Hunting Rifle Review: Steyr CLII SX

Steyr updates the looks of its Pro Hunter with a classic-style stock while retaining all of the accuracy for which it was known.
Hunting Rifle Review: Steyr CLII SX

After a 20-year run, Steyr is phasing out its Pro Hunter rifle and replacing it with the CLII SX. “[T]he Pro Hunter is an older line of rifles and needed to be upgraded,” explains Steyr’s National Sales Manager, Eric Wood. “There is nothing wrong with the Pro Hunter,” he adds, “[it] just needs a face lift.” I agree, and that’s really what the CLII SX is — a Pro Hunter with a facelift, making it the kind of hunting rifle I feel it always promised to be.

I’ve always liked the Pro Hunter’s action, but was never a big fan of the stock. Its layered spacers clearly provide the ability to easily change the length of pull and, from a functional standpoint, the horizontal stock toe makes sense, but aesthetically neither really appealed to me.  Many hunters also reported that the forend seemed a little flimsy, especially when shooting off of sticks or a bipod, and that the absence of checkering or any significant texturing made it “slick” to hold, particularly with gloves on.

The CLII SX dispenses with the Pro Hunter’s futuristic-looking adjustable stock in favor of a more classic fixed synthetic one with a 14-inch length of pull, rubberized panels in the gripping areas, a slight palm swell for right-hand shooting and a generous integral trigger guard. It sports an internal aluminum bedding system for increased accuracy and rigidity and, perhaps in deference to grievances about the Pro Hunter’s forend, Steyr’s Austrian website notes the CLII SX is “optimized for use with bipod.”

hunting rifle review

Steyr’s SBS action is a lot smoother than many rifles on the market in its class making it easier to get a second shot off if needed.

Aside from the stock, the CLII SX is pretty much the same as the Pro Hunter with satisfied owners posting favorable comments about the CLII such as, “[Y]ou'd have a hard time building a custom Remington to this level for this kind of money.”

The action is Steyr’s Safe Bolt System (SBS) that has a trigger-locking safety with three settings operated by a wheel switch on the tang. With it, you can put the rifle on “fire” or “safe” with the bolt unlocked for chambering/unchambering a round, or “safe” with the bolt locked. There are also a couple of additional clever design features built into the safety. One is that if you lift the bolt handle before putting the safety in the locked bolt position, it frees the bolt for removal from the rear of the action. Pretty slick. The other is that in the locked bolt position, you can press the bolt handle an additional half inch toward the stock to lock both the trigger and firing pin.

Instead of having an integral machined or separate washer-type recoil lug, the CLII SX has one that’s a separate piece that’s bolted onto the bottom front of the action. From a production standpoint, this makes sense as it reduces the amount of more expensive detailed machining required on the action body itself. It interfaces precisely with the aluminum bedding system.

The two-piece bolt has a full diameter body with recessed head. Both locking lugs are full diameter and bifurcated effectively creating four locking surfaces and, as Woods points out it’s, “a lot smoother than most rifles on the market in its class making it easier to get a second shot off if needed.”

hunting rifle review

A windage-adjustable rear sight is a forward sloping blade, as is the fashion with European rifles.

Though the action is a “solid top” to add rigidity, the generous ejection port is large enough for easy single-loading. To help facilitate that, one of the more unique features of the four-round polymer magazine is that it has twin engagement hooks that let you drop it about 1/8-inch without removing it from the gun. In that position, the bolt passes over the cartridges in the magazine instead of picking them up, eliminating the risk of double feeding when single loading. You have to actually have cartridges in the magazine to single load this way or the loose cartridge sits too low for the bolt face to pick it up, so if the magazine is empty, seat it fully to single load. To re-seat the magazine, just slap it fully home.

