The CZ Sharp-Tail is a reliable side-by-side shotgun without breaking the bank.
Opening day of American woodcock season in New Hampshire is like Christmas for my dog and me. We count the days. I plan which covers I will hit and in which order, rearranging the day many times over in an obsessive manner. Despite that, I always start in the same cover I have returned to since I moved to New Hampshire. Just about a mile from home, this cover is one those places that feels good ’cause it’s so close to home. That ability to find birds on my doorstep excites someone who has always lived just outside Boston.
I geared up. It was raining. I took out my new CZ Sharp-Tail 20-gauge that had been sitting next to my desk for two months, a gun I had vigorously mounted over and over again as I practiced the Churchill method of wingshooting. This would mark my first season hunting with a side-by-side all year long.
Before getting the new CZ Sharp-Tail I had shot two other CZs: a Ring-Neck 12-gauge and a Bobwhite 20-gauge. I loved the CZ Bobwhite but didn’t care for the Ring-Neck (100 percent because it was a 12-gauge). I already own a few side-by-sides and they are all vintage guns in gauges I do not care to work with. One is a Spanish .410 that I occasionally bust out for American woodcock hunting, but for the most part, they collect dust because they simply are not good grouse guns.
I am a sucker for double guns. Because of that, I am cursed to searching for affordable side-by-sides — and they are few and far between. I have tried several “entry level” side-by-sides and found myself disappointed. For that reason, I have stuck mostly to over-and-under shotguns since it tends to be a larger market and offers more solid guns at affordable prices.
As I let my wirehaired pointing griffon, Grim, out of the truck I loaded two no. 9 in the CZ Sharp-Tail. Ruffed grouse are few and far between in this area, and I have yet to see one in that cover. Just woodcock equates to a full woodcock set-up. One feature I immediately loved about this gun right out of the box: a cylinder choke.
The gun comes with a full range of choke settings: cylinder, improved cylinder, modified, improved modified and full. This was welcome as last season my Franchi did not come with a cylinder choke. I set my gun on cylinder for my first barrel and an improved cylinder for my second. I am a sucker for shooting at rising woodcock. I can never just let them level out — I guess it’s part of my love for the species. Mind you, I am all too aware of the thickness of foliage in the first week of October in New Hampshire and letting them get to the canopy is a sure way to never get a shot.
We circled the small cover to get the perfect wind. This hunt is always exciting and only lasts about 15 minutes. We make the most of it. Grim went on point about 15 feet in. It was a tangled mess as any good woodcock cover should be. I was determined to circle in front of him as we had practiced extensively that spring on his steadiness on wild birds.
Everything went as planned. Grim held until I flushed the bird (yes, he is only steady to flush) and I raised my gun and let both barrels fly. It would be the only time I pulled the trigger our first day of the season. I would blow another hour chasing a wiry ruffed grouse in a hopeless pursuit that never panned out to more than listening to the sound of beating wings. But on that first contact, Grim came back with the woodcock, to my surprise — that was how thick the canopy was.
The gun weighs 6.3 pounds. Personally, I do not like heavy guns or light guns. I like the happy medium that I feel complements my swing. I cannot pull it too fast or not fast enough. This weight worked well for me. The pull is 14.5 inches, and as someone that is short it makes for a long pull. That’s okay with me. I am a firm believer that longer pull is always better than too short. It is only available in 28-inch barrels. Although I would have preferred a bit shorter in the barrel, I never found it to be an issue in the grouse woods.
I hunted this gun in the rain more than once. I beat my guns, and admittedly tend to not take care of them well. I make them work especially hard when I want to see if they can. I put it away more than once after hunting in the rain without even wiping it down (I know that’s horrible, all shaming accepted) and found some minor surface rust when I broke the barrel open at the receiver. It came off easily with a cloth and I finally oiled it. It is my understanding that the black hard chrome finish (both inside and outside the barrels) is more durable than classic bluing. It will show signs of wear by silvering but never actually to the bare metal, keeping the functionality in check. That I would define as a work gun.
The shotgun has a single solid extractor to lift shells from the chamber. I am a fan of manually pulling shells out so as to not have to pick them up in the woods from auto ejectors, a chore that can often turn into looking for a needle in a haystack. There were few moments of intense action this season where I wished I reloaded a bit faster, but that’s me being greedy.
My largest gripe with this gun is the single trigger. I hate single triggers on side-by-sides. Sure, it’s an issue of personal preference, but I like the option and the vintage feel. It makes me miss the CZ Bobwhite. This gun is about portability at an affordable price point. Like anything else, it’s not for everyone.
Who it is for is the hunter who does not want to break the bank and wants a side-by-side that is both reliable and shootable. This for a suggested retail price of $999 for the 12-, 16- and 20-gauge. And at $1,229 for the 28-gauge and .410, I will certainly say it’s worth it.
The gun looks like a sidelock though it is neither a sidelock or boxlock. They shrunk this gun down from its predecessor, the CZ Ring-Neck, replacing the leaf springs with coil springs. The biggest unseen aspects of the shotgun were explained when I spoke to Zach Hein, Marketing Communications Manager of CZ USA.
“The Sharp-Tail went to a one-piece CNCed receiver, meaning that it holds all the internals in precisely the same geometry, unlike its predecessor that required more tuning to get the geometries correct each time,” Zach said of the evolution of the CZ Ring-neck to the CZ Sharp-tail. “Servicing is tremendously easier as a result and less tuning is required. Parts and geometry improvements were made internally as well. Overall we were able to slim down the action quite a bit, lowering weight. Coil springs are one significant improvement, and a different hammer/firing pin setup makes the Sharp-Tail stay open with less effort.”
It comes in a pistol grip, which is another reason I miss the English stock of the CZ Bobwhite. Personal preference. But honestly, I could shoot it straight, which at the end of the day makes the difference in deciding whether or not I sell a gun at the end of the season.
I kept this gun.
A.J. DeRosa is an American filmmaker and the Founder and Creative Director of Northwoods Collective. While he is most widely known for the award-winning Project Upland series, he made his first mark in the hunting industry as the critically-acclaimed author of the cult classic The Urban Deer Complex and, more recently, The Urban Deer Complex 2.0. A.J. expanded his work toward the larger mission of recruiting and welcoming millennial hunters by conducting and applying cutting-edge market research across the Northwoods Collective brands. Now a passionate bird hunter, you can find A.J. following Grim, a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, through the uplands with his wife, Sabrina, and oldest son, Marty McFly.