November 29, 2018
By J. Scott Rupp
In 2005 I borrowed a Sako 75 Finnlight to take on a caribou hunt. It was chambered to .280 Rem., and I fell in love with it right away. At the bench it outperformed my own .280 by a huge margin, turning in one sub-m.o.a. group after another, and was rock solid from field positions. I put on a lot of miles over several days in search of caribou, and it carried and balanced so well I felt like I’d been hunting with it for years.
But then the hunt was over and it was time to either send the gun back or buy it. I didn’t have the money, so I returned it. But I never forgot how much I loved the rifle, so when Sako announced the new Finnlight II, I selfishly took the assignment for myself.
Sako rifles are among the most coveted sporting guns in the world. They’re superbly crafted (and carry price tags to match), they’re accurate, and they’re dependable. The 85 action is the latest in the lineage, and its design brought a few changes over the 75 engineers believed would make the design better without resorting to any radical departures.
Chief among these, in my opinion, is the Total Control magazine latch system. When I first reviewed the Sako 85 in our November/December 2007 issue, I remember running around the office and asking people to try to drop the magazine. Everyone batted .000.
There’s a trick to it. You need to push in on the magazine while pressing the release. Some people grumbled about this, but not me. The Total Control latch means there is no chance your magazine is going to make an unannounced departure while you’re in the field.
Its operation is not as hard as complainers make it out to be. One method is to use the non-firing hand to push in on the magazine as the firing hand operates the latch. This is probably the easiest but not necessarily most convenient, and I’ve learned to do the whole thing with just my firing hand.
The 85 also brought with it what Sako is calling controlled-round-feed. If you’re thinking a big, honking, full-length extractor à la Mauser, you’ll be disappointed. It’s not taking a Mauser-size bite on the cartridge, nor does it truly control the cartridge from the time it’s moved forward in the magazine. Basically, it acts like a typical push feed until the last little bit, at which point the extractor grabs the round—but by that time almost the whole cartridge is in the chamber, so “control” is basically moot.
However, unlike a true controlled-round-feed action, you can single-load the rifle, and the open ejection port makes this easy to accomplish. Top-loading the magazine is a breeze as well.
One of the reasons I’ve stuck with hinged floorplates while many other hunters have moved to detachable box magazines is because detachable boxes can be difficult, if not impossible, to top off. Whether a game animal has dropped to the first shot—or one or several shots hasn’t gotten the job done—I’m always topping off as I move toward downed game or where said game was last spotted. Being able to do so without removing the magazine from the rifle or having to look down as I go is important to me.
The bolt is a three-lug affair and employs a blade ejector. Bolt throw is 70 degrees. The safety is a two-position, bolt-locking rocker. I like rocker safeties, but I also prefer the Remington style that doesn’t lock the bolt. Here you sort of get the best of both worlds because while the bolt is locked on Safe, a small button directly in front of the rocker will unlock the bolt for safe unloading.
So those are the nuts and bolts (heh) of the 85 action. With the Finnlight II, Sako’s designers have made some big changes, starting with the stock. It’s made of RTM fiberglass. RTM stands for “resin transfer molding,” a vacuum-assisted, closed-mold process that’s ideal for products where you want a high strength-to-weight ratio. Like lightweight rifle stocks.
I’m sure you immediately noticed the adjustable comb, and I don’t need to tell you how important head position is to accurate rifle shooting, particularly as distances increase. I use strap-on cheek pads on my rifles to get my head in the proper position. This is waaaay better.
Simply push in on the spring-loaded button on the side of the stock, then pull up the cheekpiece to the correct height. The center post has a series of flanges spaced 1/8 inch apart, and they lock into a mechanism inside the stock. Two posts fore and aft of that provide additional support. The center post is apparently steel because a magnet will stick to it, whereas the other two may be aluminum alloy. I checked with Sako to see if someone there could enlighten me, but no dice.
Regardless, it works like a charm, and I was able to get 21/8 inches of comb height adjustment before the unit began to wobble. I can’t imagine anyone needing more height than that.
The mechanism surely must add a bit of weight to the butt, but it can’t be that much since the stock weighs only two pounds, five ounces as it is, and I don’t see any extra weight as a penalty. Besides, I actually like a bit of weight in the back because it suits my shooting style, and it doesn’t negatively affect balance in the Finnlight II.
Both the stock’s wrist and the fore-end feature inlays of elastomer, which is basically synthetic rubber. At first glance I thought it was carbon fiber because it has that look, but then I picked it up and realized it was grippy. It feels good when your hands are dry, and I tested it with wet hands and also the slipperiest pair of hunting gloves I own. In all cases these inlays provided good control.
The fore-end is best described as a slim beavertail. The flat design makes it sit nicely on a shooting rest, although to me it doesn’t feel as good in the hands.
For some hunts I’ve moved away from simple cross-sticks—where the rifle nestles down into the intersection of the sticks—to rests like a Bog Pod, which incorporate a horizontal cradle. For a comparison I shot the Finnlight II and a rifle with a traditional rounded fore-end from my Bog Pod, and I found the Sako to be more stable. I would imagine the slim beavertail would work great on a pack or other field-expedient rest as well.
