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SAKO S20 Rifle Review

The SAKO S20 is a departure from the company's typical offerings, and with change comes a whole lot of options for the consumer.

SAKO S20 Rifle Review

Photo by Mark Fingar.

They make excellent rifles in Finland, and have for a very long time. Suojeluskuntain Ase-ja Konepaja Oy (SAKO) started making rifles in 1921 for the Finnish Civil Guard and has evolved as a manufacturer of bolt-­action rifles used by the world.

SAKO’s military rifles have been forced to evolve fairly rapidly to keep up with various solicitation efforts around the world. We’ve seen the SAKO TRG morph from a sniper rifle to a modular, multi-­caliber rifle with an adjustable and folding stock.

However, SAKO’s sporting rifles have remained relatively traditional since the 1950s, until now. The company’s new S20 is a departure from the company’s typical offerings, and with change comes a whole lot of options for the consumer.

Photo by Mark Fingar. The S20 uses a three-lug bolt. Both the ejector and extractor are ideally located to keep fired brass away from the windage turret.

A Blending of Bolts

Beretta owns both SAKO and Tikka, two Finnish manufacturers of bolt-­action rifles. Since both companies fall under the same ownership, it’s not surprising the S20 has elements of both companies in its design.

The S20 will come in only one action length, but the rifle will be chambered in several cartridges, from .243 Winchester up to .300 Winchester Magnum. Traditionally, SAKO has manufactured a handful of action lengths that are specific to the cartridge — a short--action for the .243 Win. and a long-­action for the .300 Win. Mag., in this example. But, in the case of the S20, SAKO has dispensed with that complexity in order to save the customer money, and instead taken a page from the Tikka playbook. Tikka has been making high-­quality actions for years, and they are all the same length. Tikka controls how much the bolt travels by putting different bolt stops in the short-­action and long-­action models. While the bolt in a Tikka rifle chambered in .243 Win. will exhibit the usual short-­action travel, the physical dimensions of the action are in line with traditional long-­action designs.

SAKO has done the same thing with the S20. All physical action dimensions will remain constant (long-­action), even when the rifle comes chambered in a short-­action cartridge. Standardizing this component has reduced manufacturing costs, and the savings are passed on to us.

Photo by Mark Fingar. The barreled action attaches to an aluminum spine. There is a steel recoil lug embedded just forward of the magazine well.

Lest the reader think the S20 is just a re-­branded Tikka, that is not the case. The newborn S20 also shares the influence from the vaunted SAKO TRG 22/42 family, one of the most accurate and venerated sniper rifles to see service. It’s been employed by various militaries around the world.

Prior to the S20, the TRG was the only SAKO rifle that had a barreled action bolted to an aluminum spine, to which the forend and buttstock are also attached. The S20, like the TRG, uses three action screws to attach the rifle to the aluminum spine. One screw at either end of the action, like just about every other rifle, and then a third behind the opening for the magazine port.

By using the same action screw arrangement, SAKO is leveraging its expertise. The engineering that made the TRG successful is here, and it is commercially accessible in the S20. This is a big deal for potential customers because it is the first time the technology and testing has been made available in a sporting or competition rifle. Not only that, SAKO also managed to cut the price in half when comparing the TRG to the S20.

Another shared feature between the TRG and the S20 is the recoil lug. In place of a traditional recoil lug that protrudes from the action, the S20 uses a steel insert in the aluminum spine. The steel insert is embedded in the aluminum spine and, when the barreled action drops into the spine, the steel insert protrudes up into a recess within the S20 action.

An improvement the S20 was given over the venerable TRG is an integral scope rail. The Picatinny section of rail is machined directly into the top of the receiver, doing away with those pesky dovetailed rails normally found on SAKO and Tikka rifles. (I know there are some fantastic mounts that attach directly to the dovetail cuts on top of the receiver, but the Picatinny rail offers us more flexibility in both mounts and rings.)

The issue with bolting a rail to any receiver is that they occasionally work loose, especially if the screws attaching the rail weren’t cleaned and dressed in Loctite before installation. The fact that the S20 has the rail integral to the receiver means it will never come loose and the owner never has to worry about it. Thank you, SAKO, for including this feature on the S20.

Photo by Mark Fingar. The five- and 10-round magazines have the same external dimensions, regardless of the cartridges contained inside.

The magazine system is new for the S20; it doesn’t take any of the old SAKO magazines, nor any of the Tikka magazines. The new magazine system looks like an evolution of what both SAKO and Tikka have learned from in the past. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see this magazine system on more rifles going forward. No one invests in the molds required to make these magazines for a single rifle.

The S20 magazine system is comprised of five-­ and 10-­round injection-­molded polymer magazines. Like previous Tikka offerings, the magazines all have the same external dimensions. Magazines for short-action cartridges have a molded internal block set in place to occupy the additional space afforded by the long-action-compatible magazine bodies. As long as the magazines match the bolt throw allowed by the bolt stop, it’ll be easy for SAKO to chamber the S20 in just about any cartridge.

