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All Day, All Terrain: SAKO 90 Quest Bolt-Action Rifle Review

SAKO of Finland is known for high quality, highly accurate rifles. The new 90 series of bolt-action rifles continue that tradition. The SAKO 90 Quest is a purpose-built lightweight hunter, reviewed here in .300 Win. Mag.

The Garmin Instinct 2X Solar on my wrist buzzed to indicate we’d just surpassed 1,000 feet of elevation gain since we’d left the truck. That put us around between 9,000 and 10,000 feet, with plenty of rock still above us. We’d started our hike on old fire and logging roads, but we’d long since left the last footprints of other public land hunters behind. We were now breaking brush between game trails as our ridgeline ascent continued. It was third rifle season near Pagosa Springs, Colorado, which is always a risky venture. Post-rut, hunters rely on cold, snowy weather to drive elk herds to lower ground. Despite being mid-November, the southern San Juan mountains still wore the grays and browns of fall, eschewing their winter whites. No snow meant we climbed.

SAKO 90 Quest Colorado hiking
Accessing mountain overlooks and protected valleys required breaking brush and following game trails to ever-higher elevations. (Photo courtesy of Beretta)

The Right Tool

As the weeklong hunt rolled on, day after day, without sign of a legal bull elk, I was at least thankful for my hunting companion. Most days alternated between glassing swathes of agricultural fields or stony hillsides on private concessions, and climbing the local peaks to access protected valleys and wooded draws well off the beaten path. Whether side-hilling over scree and loose stone, or scanning scrub and creek bottoms, I knew my rifle was built for the hunt and capable of bringing a bull to bag if we ever got the chance.

SAKO 90 Quest Colorado Glassing
Hunting the mountains and broken terrain of southern Colorado required patience, persistence, and a lot of time glassing for elk. (Photo courtesy of Beretta)

The Finnish-made SAKO 90 Quest is a purpose-built lightweight hunter designed around the company’s newest rifle action. Though SAKO is no stranger to high-quality bolt-action rifles – they are renowned for them, in fact – the new 90 series is intended to offer a refined experience through pursuit specific firearms. At writing, the SAKO 90 family includes seven models, ranging from the wood-stocked, heavy-barreled Varmint to the carbon-fiber Quest, with several general-purpose hunting rifles in between.

At the core of the 90 series is a bolt-action assembly designed for fast, smooth operation. Broaching operations inside the receiver yield tracks and reliefs that correspond to the size and shape of the bolt’s locking lugs. The machining eliminates contact areas and reduces friction when the bolt is cycled, resulting in quick and easy reloads with less rifle movement and sight picture disruption.

SAKO 90 Quest on white
The SAKO 90 Quest is distinct for its lightweight, adjustable carbon-fiber stock. (Photo courtesy of Beretta)

For manufacturing simplicity, some makers build rifles around a single magnum-rated long action that will handle most chamberings. SAKO, however, opted to design several sizes of model 90 receivers to accommodate different caliber families. The approach cuts down on excess material and weight in the receivers, providing the trimmest profile possible. It also improves the shooting experience and speeds reloads by reducing bolt throw to cartridge-appropriate lengths. Regardless of size, the receivers all have flat bottom portions to allow for sure action bedding with different stock types and materials.

The SAKO 90 bolt has three locking lugs. The tri-lug arrangement continues to grow in popularity for two primary reasons. The first is feeding reliability. With three lugs, when the bolt is cycled one of the lugs points down at 6 o’clock on the bolt face, improving contact with the magazine’s topmost round when pushing it into the chamber. Also, such bolts only need 60 degrees of bolt lift to unlock the action, leaving plenty of space between the bolt handle and even large, high magnification scopes. Like the receiver, the inside of the barrel extension has received extra attention, this time ensuring maximum engagement with the bolt’s locking lugs.

SAKO 90 Quest Lead
(Photo courtesy of Beretta)

For reliable function, a hefty claw extractor is located between two of the lugs on the right, or ejection port side, when the bolt is unlocked. The extractor is opposed by dual plunger-style ejectors to energetically toss spent brass out of the receiver. The ejectors are a proven feature carried over from SAKO’s duty-grade TRG sniper rifles.

