By Michael G. Sabbeth, Shotgun Life
I learned of the CZ Sporter shotgun improbably. I was at the last station in a registered shoot at the Colorado Clays Sporting Club in Brighton, Colorado, a thirty-minute drive from downtown Denver. The station had five true pair of overhead tower shots coming from behind like F-16s. I was shooting my favorite Italian over/under masterpiece but I wasn’t hitting the targets solidly and even missed a few. The joy of shooting felt like a week-old soufflé.
My friend and squad mate Jamie Blie asked if I would like to try his shotgun. “Yeah, sure,” I said. Jamie is a top competitor in Colorado. I have seen him shoot 98 and a 99 with his customized Beretta Teknys semi-auto. Today he was shooting a shotgun I did not recognize. He handed me his gun. “It’s a CZ Sporter Standard Grade,” he said. He gave me a box of his favorite target loads, Baschieri & Pellagri Competition One, with 1⅛ ounces of 7½ shot. I stepped into the cage. The setting of the adjustable comb fit me well, the 32-inch barrels moved with authority and the palm swell gave secure control of the swing.
“Pull,” I called. Two clays flashed against the azure Colorado sky. I crushed them. And I crushed the next eight. “Nice gun,” I said. On our journey back to the clubhouse, I shot another forty or so targets with the CZ. I was impressed enough with the shotgun to engage in a longer term evaluation.
The CZ Family of Sporter Target Shotguns
The full name of the Czechoslovak sporting arms manufacturer CZ is Ceska Zbrojovka Uhersky Brod. Try saying that name five times fast! The Sporter line of shotguns is built in Turkey at the Huglu Firearms Company in Huglu, a small industrial town. Of the several Turkish firearms manufacturers, CZ concluded that this firm was superior to all others and began a relationship. CZ has been importing firearms from the Huglu facility since 2003 and has been importing the Sporter since 2008.
The Sporter is the first line of shotguns from CZ-USA specifically designed for Sporting Clays and FITASC competition. The line offers two models: the Sporter Standard and the Sporter. The Sporter Standard Grade is designed specifically for sporting clays. It features a single selectable trigger that breaks at 4-5 pounds, is fitted with a Grade 2 Monte Carlo sporting stock with adjustable comb and has a well-formed right-hand palm swell. It is available with 30- or 32-inch barrels and includes a set of six Kicks stainless steel extended choke tubes. The list price for the entry-level Sporter Standard is $1,899.
CZ also offers a Sporter Standard with an adjustable rib and an upgraded choke tube set. This version represents CZ’s effort to reach out to a larger population of clay target enthusiasts. Equipped with Moneymaker Guncraft’s adjustable rib, this competition target model serves sporting clays, American trap and skeet shooters. It has a four-way adjustable parallel comb, is available with 30 or 32 inch barrels and comes with a six tube set of Kicks Tom Mack series stainless steel choke tubes. This model’s list price is $3,122.
There’s also an intermediate Sporter that boasts Grade 3 Circassian walnut stock, a hand-engraved action, an adjustable comb and a Kicks Extended six Choke Set. The Sporter is available with 30 or 32-in barrels. The suggested list price is $2,497.
The CZ Sporter
The most powerful of my immediate impressions of the Sporter was its solidity and strength. My sample was fitted with 30-inch barrels and an excellent piece of walnut that was properly straight-grained through the pistol grip to the receiver and around the tang, but featured beautiful chocolate-colored swirls toward the rubber recoil pad. I knocked my knuckles against the stock and felt its substantial density. The wood had a superb smooth finish without untreated or substandard patches. The checkering, which I estimated at twenty-four lines to the inch, was excellent and precise, with well-crafted points. The palm swell fitted me perfectly. The wood-to-metal fit is above average for firearms in this price range.
