To steal an Americanism, every hunter wants a ‘tack driver.’ These days we strive for rifles that shoot tighter and tighter groups. No longer are we happy with shooting an inch and a half with our lightweight hunting rifle. We as consumers demand neat clustering groups and sub-MOA guarantees.
Rifle makers today certainly do know how to make rifles shoot to a high standard, but that doesn’t mean these rifle designs are better than those from 50 years ago. Production streamlining and cost-cutting has led to frustrating sacrifices in design quality. Of course, it does mean rifles arrive on the market at a more affordable level, but sometimes this drive to steal pound coins from production costs leaves rifles in an almost unfinished state. I am always eager to see what steps a manufacturer has taken to introduce a cheaper model to its catalogue.
This is especially true of a rifle maker like Sauer, which has successfully supplied to hunters the world over its famous Sauer 202. This year it launched the little brother to the 202, and its position in the market puts it in the direct firing line of some big contenders. Coming in at £1,350, this mid-range ground has been held by Sako for a long time.
By the time the 101 arrived at my door, I had already watched the YouTube commercials and read the technical details of how the rifle was put together. As I have already said, most rifles these days will shoot sub-MOA given the right ammo. To be impressed with how a rifle shoots, it really does have to perform. I had already been told that the 101 was not fussy with its lead and copper diet, shooting almost anything at an acceptable level.
After a thorough clean, the 101 was ready for the range. I warmed it up with some 150-grain Federals, which immediately grouped just over an inch. The next three shots tucked under the inch mark at 100 yards. Hornady Custom 168-grain produced almost identical results, with the 165-grain Geco mirroring the results. I wanted to burn a bit more powder to get a good feel for the rifle. This turned me on to the 170-grain Geco ammo that I had in abundance. Ditching the bipod for my roe sack, I slammed a six-shot string down range at the only clean target left. The results were impressive: five shots had cut each other across one ragged hole, with a sixth landing just outside. These results extended out to 300 yards as well, with a group just pushing the 3 inch mark. I wasn’t expecting it with my fodder ammo, but the rifle liked it.
With its accuracy accounted for, the rifle itself is fairly good looking. It had a nice feel to it, though the pistol grip was a little too generously swelled for my hands. The woodwork was nicely finished, although I am not a big fan of the high gloss coat. The metal work was also completed in a satisfying matte blue.
Those familiar with the 202 will notice that the 101 yields a different design, with the characteristic visible chassis absent in the 101. This rifle is not a switch barrel, like its predecessor, but fixed. Sauer opted for a non-threaded, heat shrunk, barrel to receiver fitting. The tell-tale sign of this is where the barrel meets the receiver, showing a visible locating pin that controls depth and rotational correction on fitting. This is an interesting method, following Mannlicher in building rifles without threading the receiver (although the application is different). It is an efficient and cost effective way of producing rifles – though re-barrelling is more time consuming. In theory, however, it may be a superior method of barrel fitting.
Unlike the hammer-forged barrel of the 202, the 101 uses button rifling. Although it may not have the same hardwearing barrel life, it is arguably the superior method when accuracy is concerned. Finished with a generous contour, this adds a bit of weight and stability to the rifle’s overall balance.
The 101 does share an important similarity with the 202 in how head spacing is guaranteed. Like the switch barrel, the bolt lugs lock down into the barrel itself. This, however, this is where the likeness ends. The receiver of the 101 is machined as a single tube, milled on top for the classic Sauer lines, with a generously sized side ejection port. In a marketing move, it has also been drilled and tapped to accept standard Remington bases.
The recoil system is interesting and unique in its application, if not entirely original. The ‘Ever Rest’ bedding system sees the tubular receiver drilled and pegged in two positions. These fit into corresponding holes in a mini bedding block resin-glued into the stock. A central threaded nut, which is not the action screw, then binds the alloy block to the action. In front of the securing point, just over 10mm of the barrel resides on the block. The rest is free floating.
It is the first time I have seen it done quite like this, and ease of production clearly influences it. Fitting the receiver into a bigger alloy lug is not new, though, as the old Sako L591/691 series had a similar design with a machined peg from the receiver and an un-bedded separate alloy lug. Given how well the 101 shoots, the new bedding system obviously works.
I have one reservation, though I may be proved wrong over time. Where I have previously seen cylindrical recoiling surfaces secured through corresponding holes, in heavier recoiling calibres they invariably become oval. This brings unwanted slack into the system. With the additional tensioning nut underneath its lug, the engineering brains at Sauer may have already addressed this in the 101.
The bolt provides the same slick operation as the 202. Though it has a virtually identical bolt shaft, the 101 has a swept-back handle with synthetic bolt knob. Although the former is more attractive aesthetically, the new design is more functional. The bolt is locked down with six lugs across all calibres – unlike the 202, which sees a three-lug design for the medium calibres. The 101 also sports double-sprung plunger ejectors. These provide firm and positive, almost horizontal, ejection of spent cases. Feeding is smooth, and overall the action is a pleasure to operate.
Looking to the back of the bolt, we can see the new safety design. Opting for a simple two-position version, operation is convenient, easy and fairly quiet to operate. Instead of having a straightforward slide, the fire position requires a small button on the catch to be depressed first. This cleverly ensures the rifle cannot accidentally be made live.
The bolt release on the 101 is multifunctional. When the rifle is cocked and safe, depressing the round button with your thumb allows ammunition to be ejected while the rifle is still disengaged. In normal operation, the bolt is locked down when on safe, and holding the same button down on drawing back the bolt allows it to be removed from the receiver. Positioned for easy operation, this is an excellent safety feature adopted by a number of manufacturers. I prefer to have it in this form rather than a three-position safety.
Every good rifle needs a good trigger, and Europe is generally reliable in this department. The 101 has a new trigger design, set at a crisp and even 2lb. It impressed me, and was spot on for a stalking trigger. The trigger guard is integrated with the bottom metal in a wrap-around design similar to a Browning X-Bolt. Made from a casting process, it houses the 101’s synthetic magazine. Stacking five rounds in standard and four in Magnum calibres, it feels remarkably robust for being made from a polymer. Effortless to fill, it offers smooth feeding and is one of the best synthetic mags I have seen. Ejection is achieved from under the stock via a recessed plastic button. It feels more like something you would pop a CD out with, but it works fine and is unlikely to be inadvertently depressed.
Sauer has taken a gamble moving from its comfortable position in the market into the very competitive middle ground, but it’s difficult to draw fault with the result. Simply, I think Sauer has done a fine job. Despite my initial reservations about the ‘Ever Rest’ bedding system, it has produced an impressively accurate and well thought out rifle. It is comfortable to manoeuvre, with very traditional looks and a tapering fore stock (which increases your ability to grip the rifle firmly into your shoulder).
With low mounts fitted, the scope came up to my eye with little effort. At 6.7lb in standard calibres, it also has a comforting weight. The rest of the market should take a good look at what Sauer now offers. I am trying to think of a reason not to get my credit card out. BP
Models tested: Sauer 101 in .243 and .308
Price range: 101 £1,500; 101 XT £1,300
Contact: Garlands 01827 383300