Sako High-Power Mauser Sporting Rifle
Article and Photos by Ed Turner
I've known of the fine, varied line of Sako rifles for many years and hoped one day to find one that I liked, but just as important, I could afford to own. Not all styles or models of Sako's appeal to me, as I most enjoy a more traditional style of rifle with rounded forearm and somewhat less dramatic Monte Carlo styling than many Sako models feature.
I did like the styling of the Sako Classic model from the mid 90s, but they are tough to find; I would think that means their owners like them! There were many other fine Sako rifles imported and still found occasionally for sale; Foresters, Finnbears, Vixens, and a couple of models with very nice Mannlicher stocks are among the wide variety.
Sako even exported a couple lever action rifles, similar in style to the Winchester Model 88, the Finnwolf and Model 73. They have had a long history of manufacturing rifles known for high quality and excellent accuracy.
Sako's first sporting rifle was made in 1942 and chambered the odd 7x33mm Sako round. Now owned by Beretta International, the Sako line continues its production of fine bolt rifles with the new M85 and the A7. Most also know that the more economical Tikka line of T3 rifles are made right alongside the Sako's in Finland and use the exact same barrels. Other manufacturing techniques are used to keep the overall cost of the Tikka T3 lines down.
This article, though, is about a lesser-known Sako model. A rifle that was the first long action Sako imported into the U.S. after WWII; the Sako High Power Mauser Sporting Rifle, with Fabrique Nationale action. Importation began in the early 1950s and most sources say it ended around 1957.
This rifle was built around the world famous F.N. Mauser 98 type action barreled and stocked by Sako. Calibers imported into the U.S. were two great classics, the .270 Winchester and 30-06 Springfield. There are likely other calibers that have made their way across the pond in the more common European calibers like 9.3x62 and such, but these would be rare.
A little known fact is that this rifle is nearly identical to the much better-known Browning/F.N. Safari Grade rifle. The Browning Safari Grade was produced almost immediately after the Sako ceased, using the same F.N. actions.
Something else that might be of interest is that the .308 size and .222 size Browning actions were actually made by Sako. These rifles, sold by Browning from 1959 to 1974, are sought after by collectors and hunters alike. They are very fine rifles.
Sorry to have been so long-winded, but I felt a bit of Sako history, along with an understanding of what this rifle is, was needed. This Sako is all but a clone of a Browning Safari Grade. The stocks and even the checkering patterns are quite similar. The biggest differences are likely that the Sako has a 24" barrel and the Browning a 22" and Browning chose to leave the bolt and bolt shroud in the "white" vs. the Sako's blued version.
Browning also offered higher grades, today much sought after, with nicely done engraving and simply gorgeous wood; the Medallion and Olympian Grades are among these. As best as I can tell, the Sako was produced and imported in one standard grade only.
My Sako was found at a gun show in the small Kentucky town of Hopkinsville. I attended that show with two of my hunting buddies and we strolled around looking at whatever stirred our interest. I saw this particular bolt rifle on a table and, struck by its nice blonde stock, picked it up and handled it.
The bolt was very smooth, as most FN actions are, and the wood was very pretty, with a couple of large burls in the butt portion and two or three other smaller ones through the forend. I quickly looked to see what caliber and found the stamping to say simply .270. GREAT! The barrel was 24", which is not my favorite, but the gun handled exceptionally well. The wood was perhaps 95-98% with a few light handling marks.
I struck up a conversation with the dealer and asked if he took trades. He answered in the affirmative and I was out to my friend's truck to bring in my Winchester model 70 in '06 circa 1966 that I brought for just such an opportunity. He briefly looked it over and was not overly impressed, so I asked if he might like to see a pre '64 Featherweight. Again, he answered affirmative and I promised to return the next day.
Back the next morning, with free second day entry to the show, I lugged along my 1955 model 70 Featherweight in .243. He seemed to like it about as much as I liked the Sako. The deal was done in about 45 seconds with smiles all around!
As I said, the wood is perhaps 95-98% with a few light handling marks. The stock is truly striking and with a couple of applications of my secret stock polish, conditioner and wax (all in one product), the luster of the 50 something year old finish looked simply beautiful. Cliché or not, they just don't make them like they used to!
There is simple point pattern checkering of sufficient coverage to be useful. The slight Monte Carlo is incorporated into a very tasteful cheekpiece. The spacer and thin black rubber pad at the end of the butt fit as if they were done by someone who was a craftsman, not simply an assembly line installer. The fit and transition from wood to spacer to pad is all but unfelt as you run your finger across.
The blue remains excellent, although some wear is apparent in this half-century old rifle. The front sight's hood remained and the rear sight has one folding and one stationary leaf, similar to a fine express rifle's sights. Actually, it is very similar to the system on my Ruger RSM.
The two leafs are marked 100 and 200, obviously indicating ranges. The rifle has very little in the way of markings; a small "Sako" over the serial number and proof marks, left side of barrel, forward of the action. The caliber, .270, is stamped (sans Winchester), on the top of the barrel, close to the action. The stamped caliber is all but impossible to find with a scope in place. The rifle came with a one-piece Leupold base and what looked like medium height rings, so the next "chore" was finding a scope for my new toy.
I had both a gloss Vari-X II 3-9x40 and VX-I 2-7x33 available to mount and tried both. Ring spacing and overall size led me to the smaller scope with its 33mm objective lens. The wonderful and timeless .270 Win. caliber could possibly use a scope with higher magnification and in some instances, I would agree. However, I doubt I would ever shoot her at ranges over 300 yards, so the seven power that is available suits me just fine.
I bore sighted the scope, then cleaned the already shiny bore and headed to the range with a few different loads for the Sako. A couple of range trips, several different loads and additional cleanings have shown me that 1.5" to 2" groups are as good as I can do with factory loads. The 130 grain load that she now uses averages about 1.5" groups at 100 yards and may be as good as this old timer will shoot.
The rifle's weight, substantial FN action, 24" barrel and excellent three pound trigger make this Sako a very consistent shooter. It will give me the same size groups time after time with any given load. No load showed down right poor performance, but it is not a target shooter's dream, even with its solid 1.5" at 100 yards accuracy with my chosen load. This accuracy is fine with me and more than sufficient for big game hunting.
Some people might question my sanity for preferring a 50 plus year old Sako over, for example, a new Kimber, T/C Icon, Winchester Super Grade, or Weatherby. There is something very special to me about a rifle that has been owned and clearly cherished by someone. What stories could she tell; what trophies has she slayed, or perhaps missed?
She is a very good looking rig, nice shiny blue from an era when workmanship was likely a bit higher than today, even at Sako. The mid-sized Leupold looks better perched atop her than any larger scope would and it should not be a liability even on a hunt where a 350 yard shot might be needed.
She's worth keeping, all right, and peering through her scope today, comparing it to some others and working that ultra smooth action and squeezing that wonderful trigger reminded me she is overdue for a hunt or another trip to the range. Perhaps the finest compliment I can give her; she is the only non-Winchester Model 70 in my prominent oak rifle case and visible through its full glass door, of course. She is that special.
Copyright 2008 by Ed Turner. All rights reserved.
SPECIALIST IN ENGRAVING AND RESTORATION