Guns and Gear

Gun Test: CZ 557 Eclipse

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By Jeff Johnston

CZ has a cult following among some rifle and pistol shooters who prefer solid-feeling, accurate guns built with copious steel. The old CZ Brno rifles were coveted by dangerous game hunters for their robustness and reliability. As such, the Czechoslovak firm Česká zbrojovka Uherský Brod and its importer, CZ-USA, have avoided wading into the economy rifle game … until now. Its 557 Eclipse follows its 557 American wood-stocked rifle, which, while very good in features and performance, faces very stiff competition stateside from myriad rifles priced several hundred bucks less. CZ executives felt it could build a 557 with the same performance features of its 557 American yet bring down costs to be more competitive. After thoroughly testing the Eclipse, I can confidently say CZ accomplished its goal.

At the heart of the Eclipse is CZ’s proven 557 action that’s machined from a solid steel billet. Within the receiver’s raceways slides a full-diameter, monolithic, two-lug steel bolt. This differs from a few of the cheapest rifles out there that utilize floating bolt heads and/or bolt sleeves. This bolt features a 90-degree throw that is rather long by today’s standards, but its strength is unquestioned. It utilizes a simple push-feed/plunger extractor design.

The action is interesting in that it features a very simple yet efficient bolt removal mechanism, wherein the bolt release lever cannot be accessed until the bolt is in the open position. With the bolt open, a fingernail or blade can be used to depress the small lever on the left side of the receiver. If anything, this system prevents the bolt from being inadvertently removed. A red cocking indicator pokes from the back of the action, and a two-position safety lever is located on the right side of the bolt. The action can be opened when the safety is on. The receiver’s integrally machined dovetails eliminate the need for scope bases. This fortifies a weak link in rifle accuracy—the tiny base screws that can strip and shear—as well as eliminating a medical term I like to call “fruitless scope-base search” when shooters like me cannot find the scope bases that both match the receiver and the rings you wish to use. Ruger is one of the few other manufacturers that offers a rifle in this price class with such a feature. It should be an industry standard.

The entire action is mated to an excellent, cold-hammer-forged barrel that’s lapped at the factory to mitigate imperfections, thereby negating the need for a break-in period. One way the Eclipse’s cost was kept down was by only offering it in three calibers: 6.5 Creedmoor, .308 Win., and .30-06. All calibers come with 20.5-inch barrels; the .308 and ’06 feature recessed crowns while the 6.5 comes with ⅝x24-inch suppressor threads capped with a knurled thread protector. The barrels are so deeply blued that they look matte.

A major difference between the 557 and other rifles is the trigger group. The 557 trigger, while wholly European in its rounded steely feel, is the best factory trigger on the market for a gun in this price category, and one of the best in any category. It features two adjustments, one for creep and one for pull weight. All creep is easily eliminated by fully tightening the vertical screw. For pull weight, the set screw lock nut can be loosened and the set screw backed out to adjust the trigger down to 1 pound, 12 ounces. While I find this too light when hunting, it’s great for the bench. At its heaviest it measures 3 pounds, 10 ounces. I settled on 2½ pounds for hunting. The CZ’s bang switch is crisp, light, has zero creep and, again, should be the industry standard. No doubt it enhances the Eclipse’s accuracy.

While the 557’s trigger is steel, the bottom “metal”—including the hinged floorplate—is made of plastic. This is another way CZ cut costs. The internal magazine, impressively, holds five rounds.

The barreled action is secured to the stock via two lag bolts, but more notably the stock features metal screw studs that allow great screw torque. The belly of the action features two machined cutouts, or small recoil lugs, that mate to respective slots in the stock. This ensures the action remains solidly bedded and the barrel remains free-floated at all times.

The composite stock is a key feature of the Eclipse because it both allowed the rifle to compete with its price-point competition yet also lends it an advantage over that competition. There is no doubt that molded plastic—commonly called synthetic or composite by marketers—is cheaper to produce than wood. But when combined with an engineered action-bedding system, plastic stocks are usually more consistent performers than wood, particularly when subjected to foul weather. We all know that. But CZ chose a plastic type and a molding style that feels much better than the cheaper synthetic stocks on the market. The Eclipse’s stock feels slightly rubbery and soft to the touch. This trait makes the gun a pleasure to grip and even quiets it while knocking around in the woods. Some other gunmakers such as Browning (Dura-Touch) offer this stock material, but those guns are often much pricier. CZ’s version features molded grip panels and a pistol grip with a palm swell; it just doesn’t feel or sound as hollow and brittle as the other synthetic stocks in its price class. At the same time, it’s naturally heavier than them, too, but I’ve come to prefer my all-around hunting rifles own some heft, both for recoil mitigation and steadiness. The 557 Eclipse weighs 7 pounds, 14 ounces.

The stock features a firm yet internally cushy recoil pad that does its job. Three sling stud swivels add a nice touch by allowing the hunter to install a sling and a bipod simultaneously.

Thanks to companies like Savage that have modulated the rifle-making process to the point that it’s more a mechanical formula than an art, we now know a rifle doesn’t have to be expensive to be accurate. Turns out, most of it boils down to the quality of the barrel, how the action is mated to that barrel, and how the barreled action is bedded to the stock. Add a good trigger, a solid scope mounting system and boom, you’ve got a shooter. CZ has this process down well, as noted in my stellar .85-inch group average. If there are any complaints of the Eclipse, I’d prefer it had some type of three-position safety, and secondly, the plastic bottom “metal” is the only feature that feels cheap on the rifle. While it gave no indication of breaking, I worry about the hinge over time. But these days, most economy rifles wear plastic bottom metal because this is just one of those features budget-minded shooters often must sacrifice.

Overall, the 557 Eclipse performs like a rifle costing twice as much as it does. I particularly adore the trigger, the ease of which I mounted a scope, the feel of the stock and the gun’s overall balance. It performed exceptionally well in every category, including feeding, which was as slick as Fonzie’s hairdo. With an MSRP of $659 and a real-world price closer to $550, I truly believe it’s one of the best rifle buys available today. To be fair, $550 is still slightly more than the very lowest-priced rifles, but you’ll certainly know where that money went as soon as you pick up the Eclipse.

Technical Specifications

 Type: bolt-action centerfire rifle
• Caliber: 6.5 Creedmoor (tested), .308 Win., .30-06 Sprg.
• Magazine: internal w/hinged floorplate; 5-rnd. capacity
• Barrel: 20.5″; medium contour; cold-hammer-forged; 1:10″ RH twist; ⅝x24″ threaded muzzle (6.5 Creedmoor only)
• Trigger: single-stage; adjustable pull weight 1 lb., 12 ozs.-3 lbs., 12 ozs.
• Sights: none; 19mm dovetails
• Safety: two-position
• Stock: black composite; straight comb; 13.75″ LOP
• Metal Finish: blued matte black
• Overall Length: 41.5″
• Weight: 7 lbs., 14 ozs.
• Accessories: none
• MSRP: $659;

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