Bolt-action rifles have a mechanical integrity that makes barrel-switching a challenge. They hardly lend themselves to the routine tube changes of a competition skeet gun, nor are justifications for accessory rifle barrels as compelling.
A four-barrel skeet set allows you to participate fully in the sport with a firearm whose stock fit figures heavily in your score. It also saves you money. Unless your tax-refund check is bigger than mine, you’ll forego many hunts to equip yourself with a quartet of custom-stocked Perazzis. And shotguns don’t have to shoot to exactly the same spot. Riflemen may not insist on perfect stock fit, but top-level intrinsic accuracy is expected.
Designing a rifle that comes apart easily but contains 65,000 psi and shoots to the same point of aim, one barrel to another, is a task that drives talented engineers to evenings of reality TV.
Still, the idea of owning one rifle that shoots multiple cartridges is as old as the European drilling. When Paul Mauser developed his Model 1898 bolt rifle, hinged-breech guns with clusters of barrels lost some of their appeal. Bolt rifles were lighter and more accurate, held more cartridges and bottled higher pressures. While you couldn’t combine a shotgun and a rifle in one mechanism, you could stack different loads in the magazine–follow a softpoint with a solid, for example, when hunting dangerous game.
There must have been a few hunters who thought turning a big-game gun into a varmint rifle had more merit than buying another rifle because Remington answered some years ago with Accelerator loads–.30-30 and .30-06 cartridges launching 55-grain .224 spitzers in plastic sabot sleeves. These earned some credibility as varmint rounds and are still offered. But few enthusiasts spending June weekends in prairie-dog towns favor Accelerator ammunition in deer guns. They own varmint rifles.
Equipping pet whitetail hardware with a barrel that could use, say, .22-250 ammo instead of Accelerator .30-06s might get some attention from this crowd because a shooter would have many more load options, from the factory and from the bench. A different barrel means you can also install a longer barrel and, within limits imposed by the fore-end, a heavier one. Switch stocks, and you can hang varmint-weight barrels on mountain rifles.
A Teutonic try at multiple-barrel versatility on one platform appeared in Blaser straight-pull bolt rifles. These, with the new Mauser from Sig-Sauer, follow the work of custom ‘smiths who, over decades, have fashioned switch-barrel guns from such common cloth as the Remington 700.
In truth, I marvel that anyone with a yen to shoot different ammunition would pass up the chance to buy another complete rifle. At least, I did until a Quad popped up last fall at the Bisley range in England.
The Quad is not English. Nor is it, as one amigo queried, “one of them knobby-tired bog-jumpers that drive elk out of the meadows before real hunters get there.”
The Quad is a switch-barrel bolt-action rimfire rifle introduced this year by Sako to replace its .22 Finnfire bolt gun. You can buy the Quad with just one barrel, in .22 Long Rifle, .22 WMR, .17 Mach 2 or .17 HMR. If all you want is one rimfire rifle, you can spend less (though you won’t get Sako quality on the cheap). Versatility is the Quad’s main selling point. You can buy the Quad packaged in a metal case with all four barrels. And barrels are interchanged in 20 seconds.
|MANUFACTURER:||Sako, distributed by Beretta USA|
|ACTION TYPE:||Bolt-action repeater|
|CALIBER:||.17 Mach 2, .17 HMR, .22 LR, .22 WMR|
|MAGAZINE:||Removable box, five-round capacity|
|BARREL LENGTH:||22 inches|
|OVERALL LENGTH:||40 inches|
|WEIGHT:||5 pounds, 12 ounces|
|STOCK:||Synthetic with adjustable buttpad|
|PRICE:||$948 with one barrel, four-barrel combination $1,739|
Well, that’s what the literature claimed. Twenty seconds, “and this having never done it before!” I tested the boast with a friend, Brian Kelly, who’d not worked with the Quad. He changed from .22 Long Rifle to .17 HMR in a timed 19 seconds.
My introduction to the Quad gave me a chance to shoot it with very good ammunition. At Bisley in the U.K., some colleagues and I were shooting Eley .22 Tenex Ultimate EPS, cartridges still inspected individually. They’re used by the world’s best shooters in Olympic competition. My modest successes on the smallbore circuit hinged largely on the performance of Eley; from a good barrel it
would drill five-shot groups tight enough to grab a .243 bullet. If the Quad was accurate, it would shoot well with Eley.
