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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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