June 2000

.308 Bolt-Action Showdown: Weatherby Beats Sako, Browning

This cartridge, a hunting mainstay, finds an MOA host in the Mark V Sporter, a good-looking, slick product that we like better than a previously tested Sako and a new Browning Medallion.

[IMGCAP(1)] Some time back (April 1998) we tested a Sako Model 75 Hunter in .308, when it won a head-to-head hunting-rifle competition against a Browning A-Bolt II Eclipse and a Steyr SBS Forester. As such it garnered a hard-earned Buy recommendation, and in our view, it has been one of the strongest performers in its category—a king of the hill, if you will.

Thus, we wondered how that gun’s performance would hold up against new challengers, such as a $999 Weatherby Mark V and a $636 Browning A-Bolt II Medallion. At the time of that earlier test, the .308 Sako retailed for $1,055, but in the intervening years, new Sakos have gone up in price to $1,185. Since the Sakos are basically unchanged in their specifications, we wondered if they are still worth their premium price, assuming that a new gun would perform on par with our 1998 sample.

To dislodge the 75 from its best-of-class perch, a challenger would need to shoot better and be as well put together as the Sako. Of course, if another gun also looked better than the Hunter, that would be a plus. To set the stage for what the Weatherby and Browning products would have to beat in this test, we first recap the high points of the Sako’s 1998 performance:

Sako Model 75 Hunter
Our recommendation: The Sako was a solid rifle, no doubt about it. All of its parts were steel, and some shooters must have that. But the Sako—or most other rifles, for that matter—didn’t have the outstanding accuracy of our test Weatherby. However, Sakos have a reputation for fine accuracy, and should respond well to careful handloading, if you must have better accuracy than ours showed. But based on what the Mark V Sporter did in our tests, we would pick it over the Hunter.

Click here to view the Sako Model 75 Hunter features guide

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Although its ultimate accuracy was not superior to that of the other two rifles in the original test, the made-in-Finland Sako’s handling qualities and precision manufacture more than overshadowed its hole-drilling shortcomings. And for that matter, it exhibited around 1.5-minute accuracy with three brands of ammunition, which wasn’t entirely useless.

The Sako felt very good, everything worked smoothly, and the rifle had a precise feel, which we also observed on another Sako (in .270) recently. There was an overall feel of high quality that told us we were getting something tangible for the high cost of the Sako.

The Sako 75 Hunter had a three-lug bolt that required a 70-degree rotation of its handle to lock into its finely blued action. The bolt was white-finished, with a blued handle. Bolt function was very smooth and positive, and feed and extraction were flawless. The 22-inch, free-floated barrel was, like all the metal parts except the bolt body, nicely polished and blued.

This Sako had a matte-lacquered finish to its decently figured walnut stock, and sharp, well-cut checkering set off with a ribbon design. The checkering gave us a good grasp on the rifle. Blued-steel QD swivel studs and a reddish-brown rubber recoil pad were expertly installed. The buttpad was rounded on top, and that aided mounting the rifle. There was a black spacer between the pad and the stock.

Inletting was very good, although we found a relatively large gap between the wood and the rear tang, slightly more than was needed for setback. All of the metal parts were machined steel, with no stampings or castings or lightweight alloys visible anywhere. The overall fit and finish were very good to excellent.

A red cocking indicator protruded from under the rearmost portion of the bolt. The bolt was easily removed by depressing the back end of the lever at the left rear of the receiver. The manual safety was a two-position lever located at the right rear of the receiver. When moved rearward, it blocked the sear and locked the bolt. Depressing a small lever just in front of the safety allowed the bolt to be opened without disengaging the safety for unloading. A hinged floorplate let us unload the five-shot magazine through the bottom. All the controls worked smoothly.

The Sako weighed 7.5 pounds without scope, somewhat on the heavy side for a .308. It was also somewhat muzzle heavy, though it came naturally to the shoulder and the weight up front let us hold it on target steadily. Several of our test shooters complained about the length of pull, which was 14.25 inches. With a winter coat that might be too long. However, the stock afforded a comfortable shooting position, aided by modest cast-off. Our right-handed shooters thought the Sako’s palm swell was a major contributor to shooter comfort and control.

There were no iron sights, but the receiver was formed for Sako’s fine, but extra cost, scope bases and rings. Weaver and Leupold also make bases for Sakos, but we used Sako mounts to install a Burris 3-9X scope.

The Sako had a clean, crisp trigger that broke at 3.8 pounds with minor overtravel. This trigger was adjustable, but we left it alone. During firing, this Sako operated flawlessly with all three brands of commercial ammunition. Bolt movement was the smoothest and easiest of the original test, though not necessarily of this new comparison. We found it easy to load the magazine through the ejection port.

All the Sako’s functions were very positive and we had no problems with the rifle whatsoever. The extractor was large enough, and it reliably dragged empty brass out of the chamber to a spring-loaded ejector located at the rear of the action. The ejector entered a slot in the base of the bolt to knock out the empty, and the harder you worked the bolt the farther the empty flew.

Our groups averaged just under 1.5 inches with all ammo. Best results were with Winchester 150-grain Fail Safe ammunition, which gave 1.3-inch average groups.

