The domestic rifle market is well populated with brands that consumers know well and trust, and as a result, they buy a lot of Weatherbys, Remingtons, Winchesters, Savages, Marlins, and Rugers. These companies make a number of grades of bolt-action guns, ranging from $300 to $350 entry-level guns to much more expensive custom-shop products, and everything in between. But across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, there are few pretty talented production gun makers whose products find favor overseas—and to a lesser extent on these shores—and we wondered how such bolt actions would rank when pitted against more familiar marques.
Thus, we arranged to test three rifles not made in the United States: the Finnish $1,184 Sako Model 75 Hunter, the Swiss-made $550 SIG Model SHR 970, and the $855 Browning A-Bolt White Gold Medallion, which hails from Japan. Chambered in Jack O’Connor’s favorite .270 Winchester cartridge, the secondmost-popular centerfire hunting round behind the .30-06, these rifles are particularly suited for hunting deer and antelope, though some hunters use .270s for everything, including elk and moose.
But most seasoned outdoorsmen think that’s stretching it. After all, the .270’s heaviest commonly loaded bullets weigh only 150 grains. If less-than-premium bullets are used, they might fail to penetrate larger game. Ultimately, however, it’s the shooter, not the cartridge, who makes the difference, and we wondered if our three foreign-made test guns offered the New Mexico mule deer hunter and the Georgia beanfield shooter anything they can’t get in domestic brands.
As far as general descriptions, all three of our test rifles had palm swells for right-handed shooters. All had short 60- to 70-degree bolt lifts. They all had recessed bolt heads with a variety of extraction and ejection devices, and all had detachable magazines. They had walnut stocks. The overall workmanship was very good, particularly that on the Sako. If you’re jaded by run-of-the-mill rifles, you might want to give these a look.
Based on extensive head-to-head testing, we, of course, formed our own opinions, which we pass along as recommendations below.
SIG Model SHR 970
Our recommendation: We liked the SIG, and its modest $550 price. It shot well, though it needed some minor trigger work. The SIG is a fine alternative to the more common Remingtons, Winchesters, and Rugers seen in so many hunters’ hands and gun racks. Bonus: An interchangeable barrel feature.
Our first impression of the SIG was of a hump-backed, rather pink-colored rifle with a short bolt lift. The wood was attractive enough, but we thought the grain and overall appearance would have been improved through the use of a slightly darker stain. The stock profile didn’t attract many fans. There was a slight palm swell on the right side of the pistol grip. The stock profile was marred by a slight hump halfway down the top of the wrist.
But once we got past the cosmetics, we looked into the rifle’s guts, and came away surprised. First, we noted that the SHR’s barrel could be replaced. There was no way to tell that, short of taking the action out of the stock. When we did so, we were amazed by what we found.
First, the barrel is retained in the action by the simple expedient of slotting the bottom of the front action ring, and clamping the ring to the barrel by two Allen-headed cross bolts. The barrel contains the locking lugs for the bolt, so there is no, or very little, stress on the rifle to come apart at the joint. This is similar to many shotguns that feature replaceable barrels, with their bolts locking into an extension of the barrel. In the case of the SIG, the barrel extension wraps entirely around the bolt head. This gives the rifle owner a chance to own several calibers on the same action. It also permits the rifle to be broken down into a very short package. The Swiss are known for their machining expertise, and that showed up in the quality of the workmanship on this rifle.
The second item we found inside the SIG was polymer bedding. A polymer block was inletted into the wood under the front of the action, and it took recoil from a lug milled as part of the action body. At the back of the action, another polymer piece received the rear action lug and prevented splitting the wood from overtightening. The thin sliver of wood between the trigger cutout and the magazine well will never split, because it doesn’t exist. The necessary material there is part of the trigger guard. This was one well-thought-out rifle.