The breech of the barrels is nicely jeweled. Two lugs extend from the breech bottom and fit into slots in the bottom of the receiver. A protruding bolt on each side of the breech extends from just below the line of the top barrel and fits into a slot on the inside of each side of the receiver, somewhat like a modified Boss/Perazzi bolting system. The design as well as the weight of the receiver impressed me as strong and durable. The barrels are monobloc construction. The triggers are mechanical.
As is typical, the barrels pivot on hinge pins. No jagged or unfiled edges could be found on the metal. The trigger, at about four pounds, was consistently crisp. The ejectors threw the empty cartridges eight to ten feet, with the two shells traveling essentially together. The bluing was lustrous black without any blemishes or untreated spots.
Sections of the receiver on the Sporter Standard are engraved totally by hand. An uncomplicated floral engraving design covers the rear portion of the receiver sides, the metal around the hinge pin and the top of the receiver surrounding the top lever. This engraving pattern is not a $25,000 exhibition of German Shorthairs picking up quail or pheasant flying into vaporous clouds, as can be done by the Italian greats such as Dassa or Giovanelli or Pedretti. The Sporter’s engraving is not intended to be such a design, as is done by many makers using lasers or roll engraving. The Sporter’s engraving is understated and honest and, much to its credit, does not pretend to be more than that.
I really liked this shotgun! The lines are aesthetic, it balances well and it is really pretty. It was time to take it on the road for a full test.
I tend to be extra careful with loaner shotguns and so I used the Negrini 1622LX/5136 Compact 2 Shotgun case. The stunning ABS case featured a royal blue exterior with mahogany colored leather trim and a lush blue velvet interior. Of the case’s many technological advantages and refinements, most notable to me was the plastic material designed to absorb shock without breaking, parts assembled by ultrasonic welding and the lack of water in the composition of any material, thus having no possibility of water or vapor inside the case when temperatures change. All cases are certified for air transport.
Evaluating the CZ Sporter
I shot the Sporter at many shooting clubs in Colorado and at the Oak Creek Sporting Clays Club in Brainard, Nebraska. A dozen or more shooters, including some fastidious Wounded Warriors, a wife of one of the Warriors, and some superb competition shooters, tested the shotgun. We used about 2,000 rounds of Baschieri & Pellagri ammunition.
My first extensive shooting with the Sporter was with Jamie during several visits to Colorado Clays. Jamie brought his Sporter Standard. During my first use of the Sporter Jamie noticed I was consistently shooting slightly to the left. He took out the Allen wrenches supplied with the gun, removed the cheek piece and moved the two metal support pillars about 3 millimeters to the right. My point of impact shifted toward the right and I began breaking targets more consistently and solidly.
Jamie commented that my swing was a little smoother with his 32-inch Standard and that may be so, but I am conflicted as to which barrel length was superior. Maybe the longer barrels offer an advantage on the long targets with a wide window of view but I believe the 30-inch barrels of the Sporter were superior for the rabbit targets and for presentations which demanded rapid mounting and shooting. I would need to shoot a lot more with both barrel lengths before committing to one format.
I traveled up north to the wonderful Great Guns Sporting Club in Nunn, Colorado and had my Rocky Mountain Vintagers Club shooters try the Sporter. Coincidentally, at one of the sporting clays stations CZ-USA representatives Bill Binet and Bobby Holik, an ex-National Hockey League player with the New Jersey Devils, were hosting shooters and allowing them to try many models of CZ shotguns. We spent a lot of time breaking clays with that array of marvelous shotguns.
Holik is a hockey player from the Czech Republic and grew up in Jihlava, a village near the CZ factory. He was contacted by CZ-USA and invited to be a spokesperson. Holik is a serious shooter. He’s had a Sporter for several years, describes it as lively and often shoots 300-400 rounds a day. “The gun is a pleasure to shoot,” he said. “Having the right gun is important,” he added, for “when people pick up the wrong gun, they lose confidence and get discouraged.” The Sporter was the right gun for him.
