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Gun Review: The All-New Sako 90 Hunting Rifle

The great Finnish gunmaker's new hunting rifle can be had almost any way you want it.

Gun Review: The All-New Sako 90 Hunting Rifle
(Photo Courtesy of Craig Boddington)

A fine mule deer buck—and several almost-as-fine buddies—had hung up for days on a low cedar ridge in the center of a big sagebrush valley. Almost within long range…but not quite. No way to get closer without blowing out the whole neighborhood. I’d been on the trigger a dozen times, dialing the scope up and down, reading the wind, trying to get a buck to stop. Now we were down to the last afternoon, last chance. The buck hung up with does in cedars, past 600 yards. With light starting to go, he came straight to us, working does. Moving constantly. I was on him, lost him, found him again, light fading too fast. He stopped inside 400 yards. By my watch, six minutes legal shooting. Not a chip shot, doable. Except, on this cloudy dusk, I couldn’t tell the buck from a doe from a bushy sagebrush. I was done and it was over. And so ended a fine hunt in Colorado’s third general season.

hunter uses binoculars to glass
(Photo courtesy of Craig Boddington)

Sometimes you just can’t make it happen, it doesn’t matter how badly you want it to. I would never suggest that I deserved that awesome buck. The rifle I was carrying did, a new Sako 90. The three-lug-bolt Sako 75 evolved into the Sako 85, and now evolves further into the Sako 90. It’s not radically different, but a subtle and continuing improvement. The 90 is now the Sako standard, not so much a model as a family, available in a wide variety of configurations and options.

wood stocked rifle next to targets
(Photo courtesy of Craig Boddington)

In the Fall of 2023, I spent a lot of time with the Sako 90. I started early in the season with a Sako Hunter, the walnut-stocked version, stainless steel with integral interface for Optilock rings, in .308 Winchester. The Sako 90 Hunter delivered sub-MOA five-shot groups with most loads I tried. Can you expect more from a brand-new barrel, straight out of the box with factory loads?

Being mostly a traditional walnut-and-steel guy, I really wanted to take it hunting, but it was the Sako 90 Peak I carried in Colorado in November. The Peak is more modern and lightweight, with a carbon-fiber stock, stainless metal and a 23-inch fluted, threaded barrel. The rifle I used in Colorado was in .300 Winchester Magnum. This model carried integral Picatinny/Weaver rail mounts on the receiver rings, making scope mounting so simple.

sighting in rifle at the range
(Photo courtesy of Craig Boddington)

I did manage to take the Sako 90 Peak to my son-in-law’s place near D’Hanis, Texas, where I shot a couple management bucks. So, after carrying it for literally weeks, I can honestly say that it handles as well as it feels. However, to comment on the .300 Win. Mag. on medium-sized Texas whitetails is silly. Of course, it worked just fine.

hunter poses with buck
(Photo courtesy of Craig Boddington)

Since I planned to be with the Beretta folks, the load I checked this rifle with was a Sako-brand 170-grain “Sako Blade-Tipped Expanding Copper,” a homogenous copper alloy bullet with a polymer tip. Over the chronograph, velocity was consistent and Standard Deviation low.

That said, velocity was low. The box suggested 3,018 fps, which makes sense for a 170-grain .300 Win. Mag. Actual velocity was about 2,850 fps, which is down into .30-06 territory. I can’t explain that. New load or an odd lot? Who knows? It doesn’t matter much to any elk or deer—so long as you know—and adjust your data accordingly, which we did.

Rifle laying next to targets and ammo
(Photo courtesy of Craig Boddington)

On the plus side, accuracy with this load was excellent. In my rifle, the average for five, five-shot groups at 100 yards was 1.05 inches, seductively close to a one-MOA average, which is asking an awful lot from an unbroken-in barrel with a random factory load. It was the first time I’ve used this bullet but, on medium-sized Texas whitetails, and understanding the .300 Win. Mag. is too much gun for these deer, it did exactly as anticipated. Entered, exited, showed some expansion, but not extreme damage. It made me sorrier that we didn’t see how it performed on elk or on mule deer at distance.  