Elsewhere as well, we noted this 7.4-pound rifle was well made. It had a detachable four-shot steel magazine, released by a button within the aluminum-alloy trigger guard. A pair of simple springs pushed it away from the action to aid its removal, but it was a bit sticky coming out. It replaced easily, and stayed in place very well. The steel floorplate of the magazine had the SIG logo. All the metal parts of the rifle were expertly polished and nicely matte blued. Silvery-white letters detailed the maker’s name, address, read-the-manual warning, model designation, country of origin (Switzerland), and the serial number. All of this was on the left side of the rifle.
The right side had a white S and red F by the safety lever, and a white dot in between. The right side had no other markings. Unfortunately, it was all too easy to put the three-position safety on while operating the bolt. Not only did the safety require very little effort to move, its location permitted it to be brushed rearward by the hand while operating the bolt. Fast follow-up shots were, therefore, next to impossible with the SIG due to the need to push the safety forward following each operation of the bolt handle. Someone needs to instruct rifle designers how to manipulate a bolt, in the hopes that once they know, they won’t continue producing this rather common malady. The middle position of the safety was very vague, with a weak detent, but it did permit the bolt to be lifted for unloading the chamber while keeping the safety on.
The bolt body was white. It locked to the action by three equally spaced lugs. Bolt removal was accomplished by pressing a button on the left rear of the action. The deeply recessed bolt head held a plunger-type ejector and a rather small extractor. The action ring was drilled on both sides for gas escape. The bolt body was round and rather large, which led to very smooth bolt operation. A red indicator protruded from beneath the rear of the bolt when the action was cocked.
The blued bolt handle had “SIG” boldly formed on the outside of the knob. As most 60-degree bolts do, this one required a brisk “pop” to get it to open. The 13.8-inch length of pull on the stock made mounting the well-balanced rifle a bit of a problem when a tester wore a coat. Some of us thought the rifle pointed too high, because it didn’t have enough drop at the comb. The top line of the buttstock actually rose as it approached the butt, and this effectively made the rifle recoil away from the face. Static balance of the unscoped rifle was just in front of the magazine.
The stock finish was perfect. The pores were all filled, the grain brought out well, and the finish material was hard enough to resist bruising and scratching. The overall stock finish was semi-gloss. The borderless checkering was some of the finest we’ve ever seen, if a bit sparse. There was a thin black rubber buttpad and two QD sling swivel studs, all expertly installed.
The 22-inch barrel was fully free-floated all along its length, right back to the action ring. In fact there was an even gap along both sides of the action except for slight contact at the front of the front ring, and at the rear. The trigger guard was also expertly inletted.
The trigger pull was quite creepy, and broke at 4.5 pounds. There was very little overtravel. The trigger itself was smooth, black, and made of steel. There were no iron sights on the rifle. The action was drilled and tapped for scope mounting, but no bases or rings came with it. This, we believe, is a mistake. A rifle maker ought to supply scope bases and rings with a rifle, particularly if the rifle is a new design for which common bases probably don’t exist. Otherwise, prospective buyers won’t be able to shoot the rifle until they find scope bases that will fit. We had the devil of a time finding bases to fit this rifle. Weaver front bases for the Remington 700 can be adapted by drilling.
Sako 75 Hunter
Our recommendation: This rifle seemed to be out of its time. Long ago in the pre-’64 Winchester era, .270 rifles commonly weighed as much as our Sako. Today’s rifles are lighter, and for the most part, this is all to the good. However, few rifles today are as well made as the Sako (with the exception of the open-pored stock finish on our specimen). Our test rifle was a precise, high-quality piece of goods. If you want a .270 that will shoot well, last several lifetimes, and has the promise of holding its value extremely well—as Sakos have traditionally done—buy this one. However, we see little need for an 8.2-pound rifle (without sights or ammo) chambered in .270. We’ve shot .458 Mags and .416 Rigbys that weigh less. We’d pass on it for that reason, but you may disagree.
The dark, rich walnut of the $1,184 Sako Hunter was a nice complement to the superb bluing of the well-polished steel of this Finnish-made Stoeger import. The wood grain in the buttstock was very attractive, and both sides of the stock wood had similar patterns. A bit of tiger striping extended into the forend, and the grain pattern was well laid out. Significant castoff made the rifle line up perfectly for our testers’ eyes, and we liked that. This was a heavy rifle, but a very attractive one.