Weatherby Mark V Sporter
Our recommendation: We would rate it the best buy of all three rifles in this test. It was accurate, well made, and good looking.

Click here to view the Weatherby Mark V Sporter features guide

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Today’s Weatherby is made in the U.S. The rifle is available in variety of shapes and sizes, and in common calibers as well as in Weatherby’s famous proprietary cartridges. You can even get a Weatherby—the Classic Custom—that doesn’t look anything like a typical Weatherby, unless you look only at the Mark V action, which is the heart of all of today’s Weatherby rifles.

Our test rifle felt very light and handy. We were used to the somewhat massive feel of the Mark V action in hotter Weatherby calibers, but this one was a feathery dream. Weatherby put a slim (0.545-inch diameter at the muzzle) 24-inch barrel into the action, and bedded the whole thing into a very nice chunk of walnut. Unfortunately, the matte finish, though very well applied, tended to obscure the attractive grain of the wood because the finish was a bit milky.

The wood grain was perfectly filled, and the checkering was very good, but not perfect. It filled much of the sides of the squared-off forend and covered enough of the pistol grip to give a very good grasp to the rifle. The stock also had sling swivel studs fore and aft.

True to Weatherby’s form, the nine locking lugs required only a 60-degree bolt lift. The bolt lift was easy and required less effort than we’re used to applying to Weatherby Mark V’s. The bolt traveled back and forth with great smoothness as well. A rocking two-position safety was at the right rear of the action. Rolling it all the way rearward locked the bolt closed and prevented firing by blocking the striker. This safety could be operated entirely silently. A cocking indicator protruded from underneath the bolt shroud, which itself provided protection for the shooter if a case were to rupture.

The action had a hinged floorplate that opened readily—and only when we wanted it to—by pressing a button within the aluminum-alloy trigger guard. The floorplate also was aluminum. The bolt and action are machined from forgings, and the bolt handle is integral with the body. The magazine itself held five rounds, and a sixth could be slipped into the chamber above them. The follower was stainless steel. The magazine was very easy to charge through the ejection port, like that of the Sako, but unlike that of the Browning Medallion.

Removing the bolt required pressing the trigger. The trigger stop on this design is a stiff spring, so a Weatherby trigger doesn’t slam into a brick wall after it releases. Trigger pull was 4.2 pounds, crisp and clean with no creep. An Allen screw for adjusting weight of pull was located in front of the trigger, accessible without disassembly of the rifle. The trigger assembly is fully adjustable. We left it alone for our tests.

The stock was the typical exaggerated Monte Carlo style made famous by Weatherby. The prominent forward-slanting cheekpiece kicked away from the shooter’s face in recoil, so all he felt was the slight bump from the relatively soft, black, trestle-style buttpad. The pad gave adequate traction to hold the rifle in place while operating the bolt in rapid fire. The pad had a black spacer, but did not have a rounded top, which would have improved it. The rifle had neither forend tip nor pistol grip cap. Like the Sako, the Weatherby had modest cast-off, which helped give a natural feel and positioned the eye naturally right behind the scope. With a scope mounted, the Weatherby’s weight was right between the hands, and this helped to give the rifle a lively feel.

The barrel was free-floated for its entire length, but there was apparently some contact of the wood with the barrel about halfway up the forend. The gap on the right side of the barrel was wider than on the left. This did not hurt accuracy at all. Still, we’d keep an eye on this for possible warpage and any associated zero movement over time. During our tests it was not a problem. Overall inletting, metal work, and workmanship were excellent.

We mounted a 6 X 42 Artemis (Czech) scope onto the Weatherby in Weaver rings and bases. The matte finish of the scope matched the matte bluing of the Weatherby exactly. We tested the rifle with Remington 180-grain Core-Lokt Soft Points (also used in the previous test of the Sako), PMC Eldorado 150-grain ammunition loaded with Barnes X-Bullets, and Cor-Bon 125-grain JHP ammunition.

We soon discovered the Weatherby liked to shoot. We got best results with the Remington 180-grain Core-Lokt ammunition, which gave 0.7-inch average groups. Right behind that was the Cor-Bon 125-grain fodder, with groups averaging just under 1 inch. Proving that you can’t win ‘em all, the Weatherby didn’t like the X-Bullet ammunition, getting 2.6-inch average groups. We even cleaned between groups to make sure the X-Bullets weren’t fouling the bore. (They weren’t. The bore cleaned up thoroughly and easily.) However, when a rifle puts two out of three types of ammunition into less-than-MOA groups, we’ve got a very accurate rifle on our hands.

Browning A-Bolt II Medallion
Our recommendation: With its doubtful ejection, questionable accuracy, and strange looks, we’d pass on this one. There are plenty of better rifles available for the price.

Click here to view the Browning A-Bolt II Medallion features guide

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A glassy stock finish and pseudo engraving were the hallmarks of this blue-finished, Japanese-made, $636 rifle. Browning put a reasonable piece of walnut on it, and applied a glossy stock finish that filled all the pores and was very scratch-resistant (like that of the Weatherby), but the company really slipped up in shaping the buttstock. Unlike that of the White Gold Medallion in .270 we tested recently, which had a perfectly proportioned stock, this one had a major flaw in the line of the wood from the toe to the bottom of the pistol grip. This made the buttstock look more like a plank than a gun stock, in our opinion.

