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Sako Stories: Revamping a Vixen

By Martin Auldist

The first centrefire rifle I ever bought was a Sako Vixen in .222 Rem. I was 18 years old and it cost me $600, brand new from a gunshop in Melbourne. That was early in 1985.

 

I walked out of the shop with my younger brother David and drove straight to my Dad’s farm in southern New South Wales, four hour’s drive to the north.

 

When we arrived Dave and I fitted a fixed 8-power Leupold scope at the kitchen table, bore sighted it across the lounge room, then somehow managed to sight it in by illuminating a target with a spotlight and shooting from the tray of my Holden ute. What’s more we were able to shoot several rabbits and a fox in the spotlight that very first night.

 

The diameter of the stainless MAB barrel is 0.645” at the muzzle making it slightly heavier than the original .222 Rem.

 

In the ensuing years Dave and I used that .222 a lot. And I mean a lot.  Foxes, rabbits, crows, feral cats, hares, goats, pigs… you name it, nothing was safe. It quickly became our main general purpose rifle. And when we weren’t hunting with it we were punching holes in paper just because we liked to.

 

We tried out a whole bunch of different loads, searching for that perfect combination. Reloads and factory loads, hot loads and slow loads, hollow-points, soft-points, even some full metal jacket fox loads from an ammunition company in far western NSW, the name of which I have since forgotten.

 

“For the technically minded, the barrel was a 26-inch stainless MAB with a Sako Forester profile. The taper measures 0.645 inches at the muzzle and has a larger (and thus heavier) profile than the original standard barrel.

 

Fast forward twenty years and things had changed dramatically. Sadly, Dave had met his death in a car accident on a lonely stretch of highway in NSW, aged 19.

   

Meanwhile I had found my way to university and subsequently had my life complicated by a career (including seven years working in the New Zealand dairy industry at Hamilton), not to mention the expansion of my family to include my long-suffering wife and three young sons.

 

The .204 Ruger (left) shows just how much extra powder capacity is at your disposal when compared alongside the .222 Remington.

 

I was still hunting, but I had upgraded to “proper” calibres for deer and pigs, the pursuit of which now occupied most of my limited time in the bush. As a calibre the .222 fell out of favour generally and my Vixen languished in the gun safe for years.

 

Things took another twist almost exactly ten years ago, in 2010, by which time I had returned back across The Ditch. One of my hunting mates bought a very second-hand Tikka .222 Rem from a kangaroo shooter in New South Wales and fitted it with a brand-new stainless barrel in .223 Rem for only a few hundred dollars. I was astounded.

 

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Not only had he recycled a pretty worn out piece of kit into an eminently serviceable rifle, but it looked  fantastic too. It got me wondering what I might do to inject a bit of life into my old Vixen.

  

I thought I might also go down the .223 route but out of curiosity I called my local gunsmith for a chat. Man, I’m glad I did. “Why don’t you go .204 Ruger?” he asked. I had never heard of the calibre but I told him I’d think about it. I put down the phone and immediately hit the internet.

 

What I found intrigued me. At the time, the .204 Ruger was a newish calibre, so I didn’t feel too bad about never having heard of it before. It was developed in 2004 by Ruger and Hornady, who marketed it primarily as a varminting cartridge they tagged “the velocity king”.

  

It is essentially a .222 Rem Magnum necked down to .204” (5.2 mm) with the case shoulder moved forward. Consequently it has around 5% more useable case capacity than, say, the .223 Rem.

 

With its smaller projectiles it reaches higher velocities than even noted speedsters like the .220 Swift or the .22/250. Tables on the internet list velocities for a 32-grain projectile as over 4200 feet per second. That is seriously hauling!

 

Martin, Cal and Billy Auldist were sighting in the .204 Ruger when these three foxes walked across the range...


My research also revealed that in the United States the .204 Ruger is a very popular calibre for long range sniping of gophers and coyotes… which being an Aussie I read as “rabbits and foxes”. Commercially available projectiles range between 26 and 50 grains, which provides a good deal of versatility.

 

To cut a long story short I phoned the gunsmith back within days and booked my Vixen in for rebarreling. Not only would the barrel be replaced, but the barrel would be floated, the action bedded with fibreglass and the action, bolt and base plate re-blued. In other words a complete revamp of the rifle.

 

A few weeks later I got the “...it’s ready,” call and trundled off to the shop for the big reveal. When I finally clapped eyes on the old girl, the transformation was amazing. It looked like a whole new rifle! The new barrel had a “saturn blasted” finish for low glint and glare and  a sleek, black finish now rejuvenated all the parts that needed it, and even those that didn’t.

 

Martin says the .204 is perfect for bombing up rabbits at long range. The rig is sighted just 20mm high at 100 metres for a 200 metre zero.

 

For the technically minded, the barrel was a 26-inch stainless MAB with a Sako Forester profile. The taper measures 0.645 inches at the muzzle and has a larger (and thus heavier) profile than the original standard barrel. It therefore required some widening of the forestock channel to accommodate it. I would have preferred an even heavier barrel but there wasn’t enough wood in the stock to accommodate one. 

 

How does it perform? Well, on the bench it is excellent. I’m no benchrest target shooter - my hunting mates will agree - but this rifle shoots far more accurately than I can. When I do things correctly sub minute-of-angle groups are easily achievable even on the rough bench at Dad’s farm.

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More accomplished paper punchers than me, using proper benchrest techniques and custom-loaded ammo, would no doubt be able to return tighter groups. I have favoured Hornady factory rounds loaded with the fast-stepping 32-grain V-Max projectiles, the ones with the red tips.

 

These zip across my chronograph at 3900fps, somewhat slower than the numbers on the box, but still pretty damn quick. Using this ammo I have the outfit sighted in  20mm high at 100 metres, which puts it bang on the money at 200m.

  

I haven’t tested it beyond this range but ballistic charts tell me it will drop only 100mm out at 300m. You can expect some wind drift with these small pills but Google argues that the drift is comparable to that of a .22/250, or maybe even a little less.

 

“One thing I have noticed - or rather haven’t noticed - is the recoil. There is pretty much none. It is a delight to shoot at distant targets and watch through the scope as the projectile strikes.

 

In the field, the .204 Ruger is a pleasure and I have gained great enjoyment watching my sons grow to love the Vixen too, just as Dave and I did way back when. As intimated we mostly use the .204 for spotlighting foxes and busting long-distance bunnies here in Oz.

  

Kiwis with a bent for varminting will find it similarly suitable not only for rabbits but for hares, magpies, wallabies and head shots on small meat goats. One thing I have noticed - or rather haven’t noticed - is the recoil. There is pretty much none. It is a delight to shoot at distant targets and watch through the scope as the projectile strikes.

 

In Australia the .204 Ruger is a superb calibre for foxes, whether spotlighting them or nailing them at long range during the day.

 

In contrast, what the .204 lacks in recoil it makes up for with noise. I haven’t measured it, but the report is substantially louder than it was from the old .222. To sum up, in the decade since the Vixen became a .204 Ruger it has proven to be a perfect instrument for disposing of varmints out to 200 metres.

 

We tend not to shoot much beyond that, but the calibre is perfectly capable of it. Possibly an upgraded scope would help us explore those opportunities.

 

Overall, though, the .204 is an accurate, flat-shooting calibre that has negligible recoil and is a hell of a lot of fun to shoot. If there was any such thing as heaven I’m sure Dave would be looking down and itching for a go!

 

Martin

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