The TRG-42 must be a marksman’s Golden Fleece. Since first hearifng about it, it seems as though I’ve been on a never-ending quest to discover the rifle’s true potential.
It’s often a mental battle when I’m adding slight pressure to a trigger just before the last shot is sent into a group. My mind habitually races through a preformed checklist as I try and block out environmental distractions. So here I am, Day 10 on a very cold range, exactly 504 yards from my target. And just like every shot that cracked before, I fight the urge to suddenly move and check the impact. Instead, I breathe and call the shot in my data book. Minutes later, I reaped the benefits of solid marksmanship skills combined with a precision instrument. This .338-caliber Sako TRG-42 just printed its best cold-bore, five-shot group-2.165 inches at 500 yards.
As I returned from the Middle East five years ago, the wheels of my flight touched down on a runway in Aviano, a U.S. Air Force Base at the foot of the Carnic Alps in northeastern Italy. This lengthy stop on the way back to the States afforded me a chance to shoot a TRG-42 virtually identical to one I had seen effectively used at short distances in Al Hillah, Iraq, by Italy’s 185th Regiment. I took advantage of an opportunity that put me on a bus to Cao Malnisio, where I received a briefing followed by a “familiarization fire” alongside American soldiers who had made the arduous arrangements for training.
My range time in Italy was little more than a tease, but the TRG-42 in .338 LM did live up to Sako’s reputation in that brief encounter. I was issued a l0-round box of Lapua 250-grain Scenar ammo and given plenty of time to soak up the experience. I noted in my data book that felt recoil was like that of a bolt-action .308 (thanks to an optional muzzlebrake) and the adjustable trigger was set at less than four pound . Even though I couldn’t make scope adjustment to another shooter’s rifle, I did print two five-shot groups from 100 yards that clustered into a single odd-shaped hole. Unfortunately, I wasn’t permitted measure the groups before the next squad arrived and an Italian host decided to share my target.
A few years later, walking by Beretta’s booth at the U.S. Army’s AUSA exhibition in Washington, D.C., I came to a halt after doing a double-take at a tan-colored TRG-42 set in a unique chassis and covered in Picatinny rails. What felt like a chance encounter with Beretta’s prototype for the PSR (Precision Sniper Rifle) solicitation rekindled my desire to work with the Sako once more. And my time finally came.
POWER WITH PURPOSE
Law enforcement agencies and defense forces in 15 countries have specifically selected variations of the TRG-42. Switzerland has designated its 196 TRGs as the SSGw 04. Turkey owns 350. Croatia, Denmark, Albania’s RENEA and Russia’s SOBR have all chosen this rifle. After considerations made of similar platforms during trials and seven years of service, the Finnish army (who has purchased 490 TRG-42s) reports that Sako’s .338-caliber barrels last 4,000 to 5,000 rounds using factory Lapua ammunition without showing accuracy decay greater than one MOA at 1,000m. This level of performance is demanded by tactical operators, who regard barrels as expendable items.
Sako has never forgotten the competitive shooting lineage of the TRG. Even the Sako TRG-42 in .338 LM, the most powerful of any TRG, is built on a legacy of precision that goes back to the Finnish variants of the Mosin-Nagant (also produced by Sako) and, more recently, the successful .308-caliber TRG-21 and TR-6 target rifle of the late 1980s. Although its origins can be traced to civilian marksmanship, Sako extensively studied sniper requirements when designing the original TRG-21/41. Within a decade these two models matured with a number of enhancements to become the TRG-22/42.
Most notably, the TRG action departed from the two-lug Mauser system to incorporate a symmetrical three-lug design with more locking surface. This three-lug bolt and reinforced action give the TRG-42 the strength necessary to handle the .338 LM. Unlike a lot of tactical precision rifles that come from accurized variants of existing sporters, the TRG-42 is a purpose-built extended-range sniping platform. For that reason, I chose to mount a Leupold Mark 4 ER/T 8.5-25X front focal plane (FFP) scope. In law enforcement and military circles, the Sako TRG rifles will most commonly be found with either a Zeiss or Schmidt & Bender set in tandem to the receiver, but this particular Leupold is ideal for surgical precision within 500 yards of cold-bore assuredness beyond that distance.