A Big Family

The Hunter and Peak variations that I’ve been shooting are just the beginning of the Sako 90 family. The seven siblings are: Adventure, Bavarian, Hunter, Peak, Quest, Quest Ultra and Varmint. All seven are versatile centerfire sporting rifles. However, their design purposes are slightly different, and each may appeal to a slightly different market.

ADVENTURE: The Adventure is the lightweight option, intended for tough hunts under tough conditions. Light carbon-fiber-reinforced fiberglass stock with adjustable comb, 20.1-inch barrel, Picatinny stations on receiver rings. Offered in 14 different chamberings from .22-250 to .300 Win. Mag., including WSMs and a couple of classic European cartridges (6.5x55 and 8x57). Actions are short or standard length, depending on chambering. Weight runs about 6.6 pounds. The stainless action is coated with tungsten Cerakote.

BAVARIAN: To a European hunter, the Bavarian is designed for high-stand hunting—usually driven game—where angles change rapidly. An American would more likely see it as a versatile and traditional hunting rifle with European flair: Rounded, “hog’s rear” comb; Schnabel fore-end; stocked in good walnut with blued steel. The Bavarian has integral Optilock scope bases on the receiver rings, optional iron sights, and the single-set trigger our European counterparts love. The Bavarian is offered in 18 chamberings from .222 Remington to .375 H&H. Action lengths and barrel lengths vary with cartridge from 20.1 to 24.4 inches, so weight varies from seven to more than eight pounds.

HUNTER: The basic medium-weight, walnut-stocked model, with metal in either blue or stainless, offered in 18 chamberings from .22-250 to .375 H&H. Receiver rings have integral Optilock mounts. Action and barrel lengths vary with chamberings, so weight runs from about seven to eight pounds. The test Sako 90 Hunter I used was in .308 Win, with stainless metal, stocked in good walnut featuring well-cut checkering and sculpted cheekpiece with a mild Monte Carlo comb. As the name implies, the Hunter is a general-purpose sporting rifle for folks who like traditional walnut stocks, with chamberings from varmint cartridges all the way up to the biggest bears and buffaloes.

Recommended


PEAK: As the name implies, the Sako 90 Peak is a lightweight mountain rifle with carbon fiber stock, stainless or black stainless metal, with fluted barrel. Chamberings run from .22-250 to .300 Win Mag and include 6.5 PRC and 7mm Rem. Mag. for serious mountain hunters. The receiver rings include integral Picatinny/Weaver rail mounts. The barrel is threaded with a muzzle brake and thread protector supplied. Depending on action, barrel length and chambering weight runs from 5.7 to 6.6 pounds. The stock is American Classic with straight comb. I used a Peak in .300 Win. Mag. with 24.4-inch barrel and found it about the right weight for the power level. Both in the field and on the range, the handling qualities were superb, the textured stock finish offering a sure grip regardless of conditions.

QUEST: The Quest is also a light, serious hunting rifle for tough conditions. The primary difference between Peak and Quest is a different, more modern stock design. Peak is more traditional, while the Quest’s textured carbon fiber stock is adjustable for both height of comb and length of pull, with dual forward sling swivel studs. The Quest will thus appeal to today’s growing group of long-range shooters, using larger scopes that must be mounted higher. Black Cerakote barreled action, offered in 11 chamberings from .22-250 to 9.3x62, including 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5x55, 8x57, and .300 Win. Mag. All Quest rifles have single-set triggers, consistent weight at 6.6 pounds.

