The Sako TRG sniper rifles have been around for quite some time now, even before the current Sniper Rifle craze had taken off. The original TRG-21 was a rifle that came onto the scene in 1989 and was chambered in 308/7.62x51mm NATO and it was based on some of Sako’s UIT competition rifles. A bit after the TRG-21 was introduced the Sako TRG-41 was released with a magnum action that was capable of handling the .338 Lapua cartridge and it was chambered for both the 338 Lapua and the 300 Winchester Magnum. In 1999 Sako made some additional modifications and improvements to the design and the rifles were renamed to the TRG-22 and TRG-42 designations. The rifle we have here for review is a TRG-42 chambered in 338 Lapua with the standard fixed stock. There are not a lot of 338 Lapua rifles on the market and we wanted to see how these factory sniper rifles from Sako would perform and how they handled in the field. The rifle we acquired for testing was a plain Jane TRG-42 in black with standard matte bluing metal work.
When the rifle is first pulled out of the box it seems long with the 27″ barrel and an overall length of four feet. The stock is a synthetic stock with a black textured finish on it to help provide grip. The buttplate itself has a fairly small hard rubber pad to help manage recoil, which can be stiff with the 338 Lapua cartridge in some rifles. The rubber pad is fairly hard and appears as if it will hold up over time and it is also textured to provide good grip allowing it to stay in place nicely during use. The butt of the stock is adjustable in more ways than I have seen before on a tactical rifle. Sako has taken some of the features from their target rifles and applied them to the TRG and that is evident here. While most of the adjustments are not easily done in the field since they require spacers and disassembling the various components, it is none the less adjustable in many different ways. The buttplate is not only adjustable for length of pull, but it also moves up and down, left and right, rotates clockwise or counter clockwise, and even pivots left and right. To adjust the buttplate in some of these directions will require purchasing some special spacers and new screws, but the rifle can be custom fit to any shooter.
The cheekpiece is elevated above the standard comb of the stock to help place the shooters eye in line with the scope. There is also a taper toward the front that is there to allow the bolt to be easily removed without hitting the stock. The cheekpiece has a fairly sharp peek that is not the most comfortable especially over prolonged shooting with the 338 Lapua. A padded eagle of tacops cheekpiece can help here. That steep peak does help the shooter maintain a solid cheekweld without slipping as the cheekbone seems to rest well on it. The cheekpiece is also adjustable in both left and right as well as elevation to again help the operator get the correct eye alignment. Though to adjust the cheekpiece in elevation, spacers are again required. While using spacers does take more time and energy to adjust and get it right, it does provide a solid nonmoving adjustment that only needs to be set once and will not move again until the operator wants it to.
There is a butthook at the bottom rear of the stock that allows the shooter the flexibility of using a sandsock, holding the rifle with their off hand, or doing both. The pistol grip on the stock is a vertical grip that is nicely contoured to fit the shooting hand including a grooved area for the trigger finger. The grip is fairly wide with just a hint of a palm swell. The stock is ambidextrous and can be fired both left and right handed. One of our shooters is a lefty and he had no problems using the rifle shooting LH. (See bottom picture on this page).
Where the action rests in the stock it is wide and provides a solid mount for that action and this is evident if one looks in the tang area at the rear of the action, that width of the stock is carried all the way forward from the action up to the forearm. The stock is built solid and appears designed from the outset to handle the heavy magnum cartridges. The forearm on the stock is very flat which normally can be a problem from mounting a bipod, but in this case we purchased the matching Sako bipod that is designed for this rifle, more on that later. The flat forearm is great for firing from sandbags or similar types of rests and there is a gradual elevation taper going from the rear moving forward. This is ideal for applying slight elevation changes when shooting from bags. The forearm itself appears to be fairly short, but in reality it is normal length and perhaps just looks short when compared to the longer than average barrel. There is also an accessory rail on the bottom side of the forearm to allow the attaching of other accessories to the rifle.
Overall the stock design is solid with many different adjustment options available to get the rifle to fit the user perfectly. It has a decent textured finish and the quality is very good. It also has the built in bipod mount, when using the matching Sako bipod, and the target rifle heritage is evident in the design. The stock also incorporates a unique chassis system design that provides a very durable mounting area for the action and also incorporates an accessory mount on the left side of the stock in front of the scope. The stock is well thought out and Sako’s long history with target and sniper rifles seems to be evident throughout the design.
The large Sako TRG action is cold hammer forged from a steel alloy that Sako claims provides added strength. The action certainly feels and looks solid and appears to be finely crafted. The TRG actions actually mount to what Sako calls an aluminum profile, or a chassis that the synthetic forearm and buttstock then attach to. This aluminum profile runs the entire length of the forearm and the action actually mounts to it using three good sized action screws, instead of the more common two, and these screws solidly mount everything together. The action has a hex style profile on top with a smaller closed ejection port. Actions with an ejection port make it more difficult to reach in with a finger to discreetly eject brass when desired, but it does allow for additional strength in the action. The TRG action is also drilled and tapped for attaching a picatinny rail and it also has a 17mm dovetail, with recoil stops, which can also be used for mounting sights.
