When I first started writing for TTAG I owned (and reviewed) a Zastava MP22R rifle. It was an excellent little gun for the price I paid and served me well, not only for teaching basic marksmanship to new shooters but also for keeping my own skills sharp. Then something tragic happened: I sold it. I knew it was a mistake the second the cash hit my hand. Ever since that moment I have been looking for a worthy replacement, and in the process I think I may have found the perfect .22lr bolt-action rifle: the CZ-USA CZ 455 Varmint . . .
No matter your skill level, the best bang for your buck in terms of training is a .22lr-chambered firearm. From new shooters right on up to the masters of long range, there’s always something that can learned or a skill to be honed by using the noble king of the rimfire cartridge. That benefit comes not because the cartridge is cheap, but instead because it is difficult — the light projectile and low velocity make it much harder to master than with any other caliber.
To really get the best training experience, you need to start with a solid rifle. A standard 10/22 semi-auto is okay, but I’ve always been a believer that a bolt-action rifle is the best — it not only gives you the most accurate and consistent shot placement, but it forces you to slow down and take your time with every pull of the trigger. My ideal rifle would be the one I used all throughout college, an Anschutz Model 64 with all the bells and whistles, but those cost some serious coin. I wanted something with that level of quality in both accuracy and appearance, but at a much better price. That’s when I found the CZ 455 Varmint.
The first thing you notice about the rifle is how pretty it is. It’s not “tactical pretty” like a Savage Mark 2 TRR-SR, but more “old school” pretty. The wood is a beautifully stained walnut stock, finished with a flat bottom (for easy benchrest shooting) and a free-floating barrel. The metal bits are equally as beautiful, polished to a shine and perfectly rounded where it counts. In fact, the bolt is so glossy that you can see my reflection crouching with my camera in it. There’s a 11mm dovetail mount milled into the top of the receiver, and on this model there are thankfully no iron sights added — the barrel and receiver are perfectly smooth and cylindrical with no stray marks or gouges.
One of the best features of the stock is that it is actually designed for using scopes, such as Leupolds. Most of the rifles in CZ’s lineup are profiled to be primarily iron-sight guns, but the Varmint version of the 455 was built from the ground up to be an accurate glass-assisted lead-acceleration mechanism. That means the comb of the stock is higher than the other rifles, and lacks the annoying dip at the rear that other rifles have. Some people like that sort of thing, but I’m not some people.
The action is very much different compared to the old MP22R. Instead of a small and chintzy extractor, the part has been beefed up and seems much more reliable. The two-position safety has been moved from a side-mounted design like the Remington 700 to an on-bolt design reminiscent of the old Mauser safety that locks the bolt in place when engaged.
The adjustable trigger on this rifle is okay from the factory. There’s a tiny bit of stacking in the pull, but overall the pull is smooth and crisp. It is set a tad bit heavy compared to my other rifles, but it is adjustable so you can fix that to be whatever pull weight your heart desires.
The best improvement over the MP22R, however, is the magazine design. The CZ 455 also uses a 5-round magazine, but it is positioned in such a way that the bullets are presented directly in front of the chamber and feed smoothly and directly in without any issues. No gunsmith needed here: I have never had any malfunctions or failures to feed with this rifle, and the age-old problem of bullets deforming as they slide into the chamber doesn’t happen with this gun.
The action is great, the stock is great, and the features are great, but what really makes this rifle shine is the barrel. Where most .22lr rifles use a rather slim profile, the CZ 455 Varmint uses a bull barrel that is roughly the same size as I would expect on a varmint profile AR-15. The diameter is damn near a full inch, and comes with a target crown on the end for a perfectly symmetrical exit of the projectile from the bore.
Another plus is the interchangeable barrel system. Any of the accessory barrels available for CZ rifle’s 455 platform, including the American and Lux (open sights), as well as other varmint-weight barrels in .22lr, .22wmr or .17hmr can be easily swapped out due to the larger universal barrel channel of the Varmint model.
Another feature that some people will appreciate is that the barrel is cold hammer forged, and not just button broached. Some still prefer button broaching, but the CHF process is known for giving excellent barrel life and great accuracy. Speaking of accuracy, five minutes on the range and you realize that the barrel isn’t just for show. It’s fixed to the solid-wood (not laminate) stock with easy-to-access action screws.
This gun is an absolute tackdriver. This five-round group was fired using Eley match ammo at 50 yards, and I called the flier high and right. That’s four rounds in a 1/2-inch shot group, which is a level of near-MOA accuracy that I’m more than pleased with. Using standard velocity bulk-pack ammunition (like CCI), this accurate rifle stays right around 3/4- to 1-inch groups, which is still good enough for marksmanship training and practice.
There are some really terrible entry-level heavy-barrel rimfire rifles. One of my friends was about to buy a particularly nasty looking Marlin a few weeks back, but two minutes fondling this rifle in the parking lot and he was immediately on his computer buying this exact same model from a popular online retailer. The pictures don’t really do it justice — the craftsmanship on this rifle is beautiful, and with fantastic feeling mechanics, it shoots like an absolute dream.
If you’re in the market for a .22lr rifle to improve your marksmanship skills with your centerfire rifle (or your small-game hunting skills or your plinking-in-the-backyard skills), this is the one to buy.
CZ 455 Varmint
Caliber: .22 Long Rifle
Barrel Length: 20.5″
Overall Length: 38.75″
Weight: 7.1 lbs.
Operation: Bolt action
Finish: Glossy blue
(Rifle DOES NOT come with bipod or scope)
Magazine Capacity: 5+1
MSRP: $469 (Website)
Special thanks to Alamo Tactical in San Antonio, Texas for being an awesome FFL.
Ratings (Out of Five Stars)
Accuracy: * * * * *
This gun meets and exceeds the “one hole at 50 feet” requirement for precision rimfire guns. Even at 50 yards we still see just one ragged hole. So long as the shooter is up to spec, that is.
Ergonomics: * * * * *
I have no complaints whatsoever. The stock puts your eye at the perfect position to look down a scope, and everything about this rifle feels solid and smooth.
Ergonomics Firing: * * * * *
The trigger is adjustable, allowing you to eliminate all the issues that come with the factory settings.
Reliability: * * * * *
There aren’t many things to go wrong with a bolt action. It even feeds perfectly every time.
Customization: * * *
Other than putting a new scope on top, there’s really nothing to do.
Overall Rating: * * * * *
Honestly, I still would prefer my old Anschutz. But at about half the price and with nearly the same level of accuracy, you can’t argue with the results. An excellent varmint rifle for new shooters looking to improve their marksmanship skills, and experienced shooters looking for a little practice. Assuming you can find ammo, that is.
Editor’s Note: This rifle was discontinued and replaced with the CZ 457 line in 2018 but it still available at many retail and online outlets.
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