It’s a new rifle-scope combo for Mark Stone, who puts the Sako 85 through its paces and adds Leupold’s latest glass to this Finnish favourite
For years, various friends have gone on to me about how good their Sako rifles are and how I should at least try one for myself. Strangely, although I’ve encountered various Sakos over time, the chance both to shoot one and to take one stalking has never befallen me for whatever reason. It certainly wasn’t because I didn’t like them – it was just that the opportunity never arose. That was until UK importer GMK kindly sent me a Sako 85 Classic in .243 complete with one of their Leupold VX-3L 3.5-10×50 scopes, Optilock mounts and a couple of boxes of 100-grain Sako Gamehead soft points. Add to this one of Casstrom’s Z-Aim Pro Stalker multi-functional slings, and we were in business.
The narrow Sako box literally contains everything you’re likely to need, apart from scope, mounts and rings – although your GMK dealer can order them at the same time if they are out of stock. The half-stock oil-finished walnut is well grained, and the straight stock and cheekpiece are rounded off with a soft orange recoil pad, while the narrow forend is complemented with a rosewood tip. There are small panels of neat chequering on the palm swell pistol-grip and either side of the forend. The supplied QD sling mounts are attached in the usual fashion. The 57cm barrel and receiver are finished with a non-reflective, almost satin-like treatment. Like the stock, they are superbly constructed. The top of the receiver incorporates integral tapering rails, which promote security and precise scope alignment while ensuring uninterrupted access to the ejection port.
On the opposite side, just below the rear mount, is the turn-bolt release. With either the right-hand side mounted safety catch disengaged, the safe position locking the bolt down, or the small lever just to the front of it depressed, the locking lug bolt can be drawn a little over halfway back out of battery. By pressing the release lever on the left side, the bolt can then be fully withdrawn. It’s a similar process with the stainless steel double-stack magazine. Holding and effortlessly feeding a useful total of five rounds, the base of the mag needs to be gently pushed into its housing before disengaging the retaining latch. Once done, the mag drops easily into the waiting hand.
In certain people’s eyes, I have a weird and wonderful way of zeroing a rifle. After attaching the scope and mounts, I attach my Leupold Zero Point magnetic boresighter and align the scope’s reticle accordingly. From there, the first few rounds are shot at 50 yards, giving me an idea of matters and allowing some minor adjustments before the usual 100-yard zero.
Using the supplied Sako ammo, the 85 was pulling half-inch groups after just nine rounds. Similarly, the Boone & Crockett reticle meant the usual ‘one inch high at 100 yards’ was eliminated. The ‘Big Game’ graduations allow for three fully zeroed aiming points in one go, or for heavier or lighter loads depending on your preference.
The other immediate sensation was that with the Sako bullets the 85 was remarkably soft to shoot – more so than other, lighter .243 rifles. Similarly, just because the rifle and ammunition combination was comfortable it didn’t detract from the bullets’ overall performance. Each round split the chronometer at a mean of 2,693fps at 100 yards, while the non-set trigger broke at a crisp and predictable factory weight of 5lb 6oz with no sign of creep. All in all, even after just 20 minutes with the 85, the overriding sensation was of a rifle and scope combination that engendered instant familiarity.
The 85 certainly wasn’t short of work during my tenure. Dornells’ roe does had to be dealt with, while the versatility of the .243 calibre meant foxes and crows were on this particular Sako’s menu. As I set off on foot, the benefit of the Sako’s 8lb 10oz centrally aligned weight meant it was easy and comfortable to carry over extended distances. Likewise, my preference for carrying my rifle in the European style, with the rifle upside down beneath my arm instead of vertically, meant the Z-Aim sling distributed the weight even more.
After a good three miles’ slow walk and one extended crawl through deep, damp heather in an effort to get into some feeding does, I appreciated the overall dynamics and user friendliness of the 85 even more. And while the roe managed to evade concerted stalks, three 150-yard crows and a late evening fox taken from a little-used high seat made up for it. All the while, the 85 left me with the sensation that it is an ‘always ready’ rifle – instantly at hand and able to perform any task asked of it. Likewise, with a decent capacity detachable magazine you don’t feel the need to carry vast quantities of additional rounds. A small loden Hubertus bullet pouch holding four bullets was all the spare ammo I considered necessary.
If Sako’s 85 Classic is the benchmark of this Finnish manufacturer’s products, I’m genuinely looking forward to spending some time with other rifles and calibres within the range, along with some of the other Leupold scope variants. And while the Z-Aim sling isn’t the most attractive you’ll ever use, it is highly effective, allowing the stalker to carry the rifle in the conventional manner – as well as being convertible to rucksack style and being able to transport anything up to a good-sized roe. The £30 expenditure seems almost insignificant when offset against the durability and practicality of the product, while all aspects of the outfit make it more than worth considering if you’re on the market for a good fox-deer combo that falls within a sensible price bracket.