Just in front of the bolt on the right hand side of the action is the bolt release which easily allows the removal of the bolt. The bolt itself has a large bolt handle for easy gripping with gloved hands as well as adding additional leverage if needed. The bolt has three locking lugs, instead of two, which allows for a short 60 degree bolt throw, aiding in rapid bolt cycling. There is also a nice extractor on the bolt that allows very positive extraction and in fact, it is a common modification to Remington 700 bolts to add a “Sako Style” extractor, and there is a good reason this is a popular add-on. This extractor is a good compact design with positive extraction and ejection. At the rear of the bolt is a cocking indicator as well that protrudes when the bolt is cocked and ready to fire. The protrusion has a red stripe on it and it is visible in some of the pictures on this page. The entire bolt is finished in matte black bluing regardless of whether the rifle has the matte bluing or phosphate finish.
The trigger guard is oversized to allow easy access with gloved fingers and the safety is a smaller protruding lever directly in front of the trigger inside of the trigger guard. If the safety is pulled to the rear it places the trigger mechanism in safe and it also locks the bolt. The operator needs to just simply flip the safety forward with his or her trigger finger and the rifle is then ready to fire. The trigger itself is a two stage trigger with a longer first stage and then the second stage which drops the firing pin. The first stage is very smooth and light with less than a quarter inch of travel and the second stage brakes very clean with no creep or over travel. We measured the trigger pull on the second stage at a very consistent 3.5 lbs from the factory. If the operator does not like the weight, it is a fully adjustable trigger, and we mean FULLY adjustable. The weight is adjustable from 2 – 4 lbs and the double stage length is also adjustable and not only that, but the horizontal and vertical pitch of the trigger is adjustable. The trigger shoe itself is smooth and wide and is not as curved as a traditional trigger. We rate the trigger on the TRG as excellent and is one of the better triggers found on a factory sniper rifle. Also, the entire trigger mechanism is removable from the rifle without any disassembly of the rifle. This can come in handy for field maintenance or repairs.
In front of the trigger guard is the detachable box magazine that holds 5 rounds of 338 Lapua ammo, or 7 if the rifle is chambered in 300 Win Mag. The magazines are made of steel and are a double stack center feed design. There are also small protrusions in the lower rear corners to help the operator grab the magazine when removing or inserting it. The magazines fit flush to the bottom of the stock which is about even with the bottom of the trigger guard. Just in front of the trigger guard is the magazine release lever which does not protrude below the magazine or trigger guard which helps avoid getting snagged and causing an accidental magazine release. It is still large enough to easily be manipulated by the shooter’s trigger finger and the magazine drops away smoothly, even when empty. The magazines are easy to insert into the rifle and have a very positive click when inserted all the way. The system works very well and allows for rapid and easy reloading with positive feeding. We have yet to have any issues with feeding from the magazine or having difficulty inserting the magazine, which is more than we can say for many of the other DBM systems we have used.
The barrel is a long 27″ (685mm) which allows the higher power 338 Lapua and 300 Win Mag cartridges to get some extra velocity for effective long range use. The TRG-22 308 Winchester version of the rifle has a 26″ (660mm) barrel which is more appropriate for that cartridge. Both the TRG-22 and TRG-42 are available with an optional 20″ barrel. The barrel is a heavy contour cold hammer forged barrel with 4 lands and grooves. The 338 Lapua version has a twist rate of 1 in 10″ which allows it to stabilize the heavier 300gr bullets that have become popular. Be aware that early TRG-42 338 Lapua rifles had a 1:12″ twist but Sako changed it to 1:10″ several years ago. Both the 308 and 300 Win Mag versions have 1:11″ twist barrels. Testing will need to be done to see if the 1:11″ will stabilize the new heavy 220gr 300 Win Mag loads, most 300 WM rifles use a 1:10″ twist. The barrel on the TRG-42 is also threaded for a Sako muzzlebrake which is strongly encouraged for the big 338 Lapua cartridge and we purchased and fitted one to our test rifle. The muzzlebrake is an asymmetrical design that is designed to minimize recoil and muzzle jump as well as minimize any dust that may be raised from muzzle blast.
Another feature of the Sako system is the TRG purpose made bipod which plugs directly into an opening at the front of the forearm. The bipod has a wide stance and lets the rifle sit down lower in the bipod. This wider stance and mounting position allows the rifle to remain very stable. The bipod is adjustable in height and swivels, or cants, left and right to properly allow shooting from uneven terrain. There are also ski style feet with claws on the bipod which work well on natural terrain, but not so well on concrete or other hard surfaces. The bipod is expensive, running several hundred US Dollars, but integrates so well with the rifle that we recommend getting one to compliment the TRG.
