The superb Sako 85 Finnlight

Dick Eussen

Sometimes you pick up a rifle and say to yourself “I love this.” That happened to me when I hefted a Sako 85 Finnlight .308W. It felt incredibly light and at 2.9kg it is an ideal walkabout hunting rifle. It’s made for hunters who foray high into the mountains or deep into forests and want to keep weight down. Even after fitting a scope, the rifle is compact and handy.

I love Sako rifles and purchased my first one back in 1961, a Sako Vixen in .222 Remington. I have a Sako .223 Remington Magnum and a .22/250 that is in dire need of a new barrel. I had never owned a .308W calibre rifle, though have used dozens over the years and shot a lot of game with the .308W round. However, after forking out some hard-earned money I now possess a .308W rifle even though I did not really need it, but I am sure you understand.

The new rifle is a joy to look at. I don’t particular like plastic/rubber stocks, but in my part of the tropics having a stock that is not affected by weather conditions is an asset. The stock is made from reinforced black polymer material patterned with a soft grey hue on the grip surfaces. The grips also have a soft-to-touch feel.

The Cerakote-treated fluted cold hammer-forged stainless steel barrel is purpose-engineered to reduce weight and accelerate the cooling process of the barrel after firing. The steel is blasted to a satin finish that prevents glare when afield. It floats in the stock and the one-piece action is secured by two screws in the front and rear. Sako has always built accurate and reliable barrels which are well finished and crowned.

The turn-bolt handle is a semi-controlled cartridge-feed type that prevents double feeding and jams. In use the bolt handle is in the right position for natural and rapid operation of the bolt. The face is a tri-lug design, which brings superior strength over the two-lug system. The bolt face has an opening on one side to give it the semi-controlled push-feed when a cartridge is pushed up from the magazine and into the chamber. Unlike the classic Mauser 98, where the extractor claw has complete control of the case when loading and ejecting, the Sako bolt lets the case slip up along the bolt face before the rim is pushed up under the extractor claw. It is a positive and reliable operation that appears fail-proof. Unlike older twin-lug models, there is no guide rail on the bolt. It is removed from the action by depressing a knurled slide on the left side and pulling back on the bolt until it clears the action. The right-side fitted knurled safety has a two-way operation. One locks the trigger and bolt in place and the rifle can’t be fired with the bolt locked. If you push down on the button in front of the safety you can remove the bolt from the action, but the trigger remains locked.

Sako rifles have excellent triggers and the one on my rifle is no exception. They have never made any real changes and it remains one of the best factory triggers available. On my rifle it broke clean and crisp without any movement or creep at 3.1lb according to my Lyman trigger gauge. The single-stage Sako trigger is adjustable from 2-4lb. You don’t need to be a gunsmith to do the job. An optional single-set trigger is available as an extra. The trigger is well protected by a lightweight hard-anodised aluminum guard.

The box magazine holds five rounds, plus one up the spout. It is an extremely precise well-fitted mag that has no play or looseness. To remove it from the magazine well, you need to press up on the belly with one hand and operate the magazine catch with the other before it drops out. It’s a secure system, though a little awkward, with no chance that it will accidently drop out. The mag can also be reloaded from the shell port, which is handy.

There are no sights on this particular model. It is designed for a scope or red dot sight. Sako always has had a unique tapered scope mounting system that is designed in such a fashion that the mount can’t move forward under recoil. So, you need special purpose Sako-style mounts to install a sight.

The scope

I mounted a long-eye relief Leupold VX-R 4-12x50 30mm Firedot Duplex scope on the rifle using a Leupold HI mount that gave the 50mm objective lens diameter enough space to clear the barrel. This is an amazing scope that features new technology like one-turn, extended range focus, a one-turn-locking eyepiece that will help those suffering from visual acuity, even in extremely dim light conditions. Near-sighted, long sighted and anywhere in between shooters can now adjust the focus on their VX-R to suit them ‑ smooth, fast and precisely.

Leupold heard the demand for 30mm scope tubes, made popular by European concerns. I feel that the extra light-gathering qualities and slightly wide field of view of the 30mm tube over the standard 25mm tube is well worth the extra cost and weight.

The scope also features the exclusive Motion Sensor Technology, (MST) where a single touch of the button activates the illumination that offers eight different intensity settings, including a high/flow indicator. Operated by a CR-2032 coin cell battery, it automatically switches to stand-by mode after five minutes of inactivity and reactivates when the rifle is moved.

The Firedot Duplex cross-hair is simple to use. When the MST is switched on a tiny red dot appears in the centre of the cross-hairs making it easy to see your target in dim light or when shooting over a spotlight. It’s one of the brightest, but smallest dots, in the business.

In full sunlight the fine duplex centre cross-hairs make it straightforward to lock onto a target by bringing the eye to the exact centre of the thin cross-hairs that extend from the thick lines.

The quality of the highly polished glassware is outstanding as the scope provides a crystal-clear view of the target, while the 4 to 12 power range is positive at all settings. Unlike Leupold scopes of the past when you had to twist the whole ocular lens to change to a different power setting, the VX-R has a thumb knob that moves the selected power need easily.

The scope and mounts are matte coloured to match the rifle’s stock. The balance and feel is excellent.

At the range

I used my 40-year-old Sterling collimator to set the cross-hairs, using the lowest 4x mark on the scope. Later, at a private shooting range, I shot the rifle off the bench and made the final adjustments to put the cross-hairs on target, but was 50mm high at 100m. While the .308W is not a heavy kicker, recoil is right up there on a bench so with this lightweight hunting rifle, as in all things, there is a price to pay. But that does not worry me because this is purely a walkabout hunting rifle where every bit of weight shed counts and as any hunter knows recoil is never noticed when hunting game.

Still, with this unfamiliar rifle and my quick untested homeloads I managed to shoot a couple of 50mm 5/6-shot groups including 20mm 3-shot clusters. I primed once-fired Winchester cases with CCI primers, dropped 45.5 grains of ADI AR2208 into the shells and topped them off with Nosler Accubond 150gr Spitzer bullets. No doubt that will improve when I become used to the rifle and build up some purpose handloads for it. In all I am very pleased with my latest acquisition, especially after dropping a few porkers with it during a hunting trip.

The Sako Finnlight sells for $3000 and the Leupold VX-R 4-12x50 Firedot Duplex scope averages $1150 from dealers. The Leupold HI scope mount is $150.

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