It did. My first five-shot group with Eley .17 Mach 2 ammo on a target just shy of the 25-yard line was small enough to cover (all but tears) with the base of a .17 cartridge–one hole, and not a very big one.
The 22-inch sporter-weight barrels are cold hammer-forged, rifled 1:9 inches for the .17s, 1:16.5 for the .22 LR and 1:16 for the .22 WMR. They are not threaded; rather, they slide into the receiver, where a flat lower surface on the barrel shank indexes it. The matching surface in the receiver is a spring-loaded plate that allows the shank to enter at a slight angle, so you needn’t remove the stock to change barrels. As you push the barrel home and the muzzle down to align it with the receiver axis, a big circumferential groove on the barrel shank engages a single lug at 12 o’clock inside the receiver. The plate at 6 o’clock also engages that groove.
You secure the barrel by tightening the takedown screw that bears against the plate. This machine screw accepts a supplied T-handle Allen wrench through a hole in front of the flush magazine latch and behind the front guard screw.
To remove a barrel, you simply open the bolt so it is retracted about a quarter inch, loosen the retaining screw, then lift the barrel slightly as you pull it forward. Inserting a barrel is as easy, and you can select one quickly, too, because they’re color coded. Check the O-ring in the groove just forward of the shank. Blue means you have a .17 Mach 2. Red is .17 HMR. Green signals a .22 LR barrel, yellow a .22 WMR.
The two detachable, five-round magazines are of the same external dimensions; a block is used to shorten the box for the .17 Mach 2 and .22 Long Rifle. Additionally, that magazine has a vertical front rib whose top mates with a cut in the Mach 2 and Long Rifle barrels. The magnum magazine lacks this rib, the magnum barrels lack the cut, so you can’t seat a short-cartridge magazine to a magnum barrel.
Seating the long-cartridge magazine to a barrel chambered to short cartridges is easy enough, but, of course, the long rounds won’t chamber. The upshot: You can’t feed the wrong cartridge. Incidentally, you must unseat the magazine to remove .17 Mach 2 and .22 Long Rifle barrels. Not so with the magnums. Magazines slide in like sausages. As with all rimfire boxes, they need fingernail lips, so there’s no hangup when you want to reload with the rifle canted or with grit or snow in the well. The magazine catch is quick to find but invisible from the side. The action has two locking lugs and a single extractor. Bolt lift is only 50 degrees, firing-pin travel .2 inch. The single-stage trigger adjusts from two to four pounds (you must remove the stock to do this, but it is a quick, straightforward operation). A two-position sliding safety locks both trigger and bolt.
A black, glass-reinforced poly-propylene stock comes with two accessory spacers that add 1/8 inch apiece to length of pull. The stock–conservative in profile–has fissures designed to improve grip and wears standard QD swivel studs.
Sako’s Quad rifle measures just shy of 40 inches overall and weighs 53⁄4 pounds. The Quad combo package, with all four barrels, comes in a foam-padded metal case with double latches, back and front.
The rifle feels good. It balances well. It wouldn’t bother me if the fore-end were a bit more slender. The buttpad spacers are a great idea. They are thin enough to permit incremental changes in length. An old-fashioned codger with traditional tastes, I’m not keen on the sculpting of grip and fore-end.
Fit of receiver and bottom assembly to the stock is tight. Not all barrels sink snugly into their channel.
Bolt movement is very smooth, with a crisp feel during lockup and primary extraction. I prefer a round knob to the triangular Quad’s, though it pinches comfortably between thumb and forefinger. It could be tucked closer to the rifle. The right-hand bolt release is less obtrusive and works fine. So does the safety; it comes off easily goes on a bit too hard. The red dot under the safety’s tail and the red cocking indicator under the bolt are visible but tastefully small. The cocking-piece profile lends a touch of elegance to the rifle’s appearance. It is unmistakably Sako in form.
As Beretta owns both Sako and Burris, I wasn’t surprised to see a Burris 3-9×32 scope built just for the Quad. It is compact but with target-style, finger-friendly windage and elevation knobs. You’ll want to use high rings to ease barrel changing, though depending on the position of the objective bell, medium rings work, too. On the scope’s adjustment stems you’ll find color-coded collars that match the hues of the Quad’s barrel bands. The collars don’t move the sight mechanism; they’re provided as indexing markers so you can zero for each barrel, then index the ring to allow quick return to zero after barrel changes.
