In a world of marksmen, there are some names that seem to stick out or rise to the top. A few of the rifles I would dream about while growing up shared a well-known and revered name: Sako. It is one of those legendary manufacturers that can get grown men as giddy as a sugared-up kid. So when the opportunity came for me to put a Sako in my safe, I was expecting to be pleased.
The Model 85
The Model 85 is one of the latest revisions of Sako’s hallowed line of bolt-action rifles. It is a 6.4-pound rifle with a three-lug bolt. This requires a shorter 60-degree throw to operate the bolt. The Finnlight is fed by an all-metal detachable box magazine that holds five cartridges. The stainless-steel, barreled action sits in a synthetic stock with a hunting camouflage pattern.
The model I have features a fluted barrel with a threaded muzzle, something I was happy to see. The rifle features a single-stage trigger and a two-button safety. I’ll explain that later.
Ya, It’s a Sako ... So ...
At a glance, there isn’t a huge disparity between this rifle and a similar rifle you may see on a rack at the gun shop. But when you run the rifle on your shoulder, there most certainly is a difference. One of the first things I check when trying out a new rifle is the trigger, and the smooth-shoed trigger of this Sako lived right up to every expectation. It was all but perfect for a hunting rifle – clean, consistent, and with zero creep. I ran the bolt to reset the trigger, and that’s when I noticed something else.
The bolt on this rifle is exceptionally smooth. So smooth in fact, that I later noticed at the range that I could not even tell when I was dry cycling the bolt or loading cartridges into the chamber. The silky-smooth operation, the sharp trigger, and the effortless cycling of loaded and spent cartridges was enough to get me more than excited. But it’s a Sako, so it should, right?
On the Range
I would have driven straight to the range to get this rifle shooting. But unfortunately, I ran into an issue. In what might be my only complaint about this rifle, I had to order scope rings from a galaxy far, far away. Nobody local offers rings for this rifle, and they are Sako specific. So I had to postpone my range trip until my 30mm medium rings arrived. I promptly mounted a scope when they did. After a quick down-the-bore sighting job, I was on my way to the range.
Luckily, .25-06 is an old hand for me. I’ve been shooting them for 20+ years. So I grabbed some of my favorite ammo to see how it performed in the Sako 85. One tiny gripe, if you’ll allow it, is that the .25-06 is an absolute monster when loaded with modern bullets like the 131-grain Blackjack Ace or the new Berger 135. But unfortunately, most manufacturers are making rifles with twists for the same old 75-to-120-grain bullets that have been around since it was the 25 Nieder. While I don't blame Sako alone for this faux pa, it would be nice to see them set the trend.
As it was, I decided to shoot a spread of 100-grain spitzers and some Berger 115-grain ELDs.
I already mentioned how smooth the Model 85 feels, but I’ll say it again. I could hardly believe how smooth the cycling of this bolt was with or without a cartridge. And the extraction was just as clean. The 85 uses a stationary ejector, which allows you to eject the spent cases as soft or hard as you would like. For bench work, I softly pulled the bolt back just enough to lift the mouth of the spent cases out of the ejection port, where they could be grabbed and placed back in the box. But you can also run the bolt like an angry gorilla and throw the brass clear of the rifle with the utmost precision.
The magazine design surely has something to do with the smooth cycling of this rifle, and it is a very interesting design. The detachable box magazine is built from steel and features a curious hinged rear lug. I imagine this is part of what makes the magazine so smooth in its seating and extraction. But it is something of a conundrum at the same time. Removing the magazine requires a slight push inward to allow the release tab to be pressed. I found it nearly impossible to press the release tab to pull the magazine out without this step. Once I figured out this little gizmo, it was a flawless operation to both remove and seat the loaded magazine.
I mentioned that the 85 has a two-button safety. The rear one is to engage and disengage the safety in much the same way any traditional safety works. The forward button sits just in front of the safety. When depressed, it allows for opening and closing the bolt while in the safe position. This is a simple and effective design that I wish others would follow.
I installed a Jet Blast muzzle brake from Patriot Valley Arms, not because the .25-06 is heavy recoiling, but more because I could. The threaded muzzle of the Sako allowed me to try the rifle with both a muzzle brake and sound suppressor, both of which seemed to enhance the rifle's performance somewhat.
The actual performance was good, and my groups averaged just over half MOA, which is great for a hunting rifle. I did notice that the shots began to wander a touch left after four or five, something not desirable but also not a big deal-breaker for me. With a rifle like this, I wouldn’t anticipate more than one shot at a time.
Despite the few gripes I mentioned above, this is an exceptionally nice rifle. Sako has been doing this for long enough, and I think they have it well figured out. With a price of $1,850, I think it is well worth the money, and it would make a lifetime hunting rifle.
It brings a lightweight and robust design with more than a touch of class and mechanical beauty. It does all that while offering some great modern features like a threaded muzzle and a textured and camouflaged stock. Rest assured that this Sako Finnlight is everything you’d need for a North American big game rifle.