As political decisions go, the Czech government’s arrangement to buy the complete production line and tooling from the Mauser works at Oberndorf after World War I and move it to the arsenal at Brno was a stroke of brilliance. I admit to being an ardent fan of Czech-made CZ Mausers even back in the days when they were basically chiseled out of rock by Communist drudges. I was happy that somebody was keeping the authentic Mauser flame burning even when Russian bureaucrats insisted that graduates of the Prague Spring stamp the receivers made by Česká Zbrojovka in Uherský Brod with the name of somebody else’s hometown and make the safeties operate the wrong way round. Unlike any other example I can think of at the moment, this was a case where my faith paid off.
Price aside, The CZ is one of the most respected actions, if not the most respected action, among hunters of dangerous game because of its universally acknowledged strength and reliability, two qualities which are absolutely essential in Africa and not bad to have on your side no matter where or what you hunt. And if you have to go through a few boxes of ammo to break it in, or spend a few bucks for a gunsmith to slick it up, or exert a little effort yourself hand-lapping the action and polishing the feed ramp, that’s a small price to pay for what you end up with.
The fact is, now that all those gloomy Russian Communists have worn out their welcomes everyplace except in our own Democrat Party, the craftsmen of the free Czech Republic are being allowed to put some of the finishing touches on their guns they’ve always deserved. The famously rugged double-square-bridge Brno ZKK 602 action has had some of its equally famous rough edges refined, its safety changed to the proper forward-fire operation and is now known as the CZ 550. So for the price (or considerably less) of a paper-punching push-feed action with delusions of grandeur or some plastic-stocked piece of all-around ugliness or a fragile not-quite-a-Mauser wannabe, you can have the real thing. In many ways, even better than they used to make them at Oberndorf.
I try not to let too many months pass between hands-on inspections of the latest out of the CZ factory. I’ve kept, as in bought and paid for, some of these rifles in the past, using them as the basis for semi-customs, usually replacing the wood, refinishing the metalwork, and always giving them over to a gunsmith for a spit-and-polish job on the internals. The barreled action from a CZ 550 Safari Magnum in .375 Holland & Holland Magnum is undergoing an extensive transformation of this type at this very moment. I loved the rifle but couldn’t live with the homely wood and lackluster metal. But it’s awfully hard to toss a CZ in the back of a big brown truck and send it back where it came from.
Imagine, then, my pleasant surprise when I opened the latest box from Kansas City and beheld one of the most beautiful full-stocked carbines I’ve ever seen. The full dose of perfect tiger-striped Turkish walnut was striking to say the least, the action and barrel were polished up and blued to perfection, and little sources of past irritation like a silly hole drilled in the bolt handle had been corrected. I was anxious to get this CZ the range in a hurry and went immediately to my stock of 9.3x62mm Mauser ammo.
The CZ 550 Medium magnum action is also chambered in 7mm Remington Magnum and .300 Winchester Magnum, both good varmint calibers in my opinion and not in the least appropriate for dangerous game. The 9.3 Mauser is the most powerful round CZ or anybody else I know of offers in a full-stocked European-style carbine, which is what I wanted. The so-called “hogsback” stock with its Bavarian cheekpiece, proper drop at comb and heel, and Mannlicher-style fore-end wrapping around its short 20½-inch barrel is a joy to handle in the field. No quicker, better balanced, more comfortable-to-shoot rifle configuration has ever been invented. Nevertheless, for those unquestioning devotees of Jack O’Connor, CZ also offers essentially the same rifle with a straight “American” stock, which is also more appropriate for the varmint and benchrest shooter rather than the big-game hunter.
For sheer knock-down power, the 9.3x62mm Mauser, with its .366” diameter bullet, lies somewhere between the .35 Whelen (.358” diameter bullet) and the .375 Holland & Holland Magnum (.375” diameter bullet). In terms of kinetic energy, it is virtually identical to the rimmed version of the .375 H&H which John “Pondoro” Taylor ranked among his all-time favorites, the 9.3x74R which is perennially popular in side-by-side and over-under double rifles and drillings, and the modern .376 Steyr of Lion Scout fame. The African pedigrees of all these cartridges are impeccable.
Developed in Germany in 1905 by Berlin gunmaker Otto Bock specifically for German colonists in then-Tanganyika, the 9.3x62 has been employed with shining success ever since against everything from elephant on down, including predatory humans. It was the most extensively used all-around caliber in Africa when John Taylor was at the height of his shooting and writing career in the 30s and 40s and he had only good things to say about it. Only after World War II was the German 9.3x62 finally eclipsed by the British .375 Holland & Holland, with which it is still a fine and respected competitor. In fact, many professionals still prefer the 9.3x62 over the .375 H&H because its slightly lower velocity can deliver greater penetration with lighter recoil to boot.
