Gun test: Steyr Mannlicher Zephyr .22 LR
- Credit: Archant
Broadsword tests the stunning Steyr Mannlicher Zephyr .22 LR - a remake of a classic Germanic rimfire...
We are all familiar with the Steyr Mannlicher brand that stands for the best of Austrian quality and craftsmanship and this usually refers to their excellent centrefire rifles.
It is no surprise then that a premium rimfire rifle was on the cards and Steyr did not have to look far for their inspiration as back in 1966, Steyr Mannlicher produced the .22 LR Zephyr model, which was a unique rimfire rifle, blending the Steyr brand of old-world workmanship within the diminutive rimfire calibre.
It was the only rimfire I knew that had a Stutzen-type stock (i.e. it had a full length to it) and thus was a perfect complement to their other full-bore Stutzen rifle range. These old Zephyr models are highly desired today by collectors.
This new Steyr Zephyr rimfire has revived this model but with a few more modern attributes and styling. Gone is the Stutzen stock, which some may say is a shame, but the new more modern yet still very Steyr-esque stock has a traditional sporter look to it while still featuring that Germanic profile.
The metalwork has the excellent barley twist barrel profile from the hammer-forged process and the range of calibres has increased from .22 LR to .17 HMR and .22 WMR.
Retailing for £1,013.99, the Zephyr is up there with other premium rimfire like Anschutz and Bergara, so it will be very interesting to see how it performs on the range and in the field.
Steyr Mannlicher Zephyr .22 LR Specifications
As soon as the Zephyr is lifted out of the box, you know you have a very nicely sorted rimfire in your hands. It instantly feels like quality and handles as light as a feather at 5.8 lb with great pointability, as the length of pull of the stock at 14.25", is just right for a well-balanced and effortless grip, very much like a shotgun really.
I do like the crossover styling between old and new, as there are nods to the older design as well as a new trigger and stock profiling, although the fixed sling swivels remain. Today, this really should be q/d studs for universal fitment, but that’s my only gripe.
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The rest of the stock is really nice. You have quite a blonde-coloured stock showing the natural grain and figuring without the need for any stain, which also makes the Zephyr very distinctive. I like a dark stock but I am edging towards the lighter version now as it shows off the darker figuring within the walnut to more effect.
You also have a well-executed oiled finish; semi-rubbed, it achieves both a practical and elegant look/feel to the Zephyr. Oil finishes are so much easier to get looking good than a lacquer one and they are equally good at stopping moisture ingress.
With regards shape, the Zephyr just feels right in the hold. It is quite long but is perfectly balanced with a lot of scallops, curves and flowing lines to the outwardly German-styled stock. The fore-end is slimline with a ridge to the top section and dished inwards on the sides so the fingers grip the fish-scaled chequered panels with no chance of touching the barrel and upsetting the harmonics.
There’s a typical Schnabel fore-end tip to furnish, plus a groove all along the underside to the pistol grip, again helping with a natural hold at any shooting position. The fish scale chequering on the pistol grip is very well cut, laser no doubt, but functional too – and having a long rake to accommodate the safety tang, it affords an effortless hold. The pronounced palm swell to the right side combined with the generous thumb cut out helps the hand stay more in line with the rifle’s axis.
The cheekpiece is typically German, having that Bavarian double-lined/fluted defined style that flows back over the top of the pistol grip to the belly of the stock and then forming a lip. The comb itself is straight and angles upward to the rear, so again perfectly positions the head for scope use. Overall, it’s a very good looking and well-fitting stock.
The bedding is also very well executed and makes all the difference in the stable platform that the barrelled action sits in. It’s nice to see various inspection marks stamped on the stock to show this area has passed strict quality control procedures. The fore-end is lightened, with wood removed, but still retains rigidity and thus no warpage issues. The action bedding is just good old metal to wood, no pillar system but the fit is so good, I doubt you need it and the accuracy test proved this.
Steyr Mannlicher Zephyr .22 LR's barrelled action
The action is tubular steel in form with an overall matt blued finish, the same as the barrel, with a slight inset into the stock bolt release lever to the left, and standard 11mm dovetails for a scope (not drilled and tapped). There is ample mounting area in front and behind the breech for a large scope to be fitted correctly. This does make the action long and this is accentuated by the extended safety tang to the rear, which is very handily placed for the thumb to smoothly operate with the forward position of the safety knob, showing a red dot for fire and back shows white for safe.
The trigger is now silver anodised and has a long first travel but then a fine crisp second release of 3.25 lbs. It can be adjusted but the handbook says not to, so I left it and soon got use to it.
The floorplate and magazine system are matt blued steel and make use of the CZ magazine and this Zephyr comes with a five-shot mag as standard. It makes perfect sense to me, as Steyr can use these tried and tested magazines, offering a cheap opportunity to add a spare. A small blanking plate at the rear is removed if an HMR barrelled action is used.
