Go your own way
Sako S20 a bit of a trailblazer, writes Mark van den Boogaart
On receiving a call from the guys at On Target Sporting Arms I was quick off my mark to pick up a new arrival from Beretta Australia in the shape of the Sako S20 with Steiner Predator 8 scope along with a couple of boxes of Sako 180-grain ammo in .300 Win Mag. My immediate impression was the S20 really wasn’t a Sako as I know them. To explain, my past experiences have been of the Models 75 and 85, classic timber hunting rifles, but on the counter was a fundamental departure from timber and blued metal finishes.
Even models like the Finnlight and Carbon Wolf which make use of modern materials still follow some of the more traditional Sako lines in their builds but, as with the Sako TRG series, the S20 goes its own way. The other instantly noticeable characteristic is the S20 is all about a long-range view of the world. This isn’t a short barrel walkaround rifle, the ubiquitous scrub gun or its more modern interaction, the Scout rifle. No, the S20 wants to reach out from a long way back.
In support of its departure from the traditional Sako aesthetic the S20 is built differently. Available in a variety of calibres including .243 Win, 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC, .270 Win, .308 Win, .30-06 Springfield, 7mm Rem Mag and .300 Win Mag, the S20 draws on a standardised manufacturing approach used primarily by Tikka. At the same time it includes features previously associated with the Sako TRG range, like a dedicated chassis system, so this combination of build philosophies offers something unique from the Finnish manufacturer.
I think this was a clever move by Sako as with the S20 you have a recreational version of the TRG platform for about half the retail price, yet unlike the TRG the S20 is modular, allowing you to buy a rifle you can change to suit your intended purpose. With the S20 you can shoot over long distances, be that in a hunting or precision rifle setting, Victorian Highlands sambar, New Zealand chamois, long-range precision rifle competition, the choice is yours. And yes, if you want to buy the hunting and precision rifle set-ups you can do both.
As supplied from Beretta Australia the rifle is a Sako S20 finished in Strata timber pattern, chambered in .300 Win Mag and topped with the superb Steiner Predator 8 3-24x50mm scope fitted with ballistic turrets. Its designated confirmation is the ergonomic hunting rifle variant with thumbhole stock and matching fore-end. The S20 looks substantial and with a combined estimated weight of 4.45kg (I didn’t have a weight for the scope rings) it’s no bantam. Yet it shoulders comfortably and I’d be happy to carry it in the field and wouldn’t really want a featherweight pushing out 180-grain .300 Wig Mag ammo anyway.
The metal work is a granular matte finish, the Strata timber pattern having a subtle colour scheme less vibrant than a typical American woodlands style camouflage pattern. The magazine is black and almost flush mounted and I believe the S20’s is a unique design, so these magazines can’t be used in Sako and Tikka rifles, nor are other Sako and Tikka magazines suitable for the S20.
The story of the S20 starts with the chassis and while described as ‘full aluminium’ this doesn’t mean one-piece, rather the full chassis encompasses a fore-end, barrel bed and skeletal buttstock which bolt together. This is the defining feature of the Sako S20’s modular approach, it’s really the platform from which you start your customisation. If you’re looking for a long-range hunter there’s a stock and fore-end configuration to suit, as there is for a long-range practical target rifle. Sako refers to these configurations as takedown stocks though for some that could be a little misleading. As mentioned previously, if we consider the chassis as the bones, the stock assemblies are the skins that wrap around it.
The Sako-described ‘S20 ergonomic hunting rifle stock’ incorporates a thumbhole stock with matching fore-end, the synthetic stock featuring removable pistol grip scales, adjustable height cheekpiece, adjustable length of pull and ability to mount your sling on either side of the rifle. The S20 tactical precision rifle stock (again as described by Sako) has additional features compared to the other one including four M-Lok placements on the bottom and sides of the stock. The fore-end is also wider and flatter than the hunter and in both cases the fore-end extends all the way back and includes the magazine port and triggerguard assembly.
There are also several factory accessories available including a dedicated scope mount, larger capability magazines, muzzle brakes and extra length of pull spacers. For the precision shooter there’s also a barricade stop, a monopod for the buttstock and thumb rest mount, all of which would help you really customise the S20 from the get-go.
Looking at the action, along with the barrel they’re typical of Sako’s dedication to quality in manufacturing, the smooth and positive operation complemented by a three-position safety. It also features an integral Picatinny rail or, more correctly, two short forward and rear rails to allow direct mounting of your scope.
The cold hammer forged barrel is sensibly fluted which lightens the barrel without removing too much meat for a Win Mag chambering. Making those shots count the S20 is fitted with a multi-adjustable trigger with 7mm of positional adjustment on the horizontal axis (3mm back and 4mm forward) and between 1-2kg in weight of pull so you can set it to your personal preference.
In the field
The Sako S20 arrived just ahead of the red deer ‘roar’ season and I was spending every available minute scouting the Brisbane Valley, so whenever possible I took the rifle with me. Consequently I sighted in the S20 on the bush range with the help of a Caldwell shooting rest and folding table. Sako rifles have a well-earned and respected reputation for accuracy and the S20, while a departure in design, stayed true to its heritage and smooth handling. At 100m it was on paper and shooting reasonable groups with minimal effort, in fact it took longer to find level ground for the table than it did to tune in the rifle.
It was during my trigger time with the S20 I encountered the only downside to the rifle. While the stock and adjustable cheekpiece are neutral, the grip is most definitely shaped for the right hand, a perennial problem for us lefties but you do what you can with what you have.
For all its modern features and challenge to traditional design, the S20 upholds Sako’s well-deserved legacy of building some of the best practical rifles on the market. If long range is your thing – be that hunting, precision shooting or both – the Sako S20 is a suitable consideration and while it’s not a cheap rifle, the money you spend would be well worth the investment.
Furthermore, considering you could in real and practical terms have two purpose-built long-range firearms from a single-base rifle, the initial outlay doesn’t seem all that expensive after all. The S20 in this review was supplied by Beretta Australia and is available via good gunshops around the country.
Rifle: Sako S20 Strata timber pattern
Chambered: .300 Win Mag (supplied)
Capacity: Five rounds (supplied), 10-round (optional)
Barrel: 610mm with stated one-in-8 twist
Overall length: 1146mm.
Weight: 3.7kg (bare rifle)
Stock: Thumbhole configuration (supplied), Precision (optional)
Trigger: 1-2kg weight of pull, 7mm horizontal travel