CZ 550 American Safari Magnum Bolt-Action Rifle


by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn

January 14th, 2006




Just about every hunter at one time or another dreams about Africa. As  young kid, I read everything that I could on the subject of hunting the Dark Continent, especially the writings of Peter Hathaway Capstick, and later the eloquent prose of Finn Aagard. It was eloquent to me anyway. Elmer Keith also wrote of hunting Africa, as did many others. I read it all, never really thinking that I could someday go over there, but it is good to dream.

Most riflemen also endeavor to some day own an African Rifle. Not a rifle made in Africa, but a rifle suitable for hunting the world’s largest and most dangerous game. Even without the real need for one, most hunters still have a desire to own a truly dangerous game rifle, for whatever reason. Perhaps it is to fuel the dream. In the early days of African hunting, the rifles were truly large-bore single shot muzzleloaders, but later gave way to the elegant English and European single-shot and double cartridge rifles.  These rifles were expensive even in the late nineteenth century, and were usually carried by the gun bearer of the wealthy hunter.  With the introduction of the bolt action magazine rifle, suddenly, affordable rifles were available to just about every hunter. Along with these weapons came the grand old cartridges introduced for the rifles, to pursue the large game of Africa and India. These cartridges were introduced mostly by the British firms of Wesley-Richards, Rigby, Holland & Holland, and Birmingham Small Arms, along with other British and European gun makers. One thing that these magnificent old cartridges have in common is that they were designed to feed from a magazine smoothly, and to extract easily after firing. They had a long, gentle taper for the most part, making feeding and extraction easily accomplished under harsh conditions. When facing dangerous game, reliability of the weapon was, and is, of the utmost importance. The weapon had to work, every time. Contrast this with many of today’s ultra fat squatty magnums, and I will take the long tapered old cartridges every time. They are simply more reliable in a magazine rifle. They operate at lower pressures than do the latest magnums, which also eases extraction in extremely hot weather. The supposed drawback to these older magnum cartridges is that they require a long action, and today many shooters, for whatever reason, desire the shortest action possible, which also adds to the problem of getting fat cartridges to reliably feed from a magazine. I believe that the mistaken need for lighter and lighter rifles is the main contributing factor in this. A lighter rifle is easier to carry up a mountain or to pack all day even on flat ground, but trading reliability for lighter weight is unwise. A hunter would be much better off losing ten pounds from his waist than from shaving a pound or two from his rifle, if he must compromise reliability to do so.

At any rate, most new rifles introduced these days are of the shorter, lighter variety, and true magnum-length bolt actions are fewer and farther between than they should be. While some rifle manufacturers rework their standard-length actions to accept the genuine original magnum cartridges, a few still build a magnum-length action. One such maker is Ceska Zbrojovka, better known as CZ, located in the Czech Republic. CZ produces a true magnum Mauser type action, along with other rifle and handgun designs.

A few months ago, I received for review from CZ-USA, the CZ affiliate in the United States, one of their Safari Magnum rifles chambered for what is arguably the best big game cartridge ever introduced; the .375 H&H Magnum. The .375 H&H has taken dangerous game from Alaska to Zimbabwe, and every other corner of the world. It is not the biggest and baddest of the magnums, but it works and works well. It is certainly the most versatile of what are considered African cartridges, and I deem the grand old .375 H&H to be one of the best and most useful cartridges extant.

The version sent to me is the CZ 550 American Safari Magnum, which differs from their regular Safari Magnum in stock design. The American version has a straighter buttstock, which is preferred by most American shooters.  The CZ Safari Magnum is, as stated above, based on a true magnum Mauser length action. It has that wonderful, big, claw extractor which not only ensures reliable case extraction, but that also holds and guides the cartridge from the magazine into the chamber; that system which is dearly referred to by shooters as a "controlled round feed action". This is opposed to a push-feed action which, as the name implies, simply pushes the cartridge from magazine to chamber. While both systems work, most knowledgeable hunters and professionals prefer the controlled round system for reliability.

The CZ Safari Magnum wears a medium-heavy twenty-five inch long barrel that is fitted with a three-leaf folding rear sight that is regulated for 100, 200, and 300 meters, with the 100 meter sight being rugged and non-folding, as it should be on a dangerous game rifle. The rear sight base is adjustable for windage. The front sight is hooded, and has interchangeable posts to adjust for elevation. The internal box magazine on the Safari Magnum holds five cartridges in reserve. I could easily load six into the magazine, while closing the bolt chambers the first and leaves plenty of room for the remaining five. Many magnum rifles on the market only hold two or three cartridges in reserve. The CZ deserves points for a well-designed magazine. The all-steel magazine floorplate drops to empty the magazine by pressing on a button at the front of the trigger guard. No malfunctions occurred during testing. It released when wanted, but held tightly closed during firing.

