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All-Weather Performer

All-Weather Performer
SAKO 85 Finnlight .243 WIN.

The Sako Finnlight in .243 Win is a superb little rifle. It is light, compact, accurate, reliable, beautifully made, handles like a dream, has a wonderful trigger and is easy to shoot well. Shortcomings? I wish the barrel had a little quicker rifling twist, and I wish the rifle didn’t cost so dang much.

The Model 85 is a 3-lug action with short bolt lift. Bolt operation is precise and very smooth. Add in the short bolt throw of the .243-length action and reloading is fast and effortless. Four action sizes are offered to fit different cartridge groups.

Extraction is via a hook-type extractor in the head of the bolt, powered by a spring-loaded plunger. The bottom of the bolt face is relieved to allow the case head to slide smoothly up the bolt face with its rim beneath the extractor hook.

The cartridge isn’t held as firmly as it would be in a true Mauser controlled-feed action but is held well enough to prevent double feeding. Ejection is accomplished by a blade ejector at the rear of the receiver, which extends through a slot in the bolt face at the 6 o’clock position.

Detachable Magazine

Cartridge feeding is from a detachable metal box magazine, holding the cartridges in two staggered columns. The base of the magazine fits flush with the stock, making for comfortable 1-hand carry, while improving appearance.

The magazine can be loaded from the top if desired, and unloaded by cycling cartridges through the action. If you have a strong objection to detachable magazines, there’s really no need to ever remove it.

A latch at the front of the magazine well is used to release the magazine. To prevent the latch from being activated inadvertently, you must first push inward on the front of the magazine base. It’s a bit different but after a couple of trials it is quick and easy.

The sliding safety on the right side locks both sear and bolt. There’s a small, serrated lever just ahead of the safety. Pressing it down releases the bolt lock so the bolt can be operated while the sear remains locked.

The top of the receiver is handsomely knurled, with the integral dovetail slots Sako has been using for decades. The barrel of the .243 is 20-1/2 inches long with six flutes to reduce weight. Action and barrel are composed of stainless steel, exceptionally well made and finished. The barrel is floated right back to the receiver.

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The Sako 85 Finnlight is just about perfect as a hunting rifle for those who like to walk. It is light, compact, tough, reliable, and amazingly accurate. The barrel has six flutes to reduce weight and barrel heating. It does get hot quickly, but without losing accuracy, and the interior is so smooth there’s little copper fouling.

On a certified commercial scale the Sako weighed 5 pounds, 14 ounces (about 5 ounces lighter than Sako advertises). While I’m at it, overall length is 40-1/8 inches and length of pull is 13-3/4 inches.

The Leupold 2-7×28 Ultralight scope has all the VX-2 features including proprietary lens coatings (“Multicoat 4” is the Leupold term), lead-free glass, index-matched lenses argon/krypton waterproofing, hard coating on exterior lenses and what Leupold calls “Quantum Optical System” for improved resolution and light transmission.

It certainly has a bright, sharp field of view and the adjustments proved accurate and repeatable. About the only concessions made to its compact size and light weight are the length of main tube and eye relief. The main tube measures 4.8 inches and was just long enough to fit the short action with the rings used. A medium or long action would require extension rings.

This Ultralight’s eye relief is non-critical but a bit shorter at a minimum of 3.1 inches. It’s a concession I can accept in return for reduced size and weight. It’s an ideal match for this light rifle.

Weight of rifle, rings and scope totaled 6 pounds, 7-1/2 ounces. With a web carrying strap and five cartridges, total weight is 6-3/4 pounds. Balance point is 4-3/4 inches ahead of the trigger, just where I like it for fast handling, but with enough weight forward for steadiness in offhand shooting.

The trigger on the 85 is a gem. It’s a single-stage design, with a user-adjustable weight of pull over a range of 2 to 4 pounds. Out of the box pull was 3-1/2 pounds, and I adjusted it down to 2-1/2 pounds.

Cartridge feeding is so smooth there were times I checked to see if a round had actually fed. Extraction and ejection of fired cases is likewise reliable. Mechanical ejection lets the handloader pick cases out of the action.

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The cocking indicator beneath the bolt shroud shows a red dot when the action is cocked. A sliding safety on the right side of the receiver locks both bolt and sear. Pressing down the small lever ahead of the safety allows the bolt to be cycled while the sear remains locked while loading or unloading.

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The bolt release is on the left side of the receiver, just below the rear scope ring. The Leupold 2-7×28 Ultralight scope weighs just 8-1/2 ounces and is a perfect match for this light rifle.

