Special Guns Episode 17 – Sako Q&A

Special Guns with Roger Rule

Episode 17 – Sako Deluxe Forester and Finnwolf – A Pair of 243s


PART 1  {Virginia and Roger sitting behind table}

VIRGINIA: My name is Virginia Hall and I’m here today to introduce you to Roger Rule, author of The Rifleman’s Rifle, and host of this series of episodes, Special Guns with Roger Rule.

ROGER: Thank you, Virginia, welcome, …and welcome viewers to my 17th Episode of Special Guns with Roger Rule.

VIRGINIA: What do we have today?

ROGER:   In the last few episodes, we have been featuring mostly the evolution and the revolution of shotguns.  And, in a few of my episodes, we had some intermittent look-sees at the important bolt action rifles that have influenced the custom rifle industry: the Mausers, the Mannlicher-Schoenauers, the Magnum Mausers, and the most improved Mauser in the way of the Winchester pre-64 Model 70.

As this premier Model 70 was being phased out in 1963, there was a newcomer entering the field from Finland that American riflemen were just becoming aware of.  I’m speaking of Sako, Ltd.  Over the years, I’ve learned the correct Finnish pronunciation is SAKO not Sayco like the watch.  Whether you know how to pronounce it or not, you’ll run into more folks that say Sayco than those who say SAKO, and I am one, having called them that for too many years.

At the time, I lived in Kansas City Missouri during all of this.  There was a large gun dealer downtown, called C.&R. Specialty.  As memory serves me, it was a big dealer that had distributor deals with Browning, Weatherby, Winchester and Sako… among others.  They had a large inventory of new and used handguns as well. They also had a large stock of used long guns.

I first went in there looking for a pre-64 Model 70.

VIRGINIA: When was that?

ROGER: That was in 1967, a wee bit before your time.  I would soon learn that Missouri, being a state made up of woods and rivers and streams and tree-covered hills, did not provide the terrain for long range hunting, which was the major market of the Model 70.

Later, I would find that pre-64 Model 70s were much more plentiful out west where there were large open vistas.

Back to C&R Specialty:  I got to know one of the owners, maybe just a salesman, but he handled himself with ownership airs. His name was Bill.  In a short time, I purchased four handguns and two shotguns from him, so our friendship was getting cemented.

VIRGINIA: I’m sure.

ROGER: One Saturday when I was in, Bill remembered that I wanted an “OLD” Model 70, and he hailed me over and from below the counter, he pulled out a pre-64 Model 70 barrel in .257 Roberts dated in the late ‘40s just to show me.  I complained I had not been able to find a pre-64 Model 70 rifle and told him I was specifically looking for one in .270 Win.  He turned around and from a rack behind him pulled down a Sako Finnbear in .270 Win. in standard grade.  He said, “Have you seen these?  He went on to tell me that for everyone he had sold, he had reports back that they were tack drivers.

While the gun had some lines that were contemporary, such as the squared forend and flat panels of checkering on the forend, the rest of the shape of the stock was very pleasing to my tastes, pistol grip shape, especially the Monte Carlo comb and how the cheekpiece just looked sculptured into it.  The one I was looking at had a nice pistol grip cap.

But it was the dark chocolate color of the wood and the obvious genuine hand -checkering that really set the stock off, making those post-63 Model 70s I had been looking at, just look all that much more sick.

And then there was the metal, the Sako had an incredibly high-polished blue that looked great. When Bill pointed out the double square bridge receiver and the dovetails already integral to the receiver for mounting a scope or receiver sight, my attention was drawn to how well the flat tops of the double square bridges were finished. Also, the flat top of the breech bolt sleeve and the front sight ramp matched these.  While they were polished and blued, they appeared to be checkered steel to break up sight glare, and that touch added some real class to the gun. I was impressed.

Bill then showed me a deluxe version and at first glance, it looked like a Browning Safari Medallion or a Weatherby.  I told him those guns looked too gaudy for my tastes, I liked the first one I was still holding.

VIRGINIA: Did you buy that rifle?

ROGER:  I did. I ended up buying that rifle, and it did shoot factory ammo like a tack driver.  Looking back, I think I was not so adverse to the Deluxe and the Weatherbys and the high-end Brownings, it may have been more a matter of pocketbook as I knew those guns and the Deluxe Sako were much more expensive. I could justify my opinion because the standard version of the Sako Finnbear resembled the Winchester Model 70 standard rifle in many ways; and probably more so than any other gun on the market at the time.

