Unbeatable combination for deer

Rifle: Sako M85 Finnlight

Cartridge: .270 Winchester

Scope: Zeiss Duralyt 2-8x42

Unbeatable combination for deer

 

In Part Two of our series on favourite rifle, cartridge and scope combinations, Con Kapralos outlines his choices and explains his thinking

When deciding on a classic stalking rifle there was only one choice for me ‑ the Sako M85 Finnlight in the legendary .270 Winchester calibre. Fabled American outdoorsman Jack O’Connor put all his trust in the calibre and if it was good enough for him, it would serve me very well indeed.

My intended quarry was deer and having just started hunting this game species back in 2010, I needed a lightweight rifle that would carry suitably in the field and be able to take shots out to 300m. The Sako 85 Finnlight with its stainless steel barrelled action and synthetic stock was perfect for the task and was ordered through my good friend Gary Georgiou at Safari Firearms. The bare rifle weighed in at just under 3kg.

When it came to an optic, the only serious contender back then was Zeiss and the Duralyt in 2-8x42 was ideal. With its simple reticle and 30mm tube, being able to wind down to 2x for hunting scrub or timbered areas to 8x for longer shots over open pastures and across gullies, the Duralyt has never let me down. Its silver/grey colour goes with the stainless barrelled action of the Finnlight and setting up the scope in matching Sako Optilock rings was a given.

As to how and why the rifle was bought? My wife decided to spoil me and bought the Finnlight and Zeiss Duralyt as a wedding gift, something I’ll never forget and am extremely thankful for. My wife likes to accompany me on the occasional deer hunt under the strict provisions that we don’t get wet and don’t walk too far! Our preferred method is to set up a ground blind and wait for deer to emerge from their cover into the open. We’ve been successful on many occasions and she has even helped with the carry-out.

As for ammunition, for many years I’d used the factory Barnes Vor-Tx .270 Winchester load with 130gr TTSX projectiles, the choice down to my hunting buddy requesting we only use lead-free ammunition. This was his concession and I happily agreed, even though at $75 per box of 20 it wasn’t cheap, but one box of ammo lasted a while and produced 20 deer every time.

When my supply of Barnes ammunition finally ran out, I opted to revert to a traditional bonded 130gr projectile and tried Federal Fusion ammunition. What’s pleasing is that so far, Federal Fusions have been brilliant at taking deer out to 300m with no second shot required, and they group well in the rifle at around 0.75 MOA.

Early days and the ‘better half’

My initial memories of the Finnlight and deer hunting were actually conducting South Australian pest controlling activities with a good friend using a spotlight at night. While spotlighting deer may be frowned upon, this wasn’t hunting but culling pest animals on a property inundated with them. Just before heading out on the night’s shoot, the property owner told me there was a nice fallow buck at a particular point on the property he wanted us to leave as he planned to shoot it himself.

True to his word the animal was where he said it would be - and looking at the biggest fallow buck antlers I’ve ever seen through the Duralyt still sends shivers down my spine. I still recall my hunting buddy saying: “Con, you could’ve shot him 100 times,” as we watched him prance away. I felt good that we’d done the right thing by our landowner friend but sadly some people aren’t so mindful, as the owner told me later another hunter had visited soon after us and shot that buck, much to his displeasure.

The first free-range stalking deer I bagged with the Finnlight/Duralyt combo was a red hind on my trip to a new patch. It was hard work and I now look back and laugh as the deer materialised out of nowhere in a shallow swamp and taking it with a single shot, the enormity of what was to transpire then set in. Gralloching a huge red hind in ankle-deep water and trying to manoeuvre the beast by myself was a comedy of errors and slip-ups, not to mention lugging huge red deer legs for 2.5km back to my car. I learned a lot that day and have since refined my gear and deer stalking techniques to make the task much easier.

Some of the best hunts with the Finnlight and Ziess Duralyt were with my wife as company. Our original outing together saw us stalking a lightly timbered patch which I knew held deer but where I’d never enjoyed any success. My wife reckoned I reminded her of Elmer Fudd but was keen to “see what I do when I go hunting”.

Stalking slowly over a grassy knoll, two fallow - a buck and a doe - emerged in front of us at around 50m. I quickly lined up the doe and took the shot. “That’s what I do when I go hunting deer, dear!” She was amazed, shocked and elated all in one. We took some pictures then gralloched the fallow, carried it together to the vehicle and called it a day - a memorable hunt indeed.

More recently the Sako Finnlight was in need of attention. The original stock which had a rubber finish to it for enhanced grip in wet weather had deteriorated over the years to the point it was now tacky and sticky. I tried cleaning it but to no avail so contacted the team at Beretta Australia who gave some valid advice, though in the end I decided to replace the original stock with a grey Sako 85 laminate version.

The new stock only added about 200g to the overall weight of the rifle which still carried well. On the first outing with the new stock, my hunting partner and I were stalking that same lightly timbered patch. My partner was to my left and if there were any deer about they’d be pushed towards me. Upon coming through some scrub into a long clearing I noticed movement in front of me, three fallow bucks in early velvet were feeding and unaware of my presence.

At around 80m and with the Duralyt wound down to 2x, three shots of Federal Fusion’s finest had a trio of deer on the ground for venison. I radioed my buddy on the UHF but couldn’t reach him and when he finally arrived at the clearing he was delighted with what he saw. But once the high-fives subsided we pondered how on earth we could take the deer out of this timber. As my deer cart was back at camp we decided to drive slowly through the scrub, me out front signalling pot-holes and things to avoid.

We managed to find the deer, loaded them into the truck and made our way out. We headed back to camp and reflected on the effectiveness of the Federal Fusion ammunition in the Sako Finnlight and the clarity of the Zeiss Duralyt scope - the trio had pulled it off yet again.

10 years on what do I like?

The Sako 85 Finnlight in .270 Winchester continues to be my preferred deer stalking outfit, the five-shot detachable steel magazine excellent as it can be either removed and reloaded or top-loaded through the ejection port with magazine still in place. Even with the new laminate stock the rifle carries well over the shoulder and is a tad smoother to shoot with the extra weight behind it. The original stock was great and I’d have liked a replacement but in the end the laminate won over.

The Zeiss Duralyt scope sadly is out of production as Zeiss are always refreshing their riflescope options. The Duralyt was replaced by the Conquest DL and HD5 and while these were excellent in their time, I swear by the 2-8x42 Duralyt as the perfect lowlight stalking scope.

The only variable over the past 10 years has been the ammunition put through the rifle. At one stage I was exclusively using monolithic (gilded copper) factory ammunition in the Barnes Vor-Tx range in the Sako 85 Finnlight .270 Winchester, my Sako 85 Hunter in .243 Winchester and Howa M1500 in .30-06 Springfield.

However, going over to a premium bonded projectile in the Federal Fusion factory ammunition for the .270 Winchester hasn’t seen any detriment in performance. My only hope now is that I can squeeze another 10 years or more out of the Sako M85 Finnlight and Zeiss Duralyt combination.

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