Compared: Kimber 84M Classic, Sako 85 Hunter, Steyr-Mannlicher Classic and Weatherby Mark V Deluxe Rifles
By Chuck Hawks and the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
Judging by our correspondence, Guns and Shooting Online readers have greater that average interest in deluxe firearms. Which is why we spend more time and effort than the average publication, print or online, evaluating and reviewing top of the line guns.
Among the best of the bolt action rifles reviewed individually on Guns and Shooting Online (see the Product Review Page) are the four models named at the top of this article. The Kimber 84M, Sako 85 Hunter, Steyr-Mannlicher Full-Stock Classic, and Weatherby Mark V Deluxe are high priced rifles. All carry 2006 MSRPs between, roughly, $1000 and $2000. Two are American brands and two come from Europe. Weatherby is headquartered in California and Kimber is located in New York state, while Sako rifles are made in Finland and Steyr-Mannlicher rifles in Austria.
Regardless of the country of origin and detail design differences, the one thing that all four of these rifles have in common is a dedication to high quality. Their bolt actions are smooth and slick, triggers release cleanly, and stocks are carved from genuine walnut. Here are features and brief descriptions of all four models.
Kimber 84M Classic
The specific Kimber 84M variations reviewed on Guns and Shooting Online include both the Longmaster Classic and standard 84M Classic. They are well balanced hunting rifles with a "match grade" barrel, trigger and chamber. The Longmaster is essentially identical to the lighter weight 84M Classic with the exception of its heavier 24 inch stainless steel, fluted barrel. Regular 84M rifles are supplied with 22" light contour barrels to save weight. We prefer the extra weight of the Longmaster.
The Longmaster is currently offered only in .308 Winchester, while the regular Model 84M comes in short action calibers .243 Winchester, .260 Remington, 7mm-08 and .308 Winchester. The Kimber 84M series of rifles was designed specifically for short action (.308 Win. length) cartridges. Kimber added a standard (.30-06) length action to the line in 2006 and there is also a short magnum version called the Model 8400 that is chambered for the WSM series of cartridges.
The basic Kimber action is based on the legendary pre-1964 Winchester Model 70. Incorporated into the design of the Kimber 84M are a ball bearing three position Model 70 type wing safety, one-piece Model 70 type bolt with a 90 degree bolt lift, controlled round feeding and extraction, two front locking lugs with a rear lug for safety, milled steel hinged floor plate and trigger guard with the magazine floor plate release inside the trigger guard, open topped receiver for easy field loading and a glass bedded action. The 84M Classic barreled action is finished in a matte blue.
The Classic model's fine claro walnut stock is classically styled, superbly checkered at 20 lines per inch and has a hand rubbed oil finish. A one inch rubber recoil pad and detachable sling swivel bases are supplied. The similar Model 84M Super America version comes with a select AAA grade Claro walnut stock, highly polished blue metal finish and is a very classy looking rifle.
Sako 85 Hunter
The Sako 85 action includes a front locking two-piece bolt with three lugs that cocks on opening. The bolt lugs are integral with the bolt body. Bolt rotation is 70 degrees. The biggest change in the 85 action (compared to the 75) is what Sako advertises as controlled cartridge feeding, although in our testing this action proved to lack the traditional advantages of true controlled round feed actions such as the Mauser 98, Winchester 70 and Kimber 84M.
The Sako 85 feeds cartridges from a removable, staggered row, sheet metal box magazine with what appears to be an aluminum follower. It is very easy to load the magazine when it is removed from the rifle, and it can also be loaded through the ejection port while in place, just like a rifle with an internal magazine.
The 85 Receiver is a machined steel, flat bottomed design. The ejection port is generous enough to allow cartridges to be single loaded directly into the chamber. There is a user adjustable single-stage trigger that broke at a commendably clean 3 5/8 pounds on our test rifle. The hammer-forged, free-floated barrel wears a target type crown. The barreled action is finished in a satin blue.
The rifle's stock features classic lines and select walnut. The comb is straight, American-style, while the left side of the stock sports a shadow-line cheekpiece. The stock on our test rifle shows attractive grain with long, dark streaks. There is ample fine line cut checkering at forend and pistol grip, with a single line border. The stock finish is a matte lacquer. Detachable sling swivel studs are provided. Sako rifles come with a 100 yard, 1" accuracy guarantee, although in our experience that standard can be difficult to achieve with stock rifles.
The Sako 85 Hunter is offered in calibers .22-250, .243 Winchester, .25-06, .260 Remington, 6.5x55, .270 Remington, .270 WSM, 7mm-08, 7mm WSM, .308 Winchester, .30-06, .300 WSM, and .338 Federal.