The checkering was very well done, however, was both sharp and clean, and in fact was some of the best checkering we’ve seen. The stock had a rosewood forend tip and pistol grip cap, but neither did much for the overall look of the rifle. There was a black buttpad that was well fitted, and it gave enough traction. No, it wasn’t rounded at the top. The stock had no cast.

The trigger guard and floorplate were made of aluminum alloy. The floorplate and action had impressed engraving that complimented the rifle, though were somewhat obscured by the bluing. The left side of the action held the name “MEDALLION” in italics. The 22-inch, fully free-floated barrel tapered to a diameter at the muzzle of 0.562 inch. The rifle balanced at the center of the magazine. It weighed 6.7 pounds without scope.

The three-lug bolt turned 60 degrees to open, but it required more effort to cock than that of the Weatherby. Fore-and-aft travel was smooth enough, but again not as nice as the Weatherby’s bolt. The bolt handle had the typical A-Bolt twist to the flattened knob, which actually seems to help operate the bolt quickly. A red cocking indicator protruded from the rear of the bolt. There was a sliding two-position tang safety that locked the bolt closed when the safety was rearward. It was essentially silent coming off.

A button outside the front of the trigger guard released the floorplate and its detachable four-round magazine. We found it far easier to load the rifle by removing the magazine than by trying to slip rounds into the box through the ejection port. The lips of the magazine were very sharp inside, and that made feeding the first two rounds out of the magazine quite difficult. These should have been scraped smooth. Unfortunately, that was not the only problem we encountered with this sample of the A-Bolt.

The metalwork was nicely polished and blued. The bluing was very shiny on the bolt handle, and not quite as shiny elsewhere. Inletting was excellent. The visible wood inside the magazine box had finish applied. The floorplate opened and closed positively, and it was easy to get the detachable box on and off the floorplate. The trigger pull was 4.0 pounds, and the very wide, gold, serrated trigger made it feel like less than that. There was no creep. There was significant overtravel, but it wasn’t a problem. We mounted a 3-9X Artemis scope in Weaver bases and rings, and shot the same three brands of ammo we used in the Weatherby, cleaning before each new brand of ammunition. The rifle didn’t much like anything, until we got to the Cor-Bon.

With average groups of 2.8 inches and 2.3 inches with Remington and PMC ammo respectively, we didn’t expect much from the 125-grain Cor-Bon fodder. We were pleasantly surprised to find an overall average of 0.9-inch groups, which meant that if we owned this rifle we’d do some serious investigating to find an ammo it liked. We found the rifle would not eject most fired rounds. They ended up loose in the raceway, and we had to turn the rifle on its side to get them to fall out. If we operated the bolt very briskly, the spent rounds would come out some of the time, but not always. This gave us no confidence in the rifle. The difficulty in feeding the top two rounds from the magazine diminished as we used the rifle, but we ought not have to go to work on a new rifle to deburr it and make it right, in our opinion.

Gun Tests Recommends
This article sought to compare the performance of a top-ranked gun from a previous test with new challengers, allowing us to gauge what products in a class—not just in a single test—may be the best buys.

As far as these .308 bolt-action hunting rifles, here’s what we thought: Weatherby Mark V Sporter, $999. Buy It. The Weatherby looked great, shot even better than it looked, had fine balance, sported a really good trigger pull, displayed well-applied matte finishes to stock and metalwork, and had attractive wood. It weighed 7.7 pounds with our choice of scope, and that’s about right for a rifle of this power. It overshadowed our previous winner, the Sako. It was less costly than the Sako (by $186 at today’s prices) and had much better accuracy. If we needed a good .308 in this price range, the Weatherby would be our first choice of the rifles we’ve tested.

Sako 75 Hunter, $1,185. Conditional Buy. The Sako today costs substantially more than the Weatherby, yet we didn’t see that it is a better value than the Weatherby. It had a precise feel, but so did the Weatherby for less cost. At 7.5 pounds before scoping, the Sako had too much weight for the power. The Weatherby could be set up to weigh less than that scoped, if you chose a slightly lighter scope than our very solid Artemis. Although a detachable magazine was an option back when we first examined this Sako, today’s catalog lists only the detachable magazine version, and not the as-tested hinged floorplate. The Sako was a well-made rifle, and many shooters like these Finnish rifles, never mind that they’ll pay more money to get less gun than the U.S.-made Weatherby.

Browning A-Bolt II Medallion, $636. Don’t Buy It. We didn’t much like this $636 sample of the Browning A-Bolt, and that’s in startling contrast to the White Gold Medallion .270 we recently tested. The .270 might have been made by an entirely different company, it was so superior to this one. This A-Bolt Medallion had a funny-looking stock, showed unacceptable accuracy with two brands of test ammunition, and the contrasting rosewood made the rifle look cheap, in our view. To its credit, however, we did like the light weight, workmanship and balance—but not enough to recommend it.