Sako Model 85 Rifles

By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff

Sako 85 Grey Wolf
Illustration courtesy of Beretta USA, Corp.

In 2000 Beretta, the Italian firearms giant, purchased a controlling interest in Sako of Finland, who has been in the firearms business for over 80 years. Sako firearms are distributed in the U.S. by Beretta USA.

For 2006 Sako introduced a new line of centerfire rifles to complement their established Model 75 line. The Model 85 does not represent a revolutionary departure for Sako; rather it is an evolutionary step.

The primary differences seem to be in stock shape, extraction and the magazine system. Sako 85 rifles list for about $220 more than equivalent Sako 75 models. For 2006 Model 85's will be available in Hunter, Grey Wolf, and Stainless/Synthetic configurations. The Hunter and Grey Wolf carry a 2006 MSRP of $1595, while the Stainless Synthetic is $1495. (The attractive wood stocks are definitely worth the extra $100!)

What could be more appropriate than to let Sako describe their new rifles? Here is what the Sako promo material has to say about the Model 85 Hunter, the blued/walnut version of the Model 85:

"Controlled-round feeding, silk-smooth bolt-travel movement, adjustable trigger and Total Control magazine-latch technology are only some of the amazing benefits incorporated in the new Sako 85. First off, the rifle’s stock features the classic lines and the high-grade walnut that premium-rifle owners appreciate. The comb is straight, American-style, while the left side of the stock sports a classic shadow-line cheekpiece reminiscent of the Safari rifles of the days of yore. Then, the barreled action is finished with a nonreflective satin blue. And how does it shoot? As with all Sako rifles, the 85 is tested to shoot 1-inch groups at 100 yards or better."

The Sako 85 Grey Wolf is the Stainless/Laminated Model 85. Here are Sako's comments:

"A natural-born Finnish hunter, the Sako 85 Grey Wolf features the same all-stainless barreled action as its cousin, the Sako 85 Stainless Synthetic, combined with an attractive yet ultra-tough checkered grey laminated stock. The stock features classic American-style lines with its straight comb and sleek profile, plus a shadow-line cheekpiece on the left side. The stainless barreled action and warp-free stock makes the Sako 85 Grey Wolf perfect for hunting in extreme conditions while retaining the warm look and feel of the wood stock."

The third Model 85 alternative is the Stainless Synthetic version, which Sako describes thusly:

"This rifle is a balanced blending of Sako-style performance, tasteful innovation and Italian design. It features a controlled-round feeding all-stainless action, match-grade free-floating hammer-forged barrel, adjustable trigger and detachable magazine with Total Control technology. The synthetic stock incorporates warm-feeling, nonslip rubber inserts. The FinSoft recoil-absorption system dramatically reduces felt recoil, especially in the shooter’s cheek. Aesthetically, the Sako 85 Stainless Synthetic is another fruit of world class Giugiaro designers, organically combining the lines of the stock with those of the barreled action."

From the foregoing it is clear that Sako is heavily promoting the "controlled-round feeding," "Total Control Magazine latch," and the American Classic style stock of the Model 85 rifles. Otherwise these rifles seem basically similar to the Sako 75. Visually, the Model 85 rifles can be identified by their American classic (straight comb) stocks; the 75 series rifles come with California-style Monte Carlo stocks.

Features common to both lines include a front locking, three lug bolt action with a 70 degree bolt lift that cocks on opening; free floating, cold hammer forged barrel with a target crown; user adjustable trigger mechanism (from 2 to 4 pounds); and a catalog weight of 7 3/4 pounds for all standard models in all calibers. (The Model 75 Finnlight is lighter at 6 1/2 pounds and the 75 Varmint models weigh 8 5/8 pounds.) Cartridge feeding is smooth and reliable, as is extraction and ejection.

Like the Model 75, the 85's receiver is grooved to accept Sako combo base/rings. This is a good scope mounting system, but be forewarned that Sako base/rings are not available in every small town hardware store, so choose your scope wisely.

