Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Stephen Camp - Part II

Best Buys in Handguns, Part II: CZ and Ruger

By Stephen Camp

A gentleman Emailed, suggesting that these two makers be included in the "best buy" category. I'd been planning to do the CZ pistols, but realized that his suggestion on the other maker was a very valid one. I currently only own one Ruger firearm and it's a rifle, but I will give you my impressions of the Ruger handgun line in general based on my observations after shooting many over the years.

If anything, the Ruger handguns are durable. The ones I've shot have consistently been plenty accurate and this covers the gamut from .22 single-action revolvers and automatics through the Super Redhawk in .454 Casull. Ruger centerfire automatics in their P-Series have always been reliable in my experiences with them as a police firearm instructor and normally capable of better accuracy than 99.99 % of the shooting public. I do not recall any feeding problems and the guns are built like tanks. While I don't think they have "good looks," that is subjective and other folks may think they look fine while still others don't care in the least. I do think the fixed sights on their autoloaders could be a bit larger. All Ruger centerfire automatics are conventional DA/SA unless you get one in DAO. None of them offer "Condition One" or cocked-and-locked carry options. They can be had with safeties that act strictly as safeties, but the decocker-only option is available as well. In other words, the safety lever is depressed and drops the hammer safely, but when released, springs back into the fire position. Ruger semiautomatics can be had in aluminum alloy frames or polymer. I've noted no advantages or disadvantages to either. These pistols do not have magazine disconnects.

Ruger handguns in these calibers are thicker than Colt, Browning, or CZ pistols. They will be more in line with widths from Beretta, Glock, and SIG-Sauer and this might be a consideration for lawful concealed carry, but wouldn't matter one wit for uniform carry, hunting, home protection, or range visits. None will come with magazines holding more than ten rounds in view of today's (utterly ridiculous) law.

Every .22 automatic pistol I've ever shot from this company has worked reliably out of the box and these will shoot with surprisingly fine accuracy when mated with the particular .22 ammo they "like." A shooting buddy of mine has one that matches what my S&W Model 41 will do, at least out to twenty-five yards. Trust me that these make excellent twenty-two's for plinking, range work, small game, or just knocking around in the wild.

My favorite Ruger handguns (besides the .22 autos) have to be their double-action revolvers with their single-action "Matt Dillon guns" (revolvers) not far behind at all! I do not think you can beat the Ruger SP-101 for durability in a small .357 magnum for the guy who intends to shoot nothing but full-house magnum loads. Out of the box, the double-action is not usually as good as the Smith & Wesson, but I've seen some extremely fine double-action pulls put on these guns by competent gunsmiths. The GP-100 is another really good shooting .357 mag and one that will take the hotter loads from both the factory and loading bench with ease. Ruger DA revolvers are extremely easy to fieldstrip as well. There are many variations of this model as well as others.

Ruger's stainless steel SP-101 is a very favored .357 snub for many users. While heavy, they are tough and capable of thousands of full-house magnum loads.

The single-action revolvers in .45 Colt are personal favorites and these can be loaded to much warmer performance levels than can be S&W revolvers, something that matters to many hunting with this caliber.

In short, to my eye, these are not the most elegant of handguns, but they do work and they do last. For this reason, I rate them "best buys." I truly believe these handguns are capable of lasting more than one generation of shooters if given at least a minimum of care.

So why don't I own more? Simple; I hate Ruger's policy that makes spare parts all but impossible for the private owner and more than a little difficult for gunsmiths to obtain. They want guns needing parts changes sent to them. These days that is expensive and what's worse is that if you've had a trigger job or internal change made, rest assured that Ruger will replace your altered parts with stock ones. This means that your trigger job is gone. The "good" side is that some parts, particularly for the rimfires, can be purchased from other sources. You're also not very likely to have much break, but if you do and the gun goes to the factory, I want you to be aware of what will happen concerning altered internal parts.

