Accurate, dependable and good-looking, there is much to like about Sako's new lightweight rifle, which is hard not to recommend, says Bruce Potts.
There are plenty of centrefire rifles available to British shooters in the sub-£1,000 range but those wanting a more prestigious yet value-for-money rifle have the Sako 85 model as their option. The Tikka T3 range caters for most needs but the Sako 85 Carbonlight extends the choice and boosts the class of the Sako/Tikka group portfolio.
On test this time is the new version of the popular Finnlight model called the Sako 85 Carbonlight. It has a new stock design and uses new materials but follows the ethos of a strong yet ultra-light shooting rifle. The Carbonlight sports a carbon-fibre stock. This saves on weight, as does the shorter fluted barrel. The stainless steel finish to the metalwork completes a striking and highly practical hunting rifle. Importantly, as with all Sakos, they also have very good “out of the box” accuracy.
Stalkers or vermin controllers want a good design and strong stock capable of a good bed for the action to maintain good accuracy. This carbon-fibre stock borrows from the aerospace industries and car manufacture and provides a very lightweight yet rigid construction compared with other lightweight stocks, which are usually flexible.
The new Sako stock reduces the weight by 1lb and you can feel this. The whole rifle feels very light and portable, perfect for long treks on the hill. It has the typical carbon-fibre exterior weave pattern that is further enhanced by a soft-touch textured surface for assured grip.
The butt section has a subtle cheekpiece and scalloped bottom sections, which lends character and allows a firm grip with the supporting hand when shooting from a bipod.
Barrel and action
The 85 action comes in cartridge-specific sizes so that the cartridge length is matched to the overall size of action. This allows for optimal bolt travel length. In .22-250 cartridge the “S” action is used.
The stainless steel action has a good satin finish to reduce reflection and the tapered scope grooves are cut into the action top for a precise scope fitment.
The bolt has the characteristic three- locking lug system to improve the lock-up into the receiver ring. This allows a short bolt lift to avoid contact with the scope eyepiece and speeds up bolt operation, too. The bolt lugs have shallow depressions on their tops that ride in raceways in the action. This makes for a really smooth operation and avoids binding. There is a claw extractor sited in the bolt face providing good grip of the case and the bottom of the bolt head has a slot cut so that case ejection is simultaneous with 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 that allows direct engagement of the cartridge rim from the magazine. This gives a precise lower angle feeding and control of the cartridge that improves reliability.
The best Carbonlight feature from the point of view of the metalwork is the barrel profile: it is slim, short, lightweight and accurate. The barrel has a muzzle diameter of 0.62in and is threaded for a 14mm/1 pitch metric thread. It has a precise muzzle crown with six flutes along three-quarters of the stainless steel barrel’s length. Again, this is to reduce weight and dissipate heat quickly. The rifling twist is 1-in-14in with a six-groove rifling profile — perfect for lightweight fast projectiles. It is short at 20in, which will affect velocity on the fast-stepping .22-250 but is in keeping with the whole Carbonlight ethos. With the Stalon sound moderator fitted, the total overall length is only 46in.
Trigger, safety and magazine
Sako triggers are single stage and set at the factory at about 3lb to 3½lb weight, 3lb tested, but you can adjust the weight from 2lb to 4lb via a small Allen key accessed through the back of the magazine well. The trigger-guard on this model is a lightweight hard anodised to save weight.
The safety lever in the forward position is “fire” and to the rear position is “safe”, which locks both the trigger and the bolt. There is also a smaller plunger just forward of the main safety lever that, when depressed, allows the bolt to operate to remove a cartridge from the chamber while still keeping the trigger locked and safe.
All Sako 85 models have a positive magazine release called the Total Control Latch, which is designed to stop any accidental release of the magazine. The magazine has to be pushed inward slightly at the front while depressing the magazine release latch, which then pops the magazine from its housing. In the .22-250 cartridge, it has a five-round capacity.
Sako 85 Carbonlight field test results
First, fitted with the Stalon moderator and even with the speedy lightweight bullets, the Sako was very quiet indeed and though recoil is light on a .22-250 anyway, with this set-up you could spot each bullet strike.
Sako has a reputation for good accuracy straight from the box and it is not the first time this year in a test that a factory rifle has performed like a custom one.
Factory loads for vermin control, such as crows and foxes, the light fast 40-gr bullets are great due to their frangible nature. The Federal 40-gr Ballistic Tip bullets shot an impressive 3,826fps velocity for 1,300ft/lb energy and 1⁄2in groups. For small species deer in England and Wales or roe in Scotland, the Sako 55-gr Game Head shot 0.6in groups while the Winchester 50-gr Ballistic Silver Tip gave 3,720fps velocity and sub-1⁄2in groups. Once again it is difficult to improve on this. Ultra-light, non-lead 35-gr NTX bullets also shot 1⁄2in groups with an impressive 3,986fps velocity.
The best reload for me was the mid-range Sierra 55-gr GameKing bullet with 35 grains of Vit N140 powder, which gave 3,455fps for 1,458ft/lb energy and 0.5in groups. This doubles as a good all-round vermin or deer load where legal.
The Carbonlight is all you need in a centrefire rifle. Rugged, dependable, very accurate, super-light and good-looking.