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Sako Model 85 Black Bear
Interest in bear hunting, black bear hunting in particular, has grown by leaps and bounds over the last decade or two; but so too has hunting wild boar, which has been a passion of mine for at least the last 30 years.
I have hunted wild boar around the world and, of course, right here in North America. Both provide interesting hunts with a high degree of success. And neither should be taken lightly when it comes to putting them on the ground. In fact, out of all the game I have hunted worldwide, the only animal to ever charge me was a wild boar. I had to, quite literally, drop that big hog at the end of my barrel. I can assure you that this charge has long been burned into my memory, as less than three meters separated that dead boar and me. It undoubtedly had plans for this hunter’s hide that I was less than fond of.
I won’t spend a lot of time talking about hunting either, other than to say opportunities, especially for black bear, abound right across Canada – with some of the best right here in the west.
I went looking for a rifle and scope that would offer both black bear and wild boar hunters something more than just another off-the-shelf gun. I didn’t have to look long after discovering that Sako had introduced a new series of rifles, specially designed for bear hunters. The Sako Model 85 Brown Bear was first on the scene, followed by the Black Bear and, most recently, the Grizzly. Each has its own unique features, while still being based on the absolute integrity of the Sako Model 85.
The Sako Model 85 Black Bear
Sako builds some very fine rifles indeed, of which I have owned my fair share.
Let’s get to all the features that make the Black Bear not only unique, but also are a carryover from its origin, the original Model 85.
I would like to start by giving you my first, overall impression of this rifle and what sets it apart as a one-of-a-kind black bear and hog rifle. It is short, compact and built like a tank. It was certainly designed, with its short, heavy, fluted barrel and solid synthetic stock, to take all the punishment a tough or close-quarter hunt can hand out, and yet be right at home in a tree stand. When I say “solid,” I mean the stock had a solid feel to it that did not ring hollow when bumped. But despite this tough design, aesthetically, with a front swivel barrel band, soft grip areas in the pistol grip and fore-end and finely fit recoil pad, it also had the appeal of a finely crafted rifle.
Another immediately notable feature that set the Black Bear apart was its adjustable V Express style rear sight and white bead front sight. These sights are ideal for very quick target acquisition, should you ever need to hunt a big bruin or boar at close quarters. When combined, these features alone add up to a very quick handling, fast on target and solidly built rifle, perfect for any black bear or hog hunt you may have in mind. But what about all of those other features that are carryovers from the Model 85?
There are a number that warrant discussion, but the two that impress me the most are its action and trigger. The action is smooth as if it were on ball bearings, but also it uses a controlled round feed, meaning the bolt face grabs the rim of the cartridge right from the magazine, preventing the round from falling out of the chamber during cycling. A real plus if you’re in a hurry to chamber a follow up shot, and under that kind of pressure. We certainly don’t need an action that doesn’t chamber a round with absolute surety.
The trigger, from my perspective, is one of the best stock triggers out there. It is so easy to adjust and is so crisp and clean on the break one could easily compare it to an expensive, custom trigger. My Lyman Electronic Digital Trigger Pull Gauge had the factory trigger set between four pounds, 5.2 ounces and four pounds, 5.4 ounces, which I very easily adjusted down to two pounds, 10.8 ounces, and believe it or not, it broke at that precise pull weight twice, back to back. If that isn’t precision, I don’t know what is, as we are talking about something in the order of less than one-tenth-of-an-ounce variance; in other words, totally imperceptible to my electronic scale, let alone the shooter.
A couple of other notable features are worthy of mention. The first is its magazine release, which is designed to require an extra step in order to remove it from the rifle. This step, which requires the user to push down on the magazine while depressing the release, will prevent an accidental loss or drop of the magazine. Nice touch. The receiver also incorporates an integral, tapered scope mount rail for a very solid and secure base on which to mount a scope.
Next on this list is the Soft Touch finish on the stock. It gives the stock a feel of being coated in a layer of soft rubber that will provide the user a secure hand-to-stock contact, despite weather conditions. No hard plastic feel to this stock, and I love it.
And last, the barrel is a cold hammer forged barrel and free floated for accuracy.
Sako Black Bear specifications:
Calibre: .30-06 Springfield (other calibres available from a .308 Winchester to a 9.3×66 Sako)
Length: 40 15/16 inches
Rate of twist: One to 11 inches
Barrel Length: 20 inches
Weight: Seven pounds
Length of pull: 14 inches
Magazine capacity: Five rounds
The Meopta MeoStar R1 1.5-6×42 RD Scope
When I went looking for a scope to match this rifle and its primary use, there were a number of features that I was specifically looking for that frequently do not come together in one scope. I wanted a variable scope with a low-end power setting of less than 2x for close-in-heavy-cover hunting. But I was also looking for a scope that had as much magnification as available at the top end, to offer the capability of longer range hunting in open fields. In addition, I wanted a scope that offered a reasonably large objective lens in order to accommodate low light situations, often associated with hunting black bear. Let me assure you that is no small order as most lower powered, variable scopes have small objective lenses (most often less than 30 millimetres) and frequently don’t offer a magnification higher than 5x. Last, I wanted a scope with not only an illuminated reticle, but also one that offered very quick target acquisition. My search ended with the brand new Meopta MeoStar R1 1.5-6x42mm. It had it all.