If interested in more on the Ruger line of handguns, you can check out their site at http://www.ruger-firearms.com.

Handguns (and rifles) made by CZ have gained significant use and popularity in recent years. I'd bet that this Czech Republic manufacturer's most popular seller is the CZ-75B. This is an updated version of the original CZ-75 9mm pistol, though it's now available in both that caliber and .40, as well.

For those not aware, the original CZ-75 was the "forbidden fruit" when the West learned of its existence as Czechoslovakia was behind the "Iron Curtain," and did not have trade status with the US. While the pistol itself was a very good design, being almost impossible to get increased its allure many times. During the early '80's, many paid much more to have a copy of this 9mm pistol that is required today.

The pictures to be shown of the CZ-75 will be of the Pre-B version. Primary differences between it and today's CZ-75B are:

· High visibility sights on the CZ-75B that are both dovetailed in

· Internal firing pin safety on the CZ-75B

· Slightly altered slide stop lever and thumb safety

· Hooked trigger guard

· Different stocks

Additionally, there are some dimensional changes in the magazine well of the B gun. While my Pre-B pistols work fine with both CZ and older TZ magazines, those by some aftermarket manufacturers like ProMag will not even go into the Pre-B magazine well, but work fine in CZ's current pistols.

Neither version has a magazine disconnect.

This Pre B CZ-75 9mm has a spur hammer and smaller fixed sights while the B version has much more visible sights and a ring hammer. (Some did come with spur hammers.) This gun does not have the hooked trigger guard common to the CZ-75B. The contour on the Pre-B's trigger face is slightly more rounded as well.

These are original stocks common to the CZ-75 pistols made well before CZ-USA existed. The CZ-75B comes with plastic stocks, but they're checkered and thicker than these.

In this picture, you can see the sear and hammer hooks of a Pre-B CZ-75. The hammer is cocked, but pressing the trigger even in the single-action mode will cam the hammer back very slightly before releasing it to fire. This makes a crisp trigger pull on the CZ a bit more difficult to obtain than on other pistols. Still, very good trigger pulls can be had and in my experience, both double and single action trigger pulls on both the Pre-B and CZ-75B pistols are very good. It is my observation that the double-action pulls on the Pre-B pistols are usually smoother.

As most are aware, the CZ-75 pistols have reversed slide rails. In other words, the slide rides inside the frame rather than the frames slide rails being covered by the slide as is the case with the 1911, SIG-Sauer, and most other semiautomatics. I'm not sure that this contributes significantly to intrinsic mechanical accuracy, but it does allow for longer slide rails. The only negative I can note is that there's less slide exposed for malfunction clearing or racking the slide. Fortunately, CZ-75 handguns are extremely reliable.

On the Pre-B's, the firing pin is retained by the traditional firing pin retaining plate as is the case with such pistols as the Browning Hi Power and Colt Government Model. On the CZ-75B, the internal firing pin safety required a different manner of retention and that's now down with a horizontally mounted roll pin in the slide. It catches in a notch on the firing pin and keeps it in the pistol. In the one CZ-75B pistol I owned, there were neither problems with accuracy or reliability, but the internal firing pin safety did mess up the single-action trigger pull right at the break. I'm sure this could've been minimized by a gunsmith or by some careful polishing of parts, but I prefer the older guns and the B was in .40 S&W, a caliber I'm not so fond of. I sold the pistol.

New or like new CZ-75 Pre-B pistols can still be found in the four to five hundred dollar range and I think they're well worth the money. CZ-75B pistols can be found for four hundred or a bit less and are well worth the money. Should you get one of the B pistols, I'd use a snap cap if dry firing as there are not infrequent reports of the firing pin breaking or the roll pin that holds it. Fortunately, customer support at CZ-USA is extremely good and you can get spare parts reasonably and without the hassles of Ruger.

It's been my observation that the CZ-75B and its variants such as the CZ-85B are extremely reliable, tough handguns capable of better than average accuracy at a most reasonable price. Combine that with the super support shown by the importer and you have a "best buy."

