The “Divine Wind” Returns
By Holt Bodinson
There were two remarkable catalogs in my youth. They were thick, a bit grimy, and thoroughly dog-eared. The first was the 2-pound Sears & Roebuck wish book filled with wonderful J.C. Higgins firearms.
The pièce de résistance, though, was the catalog I couldn’t lay down. It consumed hundreds of hours of my idle time — the Shooter’s Bible, published annually by the Stoeger Arms Corporation of New York City. Almost 600 pages thick, it was the stuff shooters’ dreams were made of. And nothing was more dreamily exotic to an American teenager than the Mannlicher-Schoenauer section.
After wading through page after page of beautifully engraved and stocked rifles, I came face-to-face with the most spectacular rimfire I’d ever laid eyes on — a petite, Mannlicher-stocked .22 carbine with double-set triggers and a 19.5″ barrel. It was called the “Steyr Custom Small-Bore Carbine,” later to be cataloged as the “Zephyr.” The enticing copy read:
“Produced by the makers of the famous Mannlicher-Schoenauer Carbine, the Steyr Custom Small-Bore Carbine is a perfect counterpart to its big-bore brother.”
Steyr’s original Mannlicher Zephyr I (bottom) featured double-set triggers and was a head-turner.
The Zephyr II (top) continues the tradition.
Discontinued in 1971, the original Zephyr has proven to be as rare and untouchable as the fleeting wind it was named for. That’s why it’s exciting to see Steyr reviving its crown jewel rimfire as the Zephyr II.
Many of us thought Steyr would surprise everyone with another mini-Mannlicher Zephyr, but they played their cards close to their vest and gave us another “perfect counterpart to its big-bore brother” — in this case the “brother” being Steyr’s current top-of-the-line the CL II and SM 12.
Opening the Zephyr II shipping carton on the countertop in Murphy’s Gun Shop immediately elicited some oohs and aahs from nearby patrons. We don’t expect to see richly figured walnut on commercial models much anymore, much less the iconic German fish-scale form of checkering and sharply outlined Bavarian cheekpiece accenting the new Zephyr II. In quality and design, the stock is a spitting image of the one fitted to the CL II centerfire. But while the Zephyr sells for $995, the CL II carries a price tag of $2,340. Steyr followed their “perfect counterpart” concept precisely and gave us a thoroughly adult-sized rimfire understudy.
The Zephyr II is strongly Germanic in design — from its flowing cheekpiece through its slim, graceful forend, to its Schnabel forend tip. Its right-handed stock has a pronounced Wundhammer swell on the right side of the pistol grip. Frankly, the stock either appeals to your aesthetic sense or it doesn’t. I like it, not only for its form but its function. It feels light and lively in my hands and, when mounted, forms a stable shooting platform.
That Germanic touch! Bavarian cheekpieces and fish-scale checkering. Photo: Steyr Arms
The Butterknife’s Back
Adding to the adult-size configuration is a medium-weight 19.7″ barrel which exhibits one of Steyr’s most distinguishing motifs — the spiral, hammer-forged patterns carried from breech to muzzle. When given a high polish — as on some of the company’s centerfires — the patterns are visually riveting. Patterns on the Zephyr II barrel are more subdued since it’s matte-finished with Mannox, a tough, weather-resistant treatment.
The barrel does give the rifle some centerfire heft, tipping the scales at 6 lbs. Topped with Bushnell’s new 3-9×40 full-size rimfire scope featuring side focusing and calibrated turrets for the .22 LR and .17 HMR, the Zephyr II really embodies the feel of a centerfire understudy as it was designed to do.
The new rimfire features Steyr Mannlicher’s signature butterknife-shaped bolt handle that adds traditional elegance to the overall rifle (for some odd reason, the earlier Zephyr I had was fitted with a conventional round bolt knob).
The Zephyr II accepts a 5-shot box magazine and is offered in .17 HMR and .22 WMR as well as the .22 LR version we tested.
Adding Bushnell’s full-size rimfire scope gives the Zephyr II the handling characteristics of a centerfire.
It sports Steyr’s signature butterknife shaped bolt handle — something the original lacked.
How’d She Shoot?
Although factory specs list the trigger as a single stage, the trigger on our test rifle was definitely a two-stage design. But it was so light and so crisp with a 3-lb. pull, I’ll forgive the author of the otherwise-excellent owner’s manual.
I tested 15 different loads from Aguila, Armscor, CCI, Federal, Remington and Winchester at 50 yards, firing 5-shot groups. I’ve seen extensive test articles published declaring this or that brand and load to be the most accurate. Bunk! All these tests proved is that a particular brand and load was the most accurate in a particular test rifle.
My test ammo was a mix of plain lead lubricated and copper-plated bullets. I like to fire two rounds of the next cartridge being tested to season the bore before shooting for group. What did this particular Zephyr II favor? Well, it was CCI Standard Velocity at 0.70″, CCI Mini-Mag at 0.71″ and Aguila Rifle Match at 0.81″. Varmints, look out!
The premium rimfire Zephyr has been missing in the Mannlicher-Schoenauer/Steyr Mannlicher stable for almost 50 years. Now it’s back with a vengeance! The Zephyr II is an elegant rifle in a class of its own.