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The Sako 85 is a 3-lug action with short bolt lift, leaving plenty of space between bolt handle and scope. The 3-lug bolt has a large hook-type extractor, and the bolt face is slotted for a mechanical ejector. Note the grooves on the locking lugs. These ride on rails in the receiver. When the bolt is fully withdrawn, the lugs fit into matching projections in the receiver bridge. Result is smooth bolt operation with minimal play or bolt wobble during cycling.

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The detachable box magazine body is steel, baseplate and follower of alloy. The magazine holds five .243 cartridges in two staggered columns. The magazine is strong, very well made and reliable. Feed lips are very smooth, allowing cartridges to feed effortlessly. Trigger guard is alloy; adjustable trigger is serrated.

Cartridge feeding is so smooth there were times I checked to see if a round had actually fed. Extraction and ejection of fired cases is likewise reliable. Mechanical ejection lets the handloader pick cases out of the action.

Operated briskly as it should be, fired cases are tossed out with authority. Shooting offhand and working the bolt from the shoulder, fired cases landed in a neat little cluster about 6 feet to the right and a couple of feet to the rear. Located at the “2:30” position (from the shooter’s viewpoint), the extractor flips fired cases to the right and back without touching the low-mounted scope.

Accuracy of this little Finnlight is downright spooky. Light rifles are sensitive to inconsistencies in hold, and can make shooter errors glaringly obvious. I had several 5-shot groups where “steering” with cheek or shoulder popped a round out of the group.

The thing is, even with these shooter-error shots the overall group size was still around 0.8 to 0.9 inches, and I didn’t screw them all up. There were several in the 1/2-inch range; the best group with Hornady 87-grain V-Maxes measured just under 0.40 inches for five shots. It made no difference if the barrel was cold, warm or too hot to touch.

Conventional wisdom says cartridges such as the .243 lose around 25 to 30 fps per inch of barrel length. In this case conventional wisdom is spot-on. Chronographed velocities in the 20-inch barrel averaged 90 to 100 fps less than factory claims, taken in 24-inch barrels.

As it turned out, what the shorter barrel took away, handloads with Alliant RL-17 powder gave back (mostly). Factory W-W 100-grain loads I tried are rated at 2,960 fps and gave 2,865 fps in the Finnlight. Using RL-17 data from the Alliant website, the Nosler 100-grain Partition gave 2,935 fps. The sleek Hornady 87-grain V-Max clocked 3,215 fps.

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Dave’s favorite varmint/target load for the Sako 85 Finnlight .243 includes W-W brass and primers, Alliant RL-17, Hornady 87-grain V-Max with a muzzle velocity 3,200 fps. The V-Max bullet has a ballistic coefficient of 0.400 and will shoot into 1/2 MOA if the shooter does it right. You’ve got to like a 6-1/2 pound rifle capable of hitting a pop can at 500 yards. Dave’s RCBS dies were purchased in 1977.

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A couple of 5-shot, 100-yard groups with Sako 85 Finnlight .243 using handloads with Alliant RL-17 powder, Hornady 87 V-Max bullet. One of Dave’s best groups (left) was 0.40 inch. When the shooter’s hold is inconsistent for one shot, the group can open up. Even with the “bad” shot, the group size is around 0.8 inch.

As it turned out, what the shorter barrel took away, handloads with Alliant RL-17 powder gave back (mostly). Factory W-W 100-grain loads I tried are rated at 2,960 fps and gave 2,865 fps in the Finnlight. Using RL-17 data from the Alliant website, the Nosler 100-grain Partition gave 2,935 fps. The sleek Hornady 87-grain V-Max clocked 3,215 fps.

The barrel on this rifle is throated so typical spitzer bullets can be seated to just touch the lands, at an overall cartridge length of 2-3/4 inches. Such cartridges fit and feed from the magazine.

Longer monometal and VLD (Very Low Drag) bullets are not fads, nor is the interest in longer range shooting. I can live with the 1:10-inch twist on the .243, as there are lots of good bullets for varmint shooting, big game, even long-range shooting. But high ballistic coefficient bullets such as the 105 Hornady A-Max and Berger VLD are a huge advantage in dealing with wind at longer ranges. Nitpicky I know, but this rifle is darn close to perfect as it is. I’d be much happier with 1:8-inch twist.

Good stuff costs money. At the margin you pay a lot more for a bit better quality. A $2,000 binocular is not twice as good as a $1,000 one; it might be 5 or 10 percent better, and there are people who are willing to pay for the last bit of performance.

