The world has been awash in .22 Long Rifle rimfires for decades, but few have been built as solidly as the new CZ 455 Varmint Thumbhole Fluted bolt-action. This “little twenty-two” is hefty, a “real” rifle with real rifle feel and performance to match.
I’ve never been a fan of thumbhole rifles for hunting because they slow down gun handling, but I will make an exception for this one. With a thumbhole stock a shooter has to disengage the thumb from the hole, swing it up to the receiver, find the safety and flick it off, then swing the thumb back down, reinsert it through the hole and curl it around the grip. The operation isa split-second slower than it would be with a traditional stock. But that’s largely irrelevant in a target, plinking or squirrel-hunting rifle. Squirrel hunting is waiting, watching, calling and sometimes stalking before picking off tasty targets with careful, precise shots. Plenty of time to work around a thumbhole.
The thumbhole grip can improve shooter precision by aiding lateral control during trigger squeeze. With the thumb curling around the pistol grip rather than over the top, it better presses the grip into the palm. A bit of palm swell, which this CZ 455 has, finishes the firm fit to nearly eliminate gaps, slips and inconsistencies in hold. During bench-shooting I felt this control and believe it contributed to the tight, five-shot groups the bolt-action consistently punched with a variety of ammunition.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover the CZ grouped standard and high-velocity loads as tightly as some low-velocity match and target loads. High velocity doesn’t really matter when one is head-shooting squirrels and cottontails, but it comes in handy for toppling big jackrabbits and the odd raccoon, badger, fox or other marauder. Knowing your rifle can deposit a bullet traveling 1400 fps into a furry area less than a half-inch from where you aim—from a distance of 50 yards—well, that really builds confidence.
The CZ 455 apparently gets its accuracy from a combination of quality materials and precision construction. The 20.5-inch, fluted, free-floating barrel is a straight .864 inch in diameter, which gives the rifle a balance point right under the front receiver ring. A slight muzzle-heavy feel helps it hang on target. CZ claims it relieves steel stresses by seasoning its barrel billets outdoors in rain, heat, cold and sun for two years. The steel billets are then cut, drilled and cold hammer-forged around precise mandrels. The rifled barrels are hydraulically lapped. After swabbing my test rifle’s barrel, a thorough scan with a Hawkeye borescope revealed it to be silvery clean and baby smooth. I suspected it would be threaded to the action, but it’s actually press-fitted and removable. CZ’s entire 455 series of rimfires accepts interchangeable barrels and stocks. One can convert this rifle from .22 LR to .22 WMR and .17 HMR.
The barrel is held in the action by two setscrews in the lower front receiver ring, which are accessible after removing the stock. The screws engage V-notches in the bottom of the barrel, securing it both back and up against bedding surfaces in the receiver. Additional barrels must be adjusted for proper headspacing before use. CZ recommends an experienced gunsmith do the job, since it can require milling steel.
The cylindrical action is machined from solid steel with integral grooves for scope mounting. The bolt face pushes rounds from a five-shot, polymer, single-stack magazine. When a cartridge pops free of the magazine, it slips under twin extractor hooks for a straight, controlled-round feed into the chamber. This eliminates the scraping and bullet damage often seen in push-feed .22 LR actions that force cartridges to slide up a ramp into the chamber. A cartridge laid carefully atop the magazine already in place will also be pushed into battery, the two extractor hooks snapping over it.
When the bolt is pulled fully back, a fixed ejector milled from the receiver body emerges through a groove in the bottom left of the bolt body to bump the cartridge or spent case off the face. This ejector post also functions as an anti-bind mechanism, guiding the bolt body as its slides back and forth, but it’s hardly needed since the bolt body is full diameter and fits the receiver snugly. Cycling is smooth and positive.
Bolt lockup is handled by the root of the bolt handle, which firmly turns into the usual recess at the rear of the action. While it can be argued that rear-lockup actions sacrifice a bit of accuracy in high-energy centerfires, this is unlikely to matter with the low peak pressures of a rimfire. When the firing pin is cocked, an extension of the striker protrudes slightly from the rear of the bolt body. Moving the safety lever forward engages a raised bar on this extension, positively blocking the striker. The uncommon “reverse safety” takes some getting used to, but with frequent use manipulation becomes second nature. It is definitely a safe method for securing the striker against falling.
The trigger on my test rifle broke between 2.75 and 3 pounds, smoothly with just a touch of initial take-up and creep. Trigger tension can be easily adjusted via a tightening nut under the coil spring behind the trigger.
The 445 Varmint Thumbhole Fluted is set in a Boyds nutmeg laminated stock that weighs 3 pounds with bedding screws, steel trigger bow/magazine frame and a hard, black rubber buttpad. The barreled action weighs 4 pounds, 2 ounces. Put together with CZ rings and a Leupold Vari-X EFR parallax-adjustable scope, the field-ready rig comes in at 8 pounds, 5 ounces. That’s a lot heavier than the typical rimfire, but it’s just what a serious shooter expects from a serious rifle built for serious accuracy.