The CZ Upland Ultralight is lightweight reliability at a reasonable price
I’m an old grouse hunter. By that I mean I don’t think of myself as really old, but I used to hunt grouse and thought I was pretty gung-ho about it. I had an array of different pointing dogs over a span of several years, English pointers, a Brittany; I even had a Vizsla. Some of them occasionally hunted within my zip code and pointed grouse. Finally for me, because of the lack of ruffed grouse in my area (southern and eastern West Virginia), ruffed grouse hunting became more like exercise than hunting. I forsook the trail of the grouse and started pursuing fall Eastern turkeys with dogs almost exclusively, but that’s another story.
A case for lightweight shotguns
One of the things I picked up on quickly (I may have been born at night but it wasn’t last night) was that most grouse hunters wanted a light shotgun. We can even take this back to the Winchester Model 59. Very little is heard about this shotgun today, despite the fact that it was so revolutionary at the time. Not only did the Model 59 have an aluminum receiver to help with weight, but Winchester created the barrel by wrapping huge lengths of glass fiber (reportedly over 500 miles) around a thin steel liner. The fiber was then fused and bonded to the liner. The result was a semiauto shotgun that weighed less than six pounds.
In addition, the Model 59 had some of the first screw-in chokes available. Eastern grouse hunters grabbed these guns up with abandon. Critics said the Model 59 kicked too hard and the gun was too light on the muzzle, which made it very fast to point, or not, depending on if you were a Model 59 fan. Most of the hunters who liked the Model 59 just carried it and killed grouse.
I went through a fairly long love affair with the Ithaca Model 37 pump gun and have always liked them. My Dad and I had a pair of them that we grouse hunted with for several years; I think they went down the road in one of his gun trading ventures.
The Franchi (or as we say in my neck of the woods, “Frenchie”) Model 48 AL was long a rock star with the mountain grouse hunters I associated with. The reason was the same as the other shotguns mentioned, weight. The Franchi 48 12-gauge tipped the scales at about 6 pounds, 20-gauge, 5 ½; and for a group of hunters that were used to toting Browning A5s (the Humpback Browning), Model 12 Winchesters and others, it was a religious experience the first time they picked up a Franchi 48. Climbing hills and wading through thickets in the southern Appalachians all day made a light shotgun a pearl of great price.
I had a similar religious experience some years ago when I wandered into the CZ-USA booth at the NRA convention. I had taken the path to become a gun writer and was told I needed to go to events like NRA and the SHOT Show. With no little amount of trepidation being new to all this, I was quickly put at ease by staffers in the CZ booth. The first gun they handed me was the Upland Ultralight, and when that shotgun transferred to my hands I knew I would have to own one. It was love at first sight. I was holding a nice looking over-and-under shotgun that would not require a co-signer for me to buy — and the 12-gauge weighed 6 pounds, the 20-gauge, 5 ½.
The original Upland Ultralight I bought was soon confiscated by one of my Georgia turkey hunting buds — he liked it that much. (That’s right; I’ve been turkey hunting with the Upland Ultralight for several years now, spring and fall). When Tomcat took my first Upland Ultralight, I ordered another and got an Upland Ultralight Green, with its green receiver. I liked it even better than the first one.
A perspective from CZ USA staff
I have carried the CZ Upland Ultralight over a lot of hills and dales, and it’s usually my go-to shotgun. But you don’t have to take it from me. Zach Hein is the Marketing Communications Manager at CZ-USA in Kansas City, Kansas, and has been around the Upland Ultralight longer than I have.
“As a Kansas kid, there is no doubt that the Upland Ultralight is the gun that matches my style of bird hunting,” Zach said. “I seem to have impeccable timing, and between changing farming practices and drought, pheasant and quail numbers in my neck of the woods took a nosedive when I was in high school and were even worse once I graduated college and got back into bird hunting. We might walk a swath of CRP a mile long and not kick up a single bird, and rarely would anyone in our group hit a limit. While there may have been dismal bird numbers, that didn’t matter as much as the traditions, comradery and getting to watch the dogs do what they were born to do.
“When I started working at CZ-USA, I had immediate access to our Upland Ultralight, an over/under with weight trimmed from all the right places,” Zach explained. “With a super light action cut on a CNC machine (Computer Numerical Controlled) from 7075 aluminum, mid-rib delete and a hollowed out butt stock, I immediately picked up a pair of 26-inch 12-gauges, one for me and one for my father.
