** This article was first printed in Guns & Weapons for Law Enforcement (Dec 2004)

  Finland's Silenced .338 Long-Range Sniper:
Sako TRG42 Rifle and BR-Tuote T8M Reflex Suppressor
by Al Paulson
 
     
 

A friend in the Finnish Defense Forces told me how impressed he was with Sako's TRG42 rifle for obtaining hits out to very long range (1,500 yards). I was already a confirmed fan of the .338 Lapua Magnum for long-range military sniping and law-enforcement applications at airports and in big cities with high-rise buildings, where shots can be long and big buildings can generate their own weather. The fact that he preferred the TRG42 over more widely deployed rifles of the same caliber profoundly piqued my interest. A rifle made in Finland for Finnish sharpshooters is a bigger deal than one might imagine. That reality stimulated me to dig out my passport. It was time for a field trip. What follows is a hands-on evaluation of Sako's TRG42 rifle and BR-Tuote's T8M Reflex sound suppressor.

More than any other country on the planet, Finland is a nation of riflemen who pride themselves on their marksmanship skills. One of the best insights into the national character of Finland is that one of the country's two greatest heroes is Simo Häyhä, a citizen-sniper who served in the Winter War to stem a Soviet invasion in 1939, which Stalin launched to gain more open-water ports. Häyhä scored more than 500 kills in the first 90 days of the war. The Soviets called him "Belaya Smjert," the White Death.

Another great national hero, Eino "Illu" Juutilainen, was also an outstanding rifleman. This skill served him well as a fighter pilot in the wars with the Soviets. Illu was such a fine marksman that he aimed not for just the enemy plane, not just for the engine, but for particular spots on the engine, rear gunner, or pilot of the enemy aircraft. Starting the Winter War in canvas-covered Bulldog biplanes and antiquated Fokker D.XXI fighters, Illu and his fellow pilots faced swarms of the latest Soviet high-performance fighters and bombers. In the process, they invented aerial combat techniques that became widely used during World War II and are still taught today. Thanks to his fearlessness, situational awareness, and uncanny marksmanship, Illu scored 94 kills during the Winter War of 1939 and the Continuation War of 1941-1944. It is a further testament to Illu's skills that his aircraft never took a single round from enemy aircraft.

Exceptional individual marksmanship skills were characteristic of Finns fighting in the air and on the ground. Two things saved the vastly outnumbered and out-equipped Finns in the Winter War: marksmanship and "Sisu". Loosely and inadequately translated as "guts", it is not trite to say that Sisu and marksmanship are deeply woven into the woof and weft of the Finnish citizen-soldier. Even today, all male Finns between the ages of 18 and 60 are obliged to serve a period of active duty followed by reserve duty. Finnish reservists compete in local and regional shooting events to keep their marksmanship skills at the highest possible levels. Since the Finnish Defense Force has a limited budget, reservists handload their own ammunition at their own expense for target practice and competition on their own time. Given that context, it is interesting that a seasoned sharpshooter and serious student of small-arms from Finland told me that the Sako's TRG42 rifle with BR-Tuote Reflex sound suppressor is his favorite sniper rifle of all time.

For those who came in late, the .338 Lapua Magnum (8.6x70mm) fills mission essential needs that exceed the capabilities of the .308 Winchester and .300 Winchester Magnum cartridges. Several aspects of the .338 Lapua Magnum are noteworthy. (1) The cartridge can deliver consistent hits at 1,500 yards. (2) The typical .338 rifle only weighs about 2 pounds (1 kg) more than a comparable .308 rifle. And (3), while there has been considerable interest in fielding precision rifles in .50 BMG (12.7x99mm) to counter threats from heavy weapons at a distance of a kilometer or more, .50 BMG military rifles are much bigger and heavier (and frequently less accurate) than rifles designed for the .338 Lapua Magnum. Furthermore the .50's substantial recoil and blast overpressure begin to degrade shooter performance after a relatively small number of rounds have been fired.

