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RIFLE SHOOTERS who are enamored by classic rimfires will appreciate the new Steyr Zephyr II. Available in .17 HMR, .22LR and .22 WMR, this bolt action is set in a smooth stock of European walnut and a matte steel that harkens back to a time when rimfire rifles were as nice to look at as they were to shoot, and with handling characteristics similar to a centerfire.

The Zephyr II marks the return of the collectible Zephyr that was originally manufactured between 1955 through 1971. Like the original, the Zephyr II is a fine display of quality and craftsmanship.

A rifle's performance comes from its barrel, and the barrel installed on the Zephyr II is exceptional. Guns & Ammo's test rifle averaged .57 inch for five, five-shot groups at 50 yards. Steyr is one of very few barrel manufacturers that makes hammer-forged barrels, and they maintain Steyr's reputation for match accuracy.

The barrel on the Zephyr II has eight grooves and a 1:153/4-inch twist rate. It's easy to see that Steyr put a lot of effort into the stress relieving and finishing process. At the muzzle, there's a recessed target crown that protects the rifling. Threaded barrels for all calibers are optional. These barrels are known for long life due to the work-hardening of the bore that occurs during the manufacturing process. There is a very good chance, no matter how many smallbore rounds these barrels see, they will last well beyond the lifetime of the original owner.

The finish Steyr puts on each barrel and action is called "Mannox," a dark-gray, matte finish that is similar to nitride. It is extremely durable and resists the effects of weather, while providing a quality sheen.

Feeding & Extracting The bolt features dual extractors to ensure there are no complications feeding or extracting rounds. One sits on either side of the bolt body and each retains the rimfire case rim. As the round leaves the magazine, it slips under the two extractors that guide it directly into the chamber in much the same manner as Mauser's design would with centerfire rifle cartridges.

The feed cycle of the Zephyr II ensures the bullet's nose takes minimal damage because it doesn't get bounced off a feed ramp and into the chamber. A scarred bullet nose doesn't fly well.

The ejector on the Zephyr II is also ideal for any rifle, but it works especially well for rimfire cartridges. The rifle's ejector is a fixed block of steel that sits at the 6-o'clock position at the back of receiver. When the extractors pull the fired case from the chamber, rearward movement of the bolt smacks the empty case off the fixed block of steel and the case bounces out the ejection port. There are no springs involved in the Zephyr II's ejection.

Rimfire ammunition is often dirty, and many .22 bullets leave a wax residue behind. The extraneous material can easily gum up the small ejector springs. This is not an issue for the Zephyr II.

The bolt handle is distinctly European and has the so-called "butter-knife" profile. It is comfortable in the hand but requires a little getting used to when encountered for the first time.

Bolt Lift and Trigger Bolt lift on the Zephyr II is unusually light for any bolt-action rifle, but especially for a rimfire. Firing pins on rimfire rifles need a lot of spring tension to ensure reliable ignition, so bolt lift is frequently heavy and staged. This problem is especially visible on economy rimfire rifles.

The Zephyr II's bolt lift is so light and smooth it takes a few repetitions before belief sets in. The first few strokes of the bolt give the impression that there is no firing-pin spring in the rifle or that there is no way the spring is heavy enough to fire ammunition; it's that light. Firing the rifle and lifting its handle is a joy each time it's experienced.

Poorly engineered bolt lift diminishes the shooting experience because the shooter must wrestle with the rifle each time it's fired. This disturbs the shooting position, sight picture and becomes wearisome after several repetitions. The Zephyr II offers the ideal rimfire shooting experience. It's the kind of rifle that's enjoyable to shoot for the entire day.

The trigger compliments the action, as was expected for a rifle that retails for close to $1,000. The single-stage trigger has a small amount of tension-free takeup prior to hitting the stage. Let-off occurred at just over 2 pounds making the trigger ideal for almost every smallbore activity, except for Olympic-style, three-position shooting that features even lighter triggers.

Stock Sweetness The stock supports many shooting disciplines while retaining the high-end appearance and feel associated with the Steyr brand. The walnut stock has a Schnabel forend and has checkering at the grip and forend. The forend is slender with a recessed area that serves as a tactile guide for the support hand. The checkering has a fish-scale appearance and gives just the right amount of texture to help the stock stick securely to the shooter's hands.