The rifle had a pronounced palm swell, ribbon-decorated checkering, prominent Monte-Carlo cheekpiece, nicely rounded red buttpad, sling swivel studs, and no iron sights. The oil-type wood finish had poorly filled pores throughout. The installation of the buttpad, sling swivel studs, the little Sako emblem in the pistol grip bottom, and the general inletting were excellent. We deplored the lack of finish on the wood visible inside the magazine, however, and would do something about that posthaste if we owned this rifle. Both the SIG and Browning had finish applied there.
The traditional Sako-shaped trigger guard, the magazine, and all functional parts of the rifle were steel. There was a happy absence of stamped parts. Every steel part appeared to be carefully machined, rather than cast or stamped. The rifle had a detachable five-shot magazine that came out of the rifle easily, went back in easily, and stayed in place well. It was as easy to load while in the rifle as out. The other two rifles’ magazines were a bit more difficult to load inside the rifles. The 23-inch free-floated barrel tapered gradually from a point 1.5 inches in front of the front action ring to the muzzle, where it was 0.650 inch in diameter. This wasn’t a slim barrel by any means, and the rifle could have been built considerably lighter. Still, the balance was superb and that made the rifle feel lighter than its hefty 8.2 pounds. The static balance point was at the rear of the front action ring. Sakos are known for their good trigger pulls, and this one was no exception, though we detected a very slight amount of creep. It broke at 3.2 pounds. We could live with that.
The safety was a rocking lever on the right rear of the action, just behind the bolt handle. In front of this lever was a button that popped up when the safety was put on (rearward). Although the bolt was locked closed when the safety was on, if you depressed the little pop-up button it was possible to open the bolt. This would be of value in unloading the chamber while keeping the safety on. As soon as the bolt was again closed, the button popped back up. The rifle remained in safe mode and the bolt was again locked down.
It was possible, but not easy, to put the safety on while operating the bolt briskly. Bolt lift was 70 degrees, and it was very easy to operate the bolt with the rifle at the shoulder. All bolt motion was slick and positive, and the bolt gave the rifle a precise feel. The bolt head was recessed, and had three locking lugs. The extractor was plunger-driven and adequately large, and ejection was by a spring-loaded, complex-looking piece just behind the magazine that entered a slot in the bottom of the bolt. This gave the shooter control of the ejection force, and we liked that.
We mounted a 7×50 Artemis fixed-power scope in Sako rings. The scope, rings, and five rounds of ammo brought the rifle’s weight up to an even 10.0 pounds. We don’t know of anyone who’d be happy lugging around a 10-pound .270 in the deer woods—though it would be fine in a deer stand, after you got it there.
Weaver and Leupold also make bases that fit Sako rifles. As we’ve said, scope rings ought to be part of the rifle package. If you want the maker’s own rings, they’re extra-cost ($99) items on an already pricey rifle.
At the range, the Sako held up the reputation of the marque well enough by putting its shots into gratifyingly small groups. The Sako’s smallest group with the Winchester was 0.8 inch, and with the Remington the smallest was 1.1 inches. There were no problems at all, and the more we shot it, the better the Sako seemed to shoot. We have no doubts that sub-minute of angle groups would be routine with many loads, let alone specifically tailored handloads. Feed and function were very positive, smooth, and precise. Other than dealing with its porky weight, we liked the feel of the Sako very much. Recoil was negligible, as you would expect.
Browning White Gold Medallion A-Bolt
Our recommendation: This rifle was light enough, shot well enough, and was certainly attractive enough to our shooters, though some didn’t like the shine. Yet even they couldn’t fault the rifle’s function. This was a totally useful hunting rifle that we feel will win lots of fans.