About six months later, when I was again in C&R Specialty, this time buying an Itaca SKB side-by-side 20 gauge from Bill; as soon as the deal closed, he said, “I’ve got something to show you.”  He moved around the U-shaped counter to where the rifles were, I was still in the shotgun area, and he brought back another of what appeared to be a Sako Finnbear standard rifle.  At first I was perplexed as to why he’d be showing me another gun like the one I had just purchased, but as he got closer, I could see it was something different.

Bill said, “We got these in just after the last time you were here.” Then he shucked the lever, opening and closing the action, and laid the rifle down on the gun pad on the counter in front of me.  It looked a little bit like a Winchester Model 88 lever action but with a Sako Finnbear standard grade stock.

Bill added: “Sako calls this the Finnwolf; it is the finest lever action anyone has ever made.  He said it looks like a Winchester 88, but it’s all steel and it’s much smoother with its rack and pinion action.”

I can’t remember, but I don’t think I really said anything.  I was just amazed when he then picked it up, kissed the rifle and added: “You’ll never beat this combination of smoothness and accuracy.”

VIRGINIA: Kissed it!

ROGER: Yep, a scene you don’t forget. I was not in the market for another rifle at the time, but I’ll never forget that introduction to the Finnwolf.

Today, we are going to be looking at two guns instead of one.  I have located two great examples for this episode.

But, first let’s look at Sako, the maker, and see how they merit inclusion into Special Guns with Roger Rule.



PART 2. Audio-only

Unlike most gunmakers, history doesn’t point to any one man responsible for Sako’s formation.  We find that in 1919, when Finland declared its independence from the Russian Empire, the Civil Guard Gun Works set up business in Helsinki, in a former brewery to continue repairing private arms and the Russian military rifles being used for Finnish Service. The rifle repair shop became financially independent of the civil guard in 1921.  In June, 1927, they moved from Helsinki to an ammunition factory in Riihimaki (Rig-a-ma-KEE) and commenced making pistol and submachine gun cartridges.  A few years later, in the 1930s, they formerly reorganized as Sako.

In 1942, they developed a little bolt action rifle and a little round for it, called the 7×33 Sako, which was basically a 9mm Parabellum cartridge lengthened and necked down to 7mm. Production was interrupted by WWII. After the war, the improved rifle, then referred to as the L46, went into production.  The cartridge was well-suited for black grouse and capercaille hunting, a popular sport in Finland, Sweden and Norway. Later, this gun would become L461 and marketed as the Vixen and was introduced to America late in 1949 and offered in 22 Hornet and .218 Bee.  In 1950, .222 Rem. was added, and later, .222 Rem Mag. and .223 Rem. In the early ‘70s, rifles with this action were renamed A1.

In 1951, for larger calibers, Sako built some rifles using FN Mauser actions.

In 1957, Sako launched a longer action version of their Vixen, and called it the L57, eventually becoming the L579 marketed as the Forester… this would become what everyone refers to as their intermediate action size and it was offered in America in .244 Rem., .243 Win., and .308 Win.  The .244 Rem. was soon dropped and the .22-250 Rem. was added. In the early ‘70s, rifles with this action were renamed A2.

In 1961, Sako introduced a longer action yet, for long cartridges such as the .30-06, .270 etc. and numbered it the L61R, marketed as the Finnbear. This action is called their long action, but it is the same size as the Mauser 98 standard action or the Winchester Model 70.  With the introduction of the Finnbear, Sako discontinued building rifles with the FN action.  In America, Sako would eventually offer the new Finnbear in .25-06 Rem., 264 Win. Mag, .270 Win., 7mm Rem. Mag., .30-06, 300 Win. Mag, 338 Win. Mag and .375 H&H Mag. In the early ‘70s, rifles with this action were renamed A3.

PART 3 {Roger and Virginia sitting at the table, Adjust camera for standing}Quotes p.8

All three of these original Sako actions were based on a Mauser design, with double square bridge receivers that were dovetailed to accept Sako scope rings or special Sako receiver sights designed to slide onto the tapered dovetails.  This was a first big improvement in bolt action rifles separating them from all other makers.