The CZ Safari Magnum rifle has a single set trigger that is activated by pushing forward on the trigger until it sets. As adjusted from the factory, the trigger released at just over one and one-half pounds in the set mode, and released at three pounds and six ounces in the normal mode. Both settings are adjustable, but I left them as they were, for the trigger pull was very good already. The American version is available with plain or fancy walnut stocks, or in three different color patterns of laminated wood, with the colors on the test rifle being mostly green and brown.  With the laminated stock, the sample rifle weighed just over ten pounds, which gave the rifle a solid but well-balanced feel. The forearm and buttstock are checkered for a positive grip, and sling swivel studs are factory installed. The buttstock wears a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad, which, along with the heft of the rifle do a good job of attenuating the recoil.

The square-bridged magnum Mauser action has scope mount bases milled into the top of the front and rear, which is a nice feature. When ready to fire, from the rear of the bolt protrudes the back of the firing pin, which serves as a visible and tactile cocking indicator. Pressing in on a button at the left rear of the bolt shroud releases the bolt for removal. The bolt can also easily be stripped for cleaning.  The manual safety is a two-position button that is pushed forward to fire, and when pulled to the rear locks the bolt handle in its downward position.

While the Safari Magnum wears excellent open sights, the .375 H&H cartridge can benefit from the use of a good riflescope, as it is a relatively flat-shooting cartridge compared to many dangerous game cartridges. A low-powered variable scope is ideal on a rifle such as this. It adds greatly to its versatility. The power can be cranked up for the occasional three hundred yard shot at game, but still allow very quick shooting when set at its lowest power. The .375 has a trajectory much like a .30-06, and can be used out beyond the practical range of the express open sights. I mounted what is most likely the perfect scope for this rifle and cartridge; a Leupold 2 to 7 power VX-II. This scope is relatively compact and lightweight, weighing only 10.1 ounces, but it has plenty of power, and is just eleven inches long. It has a 33mm objective lens, is multi-coated, and best of all, has almost five inches of eye relief! I mounted the VX-II in Leupold rings that are made especially to fit the CZ receiver. These rings are very rugged, but with the little pocket-sized wrench provided, allow the scope to be removed in about ten seconds if necessary in the field by loosening two Torx screws. The VX-II is perfectly sized for the Safari Magnum, has wonderful optical clarity, and legendary Leupold durability.

Shooting the CZ Safari Magnum proved to be a pleasure, even from a benchrest. The weight, recoil pad, and stock design worked very well to soak up the recoil, and the generous eye relief of the Leupold meant that I did not have to worry at all about the scope cutting my brow. Accuracy testing was conducted at a range of one hundred yards using Hornady factory 270 grain soft point ammunition. Function  testing was done using that 270 grain load, along with Hornady 300 grain solids. Functioning of the CZ was perfect, with no failures of any kind. Cartridges fed smoothly and extracted easily, thanks to that big claw extractor, and to the excellent shape of the .375 H&H cartridge. The CZ also has a fixed steel ejector, which assures flawless ejection of the fired case. Accuracy was very good with the Hornady ammo. The CZ would group five bullets into just under one and one-half inches with ease.

The CZ 550 American Safari Magnum is an exceedingly well-built rifle. In addition to the .375 H&H cartridge, it is chambered for the .416 Rigby, .458 Winchester Magnum, and .458 Lott cartridges.  It is arguably the best  rifle of its type on the market today. It is constructed of wood and steel, it has an excellent trigger, good accuracy, superb sights, and is priced considerably below its competition. It also has a greater magazine capacity than any competitive rifle available. The Safari Magnum is built on a time-tested and proven action, and is chambered for cartridges capable of taking any game on Earth. has been working with an outfitter in South Africa for about a year and a half now, trying to put together a hunt package for our readers. It will most likely happen sometime this coming summer. For a bolt action African rifle, I cannot think of anything better than this CZ 550 Safari Magnum for that trip. Hopefully, CZ will someday offer it in a left-handed version also, but for right-handed shooters, this CZ is the classic African hunting rifle, and I highly recommend it.

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Jeff Quinn


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Click pictures for a larger version.


CZ 550 American Safari Magnum Bolt-Action Rifle in .375 H&H.



The CZ Safari Magnum is a true magnum-length action.






The CZ 550's manual safety is easy to use and reliable.



Bolt release button is conveniently located.



Single-set trigger is operated by pushing the trigger forward for a lighter pull.



Floorplate release for the well-designed magazine is located just forward of the trigger guard.



Iron sights are rugged, well-regulated and quick to use.



Among the stock options available for the CZ 550 is this well-designed and nicely-checkered laminated stock with Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad.



For scope sighting the CZ 550, a shooter can do no better than



Hornady produces some excellent factory loadings for the .375 H&H.