A distinguishing feature of Steyr rifles is the spiral pattern left on the barrels from the hammer forging operation. Other manufacturers polish it off, but it looks cool, so Steyr leaves it on. I was a little surprised to see that the CLII SX comes with iron sights since they’re nearly relegated to a thing of the past, but it does. The front is a square post with bright metal face that’s adjustable for elevation. The rear is a plain black blade that slopes forward as is the fashion on many European rifles and is drift-adjustable for windage. They’re bomb-proof.

The trigger is an integral part of the entire SBS system, so don’t look for aftermarket replacements. Many Steyr owners are familiar with Steyr’s “set” trigger feature where you can set the pull to a hair trigger by pressing the trigger blade forward. You won’t find that standard on the CLII SX. Instead, it’s a two-stage direct pull trigger that on the sample came set at 4 1/4 pounds. It had a great break and very little overtravel and despite having what I consider a little too much weight, was easy to use.  It is adjustable, though the adjustment screws in the trigger blade are sealed at the factory and Steyr recommends that only authorized Steyr armorers make trigger adjustments.

hunting rifle review

To see how well the .308 Win.-chambered CLII performed, I fitted it with a Leica Magnus 1.5-10x42mm scope and fired it with Winchester’s 150-grain Deer Season XP and Nexus’ 175-grain HPBT Match loads at 100 yards. Accuracy was absolutely great with both loads. The Match ammunition provided an average group size of 0.98-inch for five consecutive three-shot groups while the hunting loads shot almost equally well, averaging 1.08 inches and delivering the tightest group — 0.54 inch.

I make it a habit of cleaning the bore between ammunition types to give each load an even starting point for accuracy. With a clean, cold bore, the CLII consistently drilled it on the first shot, but delivered its tightest groups only after the bore was fouled by a half dozen or so shots. This is one of those rifles where, once sighted in with my chosen load, I wouldn’t bother cleaning the bore until accuracy started to go bad — and that could be several hundred shots.

I’ve read European writers describe the CLII as having a “dead feel” when shooting it.  That’s an important consideration in Europe where a lot of hunting is done by driving game and shooting it on the move at close range and a lively gun is an advantage.  For American deer hunters, it’s quite the opposite; this is a gun you can hold steady while aiming at a standing buck across a field and that “dead feel” almost forces you to follow through properly for more accurate shooting.

That deadness also helped with follow-up shots. When rapidly reloading a bolt-action, I usually find it easiest to cup my hand and sweep the bolt handle up and back, then roll my palm over and push it forward and down. Because the CLII has Steyr’s charismatic spoon bolt handle, it’s easier to work the bolt by grasping the handle between your thumb and forefinger and maintaining control during its entire travel.

Offhand and from various field positions, this is a very steady rifle to shoot.  The squarish forend doesn’t fit the hand as well as a rounded one, but will be steadier when shooting from a deer stand or shoot house that has a rifle rest.

Overall, this is a very sturdy rifle made for no-fuss hunting no matter what condition or environment is thrown at it. Wood calls the ideal customer for the CLII SX someone who “Knows he can rely on a firearm that can handle the best or worst weather conditions and still have the same accuracy as in all other Steyr rifles ever produced.” Further, the level of finish and detail one would expect from an Austrian gun maker is there, making the CLII SX one of those rifles that, when your hunting buddies see it in camp, are going to say, “Wow. That's a nice rifle!”

Spec Sheet

Manufacturer: Steyr Arms

Model: CLII SX

Calibers: .308 Win., .30-’06 Sprg., .300 Win. Mag.

Action: bolt-action repeating rifle

Magazine Capacity: 4

Barrel: Hammer-forged, Mannox finish, 23 1/2 inches (25 1/2 inches in .300 Win. Mag.)

Trigger:  Two-stage, adjustable, 4 1/4 pound pull

Sights: Windage-adjustable blade rear, elevation-adjustable post front

Stock: Green synthetic with black rubberized grip inserts

Overall Length:  43 inches

Weight: 7 1/2 pounds

MSRP: $1,730

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