But, probably more importantly, since they had been working with small cartridges, the rifles they manufactured, were made for the correct length of bolt throw for the length of the cartridges; and consequently, Sako ended up with three action sizes based on families of cartridge lengths.  Their short action was a first.

Some folks give Mauser credit for the first short action, which Mauser made for a short time before World War II. It was called the Kurz action, meaning short, but it was actually an intermediate length action intended for the same cartridge sizes as Sako’s intermediate sized action, the Forester.   Mauser had introduced the Kurz for three cartridges: .250-3000 (or Savage 250), 6.5x54K, and 8x51K.

So it was really Sako that was the first, to develop a truly short action along with three different action lengths based on different cartridge lengths and eventually produced all of them commercially at the same time.  And, Sako was the first to build these on double square bridge actions with the integral scope ring dovetails, a big innovation at the time when scope sights were becoming the norm.

And, since Sako started with the smaller action, instead of using the big Mauser 98 extractor, they opted for a revised version of Mauser’s smaller extractor from Paul Mauser’s model of 1884. It worked very well, and they continued using this design for their intermediate and long actions.  However, it is this one feature that caused the Sako rifles to be push-feed instead of control-feed, a concept that wasn’t that understood by the shooting fraternity until so much noise was made about it following the discontinuation of the control-fed Winchester Model 70 and Browning High Power.

But, returning to the Sako timeline, it was in 1962 that Sako brought out the lever action rifle, called the Finnwolf, chambered for.243 Win and.308 Win.  While many owners who used one of these, thought these were great rifles, and I think so as well, the production of it and the Winchester Model 88 that resembled it in outward appearance, were both halted by 1974.

Looking back at those two rifles now, it has been theorized that they looked too much like bolt action rifles, which were all being scoped by then, and those who preferred the lever action remained loyal to the old style rifle with hammers that used open sights and looked like the traditional lever action rifle.  This would seem to be borne out and supported by the voluminous amount of sales of imported replicas of old Henrys and Winchesters for the last four decades.  But, between the Sako Finnwolf and the Winchester 88, there was never any doubt that the Sako was well made, and there was an outcry by the Sako Collector’s Association to bring back the Finnwolf.  So, in 1982, in answer, Sako produced another 175 Finnwolf rifles for the Collector’s Association. This time, made without a cheekpiece, these would accommodate either right or left hand shooters.

VIRGINIA: And when was that when you saw the first one?

ROGER: It was in 1968 when Bill at C&R Specialty introduced me to the Finnwolf.

VIRGINIA: And is Sako still in business?

ROGER: In 2000, Sako Ltd. was purchased by Beretta Holding of Italy and all currently produced Sakos are imported by Beretta USA Corp., located in Accokeek (Ac-co-KEEK), MD. The current production is not within the scope of our message here today.

But for our purpose of viewing special guns, Sako Ltd. stands in there with its own place in the industry of bolt action rifles because of their three action lengths and because of their integral tapered-dovetail scope mount bases built into their double square bridge flattop receivers.  And the fact that they were well-crafted and well-finished and very accurate gives Sako their own place in the 20th Century history of rifles.  It couldn’t be said any better than the authors of Bolt Action Rifles by Frank De Haas and Dr. Wayne van Zwoll, when they wrote: (quote)

“The modern Sako action has no peer. The Sako action is synonymous with high-quality material and workmanship.”(close quote)

So, in the early years, Sako built these bolt actions with three action lengths in four different styles, for a matrix of 12 configurations. You could get a Vixon, Forester, or Finnbear, in a standard rifle called the Sporter, an upgrade version called the Deluxe, a varmint rifle style called the Heavy Barrel, or a 20” barrel variation with a full length stock, called the Mannlicher Carbine.

Today, here are the two rifles we have to review. One is a Forester Deluxe Model, the upgrade bolt action rifle with an intermediate length action and a 24” barrel.

The stock shape and finish was very similar for the Sporter, the Heavy Barrel, and the Mannlicher Carbine.  The Deluxe, on the other hand, had quite a different stock in the way it was adorned and finished.  For brevity today, I will be referring to the standard stock, and that includes all three of the styles that are not the Deluxe.  When I say standard stock, I will be referring to the Sporter, the Heavy Barrel and the Mannlicher Carbine, unless I need to make an exception specifically for one of these three.