Steyr-Mannlicher Full Stock Classic
The Classic Mannlicher is available as a Half Stock rifle (this is the standard rifle), a Half Stock Mountain rifle with a slender schnable style forearm, and a Full Stock carbine, the model selected for review by Guns and Shooting Online. All of these share the same action, construction and finish, and all are stocked in European walnut. It is the barrel length and style of stock that determine the specific model. The Full Stock Carbine is available in calibers .222 Rem., .223 Rem., .243 Win., .25-06 Rem., 6.5x55 SE, 6.5x57, .270 Win., 7mm-08 Rem., 7x64, .308 Win., .30-06 Spfd., 8x57 JS, 8x68S, and 9.3x62.
The barreled action is finished in a deep, highly polished, high gloss blue. The round barrel was clearly hammer forged, as the external spirals that are the reverse of the rifling that results from this process were not ground off. This spiral effect on the barrel has become a Mannlicher trademark. The barrel is free floating for its entire length except at the muzzle, where the stock terminates.
With the bolt closed the streamlined receiver is fully enclosed, with the only openings being an elongated oval ejection port on the right side and a cut at the rear for the bolt handle. It is not convenient to single load cartridges directly into the chamber; better to load through the magazine. The bolt handle is the smooth, butter knife, Mannlicher type that lays flat to the stock and is surprisingly easy to operate. The bolt throw, ejection port, and magazine of our .243 test rifle were all correctly sized for short action (.308 Win. length) cartridges.
The two-piece bolt itself is massive, with a rebated head and a body the same diameter as the locking lugs, similar in that way to a Weatherby Mark V bolt. But on the Mannlicher bolt head there are four locking lugs arranged in two pairs centered 180 degrees apart, requiring a conventional 90 degree bolt lift. There are two gas escape ports in the bolt body to divert hot powder gassed away from the shooter's face in the event of a burst case. The extractor is a spring loaded claw type mounted in the bolt head, and the ejector is the reliable plunger type. There is a small hole in the streamlined bolt sleeve through which the end of the firing pin protrudes when the rifle is cocked. This serves as a cocking indicator.
The single stage trigger in this rifle broke cleanly at 3 3/4 pounds. It is obviously intended to be user adjustable, but the adjustment screw heads were plugged with some sort of white compound. The large nickel (or possibly chrome) plated trigger is easy to control and superior to about 90% of today's factory adjusted triggers. The trigger guard is shaped to allow adequate finger clearance for a hunter wearing heavy gloves.
The most obvious feature of the Full Stock model is its full length walnut stock. The slender forearm that runs below the barrel all the way to the neat blued steel cap at the muzzle is the ultimate Mannlicher carbine styling clue. In the case of the test rifle, the stock is dark walnut with long, even darker grain lines. It is a handsome piece of wood with a slightly European "hump back" comb profile and a Euro style (Bavarian) cheek piece that is nicely carved. The pistol grip has a rather pronounced hook at the end; a touch of California styling that has been widely embraced in Europe. Well executed, fine cut checkering adorns the forearm and pistol grip. Seldom will you see a better checkering job on a contemporary factory built rifle. The stock finish is the oil type that Europeans seem to prefer, which leaves the stock dull and the pores of the wood open.
Weatherby Mark V Deluxe
The Mark V Magnum action was designed for maximum strength, and indeed it is billed as the world's strongest action. At the heart of the design was the concept of three rings of steel surrounding the cartridge head: the recessed bolt face, contoured barrel breech, and front receiver ring. The Mark V receiver is made from a single chrome-moly forging and incorporates an integral recoil lug.
Instead of two front locking lugs the Mark V Magnum's forged and machined bolt has nine small ones arranged in groups of three. The total shear area is much greater than with two conventional lugs, and the arrangement and spacing allows a short 54 degree bolt lift. The massive one-piece bolt body is fluted and there is a shroud at the rear of the bolt to prevent escaping gas from exiting from the rear of the bolt into the shooter's face in the event of a blown case. There are three gas escape ports in the side of the bolt to let gas escape in a safe direction.
The bolt face is smaller in diameter than the main body of the bolt, which is the same diameter as the locking lugs. This means less slop when the bolt is operated than with most other bolt action rifles. A Weatherby Mark V Magnum action feels smooth and precise compared to Mauser pattern bolt actions. It is a heavy action, but it exudes quality. The extractor is a flush-fitting claw at the front of the bolt, and the ejector is of the plunger variety in the bolt face. You can easily single load cartridges directly into the chamber without running them through the magazine if desired.