Lapua offers a variety of special-purpose rounds for the .338 Lapua Magnum featuring a number of ingenious bullet designs. The most accurate variant features a 250-grain FMJ, rebated boat-tail Lock Base projectile that remains supersonic at 1,300 yards. Note that 7.62x51mm M80 ball commonly goes subsonic around 770 yards. In my experience, hit probability plummets when projectiles reach transonic velocities. Hitting a swinging Pepper Popper (cut from armor plate) at 1,300 yards proved routine with the .338 Lapua Magnum. Clearly, rifles using this round fill an important tactical niche between 7.62mm and .50 caliber precision rifles.

Sako TRG42 Features

I was impressed by the robust design of the TRG-42 rifle and the design features that make it especially useful for cold-weather operations. Having operated down to temperatures as cold as -82 degrees Fahrenheit, I have a very personal interest in cold-weather engineering. While an SSG-style bolt handle may provide faster bolt manipulation in moderate climatic conditions, the TRG's long bolt handle with large knob provides easier bolt manipulation in severe cold while wearing heavy gloves or mittens. The knob itself is made from a sturdy synthetic material to reduce the risk of frostbite at very cold temperatures. The long bolt handle also provides more leverage for ejecting a spent cartridge that has frozen to the chamber walls. Sometimes hand leverage is not enough under extreme conditions, and the handle of a turn-bolt rifle must be struck with one's boot or a stout piece of wood to get a weapon back into action. A robust bolt handle is essential.

Unfortunately, the handle-bolt interface is less robust than I would like. I know of one instance when the handle broke at its attachment point when an operator working in only moderately cold conditions (from an Alaskan's perspective) tried to extract a frozen case using hand pressure. The bolt-handle interface can be made much more robust by a competent gunsmith, but the factory should eliminate this weak point in an otherwise very robust system.

Another dandy feature of the TRG is that the bolt handle features "Borden bumps" at the front and back of the bolt, which enable faster bolt operation even when dirty, and help ensure tight lockup and maximum accuracy when the bolt is closed.

The bolt cocks upon opening and features three large, symmetrical locking lugs. The cocked firing pin protrudes from the rear of the bolt sleeve, where it provides both tactile and visual feedback to the operator that the weapon is ready to go. When cocked, a red band is exposed to further enhance the visual feedback. Bolt lift is just 60 degrees, which facilitates fast bolt throw. This design also enables the operator to manipulate the bolt without losing his sight picture. This is a very important capability for the armed professional. I was particularly impressed at the ease and smoothness of bolt travel, which reminded me of a 1970-vintage Tikka rifle that a friend of mine uses for caribou hunting. Due to the considerable size of the .338 Lapua Magnum cartridge, bolt travel measures 3.9 inches. The ejector is a conventional spring-loaded piston.
I also liked the TRG's ambidextrous stock, which fits me much better than an AICS stock. Fabricated of injected molded polyurethane over an aluminum skeleton, the robust stock provides user-friendly shooting from the bipod or from offhand and supported offhand positions. The cheekpiece is fully adjustable for height, windage and pitch. The rubber butt pad is an insightful design that reduces perceived recoil. It is fully adjustable for length of pull (using optional spacers), angle, height and pitch. This is an exceptionally user-friendly stock.

The TRG's match-grade, two-stage trigger is nothing short of outstanding both in terms of performance as well as adaptability to an individual shooter's preferences. Each trigger stage has its own adjustment screw for setting the trigger pull, which can be set anywhere between 2 to 5 pounds. The rifle used in this study was set to 2.5 pounds. A 1.5mm hex wrench is used for adjusting first-stage trigger pull weight, while a 2.5mm wrench is used to adjust second-stage trigger pull weight, as well as pull length. The trigger can even be adjusted for vertical or horizontal pitch. Wow!