And for our second rifle, since I have here a Deluxe today, curiously enough, I have also brought one of the rare Finnwolf lever action rifles.

VIRGINIA: That’s like the one the guy kissed?

ROGER: Yes, I’ve included it not only because the Finnwolf is, in itself, a curiosity, but also it shows the type of wood and finish in color and shape, that you’d see on the standard stock on the Vixen, Forester and Finnbear in their Sporter, Heavy Barrel and Mannlicher Carbine styles.  This allows me to use a minimum of two guns to briefly cover the field.

Both of these examples are in .243 Winchester caliber.  And, it is this Deluxe version of the Forester, which is the one that I thought was too costly back in the ‘60s when I first encountered Sako.   Let’s look at the Deluxe Forester first. Sako used the number code, L579, to designate the intermediate action.

{Stand up, Pick up the Deluxe}

Checking for safety, I open the bolt.  Let’s remove the bolt.  The bolt release is a button that you press in while pulling the bolt out, and is a nifty mechanism here.

The bolt very much resembles a Mauser as it is one-piece; in fact, the bolt handle is an integral part of the bolt.  It has the dual opposed locking lugs up front.  We can see the ejector slot through the left front lug, and the small extractor alongside the right front lug. Moving down the bolt, here is the guide rib strip that prevents the bolt from binding and affords a very smooth operation of the bolt. Behind the rib, is the bolt handle.  It is dished out for scope clearance and the solid knob has a band of checkered steel for better grasping. Behind the bolt handle is the bolt sleeve and behind that is the cocking piece.

A notch cut into the receiver tang, forms the third locking lug, a safety lug.

Although the Sako action is a push-feed mechanism, it is one of the few exceptions that, designed with a small extractor by Mauser for the Model 84, the bolt will hold onto the cartridge if the cartridge is inserted into the bolt face, by hand.  When feeding the cartridges from the magazine, like other push feeds, it will send the cartridge forward to the chamber, but if stopped short and pulled back, the cartridge will not come with it, as it would with rifles using the Mauser 98 extractor.  So when I show the demonstration of the bolt face holding the cartridge, this one actually does, yet the feed is push feed rather than control feed.

{Demonstrate the cartridge being held, then show how it doesn’t hold it when the bolt is moved forward and reversed}

Try that with your Mauser 98 extractors and the cartridge will come back.

This rifle has the original Sako scope rings and can be removed by simply using thumb and finger pressure to turn the very large knobs that are checkered on their rims for grasping or slotted to turn easily with a coin.

Once the scope and rings are removed, we clearly see the nicely finished flats along the top of the rifle from the bolt sleeve, the two receiver rings and the front sight ramp.

{Show them to Virginia}

VIRGINIA: Those do look like high quality.

ROGER: To describe them as flat and matted does not describe the look.  Because of their highly polished and blued finish, the matting nearly appears as if checkered steel and adds elegance to the overall look of these rifles. It is functional as well, as it deflects light and prevents glare for the shooter using the open sights.  And in this case, this rifle was ordered with Sako’s optional aperture sight that fits the dovetail receiver.

{Demonstrate, install aperture sight and remove}

But back to how they mitigated the glare, while there are other ways to do that, i.e. using a sandblast finish, Sako’s method here gives the rifle a much richer and quality look.

Also, we notice that these male dovetailed flats are tapered to prevent travel of the scope rings from recoil and the rear base is further notched to completely lock up the rear ring which has a matching lug that fits the notch.

The under-metal is machined steel and has a one piece trigger guard with a hinged floorplate with center bow release.  This varied a bit; some of the actions had a button release in front of the trigger guard like a Model 70. The trigger is serrated. The early actions were fitted with a trigger and sear which nearly duplicated the Winchester Model 70 system.  The safety, however, is only a two-position thumb switch located behind the bolt on the right side of the action, not a three-position safety.