Sako rifles come with a 100 yard, 1" accuracy guarantee. Of course, there are many Savage, Browning, Ruger, Winchester, Remington, Steyr-Mannlicher and other rifles that will shoot such groups right out of the box. But those rifles are not guaranteed to do so, and their various manufacturers are not compelled to make perform to that standard if they happen not to. The Sako 85 Hunter in .338 Federal that we reviewed did not live up to its accuracy guarantee, at least in our hands with the Federal Premium ammo provided, but it did deliver entirely adequate accuracy for big game hunting and we felt no compulsion to send it back.

Calibers available in 2006 include .22-250, .243 Win, .25-06, .260 Rem, 6.5x55, .270 Win, .270 WSM, 7mm-08, 7mm WSM, .308 Win, .30-06, .300 WSM, and .338 Federal. Sako helped Federal introduce the .338 Federal cartridge, which first appeared in the new Model 85 rifles.

To briefly cover the new features of the new Sako 85 action, let's start with controlled-round feeding. We reviewed a Sako 85 Hunter in depth (see the Product Review Page) and found that the Sako 85 version of controlled feed lacks the advantages of a true controlled feed action. This action does not have a full-length extractor on the Mauser 98 pattern. The 85's bolt head mounted extractor is much smaller than the full-length extractors on a Mauser 98 and takes a smaller bite on the case rim. If you close the Sako's bolt about half way (until you hear the next cartridge in the magazine click up, ready to be fed) and then pull the bolt back and try to close it again, it will jam the rifle by attempting to double feed.

A true controlled feed action, in that situation, holds onto the first cartridge until the bolt is completely withdrawn and it is ejected. If the bolt is run forward again while still holding the first cartridge, the extractor keeps it in place and guides it into the chamber, preventing the bolt from attempting to pick-up the second cartridge and preventing a double feed jam.

Nor does the Sako 85 guide a fresh cartridge into the chamber like a controlled feed action. It simply pushes it forward and into the chamber like any push feed action. It is not until about the last 1/4" of forward bolt travel that the Sako's extractor actually gets a firm grip on the case rim. By that time the cartridge is almost all the way into the chamber anyway, so being "controlled" at that late stage is pointless.

On the plus side, the Sako's extractor will easily over-ride the rim of a cartridge fed directly into the chamber, like a normal push feed action. For all practical purposes (except advertising) the Model 85 is a push feed action. Its receiver mounted ejector lets a reloader deposit fired brass neatly to hand by opening the bolt slowly.

The Total Control magazine-latch system was, frankly, a pain in the rear. It is the firearms equivalent of a child proof top on a medicine bottle. It requires that the flush, detachable box magazine be pushed firmly into the rifle before the magazine latch can be pressed rearward to release the magazine. This means using two hands to get the magazine out of the rifle. The entire Guns and Online staff found this to be a bother and preferred to leave the magazine in place and simply load the rifle from the top, as with a conventional bolt action rifle with an internal magazine. Fortunately, the Sako 85 has a large loading/ejection port that makes top loading easy. (We wish that Sako's Tikka economy rifles had a generous loading port like this.)

The Model 85's new American Classic style stock is more successful than the pointless "controlled-round feeding" and bothersome Total Control Magazine latch. There was, and is, nothing wrong with the Model 75's California-style Monte Carlo stock, but the new Model 85 stock is equally well executed. Its restrained design looks good and fits most users well. This stock features a straight, fluted comb, moderate pistol grip, and well executed shadow line cheekpiece. There are generous checkered areas on the wood stocks. Detachable sling swivel bases are standard. It seems to handle recoil reasonably well and allows the rifle to be mounted quickly. It is a well designed, functional stock.

The Sako 85 is an expensive rifle, competing in the same general price class as the Weatherby Mark V, Kimber 84M, and Steyr-Mannlicher Classic offerings, reviews of all of which can be found on the Product Review Page. (As can a comparison of these four premium lines.) These limited production models represent the upper tier of factory built rifles, so the Sako 85 has a tough row to hoe. Consumers spending that kind of money for a hunting rifle deserve, and are generally knowledgeable enough to demand, a very high level of design, quality and workmanship. Sako has flourished in this rarified atmosphere for a long time, and the evolutionary Model 85 is evidence that they intend to continue to do so.

Note: A complete review of the Sako 85 Hunter rifle can be found on the Product Reviews page.

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