Straight-pull rifle fan Pete Moore discovers a practical alternative to the AK47 in 223 Rem and 7.62x39mm calibres
I have Jules Whicker to thank for this article, as while at the BSS he told me of Caledonian Classic Arms who were bringing in UK-legal Czech VZ58 assault rifles. A call to Scott Rodgers (MD) saw three versions of the Czech Small Arms Sa vz.58 Sporter arrive.
You’d think the VZ58 is an AK47 built under licence, but you’d be wrong! After the war Czechoslovakia was one country and part of the Warsaw Pact/Communist bloc. They used their VZ52 rifle in 7.62x45mm; a home-rolled calibre, but the Russians wanted their satellite forces to standardise on the 7.62x39mm M43 cartridge of the AK47.
Many Pact members opted for the AK, but not the Czechs; more out of a sense of national pride I suspect! Though following the generic AK look the rifle is significantly different and the build quality comparisons are like chalk and cheese. The receiver is milled from steel unlike the pressed steel construction of the later AKM, a build that has been carried on in the straight-pull Saiga M3s we see in the UK.
The gas system uses a short stroke piston similar to the FN/FAL, unlike the all-in-one bolt/piston assembly of the AK. Locking is by a hinged, double lug not unlike the Walther P38 pistol, as opposed to a rotary bolt, and the action is striker and not hammer-fired. Having shot both weapons for real I would say the VZ58 is the more accurate and user-friendly. Which is a critical factor, as though reliable the AK has a lousy rep for performance!
Originally produced by CZ in the Czech Republic the VZ58 was still in military service in 2010 though was tagged to be replaced by the CZ-805 BREN; a design similar to the FN SCAR. The VZ was also produced as a semi-auto sporter and proved popular.
CZ has not manufactured the VZ58 since 1984, but a company called Czech Small Arms (CSA) has re-engineered it, improving tolerances, introducing new calibres and configurations, calling it the Sa vz.58 Sporter. Guns lend themselves well to be purpose-made as a manually-operated system. Fitted with un-ported barrels and without the piston the rear block is un-drilled, this is no cut and shut job, but a full factory UK-legal Sect 1 firearm!
VARIATIONS ON A THEME
CSA offers the Sa vz.58 Sporter in three calibres 7.62x39, 223 Rem and surprisingly 222 Rem and two options and a number of barrel lengths. These are the Rifle with a polymer Dragunov/profile-type pistol grip stock with a 16” tube. Next the Tactical with a CAR15, telescopic butt and Picatinny rail forend, my example had a 12.5” barrel. There are also a number of accessories - furniture options, scope mounts/rails, extended controls, muzzle brake, sight adjuster and an AR15 mag conversion! Scott told me he can build anything you want! To this end he sent his rifle with an 18.5” barrel, muzzle brake, side rail scope mount, folding butt and bipod adaptor in 7.62x39, finished in desert sand.
NUTS & BOLTS
The Sporter offers the following spec: 16” barrel with an adjustable post front sight in a protector, the rear is an elevation-only U-notch tangent; much like the AK! The muzzle is threaded 14x1mm with a protector. Rifling twist rates differ with 1-14” in 222, 1-7” in 223 and 1-9.5” in 7.62x39. There’s a polymer forend and profile-type butt, sling points are fitted and the gun comes with 2 x 30-round plastic mags, cleaning kit and sling.
The safety is a small lever at the top right of the pistol grip, it pushes forward to FIRE and is set vertical for SAFE; much better than the AK’s huge and clunky design! The magazine release is at the rear/left of the mag well. Given the calibre feed is either from the standard, military VZ58 7.62x39 aluminium alloy mag (AK mag is not interchangeable) or a clear polymer unit in 222/223 Rem; all are available in 5, 10 and 30-shot options. There’s an automatic last round hold open, with manual override. The AR15 mag conversion offers a button-type release on the right and clips into the well.
The receiver is essentially open-topped with a small, pressed-steel dust cover at the rear. The bolt sits in a larger steel carrier with an integral cocking handle angled up to the right. It offers a clip-loading facility through the top of the carrier for 7.62x39 only.
Guns come from the box iron sights only; CSA offers a dedicated scope base that fits on the left of the receiver like the AKs and the classic L-shape mount with Picatinny rail. Near essential for most Brits, as glass will realise the gun’s full potential.
