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Sauer 404 Synchro XT in 243 Winchester - test and review

PUBLISHED: 15:54 13 July 2017 | UPDATED: 16:25 13 July 2017

18.Sauer 404 with full Flexpro bipod system shown standing ready for any pan and tilt required to keep your shot stable and crosshairs vertical

18.Sauer 404 with full Flexpro bipod system shown standing ready for any pan and tilt required to keep your shot stable and crosshairs vertical

Archant

The Sauer 404 Synchro XT in 243 Winchester is up for scrutiny... How will Chris Parkin get on with this immaculately finished bit of kit on the range?

LIKES

Superb Sauer barrel shows consistent accuracy in all bullet weights

A fantastic stock design for solid shooting form

Technically advanced design

Multiple calibre options and opportunities plus a true left hander available

The de-cocker is a beneficial safety feature

DISLIKES

Smooth magazine feed was unreliable with any of the ammo types in 243 tested

Fiddly cheekpiece adjustment

Four-way trigger weight adjustability has stolen some of the crisp precision feel

Sauer Scope mounting system is very expensive with few options

VERDICT

The rifle is a technical tour de force, but I think some of the delight of the simpler Sauer designs has been lost in the pursuit of technical advances. The mandatory accessories like scope mounts (and to some, the bipod), are very expensive with no real options, and the gun will appeal to those with brand loyalty at heart.

TECH SPECS

Calibres: Medium, .243 Win., 6,5x55, .270 Win., 7x64, .308 Win., .30-06 Spring., 8x57 IS, 9,3x62

Magnum, 7 mm Rem. Mag., .300 Win. Mag., 8x68 S, .338 Win. Mag., .375 H&H Mag.

404 Jeffrey and 10.3x60R Swiss

Overall length: 1060 mm

Length of pull: 365mm

Weight: 4.2 kg inc scope mount

Stock Material: Polymer injection moulding, soft touch rubber finish

Magazine capacity: 3+1

Trigger: single stage, 4 way adjustable from 550-1250 gr

Barrel length: 560mm

Twist rate: 1 in 254 mm

Also Available left handed

RRPs

GUN + ACCESSORIES

Sauer 404 Synchro XT in 243 Winchester: £3145

Sauer Titanium Pro sound moderator: £410

Sauer SUM Scopemount: £437

Sauer Flexpro Bipod: £493

Contact Blaser Sporting 020 76222116 www.sauer.de/en/

RIFLESCOPE

Zeiss Victory HT 3-12x56 standard as tested is £2084

www.zeiss.co.uk 01223 401525

AMMO

Lapua 100gr Soft Point ammunition

www.vikingarms.com 01423 780810

Fiocchi 95gr SST and Hornady Whitetail 100gr SP ammunition

www.edgarbrothers.com 01625 613177

Winchester Extreme Point and Ballistic Silvertip ammunition

www.browning.eu 01235 514550

Tier-One Spartan III Sound Moderator

www.tier-one.eu 01924 404313

Sierra Bullets and PPU ammunition

www.henrykrank.co.uk 0113 256 9163

Vihtavouri powders and Lapua Cartridge Brass

www.hannamsreloading.com 01977 681639

IN DEPTH ANALYSIS

I have shot the Sauer 404 on several occasions since its launch in 2015 – at long ranges from multiple shooting positions on steel targets at WMS in Wales, and at Zeiss press events in Denmark – before receiving my own test gun to shoot with at home in the spring of this year. The 404 was immediately seen to be a competitor to the Blaser R8 by offering barrel changes and the assured safety of a de-cocker system, and it has polarised my opinion.

The barrel got a clean as soon as it came out of the box, and although showing signs of the proving rounds it had fired, the gun was immaculate in terms of fit, finish and all specifications. The cleaning rod and borescope showed the usual barrel quality I have come to expect from the precision hammer-forged German tubes, and cleaning took little effort. Shouldering and mounting the rifle confirmed my opinion of the Synchro XT stock as one of the most comfortable to use in the business, and to add more, this one has an adjustable cheekpiece. Sauer’s Universal scope mount is one of few units that will fit the proprietary bases machined onto the action. In a similar way to a Blaser, it clips in place on the dovetails using two short folding levers; unlike the Blaser, these can be tightened manually without the need for a turn screw to initially set them up before you close the lever. They also employ a 1/3-2/3 split between the ring uppers and the base, so be careful when clipping it over your scope tube to avoid scratches before tightening all four T10 Torx screws.

