A modestly priced .22 with exceptional out-of-the-box accuracy is topped with the Leatherwood USMC 8x Sniper scope, making for one classy rimfire.
It was one of those mornings. The sun was beaming through a canopy of yellow, orange and red leaves, October colors peaking, air hanging motionless, the last warm day. Not a creature was stirring, not even a squirrel.
But there was one defiant tree, left alone in the chainsaw desert. It was Fortress Squirrel—a knotty old Oak with ingress and egress escape hatches, and all sorts of gnarly twists and turns—the compound, the last brave holdout.
We stopped our stalk. Without warning, agitated by crunching leaves underfoot falling silent, the little barker made a break for it. With bushy tail fluttering mid-air like a plane’s rudder, Head Honcho Squirrel bounded with superhero strength onto a branch. He was eye level some 50 yards out and none too happy.
Wood obscured his location somewhat, but the 8x magnification cleared the way as the fine crosshairs of the Leatherwood Sniper Scope locked on—it was a chip shot. The 40-grain Remington ELEY match bullet drilled the gray squirrel mid-ship and launched him like a fur cannonball to the leaf-covered ground below. We carved the first notch in the walnut stock of the CZ 455 Varmint and fired up the rotisserie.
CZ 455 Varmint Review
Among .22LR rimfires, few have as good a reputation as the CZ Model 455, which is the latest incarnation of what used to be CZ’s 452 line. The model’s pedigree is one of modularity, above par craftsmanship and good value.
For those so inclined, the CZ 455’s interchangeable barrel system makes it easy as pie to swap tubes from lightweight and medium to the model I tested, the heavy varmint. Since my only intention was to test the Varmint version, I didn’t take advantage of the modularity, but it is nice to know the option is there.
What you do notice straight away is that this is a stout, well-built little bolt gun. It has a surprising price tag of only $469 MSRP (street price is around $380-$400). The heavy, non-tapering barrel is cold hammer-forged, mics at .863 and is 20.5 inches in length. The 1:16 inch twist rate is friendly with 40-grain match bullets, sending them along with accuracy like a surgeon’s laser.
The rifle’s Turkish walnut stock is good looking, too, and gives the rimfire a classy, vintage feel. The stock’s fore-end is wide and flat, measuring 1.70 inches—making it ideal for benchrest-style shooting off of sandbags and field shooting positions resting on the hand. The weight of the gun naked is about 7 pounds, and it makes one hell of a fine training rifle, particularly now that .22 ammo has been released from secret underground vaults (or wherever they were keeping the stuff).
The only complaint I’ve heard about the gun is its trigger, which some say is a little heavy and a tad rough. However, that wasn’t my experience. Out of the box the test rifle's trigger measured 2 pounds 8 ounces on the RCBS trigger gauge, and I had no trouble shooting little ragged holes at 50 yards.
Could it use a little smoothing out? Sure, but while I believe a great trigger will help a good rifleman, it won’t overcome a lousy one. That said, the CZ 455 trigger is adjustable even though I couldn’t see any compelling need to tinker with it.
The receiver is milled for CZ’s 11mm dovetail scope mounts built in—so you’ll need CZ scope rings—but I opted to make things interesting by installing a long-tube reproduction scope from Leatherwood Hi-Lux.
Leatherwood USMC 8x Sniper Scope
Patterned after the early Unertl Target Competition long tube scopes of the 1940s, which were employed by the Marines from WWII through Korea and Vietnam, the Leatherwood Wm. Malcolm USMC 8x Sniper Scope reproduction is every bit as stunning and useful as the old Unertls, only it is built with modern tolerances, really good glass and is something a person can afford, with an MSRP of $549. By comparison, a genuine Unertl—if you can find one—will set you back a grand or more. And most originals are in tough shape.
The optic needs to be installed by a gunsmith, as it requires the barrel to be drilled and tapped. Unertl-style mounts, included, are specified at 7.20 inches center to center. My gunsmith placed the rear one just forward of the receiver on the barrel. It turned out wonderful and garnered many nice words from everyone who saw and handled it.
As an aside, this “old-fashioned telescope” happens to be very popular these days in the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) Vintage Sniper Competition (mounted primarily on 1903 Springfields).
The scope’s .750-inch tube slides in the mount upon recoil—the idea back in the day was to keep the scope away from the shooter’s eye and to buffer its delicate internals during recoil—and Leatherwood provides a spring to return the scope to battery.
Since recoil isn’t much of an issue on a heavy-barreled .22LR, I opted to keep the return spring in place (in the CMP Vintage Sniper match, that spring is disallowed in keeping with the historical accuracy). Shot to shot, the scope kept its zero.
The reticle is a simple fine crosshair. Turret adjustments come out to be about ¼ minute of angle (MOA) per click, and there is a setscrew on the rear mount to lock the turrets into place once sighted in. One full turn of the elevation micrometer turret equals 50 clicks or 12.5 MOA. Note that on this style of optic, the reticle inside the tube is stationary; the tube itself, centered in the three spring-loaded prongs, does the moving.
I found the glass, fully multi-coated lenses to be excellent; there was no discernible aberration out to the edges; its gas-filled tube keeps things clear of fog and condensation in all nasty conditions. Parallax adjustment is via the 31mm objective lens, which is marked with distant gradients you can use as a starting point. I found them to be very close.
Shooting the CZ 455 Varmint
Best 50-yard groups were attained with Remington’s ELEY and CLUB Xtra Match ammo—no surprise there. The ELEY gave a best 5-shot grouping of .465 and averaged .527.
I also shot CCI’s Velocitor copper-plated 40-grain hollow points that truck along at 1,435 fps; Segmented HP 32-grain at 1,640 fps and the company’s new Quiet-22 Segmented HP, the slowest of the bunch at 710 fps. All of the CCI stuff landed in around .750-1.000 inch groups, very good accuracy for plinking and field shooting work. Winchester’s Wildcat 22—a lead round nose 40-grainer going 1,255 fps—yielded about the same accuracy as the CCI, also very good. The bottom line is that the CZ 455 is an out-of-the-box accurate rifle.
If you’re looking for a dead nuts squirrel gun, or one for field shooting practice, you can’t go wrong with the CZ 455. Do one better by topping it off with a Leatherwood USMC 8x Sniper Scope. You’ll get a real head-turner—one that shoots as good as it looks.
Product Name: CZ 455 Varmint, .22 LR
Firearm Type: Rifle
Chambering: .22 LR
Rate Of Twist: 1:16 in
Magazine Capacity: 5
Magazine Type: Detachable
Stock: Turkish Walnut, Varmint-Style
Length Of Pull: 13.75 in
Sights: No Sights, Integrated 11mm Dovetail
Barrel: Cold Hammer-Forged
Barrel Length: 20.5 in
Overall Length: 38.75 in
Weight: 7.1 lbs
Trigger: Mech Adjustable
Leatherwood USMC 8x Sniper Scope
Objective lens: 31
Exit Pupil Range: 4.2
EYE Relief: 3.15″
Short Reticle: Fine-Cross
Elevation Adjustment: 1/4 (MOA)
Short Feature: 3/4″ Main Tube
Coating: Diamond Tuff14
Subscribe to the Gun Digest email newsletter and we'll send your print-at-home target pack right away. Just enter your email address below.