At the range I fired a variety of ammunition. The bolt extracted all but the Eley .17 Mach 2. Cases would slip from the extractor part-way out, and I’d finish with my fingernail. Feeding was smooth, though the first round from the .22 LR magazine did not slide into the chamber. I suspect the spring bottoming out prevented tail movement of the cartridge and forced bullet noses too low onto the ramp. Just a conjecture. The remaining cartridges in the magazine fed faultlessly.
The fine accuracy I had seen in England resurfaced on the short-range (25-yard) targets I hung to record bullet displacement with barrel changes. One three-shot group was so tight that it appeared barely bigger than a single hole. Several five-shot groups hovered at .2 inch. Predictably, the .17s wanted to shoot tight, as did the Eley Tenex .22 LR. But in the Quad even .22 WMR bullets held close; a group with Federal miked .24.
ing barrels changed point of impact. I started by zeroing the .17 Mach 2 barrel with Eley. Installing the .17 HMR barrel and using Remington cartridges, I fired a .48 group 2.1 inches at 2 o’clock. The .22 LR tube delivered a slightly smaller group with Remington/Eley EPS ammunition, but it was three inches to four o’clock. Winchester bullets from the .22 WMR barrel landed in a tight knot 3.5 inches to 4 o’clock.
I repeated the exercise using different ammunition and zeroing first with the .22 LR barrel. Same kind of dispersion. I fired another couple of groups with the .22s. For the third time, group centers stayed a short half-inch apart. Barrel alignment was undoubtedly responsible for the larger deviations with the .17s. I could see the barrels did not all lay well centered in the channel.
To check zero return when a barrel was removed and replaced, I installed the .22 LR barrel, then fired four groups, taking the rifle apart after each. The groups showed essentially no shift in zero, though the tightest–a five-shot cluster that miked just over .18–lay very slightly to 4 o’clock. All 20 bullets would have hit a dime.
I like this rifle because it feels “gunny.” The barrels interchange easily and quickly. They all shoot accurately. How much need there is for a rifle that handles four rimfire cartridges, only the market will tell.
The Sako Story
In a cold land of birches, under pastel skies, people walk with ski poles in summer. You get the idea that Finns are always ready for snow, that they live warily on sunny days, anticipating harder times. Finns wear the stoic expressions of people used to privation, who spend much of every year shivering in subarctic winds. A jump in the Baltic sea after a steam bath appears to be a ritual intended to dispel the notion that life should be easy. Finns complain little because they know times can always turn for the worse.
Finland is a harsh land that was explored by Swedish missionaries as early as 1155 and remained a Swedish protectorate until 1809, when it came under Russian control. The Czar proclaimed Finland a Grand Duchy, a status it held until 1917. Two years after breaking with Russia, Finland became an independent republic.
The Finnish firm of Suojeluskuntain Yliesikunnan Asepaja was established April 1, 1919. It prospered under military contracts and between the world wars supplied rifles to hunters and target shooters. The company was later renamed, mercifully, Sako (correct pronunciation: “sock-o”).
An uneasy peace between Finland and the U.S.S.R. unraveled in the winter of 1939–1940. Soviets invaded, and brutal fighting characterized what history records as the Winter War. The Continuation War that followed was all but ignored outside Finland as Nazis brought Europe under the dark veil of the Third Reich. When the Russian Bear backed off in 1944, Finns had lost some land but not their independence.
The Finnish tongue comes from the Finno-Ugric linguistic family. Swedish is still taught in some schools. The Lapp language, Sami, is also official and remains common above the Arctic Circle, where the summer sun doesn’t set for 73 days and for 51 days each winter people live in darkness.
Below Lapland a patchwork of small farms breaks up the sprawling forests that cover 80 percent of Sako’s home country. Reminiscent of our Upper Midwest, the Finnish heartland supports a growing herd of whitetail deer–courtesy of the USA. In 1938 six whitetails that had been imported from Minnesota four years earlier escaped from their pens. By 1960 Finland had a huntable herd of about 1,000 deer. Now Finns shoot 17,500 each year.