The system assures return to zero on a switch-barrel gun, and kept its promise for me with the .243 barrel supplied, although I have shot the rifle in .308 before, which gave me a better understanding of recoil control and is what first attracted me to the stock design. Weighing in at a mid-range 4.2kg, including the scope mount only, this lighter 17mm barrel (at 560mm long with a 254mm twist rate) suits the .243 calibre and gives enough speed to keep things deer legal. It shot perfectly well on paper at 100m with Hornady Whitetail Classic soft-point ammo, and liked the 95gr SST Fiocchi used in their loading, too; 58gr ammo went to Winchester, although I personally prefer the 75 and 87gr V-Max from Hornady to get the most out of the .243’s case capacity and ballistics on Charlie. Speed never killed so well as the ability to fend off the crosswinds at distance! The aluminium action carries a six-lug bolt which locks directly into the barrel tenons’ abutments. An Allen key SUS tool folds within the fore-end’s sling stud, and is used throughout the gun’s adjustments with a push button in its tip to disengage the four locking bearings and extract it. Inserting it into the underside of the fore-end and giving a half-turn disengages the stiff reinforced polymer forearm so it slides off, allowing access to the barrel change clamps and four-way adjustable Quattro trigger. Unclamping the barrel lets it slide out and vice versa, with the locking lugs of the bolt setting headspace. I always like to keep a fired case handy to pop in the chamber too, just to add belt to braces; again, return to zero is good but never quite perfect, and within 3cm at 100m. The SUS Sauer Universal key turns the weight adjustment of the trigger unit, altering its single-stage break between 550, 750, 1,000 and 1,250g. This is a ‘Jack of all trades’ option, as I feel some of the crisp, clinical performance of other Sauer triggers has been lost in the pursuit of light weight – generally a quick cure for those who have poor trigger control (specific target disciplines excepted) on a hunting rifle for use in all conditions. I stayed on level ‘III’ to get some feel from the unit wearing gloves, and found this to be far more consistent with the minor creep less noticeable. It’s still a good trigger, superior to many of its peers, but it is not quite a great trigger like the 100 and 101 show! The blade itself is vertically ribbed for grip with a nice curve to settle the tip of your finger in, five degrees of rotational movement, and eight millimetres of back-to-front spacing to accommodate your finger length, all set with an Allen key.

Three rounds fit in the all-steel magazine, which is very durable and will never go wrong, but it’s too tight to load quietly, and I didn’t find the push-feeding bolt that rides over it 100% reliable. On more than one occasion, regardless of speed, it caught the case wall rather than its rim as it was punched forwards, denting the brass or grinding the soft lead tip on the way into the chamber. This never happened with the .308 chambering and is possibly a factor of a ‘one size fits all’ action, with spacers at the back of the magazine for shorter rounds; most critically, smaller diameter bullets never lead the case into the chamber as well as bigger ones, without more intimate tailoring of the action’s feed ramp and chamber entrance. Again, it’s not as good as the 100/101 in my opinion, and it can’t be top loaded either. Each round needs to be pressed down and another slid in from the front to fill the mag, which is released by a single push-button in front of the well. The .243 calibre is the smallest chambering offered, and I tended to single feed my ammo during ammunition and accuracy testing to iron out this variable damage. The gun did this without hindrance, just dropping the rounds in the spacious ejection port. Mag feeding when hunting was a delicate affair, with a push, pause and gentle slide of the bolt to flip a round out of the mag, onto the feed ramp and into the chamber. Jams still occurred, and I blame the .243 chambering not suiting this rifle, as I never had a hiccup in .308.

The 404’s bolt is a technical marvel for all of its 124mm stroke. Three pairs of lugs sit behind the push-feed bolt nose, with twin plunger ejectors and a single claw extractor fitted in the face of the upper right lug. These worked faultlessly with plentiful primary extraction leverage in the 60-degree lift. Engine-turned jewelling to the 21.6mm-diameter shaft with a single raceway below it prevents unwanted rotation and engages the bolt stop/release, which is actuated with a small button to the lower left side of the trigger guard loop. This is a very fast bolt and I was unable to get it to jam with deliberate mishandling until actual ammo came into play from the magazine. A serrated slider is recessed to the left side of the shaft and allows the head, with its extractor and ejector, to be swapped for another of four sizes in the calibre families on offer. At the rear, the wide shroud carries the safety/de-cocker. Pushing the centre button and allowing the slider to drop rearwards disengages all firing potential from the rifle, assuring your mind of greater safety – but never forget safe handling procedures! Push it forwards to re-cock the gun before firing, and that also exposes a red dot to indicate ‘live’ condition. Serrations allow grip on the slider but, as expected, it is cocking the firing pin spring, so force is understandably required (although not excessive force, and it is silent and also operable in gloves without any annoying clicks at either end of its travels).

The action locks when de-cocked, but a half press on the slider will allow the bolt to be cycled or opened and safely unloaded. It is a bit angular and if you have a biggish nose like mine make sure you don’t get it in the way when you cycle the action as it will catch you.

This Synchro XT thumbhole is an ergonomic and aesthetic delight for me, and its full grey-green and black colours complement the slick black Ilaflon action and barrel finish wonderfully.

