December 09, 2022
If you were to survey several of the top long-range shooters in the country which factory rifle offers the best performance and accuracy, many would likely list Sako’s TRG family of guns. The first TRG bolt-action rifle, which was chambered in .308, appeared in 1989 and was an immediate success. Over the years the TRG family has been refined to meet the changing demands of shooters and make use of new technology, and that refinement has led to the most recent addition to the TRG family, the TRG 22/42 A1.
The TRG 22 A1 is chambered for short-action cartridges including the .260 Rem., 6.5 Creedmoor and .308 Win., while the TRG 42 A1’s longer magnum action is chambered in either .300 Win. Mag. or .338 Lapua. Both the 22 A1 and 42 A1 are precision machines designed for the most demanding tasks, and both are built upon decades of research and development into what it takes to build the perfect long-range rifle.
There were originally two different TRG models, the 21 (short action) and 41 (long action). In 1999, the same year Beretta Holdings gained control of Sako, improvements were made to elements of the original TRG—primarily consisting of a reconfigured stock—and these became the TRG 22 and TRG 42. Both rifles were built for battle, and both were used in several conflicts worldwide including combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2011 Sako released a new, flagship sniper rifle, the TRG M10, a modular, multi-caliber snipe rifle with a folding stock.
This brings up to speed on the TRG family of rifles and sets the scene for the release of this latest version. Let’s begin with perhaps the most important element of any rifle: the barrel. Sako and Tikka rifles are known for their outstanding out-of-the-box accuracy, and that begins with barrel production.
“Unlike other brands, the barrel and chamber are cold hammer forged as one,” says Graham Kohlmeyer, director of product management for Beretta USA. Traditionally, the bore of most cold hammer-forged barrels is finished prior to reaming the chamber. Kohlmeyer says Sako’s decision to cold hammer forge both the chamber and bore offers several advantages, primarily perfect concentricity and less stress on the barrel.
“This leads to outstanding performance and longevity,” Kohlmeyer says. Because the bore is perfectly aligned with the chamber you can expect all Sako (and sister company Tikka) barrels to shoot exceptionally well, and that has helped these brands build a loyal following. But what may not be as immediately apparent is that by reducing the stress associated with reaming the chamber and the use of the highest quality steel, these barrels outlast other barrels. According to Kohlmeyer, serious shooters find that Sako rifle barrels are still printing sub-m.o.a. groups after 6,500 rounds or more when firing hot 6.5mm long-range loads. That’s much better than the typical 3,000- to 4,000-round barrel life you can expect from other brands when shooting similar cartridges.
One other unique feature of Sako barrels is they are installed with a hydraulic press, which Kohlmeyer notes sometimes frustrates shooters who want to swap barrels and find that their Sako pipe is all but impossible to remove. It’s also the reason that Sako doesn’t sell their barrels and doesn’t swap them out in their U.S. facilities. If you want a new Sako barrel for your rifle the entire gun gets shipped back to Finland, where the engineers at Sako do the work. It’s not as simple as the barrel swaps on other guns, but the reasoning is simple. These guns are built to a premium standard, and Sako wants to ensure its products are properly maintained. The TRG 22 A1 has a 26-inch phosphate carbon steel barrel, and while TRG rifles have traditionally come with M15 barrel threads, to increase the rifle’s appeal to the U.S. market the TRG 22 A1 has 5/8x24 threads. Twist rate for the 6.5 Creedmoor is 1:8; and the .308’s is 1:11.
Sako’s action are known for their tight specifications and consistent quality control, and the A1 rifles are no exception. When I asked Kohlmeyer how Sako maintains such tight tolerances he told me that the actions undergo QC checks at every stage of manufacturing and that Sako swaps tooling more frequently than other brands. Switching tooling is expensive, but it ensures an incredible consistency and tight tolerances. If you wonder why Sako rifles cost more than competing brands, this is a primary reason, but that premium cost insures a premium product.
“The engineers designed the action so that it would be extremely smooth,” Kohlmeyer says. TRG 22 A1 rifles utilize three-lug actions with Sako’s extremely durable extractors. Sako extractors are machined to the same tight tolerances as the other products, and they are properly hardened to ensure longevity. Even the ejector springs are made from the highest grade of steel.