Sako rifles are not cheap, and a fair question is “are they worth it?” I don’t know if they’re worth it to you. I do know I bought both rifle and scope from local stores at full retail price, so yes, to me they’re worth it.

Here’s a rifle just over a meter long, weighing 6-3/4 pounds all up, that balances and handles beautifully, fits like a glove, operates with complete reliability and smooth precision, has a superb trigger, doesn’t change point of impact, resists extreme weather conditions, is made and finished with outstanding workmanship and gives 1/2-MOA accuracy. It isn’t so much why I want it, the question is why would I want anything else. Can’t believe I said that. Fortunately, my wife won’t read this.

SAKO Ammunition

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The Sako ammunition I tried gave good accuracy in the Finnlight rifle,
though velocities were a bit on the low side. Though relatively unknown
in the US, Sako ammunition is popular and respected in Europe.

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Accuracy of the Sako ammunition was good, if not quite up to handloads. Case mouths are crimped into a bullet groove and (at least visually) there seemed to be some variation in the amount of crimp. Unless it is absolutely necessary (as it may be in semi-autos, or in tubular magazines) I’m not a fan of case crimping. Just another potential source of inconsistency.

Beretta USA is currently importing Sako ammunition. The Sako website indicates they offer loads for 27 cartridges. The list includes the more popular US cartridges, even a few of the less popular ones such as .222 Rem, .222 Rem Mag and .260 Rem.

There are also several cartridges of European ancestry such as 6.5×55 SE, 7×64, 7x65R, 9.3x55R Finnish, 9.3×62, 9.3×66, 9.3x74R, .450 Rigby and .500 Jeffrey. If your classic European rifle is starved for ammo, Sako may have what it needs.

Back in 1975 I knew a young fellow who was a novice, enthusiastic handloader. Nice guy, but I couldn’t break him of the habit of using the term “bullet heads.” “I got some new bullet heads for my .22-250.” “What bullet heads do you use in your .270?” “Bullets,” I’d say. “They’re just called bullets. Not bullet heads.”

I know now what became of the young man. He moved to Finland and got a job naming bullets for Sako. Types listed included Hammerhead, Powerhead, Gamehead, Deerhead, Moosehead, Twinhead, Arrowhead, Ramhead, Speedhead and Cuthead.

Ammunition shortages being what they are, all I could get hold of was a single box of .243 loaded with the 100-grain Gamehead bullet. From the Finnlight’s 20-inch barrel, velocities averaged just over 2,800 fps. Even from a 22-inch barreled Remington 700, velocities were on the low side at 2,850. On the other hand, consistency was excellent with extreme spreads of around 30 fps, and MOA accuracy in both rifles (both very accurate).

The Sako website plainly states “Sako manufactures cases and bullets for reloaders,” which seems fairly clear-cut. I weighed the fired cases and found them amazingly consistent, with maximum weight variation only about 1 grain. Five of the cases I reloaded using W-W large rifle primers, Alliant RL-17, and the 87-grain Hornady V-Max at 3,200 fps. After five loadings with each primer pockets were still snug and accuracy exceptional.

The Sako ammunition I tried was consistent and gave good accuracy. For the handloader it is worth buying just for the quality brass.
By Dave Anderson

85 Finnlight
Maker: SAKO Ltd
P.O. BOX 149
FI-11101 Riihimäki Finland
www.sako.fi

Importer: Beretta USA
17601 Beretta Dr.
Accokeek, MD 20607
(800) 237-3882
www.berettausa.com

Action Type: Bolt action,
Caliber: .243 Win (tested), .22-250, .260, 7mm-08, .308 Win
Capacity: 5, Length
Overall: 40-1/8 inches
Barrel: 20-1/2 inches, fluted
Weight: 5 pounds, 14 ounces (empty, w/o scope)
Sights: None, Length of pull: 13-3/4 inches
Finish: Matte stainless steel
Stock: Black synthetic
Price: $1,725


VX-2 2-7×28 Ultralight

Maker: Leupold
14400 N.W. Greenbriar Pkwy.
Beaverton, OR 97006
(503) 646-9171
www.gunsmagazine.com/leupold-stevens

Actual Magnification: 2.4X – 6.7X
Eye Relief: 3.1 inches (2X), 3.5 (7X)
Tube Diameter: 1 inch, Objective
Diameter: 28mm
Adjustments: 1/4 MOA
Adjustment Range: 85-MOA elevations & windage
Length Overall: 10.1 inches
Weight: 8.5 ounces
Reticle: Duplex
Finish: Matte, gloss
Price: $414.99

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