Think of the CZ 97 B as the super-sized version of the renowned CZ 75 pistol. The CZ 97 B combines one of the most popular calibers in the U.S. (.45 ACP) with one of Eastern Europe’s most legendary pistol designs (the CZ 75).
The CZ 75 has been a popular pistol since it was first introduced in 1975, in Czechoslovakia. Many former Warsaw Pact countries like Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Lithuania and others still continue to use the CZ 75. The CZ 75 is also one of the most copied pistols in the world. In Italy, the Tanfoglio TZ-75 is a direct knock-off, as well as the BUL Cherokee in Israel, the Sphinx 2000 in Switzerland and the EAA Witness and ArmaLite AR-24 in the U.S., among others. The Bren Ten, that mythical and controversial 10mm pistol that Jeff Cooper helped to envision, was also based on CZ 75 design.
Like the CZ 75, the CZ 97 B uses a short-recoil operated, locked-breech design with a linkless cam locking system similar to the Browning Hi-Power, the pistol where the operating system originated. Basically, the barrel and slide are locked together when the pistol is fired. Upon firing, the barrel and slide remain locked as the slide recoils rearward; the recoil stroke forces the barrel to cam downward slightly as the slide travels rearward to eject the empty cartridge case. Then the recoil spring forces the slide forward as it ejects a cartridge out of the magazine, pushing it into the chamber as the barrel and slide lock back together.
The CZ 97 B controls operate identically to other CZ 75 variants. One reason CZ pistols are so popular is the ergonomics. The pistols seem to fit any size hand. The same is true to a certain extent with the CZ 97 B. It is beefier than the 9mm CZ 75, especially with the full dust cover, but the pistol does not feel bulky. I have an average-size hand, and when I first held the CZ 97 B and reached for the trigger with my trigger finger, I thought the pistol might be too big, but this was not the case. The pad of my trigger finger fell directly on the center of the smooth-faced trigger. I didn’t feel like I had to reach with my trigger finger. I found the CZ 97 B pleasant to hold.
The double-stack magazine felt thin. The new thinner grip panels make it feel thinner and manageable for shooters with small hands. The grips are checkered and textured aluminum. The steel frame is slightly undercut at the rear of the triggerguard, and the upswept beavertail grip helps lower the bore axis for less muzzle flip. The beavertail frame helps avoid hammer bite, too. The front of the triggerguard is squared off and grooved. The CZ 97 B sports a full dust cover, which gives the pistol an all-business look that is slightly intimidating. The full dust cover also gives the pistol more heft. The front and rear grip straps have vertical serrations that assist in keeping the pistol in a secure grip under rapid fire. It is easy to hang onto the CZ 97 B.
The slide stop fell under the thumb of my supporting hand—I shoot right-handed—while the thumb of the right hand fell near the left-side-only thumb safety. The controls were smooth and serrated for a sure grip. The thumb safety clicked on and off with ease. When in the safe position, the safety also locks the slide, and it cannot be racked. The frame was slightly relieved of metal just aft of the thumb safety, so it is comfortable to hold and was snug in the web of my hand. The magazine release is under a right-handed shooter’s thumb. The CZ 97 B, unlike some CZ pistols, does not incorporate a magazine brake. Press the magazine-release button and the magazine smartly ejects, allowing the double-stack, 10-round magazine to fall free whether it is empty or fully loaded. If you do drop the magazine, it has a polymer basepad to absorb the shock. The basepad also allows the shooter to slap the magazine in the frame without pinching. The magazine body has witness holes at four, seven and 10 rounds. Loading the 10th round into the magazine took slightly more effort than the first nine.
The CZ frame-to-slide design is the opposite of that of most pistols. The CZ design’s frame rails wrap up and over the slide. The slide incorporated fine serrations milled into the rear and muzzle end of the slide. The serrations were easy to grip barehanded and with gloves. An external extractor is used, with part of the slide metal relieved just above the extractor to improve the ejection of empty cartridge cases. Just rear of the ejection port, on the top side of the slide, is a pop-up chamber indicator. When a cartridge or empty case is in the chamber, a small pin protrudes, giving the user a visual and tactile indication that the pistol has a round in the chamber.