The magazine floor plate of Mark V Deluxe rifles swings open to dump the cartridges from the magazine without having to cycle them through the action. Another nice touch is the nearly silent two position safety. The safety locks the striker and disengages the sear. There is also a cocking indicator at the rear of the bolt so that the shooter can tell at a glance if the rifle is cocked.
Weatherby Mark V magnum barrels are hammer-forged with application specific crowns. The barreled action comes with Weatherby's highly polished deep luster blue finish. For 2006 the Mark V Deluxe is offered in .257, .270, 7mm, .300, .30-378, .340, .416, and .460 Weatherby Magnum calibers.
The trigger is factory set for a release weight of four pounds and is commendably clean and free of creep. It is easily adjusted for weight of pull, without any disassembly, by means of a small Allen screw in the front of the trigger. It is also internally adjustable for sear engagement.
The most distinctive feature of any Weatherby rifle is its unique Monte Carlo stock. The Weatherby stock was designed specifically for powerful magnum calibers, and it handles magnum recoil very well. Its comb slants down from back to front so that recoil moves the comb away from the shooter's face. Weatherby Deluxe stocks incorporate a cheek piece and a small amount of cast-off for quicker and more precise mounting. The pistol grip has a fairly tight curve and a flared cap for maximum control. The forearm is cleverly shaped and tapers in three dimensions for a very secure grip under heavy recoil. The bottom of the forearm is essentially flat so that it is easy to shoot from a rest. The recoil pad is a Pachmayr Decelerator and detachable sling swivel bases are provided.
Weatherby's wood stocks are reinforced with a steel bar in the pistol grip, and steel pins are located throughout the action mortise and epoxied in place to increase structural integrity. The Mark V Deluxe features a select claro walnut stock with a rosewood forearm tip and grip cap set off by line spacers made from thin slices of maplewood. The pistol grip and forearm are checkered in a point pattern, and there is a maplewood diamond inlay in the pistol grip cap. A durable high gloss finish shows off the wood to maximum advantage. The careful observer will note that the inletting and bedding are very precisely done. There are no wood to metal gaps, and the barrel is not free floating. Weatherby Mark V rifles come with a 100 yard, 1.5" accuracy guarantee that is easily exceeded by most examples right out of the box.
Park these four rifles side by side in a rifle rack and it is immediately apparent that they are not economy models. Their fit and finish, not to mention their select walnut stocks, set them apart from ordinary production rifles.
The most subdued of the four is the Mannlicher full stock, due to its dull stock finish. But its slender and racy full length stock inevitably draws attention, as does its European styling and unusual Bavarian cheekpiece.
The Sako and Kimber occupy the middle ground. These rifles both come with classic style stocks and a matte blue metal finish. The Sako's stock has a somewhat more slender appearance and a showier checkering pattern. The Kimber shows careful attention to detail in a traditional, American style rifle.
The Weatherby, in our opinion, wins the beauty contest hands down. It's highly polished, blued barreled action gleams and its high gloss stock finish shows off the grain and character of its walnut stock to perfection. Its contrasting rosewood forend tip and pistol grip cap, maplewood line spacers, and diamond inlay give it a big leg up in appearance. Everything about the Weatherby is, well, showy. But closer inspection reveals that its "show" if fully supported by "go." In fact, the closer the examination, the better the Weatherby Mark V Deluxe looks. It's an integrated styling package with subtle, functional, and impressive details.
I am happy to report that all of these rifles work properly. They are accurate and dependable, as expected of rifles in this price class.
All are smooth in operation, although the Weatherby Mark V is the slickest and fastest bolt action on the market. It has a wide open receiver top that makes it very easy to load and unload at the range or in the field. Weatherby's practically never jam, but if it should there is plenty of room in which to work to clear a malfunction. Since it is an unapologetic push feed action, the bolt can easily be closed on a single cartridge fed directly into the chamber.
Next in smoothness is the Mannlicher, which also uses an oversize bolt body equal in diameter to its locking lugs to eliminate bolt wobble. Its push feed action allows the bolt to be closed on a cartridge fed directly into the chamber, but its small ejection port makes it difficult to feed a cartridge into the chamber in the first place.
The Sako and the Kimber use smaller bolt bodies with larger lugs and are thus subject to greater wobble when the bolt is fully withdrawn. The Sako requires somewhat less bolt lift due to its three locking lug design, 70 degrees opposed to 90 degrees for the Kimber. The Sako is smooth in operation, fast for follow-up shots and its generous loading/ejection port makes single loading easy. Its semi-controlled feed bolt can be closed on a cartridge fed directly into the chamber.