I’m also extremely fond of the company's "sub compact" CZ-83. While a few were offered in .32 ACP and 9x18mm Makarov, the majority are chambered for .380 ACP. This is not a small pistol and certainly not a "sub compact" for its caliber as there are many 9mm and forty-caliber pistols that are smaller. In my opinion, if having the smallest size possible in .380 is not important for you, this is probably the best .380 ACP pistol made. I find it much more pleasant to shoot than any of the Walther .380's and like the double action trigger pull much better than that on the excellent Beretta Model 84.

Like the CZ-75, the CZ-83 is a double-action pistol that is also capable of cocked and locked carry if desired. These are extremely reliable pistols and all that I have shot have been exceptionally accurate as well. Both use double-stack magazines and both were originally capable of holding more than the 10 rounds we're limited to today. I particularly hate the Philips head screws used to attach the current CZ pistol grips. The CZ-83 is a straight blowback design.

Out of the box, the CZ-83 will have a lighter and smoother double-action trigger pull than will the Makarov in most instances. The CZ-83 does not have the magazine "safety" so common on handguns today and its firing pin is retained with the tradition retaining plate; there is no internal firing pin safety. The firing pin on the CZ-75/85 series of handguns is inertial as it is on the CZ-83.

CZ also makes and imports a .45 ACP pistol in the form of the CZ-97B. This double-stack forty-five has a ten-round magazine and operates in the same manner as the CZ-75B. It is larger. It is an extremely accurate pistol and has a removable, screw-in barrel bushing. These pistols feel larger than they are, but are actually about the size of the 5" 1911. There have been some complaints about their reliability when JHP ammo is used instead of ball, but this is easily corrected at home by some judicious polishing of the one-piece feed ramp. If all else fails, the pistol can be sent to CZ-USA's gunsmith, Mike Eagleshield. (He also is very good at trigger jobs on CZ handguns.)

All of the CZ handguns that I've fired have been very accurate and in most cases, the fixed sights were dead on out of the box. The CZ-75B in forty was more accurate over a wider range of loads than was my Mk III Hi Power in that caliber.

Finish is not going to match a polished high-dollar custom pistol and the Beretta has a better polished blue on those pistols still having that as an option, but mechanically, the CZ pistols are every bit their equals and in my experience more accurate in the full-size 9mm versions.

They are tough, accurate, and in my opinion, good looking pistols.

In my CZ-75 9mm pistols, I suggest the use of Wolff conventional recoil springs. My pistols are well broken in and work fine with an 18-lb. spring using both standard and +P ammunition, but you might consider a 16 or 17-lb. spring if you have a new pistol and/or intend to shoot primarily standard pressure loads.

This CZ-75 is plenty accurate enough for me. This group was fired at 25 yards using factory Winchester ball ammunition. Bar-Sto does offer match grade barrels for those desiring such.

Not a Camp Perry class target pistol, this CZ-83 in .380 ACP provided better than expected accuracy as this 25 yard target shows. The load used was Federal 90-grain Hydrashok. This gun did malfunction and fail to feed precisely one time. It did it with the Hydrashok, but has never done it since. It has never worked less than 100% with any other .380 load tried.

If you're interested in CZ pistols, you might take a look over at www.czusa.com . They have full size pistols and several variations on the CZ-75 "theme." They also have compact versions of the model.

CZ also offers their .22 "Kadet" conversion unit that fits the CZ-75 and 85 pistols. This has proven reliable and accurate in my experience and one is sitting on a Pre-B CZ-75 as this is written.

Again, I've shot quite a few examples from each of the makers and have done so over a period of several years. While I've not shot every model both offers, I believe that both offer extremely good value and are well worth the costs. Should you be interested in any of the handguns offered by Ruger or CZ, I'd sure encourage you to take a critical look at the models offered on their sites.