“Since then, that 6 pound shotgun has been my go-to for long days chasing roosters across Kansas and Nebraska,” he continued. “A few years back I got the opportunity to hunt South Africa and it went with me, where I put it to work on sand grouse, collared-doves, guinea fowl and even a black mamba that needed dispatched. Over the years it’s been customized with a Kick-Ezee pad for a little more LOP, a Champion Easy Hit fiber optic sight (from when I still thought a shotgun sight mattered!) as well as a healthy ding in the stock courtesy of a careless camera guy.
“My 12-gauge Upland Ultralight almost entered retirement last year when I got lucky at a Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation banquet and won several consecutive hands of poker, resulting in an Upland Ultralight Green following me home,” he recalled with a smile. “Chambered in 20-gauge and half a pound lighter, this new featherweight was destined to become my new go-to gun, but as soon as I turned my back my father had stolen off with it – I guess turnabout is fair play.”
Zach is right about the 20-gauge; at 5 ½ pounds it is a joy to carry, which we did this past February when we made a squirrel hunting video for Project Upland with my west Kentucky squirrel dog buddy, Kevin Murphy. I learned a long time ago that you carry a shotgun a lot more than you shoot it, and the little 20-gauge did well backing up the CZ .22 rifles. When a treed squirrel would start to run through the treetops, the Upland Ultralight would do its job.
The lowdown on the CZ Upland Ultralight
CZ knew what they were doing to lighten up this shotgun. There is no mid-rib between the barrels, the receiver is aluminum, and the stock is hollowed out to reduce weight. This is a light shotgun, so let’s talk about recoil. Yes, if you shoot heavy field and magnum loads you are going to experience a certain amount of felt recoil. That’s what usually happens with lighter shotguns.
There are basically only three ways to reduce recoil in a shotgun. Increase the weight of the gun; a heavier shotgun will absorb more recoil. You can also shoot lighter loads with less velocity; reducing the amount of powder and lead in the shell will help greatly with recoil (Newton’s Third Law of Motion, opposite and equal reactions, remember?) Finally, you can insert some form of compensation between the gun and your shoulder — such as a recoil pad, a compressible device in the stock, or a gas operated action in the shotgun which disperses some of the gases expelled from the fired shell and lessens recoil. (Obviously, we can’t do that on an over-and-under shotgun).
I am not sure why anyone would want to shoot heavier loads for upland bird hunting anyway, but maybe that is your thing. With most loads available for bird hunting, I do not think that recoil is an issue with the Upland Ultralight. I know a teenage girl who is an incredible clay shooter, trap skeet, and sporting clays. She was a 4-H Shooting Sports competitor for several years and competed on the national level. Her first shotgun and the one she used for many years is a CZ Upland Ultralight. I am not sure if she knows how many rounds have been put through that gun, but I’m sure it is many thousands. I never heard her complain about recoil.
I do like the fact hat the gun comes with 3-inch chambers so I can shoot 3-inch turkey loads if I want, though I am not going to shoot very many of these loads and I am not going to notice the recoil as much when pulling the trigger on a big gobbler.
The Upland Ultralight employs a manual tang safety with integrated selector switch. Like most over-and-under shotguns, this allows you to select which barrel will be fired first. This can be handy in the field as you may change which barrel you chose to shoot first depending on which choke and the type of shell you have loaded. The Upland Ultralight sports a Turkish walnut laser cut checkering stock and ships with five flush mounted screw in shotgun chokes — Full, Improved Modified, Modified, Improved Cylinder and Cylinder.
Here’s the deal. Many upland hunters today want an over-and-under shotgun. The CZ Upland Ultralight is a durable, serviceable, lightweight shotgun that is easy to look at. Your buddies will notice it, ask you about it, and want to carry it and shoot it some. If you can find a better and lighter over-and-under upland shotgun for less than the MSRP price of $786, I suggest you go buy it. Like today.
Larry Case worked as a West Virginia Conservation Officer for 36 years retiring with the rank of Captain. He has too many dogs, not enough shotguns, and some pretty strong opinions on most everything. He is a life long hunter and outdoorsman and hopes that you brought some extra lunch. He invites you to come along for the ride if you can stand it.