The metal work on both the standard rifle and the Deluxe had the same high polished blue, had the same matted receiver flats, and the same checkered bolt knob. The only difference in the metal is that on the Deluxe, there is a floorplate depiction that represented its model name (Vixen, Forester or Finnbear).  And these engravings were silver or gold filled and their depictions were revised from time to time.  The standard rifle came with front sight ramp with a dovetail inletted silver bead and a sight hood or sight protector.  The typical Deluxe was without sights unless special ordered.  Selling it without sights was in vogue at the time and was matched by Weatherby and Browning in their higher grades.  However, the one I have here today has the front sight assembly ordered with Sako’s proprietary detachable aperture sight that I just demonstrated, a fixture that is highly polished and blued and matches the rifle well.

For inscriptions: On the right side of the barrel it reads, “Bofors Steel”; on the left side of the barrel is “Forester, Made in Finland” followed by the Finnish proof mark; on the top of the barrel at the chamber end, it reads: :Sako Cal 243”; on the left side of the receiver, it reads “L579 No. 26563” and that is followed by the Finnish proof mark.  The floorplate is engraved with two deer surrounded by woods…the engraving is not high quality; it is merely a representation to reflect the model name.

So it is the stock on the Deluxe that is the main difference from the other three styles.  The shape of the stock has a Monte Carlo fluted comb with a full-formed cheekpiece with nice lines that are parallel with the lines of the stock.  The cheekpiece is not beaded. The pistol grip is long and extends below the stock and the forend is not rounded but squared off with two distinct sides and ends with a reverse angle forend tip.  The wood on the Deluxe was always lighter in color overall, called Scandinavian walnut, but never dark brown like the other three.  Also, for the Deluxe, they tended to have more figure in the grain than that used for the other styles, and if you look close at this one, you can see some fiddle-back on both sides of the stock with some nice dark streaking on the upper right side.

In going along with the trends set by Weatherby and Browning higher grades, Sako included a rosewood forend tip set on an angle, and a rosewood pistol grip cap.

VIRGINIA: I like those rosewood treatments.

ROGER: The rosewood adornments are set off with white spacers. The pistol grip cap is inlayed with a caricature of a tree, representing the model name, Forester. The inlay is actually wood from the Holly tree. The butt was finished with a proprietary recoil pad with a webbed pattern, sometimes set off with white spacer. And finally, the stock is fitted with two slings swivels.

The checkering patterns on the Deluxe changed over time, but early ones had a skipline checkering, generous on the grip in two panels and not the traditional point pattern, but given a new shape designed by Sako.  The forend checkering was also skipline checkering in two flat panels on the sides and arranged in parallelogram shapes that had parallel angles with the angle of the forend tip. Skipline checkering is a checkering pattern, just as its name implies, whereby the checkerer skips two lines at every two-line position and the end result leaves pleasant little diamond shapes scattered about in the pattern.

VIRGINIA: I think making those diamonds that way looks clever.

ROGER: You see it often on high-end German and Austrian guns.

The borders are single border and deep, almost looking mullered, but are actually the only unsightly feature of the Deluxe in my opinion.

Now, let’s look at the Finnwolf.

{ Set Deluxe in holders, pick up the Finnwolf}

First, check to see that it is unloaded and safe. {Shuck action} Sako used the number VL63 to identify the Finnwolf action.  The serial number on this one is 1159.  In terms of its stock, as I said, one of the reasons I included this gun today is to give you the idea of how the stocks of the other three styles look on the bolt action rifles. It’s that close. The shape of the stock has a fluted Monte Carlo comb with a full-formed cheekpiece. The radius of the pistol grip here is about the same as those on the bolt actions styles like this.  And like the standard bolt actions and the Deluxe, the forend is squared, not rounded like traditional forend.  The squared shape allows for two sides and it is truncated with a reverse angle, just like the standard bolt action rifle and the Deluxe.

Where the standard stock really differed from the Deluxe are: First, that the walnut is generally very dark chocolate brown just like this one and there is no forend tip.  Second, on the Finnwolf here, the pistol grip is not capped; however, on the standard stocks for the bolt actions, you’ll find both the uncapped variation like this, and some have a black hard rubber grip cap offset with a white spacer.  Third, the buttplate is a Sako proprietary composition plate with the white line spacer, not a recoil pad.

Still considering differences, the checkering on the standard stocks is again like this Finnwolf, which has two panels of point pattern checkering on the two sides of the forend and two panels of point pattern checkering on the pistol grip.  Unlike the Deluxe, the standard bolt action rifles and the Finnwolf do not have skipline checkering.  All borders here are double borders and actually look better to me, than the checkering borders on the Deluxe.  This is not machine-checkering; this is hand-checkering and executed at 20 lines per inch.