The Kimber is a true (as opposed to theoretical) controlled feed action. It is clearly designed to be a hunting rifle action, not tainted by trendy bench rest target shooting features that, while beneficial to shooting tiny groups at the range, prove to be a liability in the field. The Kimber may, in fact, be the best hunting rifle action in production today. Like the Weatherby and the Sako, the Kimber has an open top action that gives excellent access for loading from the top or clearing a jam. Although the Kimber's full length extractor is beveled to allow feeding cartridges directly into the chamber, ordinarily it is best to feed cartridges from the magazine.
The accuracy potential of all of these rifles is more than sufficient for the purpose of humanely harvesting big game animals. It is, in fact, better than all but a tiny minority of hunters can take advantage of in the field.
The Weatherby Mark V comes with a 1.5", 100 yard accuracy guarantee, which production Mark V rifles routinely meet or exceed. We have had occasion to test three different Weatherby Mark V Deluxe rifles in three different Weatherby Magnum calibers (.240, .257, and .270) in the last few months. All three had no problem surpassing their 1.5 MOA 3-shot accuracy guarantee. One delivered a best group of only 3/8", and all consistently delivered groups under 1" at 100 yards when equipped with 3-9x and 3-10x scopes and fed ammunition that they preferred. The Weatherby Mark V Deluxe is a very accurate hunting rifle, delivering the smallest groups, on average, of any of the rifles in this comparison.
The Mannlicher Classic Full Stock rifle we reviewed was equipped with iron sights in lieu of a scope. We seldom test modern rifles with iron sights, but no Mannlicher scope mounts were available in our area and we didn't want to delay the review waiting for a special order mount to be delivered. Despite this giant handicap, the Mannlicher carbine managed to deliver 3-shot groups as small as 1" at 100 yards. It was one accurate rifle, out performing the scoped Sako despite the latter's 1 MOA guarantee. Equipped with a 3-9x scope, I am sure that it would give the Weatherby Mark V a run for its money.
In contrast to our iron sighted Mannlicher, our Kimber 84M Longmaster .308 test rifle wore the most powerful telescopic sight of the four rifles compared here, a Bushnell Elite 4-16x40mm model. It delivered tight 1" to 1.5" groups with a variety of factory loads and reloads. I'd rate it very good in terms of inherent accuracy, only a little behind the brilliant Weatherby Mark V and Mannlicher Classic rifles. However, neither of those models offers the Kimber's controlled feed action.
Sako advertises a 1" at 100 yard accuracy standard, which our recent Sako test rifles could not achieve on anything like a regular basis, despite the superb Leupold VX-L 3.5-10x50mm scope with which it was supplied. 1.7" was the average group size with our Sako 85 test rifle and three different premium factory loads, with a best (lucky) 3-shot group of 3/4". The average group size with its preferred ammunition was 1.125". A good performance in the accuracy department; the Sako is more than accurate enough for its mission of big game hunting. As I have previously written, "enough is enough" and hair-splitting accuracy in a hunting rifle is a highly over-rated commodity.
The Kimber 84M Classic is the lightest, easiest carrying rifle in this group. It is a natural as a mountain or stalking rifle. Due to its light weight, it will also kick the hardest in any given caliber. Its action provides, at least theoretically, the most positive feeding and extraction.
The Sako 85 is the latest offering from this old and respected manufacturer. It is very much in the mainstream of Sako rifles, actually differing little from its famous Model 75 predecessor. It is the "in-between" rifle in this comparison, medium in weight, barrel length and operation. That is not a bad thing, making the Sako a good choice for an all-around rifle.
The Steyr-Mannlicher Classic Full Stock is the most "European" of the rifles in this review, easily identified as such by the shape of its stock, flat bolt handle and its streamlined, enclosed action. It is also the shortest and probably the fastest handling rifle here, very smooth and accurate. This is the quintessential European mountain rifle and Mannlicher carbines have been the choice of alpine hunters for some 100 years. Its short overall length and flat bolt handle also make the Mannlicher carbine the best saddle rifle of the bunch.
The Weatherby Mark V Deluxe is the best finished and best looking rifle of the bunch. It handles heavy recoil best and is chambered for the most powerful and flattest-shooting cartridges. It is also the heaviest rifle and is supplied with the longest barrel for maximum ballistic performance. It is also, on average, the most consistently accurate. Its action is the smoothest and fastest to operate and its safety is the quietest in operation. It is also the easiest rifle to load, either singly or the whole magazine. The Weatherby Mark V is, hands down, the Guns and Shooting Online staff's favorite production rifle.
These are high end rifles. All are nicely made and will serve their purpose admirably. The purpose of this review is not to determined which is "best," an impossible--and subjective--task, but to touch on their differences and features. It is up to you, dear reader to make the final determination about which rifle is most suitable for your needs and purposes.
Note: Individual, full length reviews of these rifles can be found on the Product Reviews page.
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