The thumbhole is generous with an ambidextrous palm swell, as the rifle is available in a true left-hander as well. A slim, adjustable cheekpiece continues with a soft, warm-touch finish and plentiful height adjustment, but it does need to be lowered to remove the bolt using the 4mm Allen key, pushed through the rubber butt plate into its socket. I’d prefer this to be more visible as it takes a few seconds of fumbling each time to engage; if you are carefully setting up the cheekpiece to fit you it gets irritating having to lower the unit to remove the bolt, and takes you all the way back to square one each time. I’d also like to see the hole in the recoil pad significantly opened up, or at least a dead straight push fit into position, rather than a blind ‘feel around’ for the Allen bolt inside. If you use the bipod or lose the Allen key, your bolt is stuck in the gun, and I would love Sauer to include the optional accessory, a compact MUS key, as well; this does the same job but fits into the QR sling stud location under the butt.

The whole butt section of the stock can be detached from the action using a single bolt within the thumbhole, to make a more compact and simpler storage scenario for travel without the need to remove the barrel. All components are injection moulded and very stiff in construction, with the barrel remaining fully floated in all scenarios without any hint of flex or loosening of fit at the junctions. The 404 has quite a chunky feel overall but balances nicely – even with an ultra-light mod and bipod in place – so it swings, points and shoots well without ever being jumpy. Great ergonomics in the stock’s design shroud the physical mass of the gun, making it a delight to handle and shoot, but it is certainly not a lightweight mountain rifle and, if standing waiting for a shot, you will appreciate the multiple sling attachment options. The rubberised finish and profile of the fore-end keep your fingers and thumbs well clear of the barrel without feeling bulky, and you can maintain a firm hold without feeling as if you have a death grip on the rifle. This alone makes it more relaxed and enjoyable to shoot, with the weight helping to dampen any nervousness in your position before the firm but even recoil pad transfers recoil to your shoulder. In Denmark I shot over 500 rounds in one day, and 200 the next day, from multiple positions with an unmoderated 404 Synchro XT in .308 without so much as a bruise on my shoulder pocket! There are a lot of rifles I would steer clear of if that was required of me.

I was sent the latest Sauer Titanium sound moderator and Flexpro bipod systems with the rifle. Being titanium, the mod is light at 284g, durable and effective for both recoil and noise reduction; however, two shots of .243 with a nine-degree air temperature heated it up significantly and enough to cause mirage problems which, by shot five, were a ‘wobbly target’ problem. It is definitely a hunting-only moderator, and effective at that task, so just be aware of the conductivity and thermal properties of titanium. From an engineering standpoint, the material requires special care, which seems to have been well addressed by Sauer. It separated for cleaning very easily at its threaded junction after 30 rounds, and no corrosion or galling of the threads was present after 50. External finish is slick so you might want rubber gloves to really grip it hard to tighten it back together, as a loose mod kills accuracy, but, likewise, dirt won’t adhere to that slick finish easily, nor will the dreaded corrosive blood on anodised titanium, which is thankfully very durable, if thin.

The stock’s fore-end is certainly strong and stiff enough to fit a standard sling stud on the underside, and were the gun mine I would, but Sauer has offered a compromise for their stock. The quick release (like that of the butt’s underside) fore-end stud with integral SUS is removed and a new spigot inserted, using the same push-button release catch, which clicks into place without chance of a loss. This can be left in place and has its own integral sling anchor point with a second socket to click the Sauer bipod into, but you now need to find somewhere to safely store your SUS. Turned 45 degrees from parallel to the barrel, the stud clicks in and can’t fall out unless pulled at that same angle in the future. It pans left and right to track browsing quarry, with cant adapting to uneven ground, so you can keep your cross hairs upright in the aim. Each leg extends from 180 to 254mm and twists to lock, with hard surface rubber caps on the feet guarding steel inserts for softer terrain. It is a good bipod and very solid to use, allowing you to ‘load’ the buttpad without tearing a screw-in stud from the fore-end, but be careful leaving your gun standing up vertically; although there are detents to hold the bipod vertical (i.e. without any cant) your gun will fall over under its own weight if it gets left off balance, or with the pan facility swivelled, because it is top heavy. I would have liked stiffer springs in the detents to keep things in place unless I want to move them, or a friction lock! It weighed 330g all in, so that, plus the moderator, is about the weight of a Harris. It can be folded up under the barrel and safely left locked in position, or withdrawn and placed in a pocket if you are shooting from sticks. It is a very good system, especially on a Sauer that is otherwise unequipped from the factory, but it’s very expensive, so needs to be!

I wasn’t surprised to find this gun shot extremely well – all Sauers seem to do that, and I have had enough prior experience with this gun and its twins and brothers to know they didn’t really throw out any jokers in the accuracy pack, regardless of calibre.

The gun is equipped for virtually any realistic hunting calibre or requirement, capable of strip down and disassembly for transport, multiple bolt barrels and bolt heads, take on/off mounts, and all the rest. As the 202 and 404 Synchros in the past have shown me, it is a superb stock upon which to base a rifle, but the accessories are very expensive.

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