A small company from a small country in northern Europe makes some of the world’s best-loved rifles. That company — Sako — started out remaking World War 1 era Mosin Nagant rifles in the basement of a brewery in Helsinki. Interestingly these original rifles which were stamped with the Sako logo had barrels made by Sig of Switzerland and receivers made in Imperial Russia, but when Sako assembled them, they were more accurate and much smoother to operate. Today this company with its humble roots is a global force in the hunting rifle world. Sako — like Tikka — is owned by Beretta who now own companies like Benelli, Franchi, Uberti Steiner, Stoeger and Burris.
The Sako 85 rifle is the immediate successor to the well-regarded Sako 75 series and has a few changes – most notably, it now features a controlled-round-feed action. The stock and magazine release are new, and the 85 model-for-model is a bit lighter than the 75. For testing purposes, Beretta New Zealand sent us a Kiwi favourite – the Finnlight II version of the 85.
Construction and Finish
The Finnlight II is very well suited to New Zealand conditions; it’s made of stainless steel and it’s short and light at 5.6lbs (2.6kg) – with a 20.4-inch barrel and overall length of just 40.5 inches (1029mm), it works well in the bush. The barrelled action is Cerakoted to give it extra corrosion protection, and the barrel is fluted for weight reduction and threaded for a suppressor or brake. Unlike its cousin, the Tikka T3, the Sako 85 comes in multiple action sizes – six to be precise – and this allows the action to be perfectly sized for the cartridge rather than a one-size-fits-all.
In this case, our Finnlight II was chambered in 308W and as such it was built on the short action. The 85 action has a detachable magazine which has a few noteworthy features: firstly, it has a full 5-round capacity; secondly it has a maximum overall bullet seating depth of 2.96 (75.2mm), which is a good 3.5mm longer than a Tikka; lastly, it’s next to impossible to drop the magazine out by mistake. The magazine actually stumped me at first … I just couldn’t get it to drop free; the trick is to push the magazine up slightly as you move the release lever forward. In reality, it’s a smart system that’s easy to use – when you know how! The Finnlight II uses a separate recoil plate that sits on a protrusion at the bottom of the receiver and then has the lug drop down to fit into the stock. This system allows for a large bearing surface on the stock, but interestingly, the action is still cut for a Tikka/A7 style recoil lug.
The 85 action is described by Sako as featuring controlled cartridge feed. The 85 gets the rim under the extractor when the round is 75% chambered which is a bit later than a traditional Mauser-style action, but it’s also a bit smoother and makes for an easy-to-cycle bolt; the bolt itself has 3 locking lugs and a short bolt lift of only 70degrees. Combine short bolt lift, short bolt travel and smooth feed, and this is a very nice action to operate – a quick second shot would be no problem. The action uses Sako’s traditional dovetail scope mounting system. Sure, it’s not as easy to find rings for a rifle that uses separate bases, but the upshot is the Sako Optilock rings are an excellent design; you don’t hear complaints about the Sako set-up because it works – and works well.
The trigger pull was crisp and light. Adjusted out to minimum weight, the trigger broke at just under 2lbs and had no discernible creep; this is one of the better 2-lever factory triggers available.
One of the areas you should expect an upgrade on with a premium rifle is the stock; most rifles under $2000 have injection-moulded thermoplastic stocks that range from awful to okay. In the case of the 85 Finnlight II, the stock is a very big step up. Firstly, it has an easy-to-use, adjustable cheek piece, which is one of the most underrated upgrades you can have on a rifle, and secondly, it’s made from quality materials. In this case, the stock is made from fibreglass and carbon-fibre and uses resin transfer moulding (RTM) technology that allows for tight tolerances and complex shapes that have low weight due to efficient use of the resin. The stock is very nice to hold, having a semi-vertical grip that, like the forend, has a soft-touch elastomer insert to aid grip in all weather conditions. The stock is finished off with a nice, thick recoil pad – always a bonus when dealing with the extra recoil of a light rifle.
For testing purposes, we used a Steiner GS3 2-10×42 scope. (Read more on this scope in the section following.)
The Finnlight II performed well at the range but was a bit fussy on what it liked; 150g loads shot from 1.8 to 1 MOA while 165-175 grain loads performed much better. This isn’t unusual, especially with rifles that have lightweight barrels, as there’s often an accuracy node that gets met when velocity and/or bullet weight is changed.
Henry Wills shot the rifle first and got nice sub 1/2 MOA groups using Hornady 165 SST and 168 ELD-M bullets. With Factory 150 grain loads, MOA was as good as it got, and here the Winchester 150gn Power-Point was the best. I tried Fiocchi 165 Sierra GameKings and they shot into .8 MOA – this load never seems to disappoint; I also tried a hand load using the 175gn Sierra Tipped MatchKing – this went into a very nice .4 MOA group. Fussy? Yes, but certainly accurate with heavier bullet weights.
I will say that being a lightweight rifle, the recoil was noticeable … will you notice it when you nail a big red? Probably not; but off the bench, multiple shots became a wee bit unpleasant. If I owned this rifle, it’d have a suppressor fitted ASAP; the recoil did mess up a few groups, and like most light rifles, I had to make sure I did everything right on the benchrest.
Some people make the comment that a Sako doesn’t offer much that a Tikka T3 can’t offer; well, I’m sorry, but I think that opinion is well off the mark. The Sako 85 is a real step up; maybe not so much from an accuracy point of view but certainly feature-wise. The stock is a huge step up from most entry and mid-range rifles and the adjustable cheek piece puts your head in the right spot. The magazine has length for seating depth, a 5-round capacity, and the way it drops free is clever.
The fit and finish on the Finnlight II is really very good; little things like the Cerakote finish and the fluted barrel elevate the rifle above cheaper alternatives.
But mostly, it just feels like a quality rifle rather than something built to a price point.
Sometimes it’s not until you spend time with something that you come to appreciate it, and at that stage, you realise it’s the myriad of small things that make the difference. I haven’t done much with Sako rifles for the last few years, but this short spell with the Finnlight II certainly showed the quality and attention to detail that you just don’t see in cheaper rifles – that alone makes it desirable.
Sako 85 Finnlight II
Barrel Length: 519mm
Magazine: Detachable 5 rounds
Trigger: Adjustable down to 2lbs
Finish: Cerakote over stainless
Stock: Fibreglass/carbon fibre; adjustable cheek piece