April 18, 2016
I don't know exactly how Sako became so proficient at building bolt-action rifles, but it has been at it a good long while, so it makes sense that it has learned a few tricks along the way. The company has been in business since 1921 but actually started making rifles back in 1919 for the Finnish Civil Guard.
What many don't know is that in 1928, Sako also started making ammunition. The M27 rifle (a heavily modified Mosin-Nagant) fielded by the Finnish military needed ammo, so the company produced it. The advent of World War II increased Finland's need dramatically, and Sako played a big role in meeting that demand. It produced 275 million rounds between 1939 and 1944.
Sako has been making modern ammunition since 1996 (and even built a new ammo factory), but not much of that ammo wound up here in the States. Fortunately for us, the company is now broadening its ammunition product line and increasing its export to America significantly.
Prior to its recently renewed focus on the American market, Sako updated its already excellent ammo offering in 2013. It took a look at the brass commonly used in cartridge-case production and decided to make it better. By eliminating tin, bismuth and lead from the brass, the company achieved a much smaller grain structure and established a more predictable fatigue cycle. The smaller grains make for more uniform brass, so there is less variation in case weight and volume. Consistent case volume is an important first step in achieving uniform velocities. The other added benefit found with brass having smaller grain structure is that the primer pockets are less likely to leak under high pressure and will stay uniform longer when reloaded.
The company's brass has a fatigue cycle that is more predictable, thanks to elimination of the stray elements listed above. By tightly controlling the brass composition and manufacturing processes, Sako can make cartridge cases last much longer than other mass-produced samples. Ten loadings is common with its cases.
While Sako focused a lot of its effort on improving its already premium brass, it has also tightened its loading techniques and bullet selection. Good brass is the first step toward making great ammunition, but if the powder charges vary or the bullets have inconsistent jackets, the ammunition will never perform well. After spending some time shooting Sako's new 150-grain Super Hammerhead, I can testify that all aspects of its ammunition appear to be top notch.
The Super Hammerhead bullet is a bonded bullet that has a thick cannelure. It has all the markings of a superb hunting bullet. Usually, good hunting bullets don't compare well against match bullets. Match bullets have thin copper jackets that are made to optimize external ballistics, while hunting bullets (and their thicker jackets, cannelures and bonding efforts) focus almost exclusively on terminal effects. The manufacturing processes can cater to one or the other but not both.
When I settled in behind a Tikka T3 to test the load, I thought that if I could keep three rounds under an inch, I'd be thrilled. Much to my surprise, the best five-shot group measured .68 inch and held an average of .77 inch. I normally shoot three-shot groups when testing hunting ammo, but after the first three rounds went into a .3-inch group, I decided to make this test a little more difficult.
Not only are the bullets Sako uses extremely accurate, the powder charges are exceptionally uniform. With five rounds across the chronograph, the Super Hammerhead load showed an average velocity of 2,774 feet-per-second out of a 20-inch barrel, had an extreme spread of 23 fps and had a standard deviation of 10 fps. Those are some of the most consistent velocity numbers I've seen out of any box of factory ammunition, especially the hunting stuff.
We can expect Sako's hunting line to expand and become more widely available in the next couple years. There are also rumblings that a match line of ammunition could appear at some point in the near future. With the performance provided in its hunting lineup, I'm excited to see what its potential match offering will hold.
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