Never have we seen a more garish rifle, short of a gussied-up Weatherby. The $855 White Gold Medallion Browning fairly screamed “glitzy” at us, but we confess we liked the overall look of this rifle a lot. The stock finish was glassy and shiny. It was fitted with a rosewood forend tip and pistol grip cap, and a black rubber buttpad. All three add-ons had contrasting white-metal spacers that were probably aluminum. The action was “engraved,” and its left side had gold-filled letters spelling out “WHITE GOLD MEDALLION” in italics. The trigger was gold-plated. The floorplate and trigger guard were aluminum alloy. Both had engraving, the trigger guard having the gold-filled Browning deer logo. All the metal work was white-finished, most of it matte.
The hand-cut checkering was close to perfect, was very attractive and fully functional. There was a slight palm swell (right side) and a modest Monte Carlo-style cheekpiece. The wood itself was a magnificent, tiger-striped piece of walnut with perfect grain throughout. The stock finish was extremely hard, glass-smooth, and flawlessly applied, with no grain showing whatsoever. The stock was so shiny it nearly glowed in the dark, however, and a serious hunter might not be happy with that.
The stock had white-finished QD sling swivel studs, and these came fitted with Browning’s Super Swivels. The 22-inch barrel was free-floated for its entire length, and had no iron sights. The bolt handle was polished very shiny, like chrome plate. The three-lug bolt head was recessed, and held a wide extractor and plunger ejector. The bolt was initially sticky in its operation. When we first tried it, it galled badly. We cleaned and oiled it several times, and that pretty much made the problem go away. The cam area at the back of the action had a gouge where the bolt stuck it, but this didn’t seem to affect operation. A red indicator protruded from under the bolt when the piece was cocked. This was right in front of the tang-mounted slide safety. We liked the location of this safety, but it was somewhat slippery. It locked the bolt closed when on.
Opening the floorplate revealed a quick-detachable five-shot magazine. It came off the floorplate and went back on easily enough. It offered an easy way to unload the magazine, though it didn’t come out as easily as that of the Sako. It was impossible to close the bolt over the fully loaded magazine. This was not 5 + 1 capacity. In other words, if you wanted to carry the rifle with chamber empty, the capacity was four rounds. That’s more than enough for any reasonable hunting situation. We found some sharp edges inside the lips of the magazine, but they didn’t affect feeding.
This was a very lively, well-made and attractive rifle. Everyone who saw it thought it looked great. The rifle was light enough at 7.0 pounds without scope, and the static balance was, like that of the Sako, right at the front of the magazine. The trigger broke at 4.3 pounds and had minuscule creep, with minor overtravel. We mounted our 3-9X Artemis scope and proceeded to the range. Our first impression was that this rifle had more than enough weight for the cartridge, since felt recoil was very slight. This was also a function of correct stock design. We found it a bit easier to load the magazine with it out of the rifle, unlike our experiences with the Sako, which didn’t care if the mag was in or out. The Browning had some sharp edges inside the action and magazine that needed minor attention, but feeding and function were flawless.
The White Gold Medallion got smoother the more we shot it, and accuracy with two of the loads was right around 1.5 inches for three shots. The Browning really liked the Federal 150-grain round-nose ammo, averaging just under an inch. That told us careful load selection would pay big dividends with this fancy A-Bolt.
Gun Tests Recommends
SIG Model SHR 970, $550. Buy It. We liked the SIG, and its modest price (the synthetic version is $499). It shot well, was well made, and we could live with its few foibles. It really needed to be supplied with scope bases, and needed some minor trigger work. If you can overlook the stock’s profile you’ll see the rifle’s inner beauty. The interchangeable barrel feature is also worth exploring.
Sako 75 Hunter, $1,184. Conditional Buy. Our test rifle shot well; however, we see little need for an 8.2-pound rifle (without sights or ammo) chambered in .270. We’d pass on it for that reason.
Browning White Gold Medallion, $855. Buy It. The quality of the wood and workmanship made this gun’s price seem very reasonable. We would have expected to pay much more for this quality of wood alone. We don’t know of another rifle at this price that has so many truly nice features, like its great wood and perfectly applied rock-hard finish combined with a just-right look.