Gun Review: Sako Model 85 Rifle

What attributes should a deer rifle have?

Well, let’s start with the requisites. The cartridge must be relatively flat shooting, with the capability of making shots out to and beyond 300 metres. It must also be capable of delivering sufficient bullet energy at these ranges to effectively and quickly dispatch a good-sized deer. It must be capable of delivering one-inch, 100-yard groups with the bullet with which you intend to hunt. The rifle must also fit you, the shooter, to the extent that when you shoulder it, it comes on line as a natural extension of your body. The trigger must be smooth and crisp and break consistently at whatever pull weight it is set at. Now let’s briefly talk about some of the non-requisites. The weight with scope, rings and bases should be less than 8-1/2 pounds. The barrel should be no more than 24 inches in length and, as I would choose a bolt-action rifle, it should have a ball-bearing smooth action with a foolproof cartridge feed.  Last, it should also have a detachable clip and be as weather resistant as possible. In other words, a stainless steel barrel and action with a synthetic stock. Now let’s see how my selection of the finest deer rifle in the West, the new Sako Model 85 in a .270 Winchester Short Magnum, actually performed.

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Sako Synthetic Stainless Steel Model 85

The Sako Model 85 follows on the heels of the very popular Model 75 that gained a worldwide reputation as a first-rate hunting rifle ever since it was introduced in 1996. Despite their success, Sako’s master gunsmiths wanted to build an even better rifle and, believe me, they did. It was love at first sight. I could not find a single feature, new or old that I did not like. I will just touch on some of the more notable features. I will discuss general impressions first, of which the most pronounced is that it fits me like it had been custom made for me and its balance and target acquisition are equally as impressive. The action is so smooth that it truly feels like the bolt is moving on ball bearings and the trigger is simply outstanding. Out of the box, at a setting of 3½ lbs, it was just a little too heavy for my taste so I made a minor adjustment through the magazine well with a small Allen key and reset it to 2½ lbs. It not only remained exactly at that figure but also broke very crisply and cleanly each and every time thereafter. I also took an instant liking to the over-molded, slip-proof grip areas on the stock and its new recoil absorption butt plate system that dissipates recoil and guides the stock downwards during recoil.

Some of the less obvious features that separate this rifle from its predecessor are the controlled cartridge feed in all action sizes, unique new three locking lugs on the bolt, a cheek piece that is interchangeable for either right- or left-handed shooters, a latch that is designed to eliminate loss of the magazine, and a non reflective, cold-hammered forged barrel that is totally free-floated. The action also has five smooth guiding surfaces that prevent binding – no wonder the bolt feels as ultra smooth as it does. As a factory rifle, it has to be the best-built and designed hunting rifle that I have seen come off an assembly line.

Specifications

  • Weight:  6 5/8 pounds
  • Barrel Length: 24 3/8 inches
  • Cartridge Capacity: 1 in chamber, 4 in magazine
  • Rate of Twist: 1-10 inch twist
  • Overall Length:  44 5/16 inches

Burris Euro Diamond 2.5x-10x-50mm Scope

To match such a fine rifle, the scope must be sufficiently bright to handle low light, be totally reliable under all conditions, have variable magnification in order to cover a wide range of shooting situations and preferably have a reticle offering various range aim points. I chose the Burris Euro Diamond 2.5x-10x-50mm scope. The reasons are straightforward. I wanted a rugged scope that offered sufficient brightness and a range of magnifications to cover about all shooting circumstances that a western deer hunter might encounter. I also opted for a lighted ballistic plex reticle for two reasons. First, the ballistic plex offers a variety of aim points for various ranges and second, the lighted reticle will permit a more precise hold under very low light conditions. It is a feature that certainly proved itself to me on a recent hunt in Europe where we were hunting under light conditions that would have been impossible without a lighted reticle. This new model has a digital illumination controller, time-delayed shut off and modulation circuitry that triples battery life. However, all of these features do not make this a lightweight scope. At 21 ounces when mounted on the 85, it pushed my suggested weight limit of 8-1/2 pound right to the maximum.

Specifications

  • Weight:  21 ounces
  • Overall Length:  13.9 inches:
  • Field of View in feet at 100 yards: 35-10
  • Tube Diameter:  30mm
  • Eye Relief: 3.5-4.0 inches
  • Rings and Bases: Sako Optilock

Field Proofing

Despite having arrived at my door late on Friday afternoon, by the time the sun had risen over the horizon the next morning,  I was already at the range with the Model 85 and an assortment of both handloads and factory ammunition. For this test I chose to limit myself to quality bullets in the 130- to 150-grain range; as in the .270 WSM they will provide plenty of downrange terminal performance for deer.

I will begin by saying that my first three-shot, 100-yard groups with both Federal factory 130-grain Nosler solid base ammunition and my handloaded 130-grain Nosler Ballistic tip bullets were less than a half-inch. You are not misreading the fine print; both groups were of the quality I might expect from a varmint rifle not from an out-of-the-box hunting rifle. If I wasn’t already impressed with this rifle, it certainly had my attention now. But were these initial tests repeatable and with a variety of other loads?

As the numbers indicate, one of the best all around loads, when considering both accuracy and velocity, was actually a factory load, the Federal 130-grain Nosler Solid Base.  I was so surprised by my first sub-half-inch group with this particular cartridge that I tested it on three separate occasions and the largest group still only measured .620 inches. This is truly outstanding accuracy for a factory load. Unfortunately, however, Federal no longer loads this particular bullet, but when I contacted Federal they assured me that the replacement, the 130-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip is just as accurate.

While the overall winner may have been a factory load, my handloads were not far behind as both the Hornady 130-grain and 140-grain SST as well as the 130–grain Nosler Ballistic Tip shot well into under an inch.

Out of all the test firing that I did, not a single group exceeded 1.25 inches, which when coupled with all the other fine features of this rifle, make it one superb Western deer rifle.

Federal Factory Ammunition Update

Fortunately, prior to going to press I was able to range test both Federal 130-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip and Federal 150-grain Fusion cartridges. I was particularly anxious to test the 130-grain Nosler Ballistic Tips, as the 130-grain Nosler Solid Bases had shot so well during my earlier testing of this rifle. I was not disappointed as they shot just as well, right into a half-inch with velocities averaging 70 feet per second better at 3,235 fps than the Solid Bases that I had tested earlier. Federal Fusion did not perform quite as well with groups averaging just slightly over an inch with velocities hovering right at 3,000 fps. Just what Federal did when putting their 130-grain Nosler loads together I don’t know but for factory ammo, they perform consistently about as well as I have ever encountered.

Test Results

Factory Ammo

Type Avg. Group (inches) Avg. Velocity (FPS)
Federal 130-grain Nosler Solid Base .510 3,166
Federal 130-grain Barnes Triple Shock 1.00 3,267

Handloads

Type Avg. Group (Inches) Avg. Velocity (FPS)
130-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip Hodgdon H4831 Powder .625 3,107
130-grain Hornady SST Hodgdon H4831 Powder .850 3,159
130-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip Reloader 19 Powder 1.15 3,114
130-grain Hornady SST Reloader 19 Powder 1.20 3,106
140-grain Hornady SST Reloader 19 Powder .500 2,964
140-grain Hornady SST Hodgdon Retumbo Powder 1.00 2,995

*All three-shot groups were fired off the bench at 100 yards and all velocities were chronographed in feet per second with a Chrony Gamma Master chronograph.

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