Years ago and long before he retired I was visiting an old mate, gunsmith Bob Taylor at Lidsdale, NSW not far out of Lithgow. Chatting in his workshop I saw he was working on a strange little single-shot rifle and with the metalwork fresh out of the blueing tanks he was busy reassembling it. Once complete, beckoning me to where he’d test-fire his guns he said: “Take a look at this.”
Proceeding to dig a .22 shot out of an old box of ammo, he dropped it into the open chamber of the gun and pressed a button on the left of the receiver. Instantly the bolt flung forward and on depressing the trigger and firing it flew back again, locking open as the spent case ejected clear. Placing another diminutive round in the chamber and with an approving grin on his face, he repeated the process. The smile was clearly contagious as I immediately found myself beaming as the rifle once again spat a spent case clear on firing. Sparked with interest I immediately asked more about this rifle, a type of which until that point I’d never seen or heard of.
Turned out it was a Belgium-made Bayard, a galley-type gun from the turn of the last century circa 1908-1912. Anyway, I asked Bob what he wanted for it and ended up owning it for a price I recall was more attuned to a gift than a sale. I was fascinated by the self-ejecting function and just had to have it. Fast-forward to the end of last year and I received a note from the editor asking if I’d take a look at the CZ 515 Tactical from Winchester Australia, a lever-release bolt repeater which operated not too differently to my delightful Bayard, the rifle arriving with a Meopta Meopro 4-12×50 scope for testing.
The CZ 515 has modern styling and design as it uses polymer and aluminum, the main components being a fibre-reinforced polymer stock and pistol grip assembly, alloy receiver, 16″ hammer forged barrel, tubular alloy barrel shroud and full length (530mm) continuous Picatinny rail.
The stock has a high bore axis relationship, MSR-style, and floats on a six-position polymer receiver extension providing adjustment for the collapsible stock which also has a height-adjustable cheekpiece moved via four small hex screws, two each side of the stock. The tweak is only about 15mm but based on the inline design with an already high bore axis, it’s doubtful you’d ever be able to mount a scope high enough to need that full upwards alteration.
If you live in NSW, collapsible stocks are prohibited by law and fitment of such makes an otherwise legal category A or B firearm a prohibited item so there, any such stock would need to be permanently fixed in an approved manner. For the record, as a licensed firearms dealer and for the purposes of this review, I’m appropriately accredited for such prohibited firearms in NSW. Naturally, it’s always advisable to confirm any regulatory requirements in your home state with the local firearms registry.
As previously mentioned the CZ 515 works in a similar manner to my old Bayard, albeit a magazine-fed repeater as opposed to a single-shot. Starting from a closed bolt on an empty chamber you first draw back the bolt until it’s caught by the automatic bolt stop which holds the bolt in the open position, then insert the magazine. The conveniently located lever release can be triggered allowing the bolt to fly forward, stripping a round from the magazine and loading it into the chamber.
Upon firing, operating under blow-back pressure the bolt flies back, extracting and ejecting the spent case before being caught again by the automatic bolt stop. Triggering the lever release again starts the sequence over, repeating the cycle. The action is officially referred to as a ‘bolt-action, lever release’ and is basically a straight pull action which uses blow-back pressure to extract and eject fired case. The important distinction with this mechanism is although it in effect automatically extracts and ejects spent cases, it requires both a distinct and separate physical input from the shooter to reload the firearm for subsequent shots. As it doesn’t reload itself it’s in no way self-loading (semi-automatic).
The system is quick, intuitive, safe to operate and for reloading speed would be a toss-up if run against a pump or short stroke lever-action rifle. The ergonomically designed lever release is directly above the trigger housing with thumb pad right in line with the trigger (it comes mounted on the right of the receiver but can be moved to the left). Intuitively I found myself operating the lever release with my trigger finger, moving from one to the other between shots, though also found I could comfortably rest my palm on the right side of the pistol grip, grasping it with my lower three fingers while actuating the lever release with my right thumb and using my trigger finger just to break the trigger.
From a safety perspective I’d go as far as to say this system is without equal – and here’s my reasoning. Upon firing and without any input from the shooter, the default position automatically becomes ‘bolt locked open’ with the chamber empty. Also, you’ll find the finger outside the triggerguard as it’s drawn to the lever release. With a quick glance you can see if the chamber is clear and if there’s any ammunition still in the magazine.
To completely clear the rifle you just drop the magazine with no further manipulation of the mechanism required. If training or instructing a minor for instance, a cautionary eye will always know the exact condition of the rifle during the firing process. The bolt is either locked open on an empty chamber or forward on a loaded one, the only exception being if the lever release is actuated on an empty magazine.
Arguably the automatic bolt stop acts as an active safety in locking the bolt back on an empty chamber and the rifle also carries a conventional cross bolt safety catch directly behind the trigger bow as the main passive safety. The CZ 515 Tactical comes with a single polymer 10-round magazine and I was surprised to discover it was the standard pattern as used in both the old Brno and current CZ bolt-action .22 rifles.
The gun is supplied effectively as ‘optics ready’ with full-length continuous Picatinny rail. There are no iron sights as standard but, should they be desired, with the Picatinny rail on the same plain for its entire length, a set of MSR-style back-up sights such as Magpul MBUS flip-up iron sights can easily be fitted. Likewise, with the rail at 530mm it leaves ample sight radius for effective sighting with such iron sights.
The oversized tubular handguard finds the barrel somewhat offset towards the top within the shroud, leaving plenty of room for cooling should you find the barrel hot. Threaded holes strategically placed around the barrel shroud offer an additional opportunity should you wish to hang more gear off the rifle such as a bipod, light or sling attachments, the muzzle also threaded if you want to suspend anything from that.
The Meopro is an excellent full-sized riflescope with sharp clear optics, perhaps a little big for this style of rifle but would certainly do the job for testing. Because of the inline design with a high bore axis and no drop at the comb, you’ll require extra-high or MSR-height rings/mounts to place your scope high enough to see through, especially if it has a large objective lens.
On the range the CZ 515 performed flawlessly as I dipped into my ammo larder for a wide variety of both current and some unopened packets from my supply of old favourites. It didn’t matter what I used – be it 32 or 42-grain, standard or hyper velocity – it was all fired and ejected without pause. Accuracy was more than acceptable as I fired a series of 10-round groups at 25m and with the exception of a few operator-induced flyers, most could be covered easily with a dollar coin.
I was shooting more for fun, using just a basic rest so I reckon you could tighten the results up even further if you wanted to go all slow and deliberate benchrest style. But the CZ 515 is built to be a fun plinker and handy small game hunter, not a target rifle, so that’s how I wanted to enjoy it. It’s bound to become a favorite among gunshop owners as it’s an addictive ammo burner and I’m sure for those who are selling them, ammo sales are set to rise.
Rifle: CZ 515
Action: Bolt-action, lever-release tactical
Trigger: Single-stage, adjustable
Capacity: 10-round detachable magazine
Barrel: 16^ (406mm) hammer-forged sporter profile (threaded ½ x 28)
Muzzle: Threaded ½ x 28
Sights: 530mm Picatinny rail for optics mounting
Stock: Polymer six adjustable for position and comb
Overall length: 839mm
Length of pull: 305mm