Still, the moose is the Finnish hunter’s mainstay. And though these ungulates abound, hunts are tightly regulated. All game is managed by 300 state-sanctioned hunting associations that comprise 2,370 clubs and about 140,000 members. Club membership affords access to good spots in 15 game-conservation districts administered by the Central Association of Hunters. Finland has more moose hunters–300,000–than any other European country. About 84 percent of the 22 million pounds of game sold here is moose.
THE FIRST SAKOS
It might come as a surprise that the first important Sako rifle was designed for hunting small game. Chambered for the .22 Hornet and .218 Bee, the Vixen came out around the end of World War II. Stoeger imported the Vixen to the States beginning in 1946. A year later a heavy-barrel version and a full-stocked carbine appeared. New chamberings followed: the .222, .222 Magnum and .223. In 1957 Sako introduced the L-57 Forester. Bored for the then-new .308 and .243 Winchester, the L-57 would also appear in .22-250 and in sporter, carbine and heavy-barrel configurations. The L-61 Finnbear followed three years later, a longer action chambered for a host of popular big-game rounds, up to the .375 H&H.
Sako broke with tradition in 1961, announcing the Finnwolf, a hammerless lever-action rifle with a one-piece stock. Available in .243 and .308 with a four-shot detachable magazine, it survived for a decade and was succeeded by an even shorter-lived Model 73. The company was acquired by new owners in 1967, and eight years later the Model 74 had replaced the Vixen, Forester and Finnbear. Sako offered it in three action lengths until 1978, when the “A series” replaced it. The Hunter came along in the mid-1980s, also in three action lengths and with a left-handed option. By this time Sako was building the Model 78 rimfire, a bolt-action repeater built in .22 Hornet as well.
In 1993 Sako trotted out the TRG rifle. The long, three-lug action has a detachable straight-stack box magazine. Four years later came the current flagship hunting rifle, Sako’s Model 75. To accommodate a broad spectrum of cartridges, the 75 comes in four receiver lengths. Its three locking lugs are a departure from early sporters, reducing bolt lift to 70 degrees. Barrels are still hammer-forged; they’re offered in 18 chamberings. Several versions of the Model 75 have appeared, in wood and synthetic stocks.
The hand-checkered, high-gloss walnut stocks that characterized Sako rifles during the late 1950s complemented finely polished, deeply blued steel and tight wood-to-metal fit. Never inexpensive, Sako’s rifles earned a reputation for fine accuracy. They featured crisp, adjustable triggers and bolts tha
t slid as if in Crisco. Dovetail receiver rails required costly Sako rings, but enthusiasts happily complied. The external claw extractor, much smaller than a 98 Mauser’s, has proven so reliable that it has been retrofitted to other rifles with bolt-face extractors. For decades Sako was the European equivalent of Weatherby, turning out high-quality rifles with a singular look. They were coveted by hunters worldwide.
THE TIKKA CONNECTION
Then in 1983 Sako joined with another Finnish firm. A gun-parts-maker for 80 years, Tikka was older than Sako. During World War II it had built sewing machines and submachine guns. A collaborative venture building a Model 555 rifle resulted in Sako’s acquisition of Tikka (and Valmet, a shotgun-maker). By 1989 Tikka’s production at Tikkakoski Works had been moved to Sako’s Riihimaki plant.
The Tikka Whitetail, a rather clumsy, if functional bolt rifle introduced in the 1990s, drew a tepid response stateside. Then Tikka announced its T3, also built in the Sako plant and to the same tolerances as the more expensive Sako 75. It looked and handled much better than the Whitetail. It featured the two-lug bolt of earlier models but with the 70-degree lift of a three-lug Sako 75. The T3 receiver is slimmer than the Whitetail’s but just as stiff, partly because the ejection port is smaller. Rifle weight depends on style; the T3 Lite weighs just 61⁄4 pounds
“We’ve paid attention to the U.S. market,” says Paavo Tammisto, who handles press relations for Sako and Tikka, “and this rifle should appeal to hunters there.”
It does. The T3 is technically excellent. The bolt glides; the trigger breaks like an icicle; cartridges cycle without bumps. Close your eyes, shoulder the rifle, and the crosswire is on target. In fact, the current challenge at Riihimaki is to keep Sako 75s competitive at market. The excellence of the T3 has become as problematic as the sliding value of dollars against Euros.
But challenge is hardly new to Finns. And the invention of the switch-barrel Quad shows they’re still adept at reinventing bolt rifles.