Iâ€™ve always liked Sakos. I grew up admiring the .222 Vixen, then the Finnbear and Forester, long- and short-action bolt actions with exquisitely finished metal. The stocks were a touch angular for my taste, their finish on the glittery side. But the actions ran with smooth precision.
The Finnish-built Sakos cost more than Winchesterâ€™s Model 70 in those days. So I saw few of them afield. And those at gun shows were always just beyond my reach. A couple of months ago I chanced upon a new Model 85 Kodiak. Generations removed from the Sakos of my youth, it had features clearly adopted for economy of manufacture.
The Kodiak has the bearing of a dangerous-game rifle, with a 21-inch barrel that wears useful iron sights and a barrel-band swivel stud just ahead of the forend tip, so you can indeed use a shooting sling. The hooded front bead is big and white and concave. It wonâ€™t reflect light off-center and is screw-adjustable for elevation. The shallow V-notch rear is windage-adjustable and perched on a contoured block. The sights are properly high enough to match the sightline established by the stockâ€™s comb.
The Model 85 action features a three-lug bolt and a short, side-mounted claw extractor. The bolt body is round, with no anti-bind device. It runs with some rattle but easily and without any tendency to hang up. Thereâ€™s no gas port in bolt or receiver, but a tapered shroud protects your eyes in the unlikely event of a gas leak. A stem projects in a tang slot below the shroud. Its red dot serves as a cocking indicator.
The left-hand receiver wall is flattened outside and angled. Flush-fitting crossbolts strengthen the stock at either end of the sheet-steel magazine box. A forward magazine release drops the box conveniently into your hand. But the magazine must be pressed upward a bit to release the tab. This clever feature was engineered to prevent accidental magazine drops in the field. The magazine, by the way, fits flush and holds four roundsâ€”.338 Winchester or .375 H&H. And it can be loaded easily while in the rifle!
The 85â€™s sliding thumb safety has only two detents, but a tab in front of it lets you cycle the bolt with the safety on. Just press the tab and lift the handle. The trigger on mine broke cleanly at 3.0 pounds right out of the box, so I saw no need to adjust it. Unlike many rifles now, Sakos are shipped with the assumption that youâ€™ll shoot better if you donâ€™t have to fight the trigger.
The conservative profile of the Kodiakâ€™s gray laminate stock makes it comfortable to cheek on a straight. The buttstock, capped by a half-inch black pad, has a long grip and deep flutes at the comb noseâ€”just what my big hands like. The tapered forend is slender enough for quick pointing, filling just enough of your palm for control during recoil. Checkering panels at grip and forend have cleanly cutâ€”but not sharpâ€”diamonds. Thereâ€™s a plug where the front swivel would be, so you can install one there if you prefer it to a barrel-band stud. Stock-to-metal fit is very good everywhere. The barrel floats but does not wallow in a trough with obnoxious gaps. This rifle is fitted with care.
All metal parts are of stainless steel, claims Sako. I always assume that means the major metal parts, as thereâ€™s always some little contracted component that isnâ€™t stainless. The front sight on this rifle, for example. Regardless, it is by all measures a stainless rifle, ideally suited to foul-weather hunting and for extended carry in sweaty hands. Speaking of carry, the Kodiak has what I think is perfect balance, both in the hand and at the shoulder. The relatively short barrel is beefy enough to put the weight just shy of eight pounds.
Of course, accuracy matters, even in rifles for use on game the size of commercial refrigerators. So I took the Sako 85 to the range after mounting a Bushnell 4200 Elite 2.5-10X on it. The rifle functioned, as expected, without a hitch. When I began to bang out groups in front of the chronograph, I thought for a moment Iâ€™d picked up a varmint rifle. One series of shots left me staring at a single hole that looked so round I had to believe the other bullets had strayed to distant black rings. Not so. The rest of the target face was clean, and a close look showed where all three bullets had punched through. An anomaly? Sure. I canâ€™t shoot that well. But any 0.2-inch group certainly speaks well of the rifle and load (Federal 260-grain Nosler AccuBonds).
Like the Finnbears and Foresters of my youth, the Sako 85 Kodiak is a little beyond my reach. On the other hand, I should have bought a truckload of those early Sakos. So Iâ€™ll not make that mistake again.