It's hard to overstate how much I like this trigger. It is user friendly, breaks crisply, and requires no learning curve--unlike some other currently fielded sniper rifles I could mention. I am flabbergasted that a number of military and civilian pundits make the case that "good trigger action is not important in weapons intended for combat" or even for the taking of dangerous game. I do not agree. A good trigger not only makes a good rifleman more accurate, it makes him distinctly faster--as well as more confident. Confidence in one's ability to place shots well, and to do so quickly, are important factors in the equation that determines an individual's likelihood of solving a problem under stress. To my biases, trigger control is the single most important aspect of hitting your target, and that requires an excellent trigger. Sako's TRG42 delivers.

Several other design features make the TRG42's trigger system both noteworthy and user-friendly. The entire trigger assembly can be removed from the rifle en bloc. The trigger guard can be removed in the field to facilitate shooting with gloved hands. The safety lever is located inside top-front of trigger guard. It operates like the safety of an M1 "Garand" rifle. This arrangement is very fast. The safety locks the trigger mechanism and the bolt in closed position, and features a firing pin block. Taking the lessons of the Winter War and Continuation War to heart, it is also important to note that the safety is silent when it is manipulated. Simo Häyhä took shots as close as 20 yards, and other Finnish snipers using subsonic ammunition and silencers took shots even closer.

A good barrel is also critical to the sharpshooter's success. Fabricated of chrome-moly steel using a cold hammer-forging process, the TRG's freefloated barrel is a longish 27.13 inches, with a twist rate of 1 in 12 inches. The very smooth bore created by the hammer-forging process tends to reduce friction and barrel heating, and deliver superior barrel life compared to a conventional barrel. A cone-shaped breech and complementary bolt enhance the chambering process as well as the accuracy potential of the rifle. The muzzle is threaded to accept a brake or sound suppressor. Every rifle comes from the factory with a thread protector. Barreled actions are available two finishes: blued or manganese phosphate. Blued rifles are generally issued with a black stock, while rifles with a phosphate finish are generally issued with olive green stocks. The bolt bodies of both variants are left in the white.
The TRG's receiver is also fabricated by the cold hammer-forging process, using a proprietary steel alloy. Three screws secure the action to a large aluminum bedding block that is part of the stock's internal skeleton. Detachable box magazines have a capacity of 5 rounds. Fabricated of sheet steel with plastic followers, the robust magazines are a bit spendy at approximately $225 apiece. I don't mind the price. But this does bring me to one of my few criticisms of the TRG series; the magazines cannot be disassembled for cleaning or routine maintenance. I do, however, like the ease of loading these magazines, as well as the ease of inserting and withdrawing magazines from the mag well. Steel ridges on each side of the magazine facilitate pulling a magazine free of the mag well with gloved or mittened hands.

Sako's bipod for the TRG42 costs about $560 at the time of this writing. While 95 percent of the shots made by military snipers are taken from the offhand or supported offhand positions rather than from a bipod, the inverse is probably true for law-enforcement sharpshooters. For either end-user, Sako's spendy, foldable bipod is a mandatory accessory in my opinion. While I have a long tradition of shooting off my pack or crossed ski poles, I do better beyond 1,000 yards with a bipod. The highly robust TRG bipod can be adjusted to bring the bore from 6.25 to 10.5 inches above the ground or other support.

Sako accessories for the TRG42 include auxiliary iron sights for emergency use, a muzzle brake/flash-hider, match sight mounting set, MIL-STD-1913 rail, night sight adapter, various slings and swivels, cleaning kits, soft case, and a heavy-duty transit case. Detailed specifications of the TRG42 Rifle can be found in Table 1.

T8M Reflex Suppressor

Reflex suppressors are designed by Finnish engineer Juha Hartikka and manufactured by Asesepänliike BR-Tuote Ky, or BR-Tuote for short. Fabricated from chrome moly steel, Reflex suppressors get their name because relatively little of the can extends forward of the muzzle; most telescopes back over the barrel. Reflex suppressors don't add much length or weight to a suppressed firearm.