Some Sako 85 rifles had issues with the position of the extractor, but those problems have long since been fixed. It was not a problem with the extractor quality or design but rather the trajectory at which the extracted cartridge exited the rifle. In some cases, when large optics were in place, the spent case could contact the scope and cause a malfunction. However, the TRG 22 A1 has its extractors positioned so the empty case is expelled closer to the three o’clock position, alleviating any risk of interference. TRG 22 A1 barreled actions are mated with aluminum chassis with 15-inch M-Lok compatible fore-ends. There are four Cerakote chassis color options: Tungsten Gray, Olive Drab Green, Graphite Black and Coyote Brown.
A Perfect Fit
The stock borrows elements from the TRG M10 platform, including a fully adjustable folding stock. The stock remains locked in place until the release button, which is located near the rear of the receiver, is depressed. Dual hinges ensure a smooth swing with no slop, and length-of-pull and comb-height adjustments are fast and easy. The comb itself is soft and rounded so it doesn’t abuse the shooter’s face during long firing sessions, and a beveled claw on the rear underside of the stock improves engagement with the rear rest for maximum stability and improved accuracy.
There are two QD cups on the stock. The pistol grip comes with three interchangeable backstrap inserts for a comfortable fit and proper trigger engagement, and the underside of the fore-end just in front of the magazine well is curved to provide a positive interface with the surface of the shooting rest. A full-length 30 m.o.a. Picatinny rail runs the length of the top of the rifle. That’s more rail space than the average shooter needs, but don’t forget that this rifle was originally designed to be used in combat, and the full-length rail allows for simple and precise mounting of thermals, night vision optics or anything else a soldier may require.
As you might expect, this rifle comes with a superb trigger. It’s a two-stage design that’s adjustable for both length of pull and break weight. The minimum listed pull weight is about 1.5 pounds, with a maximum pull weight just under five pounds. The control layout of this rifle is slightly different than most sporting guns. The safety is a wide tab located within the front of trigger guard that can be pressed forward to fire with minimal motion. There’s a rocker-style bolt release on the right side of the receiver and a mag release tab in front of and just below the oversized trigger guard.
Few detachable rifle magazines receive the level of attention that Sako devotes to its box magazines. In fact, Kohlmeyer told me that sometimes complete rifles don’t go into production until Sako’s detail-obsessed engineers have developed a magazine that performs perfectly. This is also why you won’t find any Sako rifles that accept traditional broad-use aftermarket mags. The TRG 22 A1 comes with a 10-round detachable box magazine.
The TRG 22 A1 is no bantamweight mountain rifle, and with its 26-inch barrel it weighs in at 12 pounds, 10 ounces and measures between 40 and 47 inches long. It’s also not cheap at $5,500, but in addition to one of the world’s most accurate out-of-the-box rifles you get a long list of accessories for that price including two mags (nothing to scoff at when they cost over $200 each), a hex key set, Torx T-25 key, cocking wrench, M-Lok QD socket, extra backstraps, and more.
For a rifle to command $5,500 it has to shoot extremely well, though—well enough to outperform custom rifles that cost less. That’s no problem for the TRG 22 A1, though. It sets a new standard for factory rifle accuracy. I tested the TRG 22 A1 Tungsten Gray chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor and topped with a Burris XTR Pro 5.5-30x56mm scope mounted in Burris XTR Signature 34mm rings, which gave the rifle a total weight of around 15 pounds. Needless to say, recoil was not an issue.
Sako promises sub-m.o.a. accuracy from this rifle, but that wasn’t a problem, either. In fact, the TRG 22 A1 proved to be the most accurate production rifle I’ve ever tested, and it beat the majority of custom guns I’ve fired from a bench. Accuracy results are shown in the accompanying chart. Sako’s new Precision TRG 136-grain Open Tip Match ammunition turned in the best single three-shot group of the day at 0.39 inch as well as the best average.