Photo by Mark Fingar.

The cartridge family that benefits most from the SAKO S20 magazine is the short magnum. The S20 comes chambered in 6.5 PRC, a cartridge that has a maximum loaded length of about 2.955 inches.

For comparison purposes, the industry-­standard detachable box magazine, the AICS pattern, allows for 2.96 overall length. This means there is no such thing as seating a bullet long to keep it from consuming powder capacity in the case. Since the 6.5 PRC was designed to keep the 140-­grain ELD-­M bullet’s bearing surface above the case’s neck/shoulder junction, heavier bullets sit further inside the case and consume powder capacity.

Photo by Mark Fingar. Two barrel contours are available, including a lightweight fluted contour (above) and a heavier unfluted contour.

The S20 magazine allows the shooter to keep any and all bullet weights for the 6.5 PRC above the neck-shoulder junction, leaving more room for propellant. Although the S20 isn’t chambered in 7mm Remington Short Action Ultra Magnum, this is the only rifle from a major manufacturer that has a detachable box magazine capable of feeding heavy 7mm bullets without having to seat them deep in the case. (Too bad the S20 will likely never be chambered in that cartridge. It would only require a barrel change from a 6.5 PRC, though.)

Dual Personalities

One of the characteristics of the S20 that makes it appealing is its ability to switch back and forth from hunting rifle to precision rifle. SAKO accomplished this by utilizing a buttstock attachment system very similar to what’s found on the SAKO TRG. Loosen a couple screws and the buttstock slides right off the back of the rifle. SAKO had the presence of mind to make two buttstock types available: one for precision and target rifle shooters, and the other a thumbhole stock for outdoor sportsmen.

Photo by Mark Fingar. The precision-rifle forend is longer and flat on the bottom. The hunter forend is round and more comfortable in the hand.

I suspect most S20 owners will either buy the hunting rifle for hunting or the precision rifle for competition or to ding steel far away. I’m not sure how many S20 customers will buy both buttstock assemblies and forend types for a single rifle, but every customer has that option.

Like the buttstock assemblies, SAKO has a couple different forend types for the S20. Swapping forends is a more involved affair, and I’d recommend reading the manual before grabbing some Allen wrenches and removing screws. The process isn’t complicated, it just isn’t intuitive without the manual. A couple minutes is all it takes to exchange forends.

What will determine the rifle’s primary role is the barrel length and contour selected at purchase. The barrel is not interchangeable, unlike the rest of the rifle. The barrel is classic hammer-­forged SAKO, my all-­time favorite manufacturer of hammer-­forged barrels. I’ve had the opportunity over the years to evaluate a fair number of SAKO rifles and they are always accurate.

The trigger on the S20 is excellent. It adjusts from 2 pounds up to 4 pounds, and has no discernable creep. It’s a great trigger on any rifle, but it’s unusually shooter-­friendly on such a factory rifle.

Photo by Mark Fingar. The thumbhole stock portrays the S20’s European hunting roots, while the precision rifle buttstock has a flat toe and vertical grip.

SAKO rifles have always shot well for me, and the S20 in 6.5 Creedmoor was no different. I tested it with match ammunition and had a best five-shot group at 100 yards measure .58-inch with the Hornady 147-grain ELD-M. I had a three-shot group of the same load go into a single .33-inch hole at 100 yards, as well. The attached table provides additional information generated during testing.

There are some unique features on the SAKO S20 that will likely resonate with consumers, but I find the design similarities between the S20 and the SAKO TRG the most compelling argument for the new rifle. The TRG is one of the most iconic sniper rifles to ever serve, and the S20 is a modular, sporterized version of it. The action is very similar, and the way the action attaches to the aluminum sub-­chassis is nearly identical, not to mention that the barrels for both are made on the same machines. Any hardcore TRG fan will likely be hunting with the S20 this fall.

Photo by Mark Fingar. The adjustable trigger presented no detectable creep during testing. It adjusts from 2 to 4 pounds in pull weight.

SAKO S20 Specs

  • Type: Bolt action
  • Cartridge: 6.5 Creedmoor (tested)
  • Capacity: 5 rds. or 10 rds.
  • Barrel: 24 in., 1:8-­in. twist
  • Overall Length: 45.13 in.
  • Weight: 8 lbs., 4 oz.
  • Stock: Injection-­molded polymer skins over aluminum chassis
  • Grips: Thumbhole and vertical options available
  • Length of Pull: 13.5 in.; adj. w/ inserts
  • Finish: Cerakote
  • Trigger: 2 lbs. to ­4 lbs., adj.
  • Sights: None
  • MSRP: $1,598
  • Manufacturer: SAKO, 301-­283-­2191,

SAKO S20 Performance

Notes: Accuracy is the average of five, five-shot groups at 100 yards. Velocity is the average of five shots recorded by a LabRadar placed adjacent to the muzzle.
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