no matter what a rifle looks like, it’s not going to leave the safe unless it shoots. As Col. Townsend Whelen so aptly put it, “only accurate rifles are interesting.” There’s no question my 452 American is interesting.
After two years of shooting every .17 HMR load available, I’m confident the 452 American can handle any small game chore it’s given out to the maximum point blank range of 150 yards – regardless of the ammunition used. With that said, my particular rifle definitely prefers Winchester Supreme 17 grain V-Max and Federal 17 grain V-Shok, grouping five shots of each consistently under 1-inch at 100 yards.
It’s important to note here that the American is designed to be a sporting rifle and not a varmint rifle. With its light, sporter-weight barrel, it tends to heat up pretty quickly which can negatively affect accuracy. If you’re looking for a rifle to handle a day of shooting over the local prairie dog town, I would suggest the CZ 452 Varmint. The Varmint has a similar American-style stock profile, but is fitted with a heavy barrel for the more intense shooting duties.
Although it’s not perfect, the CZ 452 American has been a favorite of mine since I purchased it. In fact, I like the American so much I find myself comparing it to significantly higher priced rifles. That may not be fair, but it speaks to the overall quality of this rifle. Even with the addition of a new trigger, the American is priced $200-$300 less than comparable mid- to high-end rifles. For this, I can readily accept its minor shortcomings.
With its classic good looks, tack-driving accuracy and excellent fit and finish, the 452 American is a great value anyone can appreciate.
© Copyright 2009 by the Western Rifleman. All rights reserved.