Saturday, May 31, 2008

Big Boy .45s Part III: The CZ97

The Czechoslovakian firm of Ceska Zbrojovka was founded in 1921 and produced a variety of weapons as well as other products. The firearms produced up through WWII were well made but otherwise particularly forgettable being the normal style of European small caliber handguns of the day. During the Nazi occupation the plant converted to solely manufacturing and repairing military firearms. After the post WWII Soviet expansionism engulfed the Republic the plant was once again making small arms full-time and seemed to hit its stride with the model 52. Mother Russia wanted the plant to make their own version of the Tokarev T-33 however the managers and Czech government stood fast and designed their own pistol (the model 52) around the Soviet 7.62X25mm cartridge. The model 52 was an ingenious internal design with about an ugly exterior as could be found. Nonetheless the pistol was a success and actually squeezed more velocity out of the Soviet round than the Tokarev was capable of producing. At that point in time they claimed it to be the most powerful pistol in the world.
In 1975 CZ produced their masterpiece, the model 75. This became a much copied pistol and is one of the best platforms for the 9mm cartridge that has been produced.
In 1997 CZ brought out a larger brother to the model 75 in hopes of capturing the market of .45 ACP shooters that was so prevalent in the U.S. This pistol has never caught on to the extent that the Model 75 has and it cannot be due to the accuracy so I must attribute its failure to capture the market to its size. The CZ 97 is a massive pistol. If Andre the Giant were still alive he would love this handgun. In comparison to the other two pistols tested for this review it has the largest grip circumference. Look at the pictures below and see where my thumb connects with my middle finger; my fairly large sized hands get all the way around the Taurus 0SS with the thumb reaching just past the knuckle.

On the SIG P220 Match the hand still comfortably and positively gets around the grips with the thumb almost reaching the knuckle.

On the CZ 97 the thumb does not even get past the fingernail.

While the grip is not the most positive of the three pistols reviewed it is very easy to shoot, recoil is no problem, and accuracy is absolutely devastating at short to medium yardage. Here are the specifications:

Weight: 2.4 lbs
Overall Length: 8.3 in
Barrel Length: 4.8 in
Height: 5.9 in
Width: 1.4 in
Frame: steel
Grips: wood
Trigger mech.: SA/DA
Sights: fixed
Safety elements: Manual Safety, Safety Stop on Hammer, Firing Pin Safety, Loaded Chamber Indicator

The 97 holds two more rounds than the SIG and two less rounds than the Taurus OSS. As with the SIG and the Taurus the 97 is a Single Action pistol and can be carried cocked and locked. However the first round may be fired Double Action by carefully lowering the hammer down on to live round. The 97 does not have a decocker to do this safety and quickly for you; CZ has advertised that they have built one with a decocker, but I have not seen one hit the shelves yet. The single action trigger pull is short, crisp, and fairly light. Sights are of the three dot variety but without night sights. The grips are of a very attractively checkered walnut.
I want desperately to like this pistol. I have a soft spot in my heart for the CZ line-up based upon my experiences with the series 75 9mm models. They are very accurate, have excellent ergonomics and I love the way the checkered rubber grips fit my hand. The 97 has a similar appearance to the smaller 9mm models and shares the superb accuracy potential, but alas, it is too large of a pistol to be practical. It is way too large for concealed carry and while it would have excellent potential as a house defender it lacks night sights, which I think are essential, and there are other excellent .45 Caliber pistols with smaller grips frames and larger round count with the requisite glow-in-the-dark sights.

Let's see the targets:

Two target showing 20 rounds fired at each from a range of 21 feet:

Target on the left was shot at a range of 31 feet with 10 rounds. Target on the right was shot with 20 rounds at a range of 40 feet.
The next target was fired at a range of 50 feet with 20 rounds (not the 12 rounds marked on the target).

All three of these pistols (Taurus OSS, SIG P220 Match, and the CZ97) are excellent and a great choice for home defense. The SIG has an advantage with a front blade night sight and a slight bit more accuracy at longer ranges, but is handicapped by having the lowest round count.
My choice would be for the Taurus OSS for four reasons: Ergonomics, Economics, Accuracy, and Round Count.
Ergonomics: the fit of the grip is supurb even with the 12 round double stack magazine in place, the controls are all easy to reach and just the right size, it is a natural pointer.
Economics: the OSS was the least expensive of the three with an MSP of $623.00 (I paid $449.00), the CZ 97 has an MSP of $709.00 (I paid $550.00) and the SIG 220 Match SAO has an MSP of $1,115 (the dealer had it priced at $1,100 but took four no longer used pistols in trade).
Accuracy: this is about a tie between all three; the OSS just might have been the least accurate if you measured to the closest 16th of an inch but it was still highly accurate for it's defensive purposes.
Round Count: the OSS will keep you in the fight for 2 more rounds than the CZ and 4 more rounds than the SIG 220.
Taurus sometimes takes a beating on the gun chat boards but I have to wonder how many of the problems are operator error, poor lubrication, and poor shooting from someone who spends more time typing opinions that putting shots down range.