And like the Deluxe, this one and the standard stock were accessorized with two sling swivels.

Incidentally, for this Finnwolf, the metal is finished similar to the bolt actions, with all steel and is highly polished blue, no aluminum.  The front sight here is set up the same as the standard bolt action with a matted ramp and a sight hood or protector. The receiver is steel, as is the bottom metal and the operating lever. The magazine box appears to be made from stamped metal but remains of high quality and the bottom of the magazine box which is exposed when inserted, is of such a high quality, that it doesn’t appear to be a stamping and its bluing while not quite as highly polished, goes well and doesn’t detract from the other highly polished blue components.

For inscriptions: On top of the chamber end of the barrel, it reads: “SAKO  Cal 243”; on the right side of the barrel we see “Bofors Steel”; on the left side of the barrel we see “FINNWOLF, MADE IN FINLAND” followed by the Finnish proof mark; and on the left side of the receiver, it reads: “VL63  No. 1159” followed by a Finnish proof mark.

Working the action is very smooth.

{Shuck it}  When closing, you can feel a very positive lock up. The trigger is serrated and the safety is located conveniently behind the trigger.  The 4-shot magazine box disengages easily when pressing the magazine release button in front of the magazine conveniently accessed by the special stock cutout.

{Remove magazine, replace magazine}

The magazine inserts fully and tight up against the magazine well.

{Set the Finnwolf in holders, sit down}     

Addressing the mechanics, I am not opening up this gun.  I have seen blogs that try to compare the Sako Finnwolf with the Winchester Model 88.  I do not have a Winchester Model 88 here to compare, but of the ones I’ve seen over the years, they are not finished on the outside nearly as well as the Finnwolf.  I was told their receiver is aluminum not steel, but I cannot attest to that.  One blogger, trying to convince everyone his Model 88 was better than the Finnwolf, made a comment that the Finnwolf has some plastic parts where the Model 88 does not.  I can tell you that guy was an idiot.

VIRGINIA: Some bloggers will just say anything!

ROGER:  Well, I can attest that there are no plastic parts.  Another blogger who read that and who claimed to own both guns, responded, “not only are there no plastic parts, but in fact, the internal parts of Finnwolf are machined steel and the internal parts of the Model 88 are stamped.”  I’m a Winchester man, as most of you know, so I am not here to knock the Model 88, it was a successful rifle and is still popular today among its devout followers.

But, for the interior of the two guns, even if you don’t have both of them to compare, just search for the exploded parts views of these and you’ll be amazed at the differences that you can see. The Finnwolf operates with a right and left rack and pinion gear system.  The exploded parts show this and label them.  The Winchester M88 does not have a rack and pinion system.  I read in the blogs where owners who have had both guns, give the edge to the Finnwolf for its smoothness of operation.

The rack and pinion design plus the machined steel components in a steel machined receiver, would easily account for this. The racks on Sako’s exploded parts list are part number 419, 2 ea. (both left and right are the same).  The pinions on Sako’s exploded parts list are part number 401 for the left pinion, and part number 402 for the right.

Looking at the Winchester Model 88 exploded views and parts list, there are no rack and pinion gears and all operating movement is handled with springs and levers and is a mechanical design; albeit, it must have been a good design to account for the success of that rifle and for the fervor that its owners still hold for it.

It’s just a sad situation that both these rifles were taken off the market in the same year, 1974, and yet both of them still seem to have ardent followers.

But back to these two guns here today, they represent the best of the best of Sako, whose bolt actions were used by Browning for their Belgium-made High Powers suited to medium length cartridges for their Safari, Medallion and Olympian grades, by Colt for its various grades of Coltsman, and even by John Rigby of London when they needed to build a rifle with an intermediate or short action.

Sako definitely holds a special place among rifle makers in the 20th Century and in the history of the worldwide gun industry.

That’s it for today, thank you Virginia, and thank you viewers for watching, and if you enjoyed this episode, I invite you to subscribe to my YouTube channel and share with others.  And, I hope you join us next week for another episode of Special Guns with Roger Rule.