The entire TRG system starts with a cold-hammer-forged receiver and barrel that provide maximum strength. Inside the receiver is a resistance-free bolt that carries the TRG’s three massive lugs. It requires only 60 degree of rotation of the polymer-capped bolt handle to unlock and rip an empty case from the chamber.
On top of the receiver is an integral, European-style 17mm axial dovetail rail with integral recoil stop-slots. When the TRG-42 arrived, I had to place an order for a proprietary Sako quick-release base and an Optilock ring set that works perfectly with the dovetails, but clashes cosmetically with the gray phosphate finish of the rifle’s barrel and action.
The free-floating 27 1/8-inch barrel in .338 LM has a 1:12 RH twist that was specifically selected to optimize the 2S0-grain bullets traveling at 2,860 fps. Longer bullets such as the 300-grain Sierra MatchKing require a 1:10 twist for stability. The chrome-lined bore resists throat erosion and enhances accuracy life.
Up to now, I’d only encountered these Sakos with muzzle brakes. But my test specimen didn’t have one, and the difference was instantly apparent when I fired it. Instead, this TRG-42 utilizes a threaded muzzle for use with a muzzlebrake or screw-on sound suppressor. When not in use, a thread protector screws on without disturbing the barrel’s .875-inch profile.
The receiver is secured to an aluminum-alloy bedding block by three screws for consistent stability at varying temperatures. The two-piece stock is made of an injection-molded polyurethane reinforced with an aluminum frame and designed from sniping requirements with considerations made to competitive shooting regulations. Special consideration has been given the particular preferences of the individual operator, to the extent that this Sako resembles a competition rifle in many ways. Within the stock, the integrated aluminum skeleton adds strength. An 8 1/4-inch aluminum rail runs along the bottom of the fore-end and attaches to the bedding block, so the use of a bipod stresses the block without creating casual contact with the barrel. The buttplate can be infinitely tuned for height or pitch at the shoulder and features an extremely tactile rubber pad. A series of spacers and angle plates are available to regulate the length of pull, and the height of the cheekpiece can be adjusted vertically. Everything about the TRG-42’s stock lends itself to tailoring for a particular right- or left-handed shooter.
Steel sling attachment points make carry and transport easy. The stock features two points at the rear for either strong- or weak-side carry and two at the fore-end. Unlike the rear, the forward attachment point sits on a fixed aluminum mount between the fore-end and floating barrel, while the rear points are attached to the stock and oriented to a left- or right-handed operator. This forward sling attachment point can be removed and repositioned on the other side for lefthanded carry.
With an adjustment range between two and five pounds, the TRG’s two-stage trigger mechanism can be removed without further disassembly of the rifle. Using small hex-head wrenches, the trigger shoe can be adjusted for length, as well as horizontal and vertical pitch. Such competition-like enhancements in design help prevent flaws in trigger management-such as canting-from disturbing sight alignment and point of impact.
The actual trigger travel measures less than one-quarter of an inch with little perceived over-travel. With such a light trigger, Sako has incorporated a safety notch that prevents a negligent discharge resulting from an impact against the rifle.
Within the triggerguard is the safety lever. It engages and disengages with extreme smoothness and features a pair of European-style red dots in the flanks of the forward position, indicating that it is ready to fire. With the bolt in a closed position, the safety lever can be engaged by pulling the lever rearward with the trigger finger. In activating the safety, the bolt is secured in the closed position, the trigger mechanism is locked and the firing pin is blocked.
Ammunition is fed into the chamber by a center-feed detachable-box magazine. The center feed encourages reliability and precise positioning of the cartridge into the chamber. A polymer ramp safely guides the tip of the match bullet up and out of the magazine and into the chamber without marring the bullet. However, the follower can be tilted, which can make loading spare magazines in field conditions an inconvenience.