The rifle design as a whole is effective and functional with all of the metal work being a matte black finish that matches the black stock. The green and tan versions of the TRG have a phosphate finish on the metal that is considerably duller and should provide improved weather protection as well. It is evident with the overall design of the rifle that Sako has had many years of experience to properly get all the design elements correct. The rifle incorporates design elements from their UIT target rifles, such as the stock shape and trigger. But these elements transition very effectively into a sniper rifle as well. The long 27″ barrel combined with the muzzlebrake does make for a long rifle and a team will need to take into account this draw back when considering the TRG, once again we are reminded that all things are a compromise.
Considering the extreme long range capability of the 338 Lapua, we determined the scope we mounted to the TRG-42 would need to have an extreme amount of vertical adjustments to allow the rifle to engage beyond the one mile mark. A good option we had available to us was an original Leupold Mk4 fixed 16x scope with over 140 MOA of vertical adjustments using the extra tall M1 turrets. This scope was originally designed for .50 BMG sniper use for the military and would make a nice compliment to the rifle. We used the excellent SPUHR ISMS scope mounting system to mount the scope to the TRG on the dovetails and prepared to do the shooting evaluations.
For our accuracy testing we tried out HSM 250gr and 300gr loads which both use the Sierra Matchking bullet as well as a 235gr Predator Projectile load from Dynamic Research. The recoil of the TRG-42 is well managed with the effective muzzlebrake, but you still feel the effects of extended shooting sessions, especially if shooting from the prone. The trigger was one of the real bright spots while shooting the TRG-42, the take up of the first stage is very smooth and is just the right amount for the insured safety a two stage trigger provides. The second stage of the trigger brakes very clean. We left it at the factory setting of 3.5 lbs and it we did not feel that this slightly heavier weight affected accuracy. The muzzle rise during recoil is also well managed via the muzzlebrake and with the short 60 degree bolt throw and smooth feeding from the magazine, rapid followup shots are easy to achieve. The bolt stroke can be long because of the length of the 338 Lapua cartridge, but is no problem once the operator is accustomed to it.
Below are the results from the 100 yard accuracy tests which were all fired from the bench using a sandbag up front and sand sock at the rear. The scope was the Leupold Mk4 16x40mm with mildot reticle and M1 knobs:
|HSM 250gr Sierra Match King||.437″||.295″||.42 MOA|
|HSM 300gr Sierra Match King||.835″||.361″||.80 MOA|
|Dynamic Research 235gr Predator||.902″||.499″||.86 MOA|
From the chart above, it is obvious that the rifle really loved the HSM 250gr load with the average group size being under .5″ and well under .5 MOA. These groups were fired over several different shooting sessions and remained consistent from various lots as well. The other two ammo types tested each showed good potential with some groups under .5 MOA but they were just not quite as consistent as the 250gr SMK. The 300gr showed enough promise and has such a high BC that it may be an excellent load to consider for extreme range shooting. Since our official tests above, we have also used some HSM 230gr T-50 ammo with good results as well, but we do tend to come back to the 250gr Sierra Match King because the accuracy is so good, especially from a factory load and nothing having been done to the rifle.
Since this is a 338 Lapua rifle and the reason a sniper team goes with the 338 is for long range shooting, we figured we better stretch the range on the TRG-42 just to see how it would do. We headed out to the Butte Gun Range in Butte Montana where we conduct our Precision Marksman shooting classes, and setup the range to go as long as we could which put the targets right at 1100 yards. Not an extreme range, but long enough to get a feel for the rifles capability. It was a hot day with high winds averaging 12-15 mph, gusting up to 20 mph and was a near full value left to right. Because the rifle shoots so well with the HSM 250gr load that was the chosen ammo for the long range tests. The group in the picture above were the first three rounds fired at 1100 yards in high and variable winds. Of course, it is not .5 MOA, which with the conditions one would not expect, but it does show the capability of the rifle in challenging shooting conditions. We were very impressed and pleased with the results and the effectiveness continued through the day.
To conclude, it is not often that we are impressed with an off the shelf factory sniper rifle as much as we have been with the TRG-42. Granted we would not consider it a mass produced rifle on the same scale as a Remington 700P, but it is not a full custom built rifle either, yet it performed as well as many custom built rifles and also incorporates many innovative features that one would desire on a high end sniper rifle. No, it is not perfect, no rifle is, it is a bit long, has a cheekpiece that is not perfectly comfortable, and the stock adjustments take time and effort, but for a reasonable amount of money it incorporates many desired and required features to make the rifle very effective as a long range sniping platform. The accessories, such as the muzzlebrake and bipod, do get expensive and can add up quickly and those costs must be taken into account. But if a long range rifle is in the works for your sniper team or for competitive use, we would recommend that the Sako TRG-42 be given your consideration.
Sniper Central – 2012