I also tested Federal’s Terminal Ascent 130-grain hunting load, which managed 0.86 inch and would’ve been better without a group with an errant shot that measured a hair over an inch. Otherwise accuracy would have been around 0.75 for that load, I suspect. The TRG 22 A1 also printed a five-shot, 0.79-inch group using Sako’s 136-grain OTM ammo.
It’s hard to explain just how much fun it is to shoot a rifle that generates those types of accuracy results, when you’re scanning the target board after each shot to see if the Sako managed to put two bullets through the same hole. This is a gun that inspires confidence, which is exactly what you want. It’s a gun that, if you do your part, is capable of stunning accuracy right out of the box.
If you’ve spent your whole life shooting standard American hunting actions, it’ll take a few trips to the range to grow accustomed to the TRG’s modified control layout,. But once you do you’ll be ready to shoot groups that will make even the most pragmatic shooter giggle a little. The trigger is superb, breaking at exactly two pounds on the test gun, and in a matter of minutes you can make this gun fit you perfectly. The oversize bolt knob is easy to grasp and operate, and the action is extraordinarily smooth. Reliability, as you might expect, was flawless. Is the TRG 22 A1 worth $5,500? I’ll leave that for you to decide. It’s not a rifle for every shooter, but it’s a rifle every shooter can, with proper skills, good optics and quality ammunition, shoot extremely well.
During our interview, Kohlmeyer and I discussed the concept of value and what that term means when purchasing a rifle. For some, value is a gun that performs the most basic tasks. For others, value is knowing that you own a gun that exceeds expectations, a gun that’s built for precision shooting and built to last. If you’re in search of the latter, the Sako TRG 22 A1 should be on your radar. It’s an exceptionally good bolt-action rifle.
Sako TRG 22 A1 Specs
- Type: Bolt-action, centerfire
- Caliber: 6.5 Creedmoor (tested), .308 Win.
- Capacity: 10-rd. detachable magazine
- Barrel: 26 in., cold hammer forged, 1:8 twist; threaded 5/8x24
- Overall Length: 40-47 in.
- Weight: 12 lbs., 10 oz.
- Stock: Folding adjustable aluminum chassis
- Finish: Tungsten Gray Cerakote chassis (tested), phosphate barrel
- Trigger: Adjustable, 2 lbs. (tested)
- Sights: None; full-length 30-MOA Picatinny rail
- MSRP: $5,500
- Manufacturer: Sako
SAKO: A Brief History
For much of Sako’s 100-year history, it was known largely for producing hunting rifles, but the company was built through battle. Sako began producing and servicing firearms for the Finnish Civil Guard beginning in 1921, just three years after the end of the Finnish Civil War.
In 1929, Sako began producing ammunition as well as the first Pystykorva M/28-30 Mosin-Nagant pattern rifles. Many of the standard Mosin-Nagant features were improved upon, specifically the front and rear sight. The front sight is how the M/28-30 came to be known as Pystykorva, which is Finnish for “spitz dog ears.” By 1932 Sako was manufacturing its own barrels, and in 1937 Finnish shooters competed with the rifle at the World Shooting Championship in Helsinki.
In late 1939, the Soviet Army invaded Finland and claimed several territories—but at a cost. Famed Finnish sniper Simo Hayha killed more than 500 Russian soldiers with his Pystykorva sniper rifle, and the invasion that turned into a war lasted just over three months. Russia failed to take Finland. Before the end of World War II Sako produced over 275 million rounds of ammunition for the Finnish Defense Force. Sako was a well-established manufacturer of fine sporting and target rifles by the late 20th century, having produced several popular models including the L46, L461, L579 and L61 bolt-action rifle models—not to mention the legendary Sako 75 and, in the early 200s, the 85.
By the 1980s the Finnish Defense Force was searching for a new sniper rifle, and Finnish state-owned metalworks company Valmet began developing its M86 bolt-action in 1984. In 1986 Valmet and Sako merged, and by combining Sako’s experience making precision guns and elements of Valmet’s M86 sniper rifle, the Sako TRG was born in 1989. The name is likely derived from the TR-6 target rifle Sako had been developing.