The original Finnlight barrel was fluted like the II’s, but instead of just straight stainless, the Finnlight II’s barrel is Cerakoted for improved corrosion resistance and also has a more muted, matte finish to eliminate game-spooking glare.
The website’s specs say the barrel on the Creedmoor model is 20.25 inches. I don’t know how they measure stuff in Finland, but I come up with roughly 24 inches—233/16 if you measure the outside from the receiver.
It’s a sporting taper, starting at 1.125 inches at the receiver to 0.620 inch at the muzzle, which sports a slightly recessed crown. The finish inside the 1:8 twist, cold-hammer-forged barrel was flawless. I ran a Hawkeye borescope through it and couldn’t find a single tool mark.
The flat-bottomed action features a recoil lug that’s machined as part of the action, and the forward action screw threads into this lug. The lug fits into a steel plate in the stock. The plate isn’t molded in—it just sits in there—but since it gets direct torque from the screw it’s solid.
With the barreled action out of the stock, you can adjust the trigger pull weight if you want. Sako makes a great trigger, and the one on my sample broke at three pounds, three ounces. I left it alone.
Sako is unique in that it offers specific action lengths tailored to cartridge classes. To me, this is a superior way to build a rifle as opposed, say, to building a long action and then modifying the feed system to handle short-action cartridges. The 6.5 Creedmoor is built on the company’s Short .308-length action. Others include Extra Short for .223-class rounds, Short Magnum (self-explanatory), Medium (.30-06 length), Long (.375 H&H length) and Extra Long (Ultra Mag, etc.).
At least in the case of the Creedmoor, the magazine holds a whopping five rounds, which I love. Unless I’m still-hunting by myself or watching a likely area, I keep the chamber empty. Having five rounds in the mag permits me to chamber a round and still have four in reserve.
For testing I mounted a Tract Optics Toric UltraHD scope, a 2-10x42mm with a one-inch tube. And now comes a gripe. Not the scope—I have one of these on my go-to big game rifle, and it’s great. No, I’m talking about Sako/Beretta’s Optilock system, which in this case positioned the scope much higher than I like—adjustable comb on the rifle notwithstanding.
I used the two-piece Optilock system, in which the rings screw onto the bases and the bases are clamped onto the receiver’s dovetails. I ordered medium-height rings in addition to the bases—which I found on Amazon for $150 total—and it’s a good thing I did. If I’d opted for lower rings, I wouldn’t have been able to mount the scope because the ocular bell would’ve hit the rear base. I remembered too late there are also ringmounts from companies like Leupold, which would’ve solved the clearance problem and gotten the scope lower.
But my larger point is that while some other European makers have seen the light and use slotted rails or Remington Model 700 scope base geometry for U.S.-bound rifles, Sako has stayed with its proprietary setup. Yes, it works, but you need to do your research to make sure you get what you want or need and then you’re going to shell out a fair amount of money—even ringmounts are nearly $100. I think Sako, and Sako owners here in the U.S., would be better served with a more traditional (for us), accessible and economical setup.
The rifle shot well from the bench. Results are shown in the accompanying table. You’ll see there are no velocity or standard deviation data for the Nosler AccuBond Long Range load. I had only one day to test the rifle before it had to be shipped off for cover photography, and on that particular October day it decided to snow here in Colorado.
By the time I got to the Nosler AccuBond Long Range load it was coming down so heavy it was interfering with the chronograph’s sensors. I know this because I’ve used this load (and one other I was shooting through a different rifle that day) before, and the figures—particularly the standard deviations—were way off. Accuracy was within expectations, but I didn’t include what I think were faulty velocity data.
Anyway, the winner of the best group of the day went to Hornady’s Precision Hunter: a 0.55-inch cluster. And frankly I think I did the Sako a bit of a disservice because I usually test a gun over two or three range sessions—not one marathon shoot. While I think I was breaking good shots throughout the day, I suspect group sizes would’ve shrunk if I’d spread out the testing.
When I sat down behind cross sticks and, as mentioned, particularly a Bog Pod, practical accuracy was outstanding. I had no trouble keeping shots inside three inches at 100 yards.
I think the Finnlight II, like its forerunner, will make an excellent hunting rifle. Bare weight with empty magazine is six pounds, six ounces. Adding bases, rings and scope brought the weight to just an ounce shy of eight pounds. That’s a good all-around hunting weight and is not too heavy to qualify as a mountain rifle.
Downside? It’s expensive. Just like the original Finnlight I hunted caribou with, it’s simply out of my price range. But then again, I’m currently “house poor,” and if my situation were different I might be writing a check even as we speak. For hunters who can pony up the money, they’re making a good investment. It’s a light, well-crafted and accurate rifle from one of the most respected gun factories in the world. And considering the Finnlight II’s innovative and practical stock, it’s money they will not regret spending.