The Sako 85 Hunter appeals to the purist and is a very elegant and well-handling rifle that comes with the Sako stamp of quality and accuracy
I first received the Sako 85 Hunter rifle back in the spring, but GMK sent this rifle in 6.5×55 calibre for a test as well, and I wanted to become familiar with both rifle and calibre out in the woods over the coming months.
The basic layout remains largely the same but this is not just a ‘tart up’. There are some very good and practical additions to the new 85 range of rifles.
There are plenty of centrefire rifles available to British shooters in the sub-£1,000 range but those wanting a more prestigious…
The Sako 85’s laminate stock, magazine release and controlled round feed make it a winner.
Action and bolt
The Sako 85 Hunter action is available in calibre-specific sizes, matching cartridge length to overall size of action. This looks far nicer and means the length of bolt travel directly corresponds to the effort needed to cycle a particular cartridge length, unlike the T3, where one size fits all.
Beautifully finished with a deep satin non-reflective treatment, the Sako’s action is a well-constructed unit that many custom-rifle builders will favour as a donor action.
The integral scope rails on top of the receiver with their tapered bias have always remained a firm favourite for positive, accurate scope alignment and secure grip. The ejection port on the right side gives clean access to the top of the magazine.
The bolt is where a few changes occur.
Gone is the superfluous safety key system to be replaced by a smart, sculptured bolt shroud. The bolt body is the same bomb-proof three-locking lug system to enhance the lock-up into the receiver ring. The bolt glides on five raceways making the 85’s action really smooth and precise with the advantage that it negates any binding in operation.
One important feature is the new controlled round feed design to the bolt, allowing a direct engagement of the cartridge rim as it is plucked from the magazine lips. This allows precise lower-angle feeding and control on the round at all times and improves reliability.
The Sako 85 Hunter model on test had a beautiful walnut stock, instantly appealing, Sako has opted for a finely crafted classic English stock design that incorporates well-cut distinctive chequering to both the fore-end and pistol grips and an overall oiled finish.
The dropped cheekpiece is perfectly shaped for a good head angle and finished off with a shadow line rim which I particularly like and really makes the stock for me. Overall quality of the wood was of quite high-grade walnut containing a varied and pleasing colour and grain.
The Sako brass-style inset to the pistol grip remains, as does the 0.75in solid black butt-pad. With a length of pull of 13.75in the design is very practical and stylish.
Trigger, magazine and safety
Sako triggers are always good, available as a single-stage as standard or as an optional extra as a set trigger. The single stage is factory set at 3lb weight, though you can adjust the weight from 2-4lb using an Allen key.
Another unique feature on this model is the magazine release system. Normally a swift depression on the release catch at the front of the magazine well drops the magazine instantly, but not so on the 85 model.
Sako has redesigned this area and dubbed it the ‘Total Control Latch’. This is intended to stop any accidental, premature release of the magazine and works so that the magazine base has to be depressed inwards ever so slightly while pushing on the magazine release latch in order for the unit to part company with the rifle.
Barrel, calibre and field tests
In keeping with a sporting rifle, the profile and length of the the Sako 85 Hunter is perfect. A barrel length of 22in is not overly long, allowing a trim 42.25in overall rifle length and the tapering barrel profile ends at 0.632in at the muzzle.
The barrel is free-floated along its entire length.Though catering for most of the popular fox and stalking calibres, this 85 Hunter was in 6.5×55 round, a good all-round calibre for both if loaded properly.
A variety of factory loads were tested and, no surprisingly, as most Sako owners know, accuracy was first-rate at 100 yards.
The RWS, Lapua, Remington, Norma and Sako ammunition all shot under 1in at 100 yards. The Norma 140-grain Nosler shot excellent groups just over 0.50in. Remington too also shot a tight three-shot group just under 0.75in with the 140-grain Core Lokt bullet.
I tried a few reloads from the light 85-grain Sierra hollow point right up to the 160-grain Hornady round nose to see how the 22in, one-in-eight twist rifled barrel would handle them. Despite the fast twist to stabilise the longer, heavier bullet weights, the Sierra 85-grain bullets make a superb wind-bucking fox round.
A load of 46 grains of Reloder 15 sped the light Sierra along at 3,396fps and generated 2,177ft/lb, fast, flat and great terminal ballistics.
A more sensible weight as a deer load would be the 120-grain Nosler ballistic tips travelling along at 2,941fps with 2,305ft/lb energy from a load of 45.5 grains of Hodgdon H4350.
The best practical weight for the 6.5×55 rifle would probably be the 140-grain bullet. The Hornady Interbond bullet, with a load of 45.5 Reloder 19, gave a creditable 2,682fps and 2,236ft/lb and punched 0.50in groups at 100 yards.
This was the load I settled on for the roe stalk, which harvested an old buck with one shot at less than 90 yards and proved the Sako 85 as a competent stalking rifle.
I know as a practical stalking rifle the use of synthetics and stainless steel has its merits and the Sako 85 is available in the laminated and synthetic models.
The walnut Hunter, however, appeals to the purist and is a very elegant and well-handling rifle. In fact, the classic lines make the Sako 85 Hunter one of the nicest looking stalking rifles on the market, coupled with the Sako stamp of quality and accuracy.
Priced at the upper end of the factory-sporter market you are paying a realistic price for the quality of rifle. For the stalker who admires an elegant rifle that instils pride of ownership, the new Sako 85 Hunter is very hard to beat.