Operating the Steyr feels very familiar as the Zephyr uses Steyr’s trademark traditional butter knife/spoon bolt-handle shape with a low travel rearward at 90 degrees to the action, avoiding even the lowest mounted scope. When cocked a small rectangular cocking indicator protrudes from the bolt shroud.
The bolt body is smooth and polished, so runs very nicely in the action with its short travel and rear lugs, but you do have to consciously push the bolt down to close it and engage the trigger sear. You have a twin extractor claw system and spur-type ejector through a cut out in the base of the bolt, engaging the ejector, which works very effectively. The firing pin is centrally placed and round in profile and had a very good, fast lock time, certainly contributing to the excellent accuracy overall and the positive ignition of all the ammunition types shot.
Finally, the barrel is very distinctly Steyr with that lovely hammer-forged barrel showing that Steyr barley twist barrel profile, which has the same matt blued finish as the action. It’s fully free-floated from the fore-end wood and comes screw cut with a ½" UNF thread and is 19.5" long with the typical 1 in 16" rifling twist. Internal viewing with the bore scope showed a very clean and tool-free barrel.
Shooting test of Steyr Mannlicher Zephyr .22 LR
The Sportsman Gun Centre distributes the new Element range of scopes and so, no surprise, a Helix 6-24x50mm scope was supplied, which I fitted into 30mm Sportsmatch mounts. It uses a very good MRAD reticule, so instant in the field range trajectory compensation or use of the target turrets to adjust your aim. Likewise, the 1/10th MRAD adjustments are fine enough for a perfect zero at any range that suits you.
As this was an elegant looking sporting rimfire, I fitted an old Venom Arms Executive steel and blued sound moderator that really looked perfect with the Steyr. It does mean the overall length is increased to 45.75" but the sound suppression is superb. Alas, they don’t make them like this any more.
I stuck to testing subsonic rounds but included the RWS HV load, as this has proved the most consistent HV .22 rimfire in my testings of late. Accuracy at 50 yards for this rife was superb – I don’t know why I sound surprised, but all groups were well below 1" at this range.
Best accuracy went jointly to the Eley Subs, CCI Suppressor and SK Match Long Range rounds, with 0.45” for five rounds; that’s accuracy you can rely on to take shots at any range you can calculate drop and windage at. In fact, the CCI Suppressor load uses a 45gr bullet and will also function well in a semi-auto, but best of all, it always hits very hard and is super quiet at 949fps for 90 ft/lb energy. Mind you, that new SK Match Long range bullet with its 1070fps from the 40gr round nose bullet produced 102 ft/lbs, so no slouch either.
Even the reduced loads I like to use for closer range or barn use on ferals and rats shot below an inch, albeit at 30 yards, but still impressive. The RWS Z-Lang I love but did have a few failures to cycle or feed; this is the round’s fault, not the mag’s I hasten to add.
The CCI Quiet gave a lovely 722fps super quiet report delivering 46 ftlb of energy providing FAC airgun levels of energy for close range vermin.
I actually chose to go rabbiting with the SK Match Long Range, despite it being a round-nose head. These rounds are so good I’ve had loads of long-range success with head/neck shots with other rifles.
The Zephyr is a joy to tout around the fields, lightweight, even with a mod and scope fitted, and is easily kept still for shots off sticks. I did not fit a bipod on this rifle but I can’t envisage any issues as the barrel is fully free-floated.
Sat up in the hedgerow trying to avoid the water seeping through my moleskins, the Zephyr sat rock solid on the sticks at knee height. Rabbits started popping out just as the wind dropped in the evening, so we had some really satisfying shots up to 100 yards and maybe beyond! It’s that type of rifle, it makes you look good.
Sure, the price tag of over a grand might put some people off, but it’s quality through and through and as it’s probably going to be the rifle you use the most, being a .22 rimfire, it will pay for itself tenfold in time.
I liked the original Zephyr, but this redesigned rifle is better in every way when it comes to modern-day usage. The action is smooth, the trigger is good and the handling has a very natural feel, almost elegant, without wanting to sound too poncy. The accuracy with all the loads tested over the chronograph and on targets was exceptional and well worth its price tag for that alone.
SK Match LR
Manufacturer: Steyr Mannlicher
Model: Zephyr ZR11
Type: Bolt Action
Overall Length: 39.25 inches
Barrel Length: 19.5 inches
Calibre: .22 LR or .17 HMR,.22 WMR available
Finish: Blued steel
Weight: 5.8 lbs
Magazine: Detachable 5 shot
Stock: Walnut sporter
Trigger: Non adjustable
Safety: Tang mount
Importers: Sportsman Gun centre
Tel: 01392 354854