I should begin my discussion of this scope by indicating I have never used or even tried a Meopta scope, this despite the many years of hunting and shooting with a wide range of scopes. However, when I delved into the company, I became aware of its long history and level of standards in the optical field. This is no fly-by-night company. It employs 2,800 workers worldwide and utilizes the most modern technology, such as robotics, to build their scopes and binoculars. I will begin with their glass, which with the use of its own MeoBright 5501 multi-coatings offers what Meopta suggests is an industry best at 99.8 per cent light transmission. These advanced coatings also eliminate unwanted glare and reflections and provide edge-to-edge clarity that is often critical in low light or challenging conditions. And last, MeoShield is applied to the exterior lens surfaces for additional abrasion resistance.
With their one-piece, 30millimetre, aircraft-grade aluminum tube that is nitrogen purged, they are totally water and shock proof and offer a lifetime transferable warranty.
But next I want to discuss the illuminated reticle. I will start by indicating that while being referred to as a 4C, it very closely resembles the German No. 4, simply a great reticle for quick target acquisition under very demanding conditions or on a fast-moving target. That, however, is only half the equation, as it additionally has an illuminated dot for situations when the light is all but nonexistent. Which, when hunting black bears, can be the determining factor, especially when trying to place an accurate kill shot in low light on a very black hide.
The illumination offers seven levels of intensity, which is controlled by a left side turret with intermediate off positions between each setting. It will, additionally, automatically shut down after three hours, so if you forget to shut it off it will save the battery for your next trip out. Which, by the way, will provide up to 80 hours of continuous use. A lot of hunt time. Interestingly enough, these latter two pieces of information on the shut off and battery life I had to obtain from the factory, through their Canadian representative, as it was not contained in any material that I could find on this scope. This is one excellent reticle that is sure to make the difference on many a bear or hog hunt.
MeoStar R1 1.5-6x42mm specifications:
Tube diameter: 30 millimetres
Length: 13.25 inches
Weight: 20.6 ounces
Objective Lens: 42 millimetres
Eye relief: 3.2 – 3.7 inches
Magnification: 1.5x to 6x
Reticle: 4C Illuminated RD (red dot)
Field of view at 100 yards: 67 feet to 27 feet
Using Sako’s Optilock rings and bases make mounting the scope straightforward. The overall weight of the rifle and scope, which tipped the scale at eight pounds, seven ounces, may seem a bit above the norm but with the Black Bear’s short, 20-inch barrel I really appreciated that extra bit of weigh. It gave the rifle perfect balance, not expected in most short-barrel rifles. The heavier, contoured barrel was certainly part of this equation.
In reference to the scope, the glass was everything it was said to be: sharp, bright with plenty of contrast. But beyond the optics, the standout on this scope was its reticle. No matter the demands, be it low light, heavy cover, a fast moving target or a very dark-coloured hide, it would meet the challenge.
Prior to moving on to the field test itself, I wanted to mention that for this test I wanted to include as many varieties of factory ammo as I could lay my hands on. Which, in this case, turned out to be 22 and considerably more than I have ever tested in any rifle in the past. I also included four of my favorite 06 handloads. The reason for such a predominance of factory ammo is that it has gotten so much better in recent years that I wanted to provide as much potential coverage as possible.
While I mentioned the trigger previously, on the range the first thing that struck me again was its absolute quality. All I had to do was think about squeezing the trigger and the bullet was already on its way down range. Flawless performance from shot to shot and I put a lot of ammo through this rifle during this test.
I should also mention that sighting in was simple, a matter of using a Leupold Zero Point Boresighter and I was immediately on target at 100 yards. However, when it came time to make windage and elevation adjustments, I noted that the tolerances in the MeoStar were so tight that with its small, raised centre finger adjusters it took a fair amount of finger pressure to make these adjustments. Something a bit larger that allowed a bit more finger leverage would have been helpful.
My only real surprise that resulted from these tests was the lack of performance of my handloads and, while they averaged out at 1.15 inches, they only bettered the overall factory average of 1.18 inches by .03 inches. I had expected better. This goes to show just how far factory ammo has come. But given time, I’m sure I could have found a combo of bullets and powder that would have pushed this average down to well below MOA.
There is little doubt that I would have to go a long way to better the quarter-inch group the Nosler Custom 165-grain AccuBond delivered. This was a bit of a surprise as when testing a different rifle, it did not shoot this well – just more proof that every rifle has its likes and dislikes. Nonetheless, it showed outstanding accuracy with a fine game bullet to boot.
But Federal, Barnes and Hornady were not all that far behind with sub MOA groups as well. I should also note that the shorter 20-inch barrel of the Black Bear was evident by the drop off of about 100 feet per second from most advertised velocities, which were no doubt taken in a 24-inch barrel – very expected results when you figure in the generally accepted loss of about 25 to 30 feet per second per inch of barrel.
This is a rifle I would be happy to take into any woodland hunting camp, as there is little question that it transcends its singular classification as a black bear rifle. It would be right at home in those very woods hunting wild boar, moose, elk or monster white tails.
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