QUEST ULTRA: The Quest Ultra is the top of the line, depending on what you are looking for, and the hunting you do. It uses the Quest’s adjustable carbon fiber stock, with textured high-altitude camouflage coating. The biggest difference: Weight is further reduced by carbon fiber reinforced stainless barrel. The barreled action is tungsten Cerakoted. Intended for the most serious high-altitude quests, caliber options are limited to just four: 6.5 CM, .308 Win., 7mm Rem. Mag. and .300 Win Mag.

VARMINT: With Sako’s reputation for accuracy, there had to be a long-range varmint rifle, right? The Sako 90 Varmint, as expected, carries a heavy contour stainless barrel, and is stocked in stable laminate, wide-bottom fore-end, integral Picatinny mounts on receiver rings. Barrel lengths vary from 20.1 to 23.6 inches. Weight varies from 8.1 to 8.6 pounds, depending on chambering and barrel length. All Sako Varmints have single-set triggers. Although variations are legion, the Varmint is offered in seven chamberings: .222, .223, and .22-250 Rem; .243, 6.5 CM, 7mm-08, and .308 Win. With these chamberings, you could probably call this one a “varmint/target” rifle, and you wouldn’t be far off.

The Good Stuff

Depending on your needs, it might take you hours to sort through all the options and variations in this large and diverse family. I’m still wrapping my head around it, and I’ve been shooting Sako 90s off and on for several months. Near as I can figure, the lightweight Adventure is the most basic Sako 90, MSRP starting at $2,699. That’s a chunk of change, but the Sako 90 is a major chunk of rifle. Rather than one size fits all seasons and reasons, the Sako 90 family is amazingly and uniquely diversified to fit a wide variety of specific hunting and rifle shooting needs.

hunter resting rifle on shooting bags
(Photo courtesy of Craig Boddington)

In common, all Sako 90s start with broached receivers, smooth and true. The three-lug bolt reduces bolt lift and is fast. Barrels are cold hammer-forged. We all have our favorite methods and barrel makers. My opinion is that hammer-forging is the most consistent method, tending to produce barrels that need little break-in, shoot well, and tend to have long barrel life. Barrels are free-floated all the way to the receiver, with tight clearances.

dollar bill demonstrating barrel clearance
(Photo courtesy of Craig Boddington)

The Sako 90 firing mechanism has extremely fast lock time, rated at 1.3 milliseconds. I have no way to measure that, so can’t confirm. I can attest that the trigger mechanism is crisp, clean, and fast, and perhaps the most easily adjusted trigger I have ever encountered. Just ahead of the trigger, within the trigger guard, is a five-position dial, allowing the trigger pull to be set to desired weight with a hex wrench (supplied), inserted through a hole in the forward portion of the trigger guard. The Sako 90 trigger can also adjust for angle, depending on size of hand, but that adjustment requires removing the action from the stock.

testing trigger pull
(Photo courtesy of Craig Boddington)

I’m not crazy about detachable magazines, but the flush-mounted Sako 90 magazine works, and generally has increased capacity over the norm. With standard cartridges, five rounds; with belted magnums, four. The magazine release is ahead of the magazine and well-protected. I found it practical to load through the top if desired, not possible with all detachable magazines.

close up of two position safety
(Photo courtesy of Craig Boddington)

The two-position safety locks bolt, trigger and firing pin when engaged. In order to unload through the magazine and chamber, there’s a small, square button ahead of the safety. Engage that and the bolt is unlocked, but the safety remains engaged. The Sako 90 has no exposed cocking piece. However, when the mainspring is cocked, a small tab with red square protrudes rearward under the bolt shroud, indicating the rifle is cocked. Similarly, when the safety is forward in the fire position, a red circle is visible as a reminder.

There’s nothing new about Sako’s great bolt-actions, but there’s a lot to take in with the large Sako 90 family. I enjoyed hunting with it, but wish I’d fed it more game. The best news for me: The Sako 90 will be available in left-hand action. I’m returning the right-handed test rifles, but I suspect there will be a Sako 90 in my future. Just need to figure out which one it should be. Right now, I haven’t a clue! 




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