Chrome moly steel is an appropriate choice of metals for this can for several reasons: (1) it has great strength, (2) it takes a good weld, (3) it is more heat resistant than stainless steel, (4) it has excellent heat-transfer properties, and (5) it delivers an excellent service life in the Real World, with minimal maintenance. Given the highly unusual internal design of the Reflex suppressor, there is no need for exotic materials such as Inconel or titanium, which would simply serve to increase expense. Since a Reflex suppressor was the first commercially successful silencer designed for use on belt-fed machineguns, durability is not an issue. The only mission essential need that might benefit from the use of a titanium Reflex suppressor in my opinion would be for constant amphibious operations in saltwater. Otherwise, employing exotic metals with Hartikka's Reflex design is a solution in search of a problem.

This study was my first opportunity to try out BR-Tuote's suppressor for the .338 Lapua Magnum. These are big suppressors with eight baffles, but the can is remarkably lightweight and only extends 4.2 inches past the muzzle (see Table 2 for detailed specs). The rugged two-point threaded mount enables rapid mounting and dismounting. The cans are finished in a milspec, nonreflective black finish. Off-the-shelf variants are available with mounts for Sako TRG42 and Blaser .338 Lapua Magnum rifles. Custom threading for other platforms is also available.

Performance

While I've always used Lapua or Black Hills ammunition when shooting .338 Lapua Magnum rifles, crossing national borders with a lot of ammunition proved impractical. Lapua ammunition was sold out when I arrived due to a forthcoming sniper competition, so I used 250-grain Swiss P ammunition. I'd heard good things about Swiss P, which is made by the RUAG Ammotec division of RUAG Aerospace Defence Technologies. I did have a bit of sticker shock, however, because the ammo cost more than $7 per round.

The silenced TRG rifle in this study produced average groups of 0.41 MOA. Like any rifle with a very long and relatively light barrel, groups opened up during extended shooting sessions to an average of 0.83 MOA. Muzzle velocities averaged 2,859 fps without the Reflex suppressor, and 2,867 fps with the silencer.

The sound signature of the TRG42 without a sound suppressor was a formidable 171 decibels at 1 meter to the left of the muzzle. That's 7 decibels louder than a .308 sniper rifle with 20 inch barrel. While blast overpressure at the shooter is considerable, it has nowhere near the physiological effects produced by a .50 BMG sniper rifle. Since the decibel is actually a ratio between the measured sound pressure and a standard reference level (the threshold of human hearing), it is interesting to note that the actual sound pressure from the .338 Lapua Magnum is nearly ten times greater than the .308 Winchester. The T8M Reflex sound suppressor reduced felt recoil by about 35 percent and dropped the rifle's gunshot noise by 22 decibels, down to 149 dB. That's about the noise level of a .410 gauge shotgun. That's also less than 1 percent of the sound pressure generated by the unsuppressed rifle. Employing the T8M Reflex suppressor mitigates shooter fatigue from both felt recoil and blast overpressure.

By the time the combustion gases exit the Reflex suppressor, little energy remains for kicking up dust or making nearby vegetation dance. Furthermore, the Reflex suppressor drops the muzzle signature below bullet flight noise, so anyone downrange will generally look away from the shooter when they hear the ballistic crack of the bullet or the "pwuukk!" of bullet impact in flesh. The bottom line is that the Reflex suppressor eliminates the visual and sonic clues that could subject the armed professional to effective counterfire from enemy personnel. As a Finnish proverb dating back to the Winter War asserts, "A silencer does not make a soldier silent, but it does make him invisible."

Sako's TRG42 rifle fitted with BR-Tuote's T8M sound suppressor together make a precision rifle system that is more than the some of its parts. Comfortable to shoot, accurate to 1,500 yards, with minimal sonic and visual signatures, this is a dandy setup for solving problems from stone-throwing distance out to 1.4 kilometers or eight-tenths of a mile. I like it.