Ahead of the receiver, the SAKO 90s get the company’s match-grade cold-hammer-forged barrels. The hammer forging manufacturing process not only provides a smooth, uniform profile, inside and out, it also changes the properties of the steel itself, famously increasing durability and longevity. While many think of the steel as simply being harder, it actually becomes more resistant to heat erosion, too. A barrel’s freebore — the area between the chamber mouth and the barrel’s rifled bore — can suffer from the repeated blasts of firing, and damage in that area can significantly reduce accuracy.  SAKO’s cold-hammer-forged barrels not only offer excellent accuracy, they ensure that the accuracy lasts longer.

SAKO 90 Quest Barrel
The cold-hammer-forged barrel, 24 inches long on the .300 Win. Mag. Quest, is fluted and threaded 5/8-24 to accept suppressors and muzzle devices. A knurled thread protector is included. (Photo courtesy of Beretta)

In the hammer forging process, the barrel’s rifling is applied simultaneously to the shaping and lengthening operations. A mandrel is used which is machined to the specifications of the intended chamber and rifling pattern. The mandrel is inserted into the barrel blank, then the barrel is hammered around it. When the mandrel is removed, the chamber cavity and the rifling’s lands and grooves remain. SAKO 90 barrels are crowned at the muzzle to both protect the rifling and the ensure gases escape in a uniform pattern and do not negatively affect the bullet’s flight.

Another feature of the 90 series rifles is the SAKO firing mechanism, which includes the trigger, sear, and striker assemblies. The in-house design is intended to offer shooters near-imperceptible lock times. Functionally, the term “lock time” refers to the delay between trigger press and “bang.”  More accurately, it is the time between the sear being released and the striker hitting the primer. The benefit of a short lock time is that there is less opportunity for the shooter to unintentionally disrupt the rifle’s alignment with the target. SAKO’s firing mechanism has just 1.3 milliseconds of lock-time. The average “blink of an eye” is around 100 or 150 milliseconds so, yeah, that’s fast. Accuracy is also facilitated by a clean, crisp trigger break achieved by manufacturing assembly components to very tight tolerances. There is no slop or grit in SAKO’s system.

SAKO 90 Quest Adjustable Trigger
The SAKO's trigger is adjustable using the included Torx wrench. Five weight settings are delineated by the hashmarks on the radial control. (Photo courtesy of Beretta)

In addition, the trigger pull weight is user adjustable. Accessed through the triggerguard with an included Torx-head tool, a radial dial offers five selectable pull weights, denoted by hashmarks. Intuitively, the increasing large hashmarks denote incrementally heavier pull weights. At the middle setting, my test rifle’s trigger measured 3 pounds, 5 ounces with a Lyman digital guage.

Finally, the most distinctive feature of the SAKO 90 Quest compared to its stablemates is its carbon fiber stock. SAKO shapes its carbon fiber using a process called resin transfer molding. A very precise mold contains the carbon fiber filaments and resin while vacuum technology is employed to create a lightweight but very stiff multilayer mesh shell. Besides weight savings, quality carbon fiber is also exceptionally temperature resistant and weatherproof — ideal qualities for any equipment expected to perform in austere environments. The stock is completed with a soft internal fill material that absorbs both recoil energy and noise — my Quest did not exhibit the hollow plastic sound of legacy carbon fiber stocks.


SAKO 90 Quest Adjustable Stock
The carbon fiber stock is user adjustable for both length of pull and comb height. (Photo courtesy of Beretta)

The overall form of the stock is a hybrid hunter/target design. Its smooth, graceful aesthetic is balanced by utility-minded additions often seen on competition rifles. The forend offers two sling studs to accommodate both a sling and a bipod. Too, the studs are screwed in to secure metal mounts, so they are easy to swap for aftermarket systems such as the Spartan Precision Equipment magnetic socket-style bipod mount. The pistol grip is quite pronounced and nearly vertical to facilitate a straight rearward trigger pull. Lastly, the raised-comb of the Monte Carlo-style buttstock is adjustable comb height, as is the rubber recoil pad assembly for length of pull. Two square buttons in shallow reliefs unlock the buttpad and cheek riser.

