The Sauer 101 promises high-end performance at a low-end price. Taking one out on review, Tim Pilbeam is impressed with what he finds
‘Old school – new rules’ is the slogan Sauer uses to promote its new 101 bolt-action rifle. There seems to be a trend of mid- to high-end rifle manufacturers trying to produce a more competitively-priced model using their high-quality materials and manufacturing processes. It makes sense, but can they really pull it off?
Firstly, what makes the Sauer 101 different to most sporting rifles? I believe it is the clever safety mechanism, the way the barrel is connected, and lastly, the bedding system. I will deal with these new features as I review the whole rifle.
As the 101 lies in the gun case, the dark grade 1 walnut stock is the first thing that strikes you. It oozes quality and refinement around the dark metalwork. To the shoulder, the stock holds my head in the perfect place for a decent-sized optic – it’s well balanced and firm. The pistol grip has a double palm swell to accommodate right- and left-handed shooters – though this makes it a wide grip that may not be suitable for some. The chequering here and to the forend is of a high quality, finished off beautifully around its borders. To the rear, the recoil pad is chunky but firm – possibly not that effective when firing the heavier calibres. Overall, it feels comfortable and well presented.
What makes this safety catch different from most? Positioned in the rear bolt shroud, the grippable catch needs to be pushed forward with the thumb to release. To prevent accidental movement, a button in the middle of the catch must be pressed at the same time. It is more or less silent, smooth in its travel, and effortless to manage. There does seem to be a middle position that will not allow the shot to be taken, so make sure you push it fully forward.
When the safety is applied, the bolt is also locked. To cycle the round without releasing the safety catch, press a neat little button to the right of the bolt lever slot, and back it comes. Maybe it was just the rifle I had on review, but I could also release the bolt by applying a little forward pressure to the safety catch. Most safety catches lock the trigger mechanism, but this secure bolt design (or Durasafe system) locks the actual firing pin, supposedly making it one of the safest on the market. Most importantly, the wide trigger blade is crisp with no creep, and factory set to 2lb as standard. This one was tested at 1.9-2.1lb.
The bolt itself is a solid design that directly locks into the barrel using six large locking lugs, similar to the Mauser M03 and the Merkel Helix (most rifles’ designs lock into the front of their respective actions). The concept ensures better accuracy – the manufacturer guarantees sub-MOA, which is reasonably impressive, but it has to be said, most of today’s rifles achieve this.
For ejection of the rounds, a twin plunger ejector ensures a robust 90-degree horizontal throw, aided by a sprung claw on the edge of the bolt face. Overall, bolt travel was smooth, as anticipated, and thanks to the 60-degree bolt throw, combined with a generous ejection port, it cycles rounds quickly and efficiently.
Another unusual feature is the design and fit of the barrel into the receiver. Most barrels are threaded and screw into the receiver, but Sauer uses a friction weld process that involves heating the front of the receiver and pressing the barrel in when it has expanded. To guarantee the correct head spacing, a lower locator pin on the barrel slots into the front of the receiver, and as the sales material states, it provides a ‘tension-free barrel-to-receiver connection’. Once again, this may improve accuracy, but does it mean that any future barrel changes are no longer an option?
The double-stack synthetic magazine is apparently indestructible, and has a capacity of four rounds for the magnum calibres and five for the rest. Some would prefer it to be made of steel or alloy, especially for a premium product such as a Sauer, but there’s no denying it is robust and quick to load. To release, press the hidden button to the front of the high-quality, one-piece alloy trigger guard and base plate. It is more or less impossible to release it by mistake. The magazine drops out without any effort, loads quickly and engages with a positive click, making it one of the most practical designs on the market.
Moving forward, the sporting medium-weight match barrel is available in two lengths – 22in on standard calibres and 24in on magnums – and comes with a 14x1mm thread.
The last notable feature is the ‘Ever Rest’ bedding system. Instead of using the common recoil lug design, the 101 incorporates two locking pins that are fixed to the underside of the action. These pins locate into an aluminium block that is bedded into the stock. It looks a neat and tidy design, and is secured tightly by a 9mm hex stud. This stud then accepts the front screw to fix the bottom plate. To remove the metalwork from the stock, release the two lower screws, then use a socket to release the stud. It is nice to the see that the stud directly squeezes the aluminium bedding block to the action without applying any pressure to the surrounding stock material. Another tick in the enhanced accuracy box.
To summarise, the Sauer 101 unsurprisingly has the feel of a high-quality rifle, incorporating innovative new designs with the unusual barrel fitting process and bedding procedure, not forgetting the superb trigger and safety mechanism. But does it stand above its competitors when tested in the field?
For this review, Swarovski kindly provided me with a Z5 5-25x52P. It is great to notice that I can use mounts that can be fitted many other receivers, such as the Remington 700 series, negating the need to buy bespoke and expensive mounting kits.
After raiding my gun room – helped by the rifle being in the popular .308 calibre – I was able to get hold of a variety of factory ammunition to see if the 101 favoured a particular weight or brand. This is not a scientific test, but gives me an indication of its performance under hunting conditions. Using a Harris bipod, the Geco 180-grain, Lapua 150-grain and Hornady TAP 110-grain, achieved 1in, 0.9in and 0.8in groups at 100 yards respectively. This is respectable, but one of the other rifles I took to the range managed to pip it – a 0.7in group with 150-grain Federal Fusion ammunition. Then again, accuracy is not a concern once below the guaranteed 1MOA – most hunters are more than happy with this performance, especially with the heavier calibres above 243. Recoil was feisty, but bearing in mind it is an athletic 6.5lb in weight, this was not a surprise.
The Sauer feels comfortable to shoot, helped by the superb chequering. Perhaps the pistol grip is a little wider than most. The 52mm Swarovski seemed to be in perfect alignment for my shooting thanks to the design of the stock and cheekpiece. Loading, cycling and ejection of the rounds was faultless, backed up by that really outstanding trigger.
I have had the pleasure of using this rifle extensively, evaluating ammunition out to 300 yards in preparation for a week’s hind culling in Scotland. For this I used 125-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip heads with 46 grains of Vihtavouri N135, giving me a flat-shooting 3,000fps projectile, with accuracy of under 2in at 200 yards. With a 150-yard zero, the drop is 2in, 4in and 8in at 200, 250 and 300 yards respectively. The Sauer performed well, accounting for several beasts from 80 to 200 yards. I found the safety a little fiddly, as there is not a huge amount of room below the scope, making it tricky to locate the small integral button, especially when wearing gloves. Despite the cold, wet and windy weather, I could not fault the trigger, and while the recoil was punchy owing to the weight and lack of moderator, it handled beautifully. Despite using the feisty 125-grain Nosler Ballistic tips, carcase damage was minimal.
Is the 101 going to be a popular addition to the gun shops of the UK? It is a premium brand trying to fill the middle market, and most would say that despite an eye-catching RRP of around £1,500, it offers guaranteed high-quality design. I really enjoyed the Sauer 101, not forgetting the XT model with the synthetic soft touch stock that is also available, offering a workmanlike, rugged rifle capable of being used anywhere in the world. In my opinion, I would take a serious look at the XT, with an RRP of £1,300.