Gun reviews: Sako Finnlight rifle.
All you really need as a stalking arm is an easy-to-handle rifle that can deliver a bullet with good accuracy and shrug off the British weather.
Sounds easy, but combining all those elements to achieve a rifle that performs well is actually quite tricky.
The Finnlight is a pared-down version of Sako’s respected Model 85 rifle, with a well proportioned, synthetic stock, stainless steel construction and fluted barrel to reduce weight.
It offers just the right combination of features, which will endear it to many British stalkers.
The Model 85 action comes in cartridge specific sizes, so the cartridge length is matched to the overall size of action. This makes for a better-looking optimal length of bolt travel.
The medium action size of 7.25in length accommodates the longer .25-06, 6.5×55, .270 and .30-06 cartridges, with an ejection opening of just over 3.25in.
The whole action has a satin, non-reflective stainless steel finish with a flat bedding area, rounded sidewalls and a nicely faceted section to the left face, where the name and serial number is stamped.
The integral scope rails on top of the receiver have a tapered bias and offer positive scope alignment and secure grip. The bolt body is polished to allow smooth operation, while the 2.5in bolt handle with a tear-drop knob has the same finish as the action and barrel.
The bolt shroud has two scalloped edges and a cocking indicator to the base, which shows a red dot when the action is cocked.
All these small features add to the overall elegance of the Finnlight. The bolt has a three-locking lug system to enhance the lock-up into the receiver ring and allows a short bolt lift to avoid contact with the scope eyepiece.
The bolt lugs have shallow depressions to their tops, which move within raceways in the action, so avoiding binding. There is a claw extractor sited in the bolt face, providing good grip of the case.
The bottom of the bolt head has a slot cut into it, so that ejection is simultaneous to contact on the sprung ejector spur at the rear of the action body.
Another good feature is the Controlled Round Feed design on the bolt. This allows direct engagement of the cartridge rim, as it is plucked from the magazine lips, giving a precise lower angle feeding and control of the cartridge, which improves reliability.
OLD WORLD LINES
Visually, the stock is always the part of a rifle that I first notice. Despite being synthetic in construction, the Finnlight has old-world sporter lines, with a straight comb and an accented, dropped cheekpiece.
Moulded from two halves of plastic, the black finish is practical, while the butt section feels a little hollow. The fore-end is also hollow, but the sidewalls are thick enough not to twist and keep the barrel free-floating, even when a moderator or bipod is fitted.
The Finnlight has 10 inset tactile rubber-grip panels arranged on the fore-end and pistol grip. Instead of the usual stippling or chequering, these have small circular rings, rather like octopus’s suckers. Even with water or mud on the hands, they give a very good grip.
The recoil pad is large and well-ventilated and certainly on this .270 cartridge model takes the sting out of the rifle’s recoil.
BARREL AND SCOPE MOUNTS
One of the main attractions of the Finnlight is the barrel profile and length, which is in keeping for a practical stalking arm. The overall length is 22in, making it very practical.
Even when threaded and with a moderator fitted this does not become too cumbersome. The profile is pure sporter, gently tapering down to 0.637in at the muzzle, which has a precise 11º crown to aid accuracy. The barrel is fluted for three-quarters of its length, with six rounded flutes giving the Finnlight a distinctive look.
This is to save weight more than anything, though it is often touted as a good heat dispersing aid as well.
The scope mounts are the excellent Opti-Lok system, again finished to match the stainless finish of the rifle. It also allows a torque-free grip on the scope’s body.
I used a Leupold 3.5- 10x50mm Illuminated attached by means of the plastic alignment collars. It is a great design and means the end of scratched scope bodies.
The tapered bases grip the action dovetails tighter when recoil occurs, providing a very secure system. With a 50mm objective lens scope and without the parallax ring, you could use the low ring set which allows as low a scope mounting as possible without fouling the sporter barrel profile.
TRIGGER, SAFETY AND MAGAZINE
Sako triggers are available as a standard single-stage, but the company also offers the optional extra of a set trigger, which I like. The single-stage is set at the factory at 3lb weight, but was 3.25lb when tested.
However, you can adjust the weight from 2lb to 4lb using a small Allen key accessed through the back of the magazine well.
The metal trigger-blade has graduated grooves for grip but remains quite slim, and the trigger-guard and magazine well are made in two aluminium parts finished to complement the rest of the rifle.
The safety lever moves forward into firing position and rearwards to safe, locking both trigger and bolt. There is also a smaller plunger just forward of the main safety lever which, when depressed, allows the bolt to operate and remove a cartridge from the chamber while still keeping the trigger locked and safe.
The Model 85 has an unusual magazine release, named the “Total Control Latch”. This is designed to stop any accidental release of the magazine, which is very useful on a hunting rifle.
The magazine’s base has to be depressed inward slightly at the front, while depressing the magazine release latch. This pops the magazine from its housing.
The .270 cartridge may seem an odd calibre to choose for a lightweight rifle, as it is no slouch in terms of ballistics, and controversy still reigns over whether the 130-grain or 150-grain bullet weights are best.
I wanted to take a pragmatic look at a range of weights and styles. I had no factory ammunition to hand, so I reloaded my own.
Starting with a Lee die and Winchester brass, I prepped 50 cases prior to reloading.
First, I loaded some lightweight bullets. The 100-grain Speer hollowpoints offer speeds of 3,314fps and 2,439ft/lb energy with 55 grains of Varget powder — these would be too explosive for deer, but good for foxes.
More practical is the 130-grain and I loaded some Nosler Ballistic Tips at 2,961fps to 2,532ft/lb and 2,947fps to 2,508ft/lb with 58.5 grains of Hodgdon H4831SC and 57.5 grains of Alliant RL22 respectively.
This option produced accuracy to under an inch at 100 yards, though some may say they are too expansive on certain deer species. Using 150 grains would cause less carcass damage, but it would also produce less velocity than the .270 is capable of.
Sierra 150-grain Gamekings with a load of 54 grains of Vit N165 powder yielded 2,797fps, more than good enough for deer work.
A better compromise may lie with the 140-grain bullet. This is not as common as the other weights. The Nosler Accubond has a polymer tip and bonded rear core for deep penetration, which may be just perfect.
Again Hodgdon H4831SC powder proved good, and 57 grains achieved 2,821fps and 2,475ft/lb energy with superb 0.55in groups at 100 yards. This would be my choice for deer work, and despite its lightweight shooting, the Finnlight in .270 was not bad at all.
Whether the fluted barrel aided in cooling is subjective but, more importantly, the rifle only warmed up after 10 rounds or more, so any shift due to heat will not be a problem in a stalking scenario.
In practical terms, the Finnlight has much to offer in the way of bad weather use. You need not worry about scratching or damaging your stalking rifle and so can concentrate on the stalk itself.
The overall lines are still very pleasing and it handles well, despite that plastic-feeling stock. The soft recoil pad is most welcome on a light rifle in a heavier calibre.
I was pleased to find that Sako upheld its tradition of superb out-of-the-box accuracy and the .270 barrel shot remarkably well.
It is priced towards the upper end of the factory sporter market, but for someone who wants a light, no-nonsense, rugged and accurate rifle in one package, then the Finnlight fits all those criteria admirably.
In a different cartridge such as in .22-250 and threaded for a moderator, it would also make a great fox rifle.
Contact GMK on 01489 587500
Gun reviews: Sako Finnlight rifle