In The Field

SAKO 90 Quest In the field
(Photo courtesy of Beretta)

In preparation for the hunt, I was more than a bit chuffed by the SAKO 90 Quest’s precision. Mind you, I am no great fan of the .300 Win. Mag. cartridge. Sure, it’s big, heavy and well proven the world over – I’ve hunted extensively with it. But it suffers from the same loose chamber tolerances as all legacy cartridge designs and pales in comparison to modern performers such as the 7mm PRC. Color me surprised, then, when three-shot groups from the zeroing bench measured better than .5 MOA with SAKO’s 170-grain Powerhead Blade load, which uses a tipped copper projectile. I’d never handled a .300 Win. Mag. that held that kind of accuracy.

SAKO 90 Quest Range
At the zero range, the SAKO 90 Quest proved to be exceedingly accurate. Shown here with a Steiner H6i 3-18x50mm riflescope and Silencer Central Banish Backcountry suppressor. (Photo courtesy of Beretta)

Topped with a Steiner H6i 3-18x50mm riflescope and suppressed with a Silencer Central Banish Backcountry, I was confident that if our quarry provided the opportunity, the SAKO was ready and able to deliver the shot. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be.

During a week of hunting, the elk never did cooperate, despite the miles trekked. In fact, only saw a handful of cow elk all week, never even a rag-horn, let alone a mature bull. Still, I remained impressed with the SAKO. It was handy, light, and easy to grip despite its smooth appearance. The fit for all the components was tight, the action was smooth, and the whole assembly held up well to some serious abuse. Our hunts took us well off the beaten path, and in transit the rifle served as both a counterweight and anchor during some more technical climbs. By the end, the scope, stock, and metal portions wore the marks of countless encounters with tree limbs, rocks, dirt, and other gear, but remained undamaged.

SAKO 90 Quest Climb
Hunting hard meant finding ways to get into hard-to-access areas. Some of the toughest climbs were both steep and unstable, with loose rock and dirt underfoot. (Photo courtesy of Beretta)

Durability and quality of the SAKO 90 was further evidenced after the hunt. Back at the range for protocol testing, the Quest continued to deliver on accuracy during the 100-yard, five-shot group testing. Compared to three-shot groups, five-shots are far more difficult to cluster precisely because even if the rest is stable and the shooter is consistent, barrel heating between the first and fifth shot can begin to play a role. With SAKO ammunition at 2,790 feet-per-second (fps), the rifle remained a sub-MOA tack driver, with a best five-shot group measuring .73 inches, and a five-group average of .87 inches. With Federal Premium’s 180-grain Nosler Accubond load at 2,928 fps, the best group was .96 inches with a 1.17-inch five-group average. Looking back over 13 years of standardized rifle tests, the SAKO 90 Quest is the most accurate .300 Win. Mag. to come across my bench.

Throughout testing, SAKO's Powerhead Blade ammo offered excellent results. (Photo courtesy of Beretta)

With prices ranging from $2,500 to $4,500, the new SAKO 90 bolt-action rifles are premium products and priced as such. Despite the cost, SAKO’s legacy of performance, attention to detail, enhanced components, and pursuit-specific model designs make the rifles intriguing propositions. Add to that the proven durability and accuracy exhibited by my test rifle and the value proposition continues to improve.

In any event, I’m grateful to have had the lightweight Quest during my Colorado excursion. The altitude, terrain, and animals proved challenging, even grueling at times, but I had total confidence in my equipment.

SAKO 90 Quest Confidence
Despite the difficult and unsuccessful hunt, the author came away impressed by the SAKO 90 Quest — the most accurate .300 Win. Mag. he's tested, to date. (Photo courtesy of Beretta)

SAKO 90 Quest

  • Type: Bolt-action repeating rifle
  • Cartridge: .300 Win. Mag. (tested) 
  • Capacity: 4 rds. (tested)
  • Barrel: 24 in. (tested), 1:10-in. twist; threaded 5/8x24
  • Overall Length: 45 in. 
  • Weight: 6 lbs., 8 oz. 
  • Stock: Carbon fiber; adj. length of pull and comb height
  • Finish: Graphite black Cerakote (metal), carbon fiber (stock)
  • Trigger: SAKO adj.; 3 lb., 5 oz. (tested)
  • Safety: Two-position radial selector
  • Sights: None; integral split Picatinny rail
  • Price: $4,499
  • Manufacturer: SAKO,
  • Importer: Beretta USA,
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