The Sporter feels good, trigger pull is a bit long with a 4-5lb break. In 223 the 1-7” twist is tight and might well do better with heavy bullets! The cocking handle is short and positioned at the front of the bolt carrier, and though accessible could do with being bigger and further back. Scott is working on a drop-back like that used on the AR15s. He can also supply left-handed bolt carriers, which I found ideal for iron sight use on what is a light rifle. However, they would not work well with a scope fitted!
The scope mount is generally a tad high but allows field stripping and the use of iron sights; the Sporter stock handled it fine with its tiny comb, likewise the adjustable comb of the folder. However the mount reaches back and does not give ideal eye relief, it works but a reach-forward design would be better!
DOWN & DIRTY!
Scott supplied 122-grain 7.62x39 ammo from Wolf, and what looked like Russian military (probably Tula Arsenal), all had lacquered steel cases, as did some Barnaul 223 plus some S&B 223 with brass cases (both 55-grain). To this I added PPU 7.62 (123-grain) and 223 (55-grain) plus some 63-grain GECO Target and Hornady 60 and 75-grain TAP FPD and my own 69-grain reloads using Sierra BTHP Match Kings. I figured the 1-7” twist would suit the heavier stuff better! I fitted a Kahles 6-42 Helia C for accuracy testing. Operation is simple, slap in the mag, reach forward and cycle the action.
Starting with the Sporter (223) it soon became clear its 1-7” twist liked heavy bullets. The 55, 60 and 63-grain loads gave wide clusters shrinking from 8 to 4” accordingly. My 69-grain reloads finally found the sweet spot printing 1” @ 100m; not bad! The 75-grain Match did not shoot as well as the 69s, giving an average of 2”. One aspect became apparent the trigger pull was very long with little indication of when it was going to release. This did not help, though Scott told me he’s working on an upgrade.
The 7.62x39 custom gun gave mixed results, which from much past experience with this calibre is mainly down to ammo quality. This gun was shot off a bipod and butt bag with the x6 scope. The Wolf scattered its shots into 5-8”, the PPU was better giving 2-3”, which is what I would expect. The surprise was the military surplus, it was shooting 1 – 1.5”, probably the best groups I have ever achieved with this cartridge! However, it’s no long range performer! With the right ammo it should work out to 300m-ish, but the 223 should be able to reach out to 600m with acceptable performance!
ON THE PULL
Primary extraction was not an issue in either calibre; unsurprising in 7.62x39, but impressive in 223. However, the forward-positioned cocking handle caused cases to bounce off the fingers grasping it and fall back into the action. Fitting a left-handed carrier cures this and is an option, but not ideal for scope use! The solution is a drop-back handle on the right, which I am told is imminent. The cocking action is firm but smooth given you are compressing two springs – bolt return and striker.
In use the safety is best operated with the firing hand thumb, which breaks the shooting grip a little. The automatic last round hold open is pleasing, though access to the mag catch is a bit cramped. The Sporter butt is good, but it’s best to remove the tiny cheek piece as it raises the head too much when using irons! The CAR15 unit works well and don’t forget you can get other butts for this system. Fit and finish is good and Caledonian offer three finishes.
The 12.5” carbine has a permanently fitted muzzle brake to keep it UK-legal length-wise, and is an acquired taste! The AR mag conversion works well and magazines fall free at the touch of the button, equally the Picatinny-type forend gives a lot to get hold of and a base for an IER scope or red dot! Prices are good and extras like the base and scope mount are peanuts and you can add to the rifle as you wish. Scott’s tricked up gun is a pleasing sub £1200. In all cases guns come with 2 x 30-round mags. The AR magazine conversion is an add-on and not standard on the Tactical. Scott is working on an easy configure/rifle builder programme for the website.
For me 223 Rem is the logical choice as I want maximum accuracy/range, I’d go for a Tactical with AR mag conversion and a 16” tube. Plus scope mount, drop back handle and trigger tweak. In 223 the tight 1-7” twist does not offer much in off-the-shelf ammo, as a reloader this is not an issue for me! Later Scott told me a 1-9” twist tube is available, which can handle most weights easily and CSA are working on other mounting options, scopes and a drop back handle! Overall the Sa vs. 58 is a rifle with a lot of possibilities! Build quality and features are good as is the accuracy potential and at £780 for the base model it’s well priced.
|Name||Czech Small Arms Sa vz. 58|
|Calibres||7.62x39, 222 & 223 Rem|
|Feed||5, 10 & 30-round DM|
|Barrels||12 to 18.5” (Lothar Walther)|
All Prices Are Guides Due to the Changes in US & European Exchange Rates