Currently, in some African countries, the 9.3x62 does not technically qualify as minimum legal caliber for thick-skinned dangerous game –- elephant and buffalo. But, since in actual practice this decision is usually left to the wisdom and discretion of the Professional Hunter, and given the caliber’s long and glorious history of successfully taking the largest of the dangerous game animals for which the Dark Continent is famous, your PH will often sanction your use of the 9.3 for anything you want to use it for, including elephant and buffalo. It is officially approved for these species in Zimbabwe and various provinces of South Africa. It is perfectly legal everywhere for lion and leopard and has long been one of the favored cartridges for the big cats. Professional Hunter Kevin “Doctari” Robertson reminds me that correct placement of the first shot is the most important factor in hunting the big dangerous stuff and says one reason the 9.3 works so well is because it is so “shootable.”
Stan Skinner, editor of the 10th edition of Cartridges of the World, notes, “... when many African countries were in the process of adopting restrictive laws, specifying minimum chamberings for dangerous game hunting, most ruled for a minimum bore size of 40-caliber. Almost universally, the 9.3x62mm Mauser was exempted from the banned classification.”
Al Miller, writing in Rifle magazine, referred to the 9.3x62 as “indomitable.” That’s not a bad way to describe a cartridge that has been going strong for a century and is currently in the midst of its umpteenth comeback. Yes, all over the world, including the United States this time, the 9.3 is becoming more popular every day. Again. Its wide-ranging practicality (the 9.3x62 would get my vote for the world’s best general-purpose cartridge way ahead of the 30-06), the widespread availability these days of premium 9.3x62 reloading components as well as excellent custom and factory loads, and the cartridge’s remarkably warm and friendly nature have finally made a belated impression on some people’s thick heads.
Versatile as can be, the 9.3 is customarily loaded with bullets ranging from 232 to 300 grains, though that range is sometimes exceeded on both ends, with the 286-grain typical of the caliber. The best performing bullets are available in .366 caliber as well -– including the Barnes X, Nosler Partition and Swift A-Frame. Robertson says, “[The Swift 300-grain A-Frame] is the bullet I'd go for if I were to use a 9.3 x 62 for buff again. I did use some 300-grainers by Ken Stewart -– they were flat-nosed core-bonded ‘Hi- Performers’ and they worked a treat. I think the better Sectional Density of the 300-grainer (SD = .320) makes the difference and better performers at around 2300 fps. Also, the Barnes-X is a goodie. I used their 286-grainers for just about everything and recovered very few -– they penetrate like hell and usually exited even on game like wildebeest! An RSA PH was recently telling me he uses the 250-grain X-bullet for all the other game and swears by it.”
Superior Ammunition, Safari Arms, Quality Cartridges, Norma and Sako all load 9.3x62. You certainly won’t find it in every sporting goods store (and Sako ammo is not currently distributed in the US), but it is readily available via the Internet. In this shooting session, I used Superior Ammunition loads with 286-grain Nosler Partitions at about 2350 fps. These were superbly accurate, and can be expected to deliver deep penetration on thick-skinned game and enough killing power for any animal on earth given a properly placed shot.
Widely popular in both Africa and Europe, the 9.3x62 is hardly known by the general shooting public in the United States, which is the American hunter’s loss. It is an ideal caliber for the largest of North American game, lethal on the great bears, moose and elk, and entirely appropriate for even smaller deer-size animals unless you’re treating them like varmints and shooting them beyond 300 yards, which is no fun anyway.
A uniquely European sport is nocturnal wild boar hunting, for which the 9.3 equipped with a big light-gathering scope is the preferred weapon. The dual-illuminated Trijicon AccuPoint 3-9x40, with its aiming point illuminated by fiber-optics or tritium depending on available light, is an ideal setup for this game, which is certainly as dangerous as anything the European continent can offer. It would not be possible to improve on exactly the same rig for shooting leopard over bait without the aid of artificial light.
I had first thought to mount the smaller Trijicon 1.25-4x24 on the gun, but the eye-relief on the larger Trijicon was a better match for the CZ integral dovetail mounts. After shooting it for a while, I’ve decided that the more powerful scope is fine and I will probably make it a permanent accessory on the CZ. Total weight of the rifle with scope mounted and sling attached is 9 pounds even. This is the ideal weight for a 9.3x62 and, when combined with the CZ’s excellent stock design, makes carrying painless and recoil a pleasure.
It’s a rare occurrence for me to hold a brand new factory rifle in my hands without my first thought being to rush it off to a gunsmith to have it fixed. Holding the Mannlicher-style CZ 550, feeling the slender grace of its wrist and fore-end, its snug fit in my shoulder, playing with the CZ features I so like, especially the single-set trigger, my first and only thought was to start putting rounds through it. The only changes I will make is the usual slicking up of the action, having the disconcerting three-position safety replaced by CZ’s far superior two-position safety, and separating the barreled action from its stock for a few minutes to get to the fully adjustable trigger where the curse put upon it by evil lawyer-witchdoctors can be removed.
After such minor fixes, I will have spent a lot less money for one hell of a lot more rifle than the customary off-the-shelf shooting stick designed and manufactured by people who don’t know the difference between a Cape buffalo and a New Jersey Holstein.
I may or may not pit this little 9.3 against Syncerus caffer, but I can promise you I’ll be putting a lot more rounds through it than my buffalo-hungry .416 Rigby. This CZ is a keeper because you can whisk it away for the weekend and count on running out of ammo before the fun stops.