For testing I ordered 450 rounds of .338 LM from Black Hills Ammunition, Hornady Custom and Lapua. All incorporated the battle-proven and match-winning 250-grain Scenar bullet. Since this rifle is tactically used in a cold-bore situation, I would determine 100-yard accuracy results by patiently taking the time for the barrel to completely cool back to the starting temperature before continuing on with a follow-up shot. This technique strains patience, but helps make first-round hits more predictable in critical situations.
The course of testing the Sako TRG-42 lasted a period of 10 non-consecutive days during winter months where the highest recorded temperature was 37 degrees and lowest dropped to 16 below zero. The rifle and a predetermined amount of ammunition were always exposed to the ambient temperature during that day’s session. I was particularly interested in the variations of group size averages and my own ability to accurately fire as temperatures went up and down.
The first day represented the highest temperature: 37 degrees. Range conditions were ideal, but looking back, results were typical of temperatures above zero. A note inside my data book indicated that the colder it got, the harder it was to discipline my body to hold the principles of marksmanship together. Although the ammunition was constructed of the same bullets and similar brass, the Lapua load consistently posted the best results on most days, and the first day was no different. At 100 yards, the best group measured .53 inch and averaged .82 inch. Hornady’s Custom load resulted in exceptional groups with a .78-inch average and a best of .62 inch, while Black Hills printed a .77-inch cluster for that brand’s best result.
Packing 12 inches of snow beneath me into a firing point, Day 5’s airborne moisture formed into ice that coated the fur on my face as well as the TRG’s metal parts. It took just 10 minutes to cool the barrel between shots at 16 below, which accelerated the cold-barrel objective. I didn’t think of it then, but the groups swelled to the greatest recorded during 10 days of testing: Hornady measured 1.24 inches, Black Hills measured 1.20 inches, and Lapua turned out a group measuring just 1.08 inches. I was disappointed in my performance, but even dressed with layers, it was difficult to deal with painfully numbed extremities. The relatively large difference between average group sizes did make me wonder if, at that temperature, the types of powders used by each manufacturer were adversely affected by the cold. As Lapua’s products are manufactured in Finland, I’m curious if the company has adapted its products to deal with possible variances in burn rates for these extremes.
During the last phase of testing, I used the same lots of ammunition to print five five-shot groups at five aiming points on separate silhouette targets set at 200, 300 and 500 yards. As much of a challenge as it was to shoot groups consistently at 100 yards, all that practice had made me very comfortable with the TRG-42 and the Leupold Mark 4 ER/T.
At 200 and 300 yards, I was able to confirm the range-estimation feature you get with FFP. The TMR reticle grows in size with the image as you increase the magnification setting, which helps allow you to estimate range once you understand how to use the reticle with references. My spotter utilized a Leupold RX-1000 compact rangefinder to verify each given distance and a Leupold Mark 4 12-40x60mm tactical spotting scope to observe hits.
I reasoned that, out to 300 yards, a TRG-42 operator could accurately use the first two lower hashmarks on the TMR reticle to compensate for the drop in elevation experienced with the TRG-42 zeroed at 200 yards and still be confident in a critical cold-bore shot. Moving back to 500 yards, however, the groups fell 34 inches and more training would be required. If I knew I were going to be shooting at distances beyond 500, it would be absolutely necessary to spend the time and create a range card with a ballistics table to utilize a portion of the Leupold’s 70-MOA turret adjustment range.
What’s impressed me most about this experience is not just the sub-half-MOA accuracy in this rifle or the fact that the Leupold Mark 4 ER/T managed to stand up against the cumulative recoil of more than 400 rounds. It’s the ammunition. Each box proved exceptionally accurate and predictable given each brand’s price point. The .338 LM has great accuracy potential and delivers tremendous amounts of energy.
In Greek mythology, Jason could not rightfully sit on the throne Iolcus in Thessaly without first finding the fleece of the gold-haired winged ram. For a tactical marksman depending on a cold-bore shot, the quest is likewise over. The Sako TRG performs the single critical function: to not miss. (See attachment below for Accuracy Results chart)
SakoShootingTableFin (31.6 KiB)