I have an oft mentioned Kalahari Lion hunt rapidly approaching, and I decided it was time to switch to a takedown after loading my .375 H&H Ruger RSM and its giant Pelican case on countless aircraft. I secretly pined for the small cases of the wealthy hunters travelling on the same aircraft as me, seeing all those sweet, briefcase-esque little cases in the special firearms pick up area while I retrieved what could be a dead body in a box. Granted, my Pelican was sized big enough for two full length guns, my rifle and my assembled Ruger Gold Label side by side shotgun, making matters worse. The change I sought was drastic however, as for my third departure for the dark continent I bring far more than the usual backpack, boots, and guns; my wife and two young sons accompany this time. That will add significant luggage burden, which no doubt I’ll be expected to shoulder and pack being the lightest traveller of the bunch. Solution? Ask head office’s permission for a travel rifle. Permission was granted after effusive explanation of the benefits and increased ease of travel, and I purchased two competing designs to see which suited me more. Never could determine what I liked in ten minutes at the gun counter.
First purchase and applicant for the new job of right hand rifle was this, the first push feed of my modern era, having been an ardent and even belligerent proponent of controlled round feed in every bolt action I bought for a good while now. Figuring it was time I sample the future, as items like the IWI Tavor and Keltec KSG arrived in the mail for testing for this site and I found to my surprise I actually liked them and saw legitimate merit in new designs, I broke out of my comfort zone and ordered. It was also a departure from my favourite chambering, the venerable and multitalented .375 H&H, for something just a bit less effective but not prohibitively so, and milder. I had been meaning to give the 9.3×62 a good workout for some time as well.
Chief reason for purchasing this Sauer Forest Takedown however, was its versatility, as I bought it with more than one barrel. Indeed, the Sauer 202 like many true takedowns can be assembled with various “front ends”. The Sauer 202 uses a barrel extension machined integral to the barrel with the lug recesses neatly machined inside, ala AR10 / AR15 design, this allows perfect pre-headspacing of multiple barrels if desired. The 202 uses a three lug bolt, featuring two rows of lugs, for a total of six lugs- very strong. Extraction is accomplished via a Sako style hook, and ejection a standard push feed spring loaded plunger. Three lugs means a 60 degree bolt lift, something I have yet to find appreciably different from the 90 degree Mauser style bolt lift I’m so very familiar with, though many will appreciate the more truncated travel of the bolt handle in a three lug system.
I gravitated towards the Sauer 202 Forest Takedown because it is a true takedown, unlike the standard 202 and Mauser M03, among others in the class. The others, and standard 202, simply separate barrel from stock or variations on this theme, leaving you with a full length stock and a rifle perhaps a foot shorter than it was initially, but not half the length like a true takedown where the stock splits as well. I chose the Forest in particular due to its 20″ barrel, and proven hard hitting chambering of 9.3×62. It is a trim, handy little package that handles a lot like a heavy Model 94 Winchester carbine. Heavy, I should note, it certainly is, at 9 pounds even as a .30-06 and 9 1/4 pounds as a 9.3×62. The flip side of this, is the weight is back and “in the hands” thanks to the trim 20″ 9.3 barrel, and recoil is so mild you’d assume you’re shooting the .30-06 when it’s actually the 9.3 barrel in place. Speaking of weights, I didn’t scale the trigger, but it was superb and crisp at about 4 pounds.
The sights for the 9.3 Forest barrel befit the Forest moniker, they are extremely large, with a dayglo yellow marked rear blade and a red fibre optic front post. I’m an iron sight guy, have hunted using them exclusively now for approaching a decade, and I found them far too coarse. Decent for saving your bacon up close, but for sharp shot placement further out, seriously lacking. The .30-06 barrel sights were better and more traditional, with a gold blade up front and a cleaner dark steel rear blade. Finish on all of the Forest metal is Ilaflon, an extremely durable and 100% waterproof metal coating that renders the 202 Forrest essentially weatherproof; a very handy and nice touch in fine rifles. I’m as guilty as any of rust specking pricey guns because I have a nasty habit of using them in the field. I wish more fine makers added such common sense features, I may have one of the first Cerakoted double rifles soon, but that’s another matter.
Now to change barrels on the 202 Takedown, you simply depress the front fore end sling swivel stud, a slick and perfectly integrated catch for the fore end you don’t even notice is there until you use it. As a side note the rear sling swivel can be removed in a very German engineered manner the same way, push the centre of the stud down, and pull it out. With the front swivel stud depressed, you pull the fore end forward and away from the barrelled action. With the bolt open, the barrel is free to be pulled out the receiver, being only a friction fit in the receiver. It is quite a tight fit that requires a strong pull to separate, it’s a good idea to have a film of oil on the near mirror finished barrel shank. The very tight fit is a good thing as there is no slop as a result, and very German in its fit and precision, as mentioned the shank is almost mirror smooth. There is an integrally machined key on the underside of the barrel and matching keyway in the receiver, that ensures the barrel stays timed perfectly, and can’t rotate.