Beretta USA is the importer for Sako rifles into the States. Kaltron-Pettibone imports Lapua ammunition. Black Hills Ammunition is licensed to make .338 Lapua Magnum ammo in the States, and individuals and departments can order factory-direct. Canadian Tactical is the exclusive distributor of BR-Tuote sound suppressors in North America. They are excellent folks to work with, in my experience. Regrettably, individuals in the United States cannot own imported sound suppressors. Canadian Tactical can, however, sell BR-Tuote suppressors to official end-users such military units, certain alphabet agencies, government animal-control agencies, and law enforcement at all levels in this hemisphere.

Sources

Beretta USA Corp.
Dept. GW/LE
17601 Beretta Drive
Accokeek, MD 20607
301-283-2191
www.berettausa.com

Asesepänliike BR-Tuote Ky
Dept. GW/LE
Sahamyllynkatu 33
80170 Joensuu, Finland
www.personal.inet.fi/business/reflex.suppressors

Black Hills Ammunition, Inc.
Dept. GW/LE
P.O. Box 3090
Rapid City, SD 57709-3090
Phone 605-348-5150
Fax 605-348-9827
www.black-hills.com

Canadian Tactical Ltd.
Dept. GW/LE
PO Box 632
Station M, Calgary, AB
Canada T2P 2J3
403-277-5184
403-699-0025 fax
www.canadiantactical.ca
info@canadiantactical.ca

Kaltron-Pettibone
Dept. GW/LE
1241 Ellis Street
Bensenville, IL 60106
630-350-1606
www.vihtavuori-lapua.com

Sako Ltd.
Dept. GW/LE
P.O. Box 149
FIN-111-1 Riihimäki
Finland
www.sako.fi

 
     
 

Table 1. General features of Sako TRG42 rifle.
______________________________________________________________________________

Feature Specification
______________________________________________________________________________

Cartridge .338 Lapua Magnum (8.6x70mm)

Method of operation bolt-action, cocks upon opening, three lug bolt

Trigger two-stage, adjustable pull weight from 2 to 5 pounds

Magazine type double-row, single-position feed, box magazine

Magazine capacity 5 rounds

Magazine construction steel, sheet metal

Receiver construction cold hammer-forged steel

Barrel construction cold hammer-forged steel

Stock construction injected molded polyurethane, olive green or black

Rear sight, emergency protected round post, adjustable for wind and elevation

Front sight, emergency fixed peep

Barrel length 27.13 inches, threaded for muzzle brake or sound suppressor

Barrel rifling four groove

Barrel twist rate 1:12 right hand

Finish rifle available with manganese phosphate or blued, bolt body left in white

Safety lever located inside top-front of trigger guard, operates like safety of M1 "Garand" rifle

Weight, empty, no optics 11.25 pounds

Length, overall 47.25 inches

 
     
 

Table 2. Features of BR-Tuote T8M Reflex suppressor for .338 Lapua Magnum.
______________________________________________________________________________

Feature Specification
______________________________________________________________________________

Length overall 12.5 inches (31.8 cm)

Length past muzzle: 4.2 inches (10.7 cm)

Diameter of tube 1.96 inches (5.0 cm)

Weight 24.7 ounces (700 grams)

Materials chrome moly steel

Finish milspec, nonreflective black

______________________________________________________________________________

Table 3. Sound signatures of Sako TRG42 rifle with and without BR-Tuote T8M sound suppressor. ______________________________________________________________________________

SPL, unsuppressed 171 dB

SPL, suppressed 149 dB

Net sound reduction 22 dB

First-round pop 1.1 dB
______________________________________________________________________________

Sound pressure levels (SPLs) of TRG42 with and without the suppressor were measured 1 meter to left of muzzle or front of sound suppressor. These tests took place at a temperature 86 degrees Fahrenheit at an altitude of about 3,940 feet above sea level.

 

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