I traveled to the Oak Creek Sporting Clays Club in Brainard, Nebraska. I invited owner Dean Kriz and sporting clays competitor Larry Chinn to join me on the course and shoot the Sporter. We spent hours firing hundreds of rounds. Larry commented, “I like the balance and the trigger is really crisp. It breaks cleanly.” Larry uses a shotgun with a 32-inch barrel. He said the Sporter “swings solidly and has a feel of confidence, and it has a lot of nice features,” referring to the high-quality wood and the engraving. He said he’d really like to try a Sporter with the longer barrels.
I’m All Choked Up!
The Sporter comes with Kicks extended chokes and Jamie uses Briley Helix custom chokes in his Sporter Standard. I wanted to get educated on chokes to better understand the selections made by CZ-USA and Jamie. I called up Mr. Encyclopedia, Stephen Power at Briley. I learned a lot. For example, Jamie says the Sporter Standard with the B & P Competition One ammunition hits the targets “really hard.” Power explained what that meant. Of course, you start with quality ammunition, and B & P produces high quality ammunition. But “hitting hard” means simply that more pellets hit the target. More pellets hitting the target is a function of the shotgun’s bore dynamics and the chokes. This combination leads to the character of the pellet pattern and ‘hitting hard.’
The Sporter models come with extended chokes. Power explained the significance of the extended chokes: the longer the choke, the more uniform the pattern. Data shows that the longer the choke tube, inside and outside of the barrel, the more gradual the angle of the choke’s interior to get to the correct constriction. The more gradual angle leads to smoother pellet flight and less deformation. Jamie chose the Helix choke, in part, because it is ported. According to Power, ported chokes have better pellet distribution due to pulling pellets from the center of the column to the outer part of the pattern. Another interesting factor, which Power says can be seen on very slow speed video, is that the perforations of a ported choke reduce the sonic boom effect as the pellets leave the choke, further reducing pattern distortion.
Referencing Vito “Don” Corleone famous quote of “Let’s be frank,” Dave Miller, the shotgun guru at CZ-USA, shared with me what he referred to as “the big question:” will the consumer have faith and risk its money for a shotgun at this price level made in Turkey? “It’s a legitimate question and it’s on everybody’s mind,” Dave acknowledged. Some Turkish firearms have experienced quality problems.
And of course one issue for the consumer is durability. I asked for but did not receive any negative information about these Sporter models. Here is what I have to report. Alice Poluchova, the president of CZ USA, has shot her Sporter 35,000 – 40,000 rounds without incident. Dave Miller, sponsored by CZ as a sporting clays shooter, has been shooting his Sporter since 2008. He has fired hundreds of thousands of rounds and has only had to replace a firing pin and two top lever latch springs. He is approaching 90,000 rounds with his other Sporter without incident. Superstar shooter Tom Mack has shot without incident close to 30,000 rounds with his Sporter in the year he acquired it.
Will the CZ Sporter compare favorably over the decades with the top-end clay target guns such as the Beretta DT 11 and SO5, the Perazzis, the Krieghoffs and Blasers? Who knows? It’s too early to tell. But in large measure the question is foolish for those shotguns cost three to four times as much and, by the way, how many readers are going to put hundreds of thousands of rounds through their guns? Jamie says the Sporter can compete with the best out there, even those several times the price. He’s a better judge than me. “I would recommend the shotgun to anyone,” he told me.
My only dissatisfaction with the CZ Sporter was the recoil pad. The rubber is hard, the coarse surface catches on clothing and I’d like a radiused top and bottom of the pad so it does not catch on clothing as the gun is mounted. As Napoleon instructed, “If you want to take Vienna, take Vienna!” To CZ I say, if you want to build a high grade target gun, have every detail high grade.
At this time it takes a leap of faith to enter the over/under competition shotgun market, but if the price is competitive and the quality is there, success is likely to follow. The CZ Sporter and Sporter Standard are superb shotguns and, dare I say, super values. Shoot one for a time. You won’t be disappointed.
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