Sporting Rifle’s Byron Pace takes the Sauer 202 Classic for a range test and discovers German engineering at its finest
Sauer had amassed over two centuries of solid reputation by the time I had the chance to fire one of their rifles for the first time. Their increasing appearance in the hands of professional hunters had made me wonder what I was missing, so you can imagine my elation when Jamie Garland offered a rifle for testing.
As the oldest gun manufacturer in Germany, the company builds on generations of knowledge and experience. Founded in 1771 in Suhl, J P Sauer & Sohn had a simple ethos: manufacture rifles with “premium materials and outstanding quality”. Today, classic materials and modern technology are brought together in the new hunting division based in Isny. I was keen to see how the old-school workmanship had been infused into their modern rifles.
I have to admit that my first thought on shouldering the Sauer 202 Classic was: “Man, this is heavy!” I certainly wouldn’t have been keen to traipse it across a hill for red deer. However, the receiver is available in both solid steel and a much lighter alloy, and the benefits of the alloy were confirmed shortly after I borrowed an Outback model from Nick Latus. It was like lifting a rifle impregnated with helium by comparison (the fluted barrel also contributed a bit).
There was no question about the ingenuity and precision engineering that had gone into the build. Even without an insight into the quirks of the design, it felt like the kind of tool you would be happy conquering an undiscovered planet with. Functionally and aesthetically, the synthetic stock was by far the nicest production offering I had encountered. The swelled and rubberised grips are firm and robust, ensuring a concrete grasp of the rifle on even the greasiest drizzle-laden days. Even in the synthetic options Sauer has gone to the trouble of moulding the stock with a semi-Schnabel tip, finishing the eloquent European lines with an end mounted sling swivel. This did, however, mean that standard bipod mounting is forgone.
A switch barrel by design, it is not the swiftest offering on the market, requiring three separate hex screws to be loosened in order to remove the barrel. That said, this particular model is not sold with this intention, and indeed Sauer offers a purpose-made ‘switch barrel’, which offers a rapid and beautifully designed barrel exchange. The ability to switch calibres in the standard 202 models is really an added bonus, allowing multiple calibres to be shot with the same rifle, as well as providing easy replacement once barrels become shot out.
One downside is that a whole new bolt needs to be acquired for calibres with differing case head diameters. Other manufacturers only require a new bolt head. On the upside, a number of barrel makers – including the excellent Border Barrels – offer drop-in barrels for Sauer rifles, allowing owners to negate the cost of a gunsmith.
Removal and refitting is an uncomplicated affair, merely requiring a twist and pull to part the receiver from the chamber. Replacement is guided via a barrel groove, inserted back into the action up to a shoulder stop, then re-securing by torqueing up the hex screws on the locking collar to 7Nm. Since the bolt’s locking lugs locate inside the barrel, exacting and repeatable head spacing is ensured. Of course, the barrel is also fully free-floating.
The action itself exposes the striking difference between Sauer’s out-of-the-box thinking and age-old rifle design. Uniquely, the solid machined receiver actually forms part of the stock, with the rest of the rifle built in a modular fashion around the main chassis. This would allow the synthetic model I was reviewing to be swapped for an elegant wood stock with no change in zero point. Indeed, components can be bought separately, and Sauer allows customising of bolt style and the type of trigger unit at no extra cost. The standard round bolt seen here can be replaced with a Mannlicher-style flat, spoon-type handle, and the trigger unit can be switched between shotgun, set or match models. This chassis approach also means that the rifle requires no bedding, and is less likely to be affected by weather conditions even with a wooden stock.
The rifle comes with a set trigger as standard, and in keeping with the fine engineering of the rifle, it functioned flawlessly. The break on the non-set trigger was not quite as crisp as the custom trigger jobs I have, but from a factory rifle standpoint, it is on par with anything else on the market. A small hex screw at the rear of the trigger guard allows full adjustment of the set-trigger pull weight to the desired level. As is standard, the trigger is set by pushing forward on the blade; for safety this will revert back if the bolt is opened. Although I have never been a massive fan of set-triggers for hunting, it is perfect when working up loads on the range.
Cycling the rifle is positive and effortless, and the design is tried and tested, sporting three evenly spaced locking lugs at the front of the bolt and a spring plunger type ejector with a stout Sako-type claw. Depressing a small, flat lever beside the magazine allows the bolt to be removed, while the magazine itself is dropped with a counter-sunk push button in front. My only complaint with the rifle was loading rounds into the single-stack magazine, which was not as slick as it ought to have been.
The safety is uniquely located in two places: exposed behind the bolt shroud when live with a red band, and protruding inside the trigger guard when safe. I have always despised safeties near the trigger, but not this set-up. Since the action to put the rifle ‘on safe’ is at the back of the bolt, safety concerns are illuminated. It’s also by far the quietest safety of any rifle I have ever used.
The .223 I had on test was a very sweet-shooting rifle and it took no time to settle down on the range. With minimal effort I returned one-inch groups with 55-grain Geco ammo, clustering three shots into two touching holes on my fourth try. Impressive considering this is cheap ammo to source. My averages pulled in further running Federals down range, with the rifle proving it would happily eat a number of different brands. Handloads printed sub-one inch groups across a number of different powders.
There is no question that I would dearly love to have this rifle grace my cabinet. At prices in excess of £2,000 it is a good deal more expensive than a Remington, or even a Sako. However, I think this is one of those occasions where I would be happy to part with the extra cash. This is an old-world rifle with modern-day benefits.
Thanks to Garlands (01827 383300, www.garlands.uk.com) for supplying the rifle, and to RUAG (01579 362319, www.ruag.co.uk) for the ammunition.