What sets the CZ 97 B apart from other CZ 75 variants (other than the caliber) is a screw-in barrel bushing. The bushing helps improve accuracy in the CZ 97 B. Most CZs are fine shooters, but the bushing certainly enhances the pistol’s performance. The bushing does add a step or two when field stripping, but CZ pistols tear down easily. Grasp the pistol by inserting your thumb through the triggerguard so the top of the slide is in your palm. Line up the tick marks—one on the slide, one on the frame—on the left side of the pistol by slightly retracting the slide. Knock out the slide stop from right to left (you may want to use the basepad of the magazine). Remove the slide from the frame by pulling it forward, toward the muzzle. Remove the recoil spring and recoil-spring guide from the slide. The bushing unscrews easily, and a wrench is supplied with the pistol if you need assistance. Then the barrel lifts out from the slide. When reassembling, make sure the recoil-spring housing engages the circular notch in the barrel bushing.
The CZ 97 B uses a traditional double-action/single-action (DA/SA) trigger, whereby the first round can be fired with a DA pull of the trigger and subsequent rounds are fired in SA. The trigger face is smooth, so the DA pull feels like it takes less effort, though the DA pull was 13 pounds on average. The DA trigger pull felt lighter than it actually measured. SA pull averaged 5.68 pounds. The rounded and serrated hammer offered a secure gripping surface for my thumb. It has a safety stop that is basically a half-cock notch that prevents the hammer from striking the firing pin if the hammer slips when thumbing back the hammer. The firing-pin safety keeps the firing pin blocked until the trigger is pulled, so there is less risk of an accidental discharge if the pistol is dropped with a round loaded in the chamber. To lower a fully cocked hammer, hold back the hammer with your thumb. The manual says to use your thumb to press on the grooved area of the hammer, then pull the trigger and slowly release the hammer forward until it catches on the half-cock notch. With the hammer fully forward, you can pull the trigger to bring the hammer to a half-cocked position.
The front sight is a blade with a red fiber-optic tube that is pinned to the slide and not adjustable. The rear sight sits high on the rear of the slide and has two dots. The rear sight is drift adjustable. In direct light—natural and artificial—the red, fiber-optic tube glowed, but in darkness the sights went to black. The sight picture was large, and the sight radius is 4.6 inches. Between the sights, grooves are machined to soften the bright light shining off the slide. Just align the three dots, acquire the target and fire! I like the high rear sight, as it was easy to operate the slide one-handed by hooking the sight on the edge of a holster, belt or other piece of gear or stable object like the edge of a shooting bench or table.
At the range, three types of ammunition were used: American Eagle 230-grain full metal jacket (FMJ), Black Hills 230-grain jacketed hollow point (JHP) +P and Hornady Steel Match with 230-grain HAP bullets. One of the enhancements to the CZ 97 B is its ability to better feed hollow-point ammunition, and the Black Hills and Hornady ammo put the pistol to the test. The manual does not recommend using lead semi-wadcutter ammunition, as it may not feed properly.
Firing the first shot DA off-hand, with the hammer lowered to the safe position, presented very little difficulty. The trigger was smooth to press and break. There is a little take-up, but then the rest of the trigger pull is consistent. Loading up first with the American Eagle ball ammo and resting on my range bag, I was impressed at how the CZ chewed through the inexpensive ammo. If I did my part, the CZ could shoot out the black of the 5.5-inch Caldwell Orange Peel targets at 25 yards. The SA pull was not as clean as, say, a tuned 1911’s, but the 97 B is not meant to be a pistol for bullseye competition, though in action-shooting sports scenarios it would do well.
Where I thought the big CZ would trip up was with the hollow-point ammo. I was dead wrong. The big CZ ran through the Black Hills and Hornady ammo without a hitch. In fact, the pistol was partial to the +P Black Hills JHPs. Recoil was very manageable; all the textured surfaces on the big CZ made it easy to blast through magazines while keeping holes in the cardboard center of mass. With a two-hand hold, I rolled my shoulders forward and thrust the muzzle toward the target. The first shot at DA was slower than the SA shots, but that is the norm for these DA/SA pistols. If I kept the front sight on target, the big CZ did its part, round after around after round.
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