The barrels are retained chiefly by the bolt, as the lug recesses as mentioned are machined right into a ring on the breech end of the barrel, which the bolt lugs engage to lock up the action for firing and always ensuring barrel, bolt, and receiver are tightly bound as a single unit. Secondary barrel retainment, such as when the action is open for bolt cycling to chamber a new round, is achieved by the tight friction fit of the barrel in the receiver ring and ultimately the tapered fore end barrel channel and tension rearward on the fore end provided by the takedown mechanism. The channel’s taper combined with the tension from the takedown assembly ensures the barrel is held back in the receiver even under severe jolts. You can change chamberings, or barrels rather, in the 202 Takedown in five seconds if well practiced, it is slick, and simple. You need to stay within the family of cartridges to avoid requiring a second bolt and magazine, for instance 9.3×62 and .30-06 share essentially a common case, you could also have .270, or .25-06 and 9.3×62. If you have a magnum 202, you can run any manner of spare barrels within that range, but not 9.3×62 or .30-06 or the like without a second bolt and magazine, not cheap.
One aesthetic feature I appreciated, and rare in firearms, is all the controls are matching. Both safety buttons, yes there are two and I’ll get to their operation shortly, the magazine release, and the swivel studs both the fore end release and the rear all work by depressing a button. All take approximately the same force, and are approximately the same size. The safety buttons and mag release are all absolutely identical in appearance, ringed low buttons about 3/8″ in diameter. The safety is interesting, and I really liked it. There is a button in the trigger guard, in front of the trigger, which you press up to go to “FIRE”, a connected button behind the bolt rises to expose a red ring, indicating ready to fire. There is also a red cocking indicator that peeks out the back of the bolt when the rifle is cocked on a closed bolt. To turn the safety back on, depress the button behind the bolt to hide the red ring. It is extremely fast and intuitive in use, and I never put my finger in the trigger guard unless intending to fire, so the position in the trigger guard suits me just fine. It is really nice not having to shift your grip in the slightest to silently operate the safety. For the magazine release, mags will cleanly drop free with gusto in a way reminiscent of a black rifle, thanks to a spring on the edge of the magazine well that keeps the mag under positive spring pressure. This ensures there is no rattling, a well thought out, and again very German touch, and it also drops the spent mag out quickly and cleanly.
I did experience an issue I had read about, and that was the first shot flier after assembly of the rifle, all successive rounds grouped very tightly. I presume this is a result of slop being taken up, and barrel / bolt / receiver being jarred into proper alignment on the first firing. The flier was close enough to still hit home at hunting ranges, staying well on an 8.5″x11″ target at 100 yards relative to the following “good” rounds, I’d say average 3-4″ from the others, but it is still a curious and slightly disconcerting trait. Following advice I had been offered online, I found thumping the butt of the rifle against solid ground or a bench fixed this, so after changing barrels or assembling, give the rifle a rap on the butt pad against a firm surface and it will from then group tightly from round 1. Following assembly and use I did not however handle it as aggressively as I would hunting in Africa for weeks, and I wonder if all the time in a Land Cruiser’s gun rack jostling about, climbing steep granite gomas for views, dropping the rifle and so forth could work the tolerances open again to the point you’d get the flier without having disassembled it. I would thump the butt on the ground every morning as a precaution, not a procedure I would like to see being necessary unfortunately however. My double rifle, notably, does not suffer from this reassembly flier.
The rifle, really through no fault of its own, is also extremely susceptible to the classic push feed jam, or double feed. It was extremely easy to jam the action when purposely running a “bolt stutter”, that is to go forward partway, bring the bolt back, and go forward again as in a panic situation or when working the rifle at an awkward angle. It was quite a chore actually to attempt to clear the jam I induced through the small port offered for ejection on the 202, compared to the massive ports I’m accustomed to on American rifles and Mausers where essentially half the action is open to air. This, combined with my slower performance, and poorer hits by far, on 25 yard and closer speed drills versus the more powerful double rifle quickly made the decision for me with which I’ll hunt Lion. The slower nature in which I worked the 202 but more importantly the poorer hits, despite the lighter recoil of the 9.3×62 versus the .375 double, has everything to do with my preferences and practices and not the rifle, I’m just stating what I found in use. The ease of jamming the rifle solid reaffirmed my earlier notions on controlled round feed and dangerous game rifles.
A Classic Push Feed Jam, The Double Feed, not Sauer’s Fault but a Reality
Would I recommend this to a friend? No.
I’m afraid that the cost, at about $6,500+ retail in the US, over $7,000 in Canada plus spare barrels makes this slick, but still push feed, fairly standard rifle cost prohibitive. The trouble is there are so few takedown, quality bolt actions available period, so if it’s something you need these are well thought out, solid rifles. I just didn’t find them appreciably different, and actually found it lacking in ways compared to even just my Ruger. The checkering, clearly manually done and that I appreciate, was quite rough with uneven checking and overruns, in fact a friend I helped learn to checker did a better job on his first stock, I expected better at this price point. You can see what I mean in some of the safety button photos, and I’ve added a checkering specific photo below, this checkering would be swell on a Ruger but at on a rifle that retails at $7,000+ here… Anyhow, the rifles’ big trick, the takedown feature and main reason I bought it really, just isn’t worth the $5,000 more over my Ruger RSM to me when I can invest in a double rifle instead, that does something appreciably different from my Ruger and still breaks down just as easily. That is the path I took, and I will review the Merkel 140AE .375 I chose shortly.