There is very little drop in the stock's comb, about 1inches. The high comb, when combined with the 11mm dovetail cut into the receiver, means this rifle is designed to work with a scope.

The drop in the comb is important on any rifle that doesn't have an adjustable cheekpiece. Lots of drop in the comb--Steyr refers to it as a "Bavarian cheekpiece"--suggests that the stock was shaped for use with iron sights.

Should the shooter mount a scope on a rifle featuring such a stock, there will never be much contact between the shooter's cheek and comb, and the rifle will never be comfortable. The Zephyr II was designed correctly, it didn't just borrow a stock from another model rifle because it was convenient and looks good. The amount of drop on the Zephyr II is ideal for use with a scope mounted.

The stock has a 141/2-inch length of pull, which was done on purpose. If you combine a short receiver with the common 13 1/2-inch length of pull, it would require a scope to be pushed forward to where the scope's turret housing would hit the forward ring. It would likely still put the scope too close to the shooter's face for a full field of view. The Zephyr II's longer 141/2-inch length of pull solves this problem.

The Zephyr II has a couple of other convenient features. The magazine that ships with the rifle is a five-round polymer affair. It is interchangeable with the magazine from the CZ 455, which means there are lots of aftermarket options available. Ten-round magazines are also available and, for those suspicious of polymer magazines, all-metal magazines are plentiful.

Chambered in .22LR, our test rifle performed beautifully. This is one of the smoothest-feeding and easy operating rimfire rifles we've ever tested. It is rich in both performance and aesthetics.

Caption: The helical pattern on the barrel is a result of Steyr's cold hammer-forging process. Other brands smooth these out, but Steyr proudly leaves them on many models. The muzzle also has a recessed crown.

Caption: The Zephyr's bolt locks up at the rear, which allows the entire bolt body to function as a bearing surface during travel within the receiver.

Caption: Rounds coming up out of the center-fed magazine feed straight into the chamber. Scarring of the projectiles from feeding was minimal with the Zephyr II.

Caption: Textured control is provided by a fish-scale checkering. Though the lines are classic, the Zephyr II presents as a modern rimfire.

Caption: The Schnabel-tipped forend is gently tapered and functions as a hand stop for driving the muzzle to a target when not using a sling.

Caption: The dual opposing extractors function as controlled round feed on the Zephyr II bolt. Extraction during testing was consistent.

Caption: The detachable, polymer five-round magazines are compatible with CZ 455 mags. Ten-round polymer and metal mags are available.

Caption: Bolt lift is extremely light, and the handle feels like that of a butter knife.

Caption: The Bavarian cheekpiece and high comb make the Zephyr an ideal companion for a scope. And the grip turns down like a pistol.

Caption: The trigger pull was consistent and light with a little more than 2 pounds of let-off.

         Type:    Bolt action
    Cartridge:    .17 HMR, .221 R (tested), .22 WMR,
     Capacity:    5+1 rds.
       Barrel:    19.5 in.; 1:1175 in. twist
Overall Length:   39 in.
       Weight:    5 lbs., 14 oz.
        Stock:    Walnut
         Grip:    Checkered, fish-scale texture
Length of Pull:   14.5 in.
       Finish:    Manaox
       Sights:    None
       Safety:    Two-position, tang mounted
         MSRP:    $995
 Manufacturer:    Steyr Arms, 205-417-8644,


LOAD .22LR                  VELOCITY    ES   SD   BEST     AVG.
                            (FPS)                 GROUP    GROUP
                                                  (IN.)    (IN.)

Wolf Match 40-gr. Solid     1,047       31   14   .33      .53
Federal GM Target 40-gr.    1,309       29   11   .38      .52
Browning BPR 40-gr. HP      1,433       49   19   .47      .65

Notes: Accuracy is the average of five, five-shot groups at 50 yards.
Velocity is the average of five shots recorded by a LabRadar
chronograph adjacent to the muzzle.
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Title Annotation:PROOFHOUSE Steyr: Zephyr II
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Jan 23, 2019

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