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Sako's rimfire sporter.

* In sporting firearms history, the 20th century might properly be called "the age of the centerfire bolt-action sporting rifle." Granted, the military of the world has gone to autoloaders, but the most accurate repeating rifles for target, benchrest, and long-range game shooting are bolt-action centerfire jobs. Since about 1920, the history of the bolt-action centerfire sporter is a success story, with each decade yielding better and stronger actions, improved accuracy, improved stocks, triggers, and a wider choice of calibers suitable for all game, from woodchucks to elephants.

The bolt-action rimfire sporter has had an entirely different history. For dyears, beginning in 1933, the only premium american .22 rimfire sporter readily available was the Winchester Model 52 Sporter, an excellent rifle, but since it was too expensive to produce and met little buyer acceptance it was dropped from the line about 1963. It has now become a collector's item selling for $1,000 or more. Until recently, there was only a small market for high quality bolt-action .22 rimfire repeating sporters. It has always puzzled me that so many owners of bolt-action centerfire sporters did not buy high grade rimfire sporters. It somehow doesn't make sense.

But now, times have changed. Fortunately for bolt-action rimfire sporter fans, we are living in an era of riches. The shooter today has the widest range of choice ever offered from which to select a high quality bolt-action .22 rimfire repeating sporter. Evidence of this wide choice is the current crop of fine rimfire sporters offered by Anschutz, Kimber, Krico, (Nope, fellas, no current Winchester, alas), to name some manufacturers.

Into this impressive list of fine bolt-action sporters, we introduce the Sako Model 78, the subject of this report.

The initial impression of the Model 78 is of graceful simplicity without ornateness. While not a "plain Jane," there is a certain austerity in the absence of pistol grip cap and fore-end tip.

The action is neatly proportioned to the overall dimensions of this sporter and is grooved for scope mounts. The bolt knob is flattened on both sides, but not checkered, with the flats, of course, parallel to the barrel. The bolt lift is very low, about 30 degrees, an advantage for low scope mounting; the bolt is fitted with double extractors. An important feature is an excellent, convenient, and efficient bolt stop and release. This detail deserves emphasis, because most rimfire bolt guns utilize the trigger as a bolt stop, which helps us understand why many rimfire bolt guns have heavy, rough, and creepy triggers. However, the Sako's action is smooth and strong, with double-locking lugs. The safety lever is in easy, convenient thumb reach. While the trigger is neatly grooved, it is a bit too narrow to my touch. The rifle's trigger release is crisp and clean, with a very fast lock time.

The machined steel floorplate/trigger-guard is well-designed and neatly inletted. A detachable magazine holds five rounds. The magazine release mechanism is a single lever located just in front of the magazine well. When the release lever is pressed to the rear, the magazine drops out. The magazine itself protrudes slightly below the floorplate, perhaps marring the graceful stock lines. The floorplate is held in place by two bolts, which give the action solid bedding security.

An excellent blueing job covers all metal surfaces except the trigger and bolt cylinder, with a neat, rather dark, non-shiny finish, which to me is the next best thing to non-reflecting camouflage tape or paint on a hunting rifle.

The stock on our test specimen had a pleasing hand-rubbed oil finish on a nice piece of European walnut. Overall, the stock contours are gracefully classic, from fore-end to buttplate, with a finely proportioned cheekpiece. For me, six feet two, the 13-1/4-inch pull is too short, but the length, of course, can easily be increased with spacers, or a recoil pad. There is no fore-end tip or pistol grip cap, which may or may not be a drawback to the individual customers. Personally, I prefer this plain type of stock, as I believe walnut is much more beautiful than plastic, metal, or horn. Quick detachable sling swivel studs are supplied.

The hard plastic, slick finished buttplate is well-proportioned in size, shape, and angle of pitch. Although the average shooter pays little attention to the buttplate, it is an important part to the serious, accuracy-minded shooter. Since the Model 78 is a sporter, it will probably be used for hunting by most owners. In my opinion, the buttplate would be improved by checkering or cutting slots to prevent the stock from slipping on the shooter's shoulder when taking quick shots at game.

The checkering on the pistol grip (14 lines per inch) is sharp and clean. Some fastidious folk may disapprove, however, of the forearm checkering, because the area of each of the four points of the fishtail forearm design is left with one-way lines; these lines are not crossed as they are on the pistol grip.

Factory-supplied metallic sights consist of a hooded ramp (gold bead) front sight and open rear sight. With its grooved receiver, this rifle, of course, should be used with a good scope properly proportioned to the Model 78 and maintaining its graceful overall lines. To my eye a large scope on a trim sporter looks ungainly and top-heavy. However, for accuracy testing, we used a true target scope, a 12X Weaver.

Firing tests were conducted outdoors at 50 yards, with good weather conditions; bright sunshine and light, with shifting wind from six and nine o'clock to three o'clock. Rapid fire functioning proved very reliable; magazine-fed rounds chambered smoothly and the fired cases were extracted efficiently.

The smallest groups were obtained by feeding rounds in singly by hand, as done in small-bore target matches. Magazine-fed round groups were larger, because there is always some bullet deformation using magazine-fed bullets. This slight increase in group size is not noticeable to the tin can or bottle plinker but it should interest the serious target or varmint shooter.

Ammunition used in firing tests were Lapua (made in Finland), WW Mark III, Red Eley, Remington Hi Speed, and CCI Blazer. The largest group measured 2-3/4 inches; smallest group was 1/2 inch. The 2-3/4-inch group was the first one fired. The smallest group obtained was from Red Eley, some of the best .22 target ammo available today. Here is a very accurate lightweight .22 sporter, and its clean, crips trigger is a prime part of its high accuracy.

Firing tests provided some interesting implications for anyone test firing and accurizing new rifles: 1) I checked the scope, a Weaver 12X; scope and mount seemed okay. 2) I checked the bedding screws for proper tension; they too seemed all right. 3) I made a cursory examination of the barrel bedding and here, I found out later, I failed to note a slight warp in the forearm, which helps to explain the large group on the very first target.

After noting the wide dispersion of shots in the very first group, I reexamined the barrel bedding carefully, and detected the warped forearm bedding, where, in the first four inches the left side of the forearm was tightly jammed against the barrel. It is not unusual for a rifle that has been shipped perhaps 6,000 miles and subjected to a wide range of varying weather conditions, including heat, cold, humidity (or lack of humidity), to have a change in stock dimensions. That is something you just have to put up with if you are going to have the luxury of a fine walnut stock. I routinely check bedding on any new rifle when it arrives here in California, whether it has been shipped from Finland or Connecticut.

Removing the stock, I sanded the left side of the barrel groove to free the barrel from its cramped position. Immediately the groups shrank noticeably. I did not sand out the barrel channel to the degree which I would have if I owned the rifle. Many collectors do not alter factory bedding jobs, although all serious shooters do.

This import from Finland joins an ever growing list of fine rimfire sporters. Anyone who is a serious shooter owes it to himself to own at least one fine .22 rimfire in his life. And with that in mind it's worth the time to track down this bolt-action repeater and look it over. If you haven't filled your gun rack with that high-quality .22 yet, this Sako can slip right into place next to your other firearms. It is a fine rifle you'd be proud to show off. It's not inexpensive, carrying a suggested retail price of $575, but then nothing of value ever is.
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Title Annotation:rifle evaluation
Author:McGuire, Tom
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Apr 1, 1984
Previous Article:The M-1895 Nagant revolver.
Next Article:Jana flip-over scope mount.

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