Sauer (pronounced “Zauer” over on the Continent) rifles are the Mercedes of the European rifle world. Definitely upper crust, they’re typically out of the price range that most Americans are willing to spend on a hunting rifle. That’s a pity because who wouldn’t want a rifle engineered and built by Germany’s notoriously quality-anal minds and mechanics?
Regret not. Sauer has brought out a synthetic-stocked version of the Model 101 XT, and while it’s not exactly a budget rifle, at an expected street price of $1,400 it’s priced right there with the top-end rifles Americans tend to buy (Remington Model 700 XCRs, Sakos, and Kimbers).
Unlike the innovative Blaser and Merkel switch-barrel guns that are popular overseas, visually and ergonomically the Sauer 101 XT sticks to more traditional design principles. The Ergo Max polymer stock is of classic profile with a good straight comb, schnabel fore-end, ambidextrous palmswells, and soft touch finish. In addition, the barrel is free-floated; the action functions predictably; and the rifle handles, shoulders, and balances well.
The 101 Up Close
On close inspection, the 101 XT does differ from the norm in several subtle areas, notably in the design and function of the safety, in the way the barrel is mated with the action, and in the bedding system.
The safety is located on the rear of the bolt shroud, and when engaged, it locks the firing pin, making forward movement impossible. Upon first glance it is simply a sliding tang-like safety but located on the bolt shroud. It’s not. In order to prevent accidental activation or deactivation, the safety has a spring-loaded locking button in its center, which prevents the safety from moving unless it is depressed. Potential trouble? I don’t think so. Simply placing the thumb atop the safety and pressing it in the desired direction depresses the locking button and moves the safety; you don’t have to consciously depress the locking button.
To add additional safety, the system incorporates an internal firing pin catch that prevents the firing pin from impacting a primer unless the bolt is fully in battery.
As mentioned, the way the barrel mates to the receiver is also a departure from the norm. Rather than being threaded and screwed in, it utilizes a friction fit “heat lock.” If I understand the process correctly, the front receiver ring is heated (very hot indeed); the barrel breech is inserted; and the receiver is cooled around it. As it cools it contracts, creating a very tight fit between barrel and action.
As is common with many European action designs, the bolt lugs lock directly into the breech of the barrel rather than the more common lug-to-action lockup used in most American bolt actions. It’s a very strong system and eliminates any question about the strength of a friction-fit barrel.
The third major departure from conventional design is in the recoil lug-stock interface. The stock uses an Ever Rest bedding block—which is not the heavy, full-length, wrist-and-fore-end-stiffening block so popular in America, but a simple, square block bedded into the stock and drilled to accept two heavy pins that protrude down from the action and serve as recoil lugs. A heavy hex-head (as in use a 3/8-inch socket to remove it) bolt attaches the action to the bedding block, then a short Allen-head screw attaches the bottom metal to the action bolt. To remove, unscrew the two bottom metal screws, use your socket to remove the action bolt, and lift the barreled action from the stock.
From the exterior, the profile of the 101 XT’s machined steel action is reminiscent of that of a Thompson/Center Icon or a Tikka T3. In reality it’s probably the other way around, Sauer being such an old and respected name in European rifles. But I digress. The ejection port is minimal, making for a stiff action that vibrates little but consistently, though it is large enough to allow reliable ejection. I wouldn’t want to try and load cartridges into the detachable magazine through it, though single loading directly in the chamber is easy.
The double-stack magazine is made of what appears to be high-impact, glass-filled nylon and offers an advantage over most; it holds four rounds in magnum cartridges as opposed to the more common three. Capacity in standard calibers is five. The magazine latch is metal, is housed in the bottom metal (which is indeed metal), and is recessed below flush to minimize the potential of inadvertent magazine ejection. The magazine of the sample rifle I tested for this review easily dropped free when the release was pressed, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t coax it to “accidentally” drop out.
Six locking lugs grace the front of the bolt, which is of full diameter, meaning that the bolt body is the same outside diameter as the lugs, making for very smooth bolt travel. As mentioned earlier, those lugs lock directly into the rear of the barrel. Bolt rotation is 60 degrees, which enables fast functioning. Like most short-rotating bolts, it must be addressed aggressively since the firing pin spring compression cams are shorter than on a typical two-lug, 90-degree bolt design.
The extractor is a strong, 0.20-inch-wide blade that’s dovetailed into one of the recoil lugs, and positive ejection is ensured through the use of two—that’s right, two—spring-loaded plunger-type ejectors. An added benefit of the dual-ejector design is that cartridges are ejected precisely and predictably to the side, avoiding contact and potential reliability-affecting interference with the zealously sized windage knobs on some of today’s riflescopes.
The safety locks the bolt in place when engaged, which I like, and a bolt release button resides just behind the bolt cutout in the stock to allow it to be functioned with the safety engaged. The bolt release button also works in conjunction with the trigger when removing or installing the bolt; both must be depressed simultaneously to perform either operation.
Touted as having “zero creep and zero overtravel,” the Sauer 101 XT’s trigger is factory specced to break at 2 pounds of pull. Measured with my Lyman digital trigger gauge, my test sample averaged 1 pound, 12 ounces over a series of five cycles, with only 1 ounce of variation. That’s spectacular. Creep was indeed nonexistent, and overtravel, though present, was very minimal.
Many shooters and hunters don’t care for a trigger pull weight of less than 3 pounds, fearing that a too-light trigger might lend itself to premature discharges. I’ll concede that a light trigger takes getting used to, but personally, I love a 2.0- to 2.5-pound trigger, and I consider the Sauer 101 XT’s one of the best I’ve used on a production rifle.
Barrel length is standardized at 22 inches for nonmagnum calibers and 24 inches for magnums. There’s no difference in action length between long-action calibers and short-action calibers—both use the same basic long-action foundation.
Metal finish is a smooth, satin matte black that’s nonreflective, but not so coarse that it will invite corrosion.
A very nice feature of the Sauer 101 XT is the ease of scope mounting—it is machined and drilled and tapped to accept standard Remington Model 700 scope mounts. Most European rifles utilize a proprietary scope base/ring setup, which sometimes costs as much as a decent basic rifle in U.S. dollars. Not so the Sauer 101. And to Sauer’s credit, though the sample rifle Shooting Times received on loan for testing didn’t have iron sights, they are an option on the 101 XT.
Ergonomic & Accurate
For testing I mounted a new Steiner 2.5-10X 42mm Predator Xtreme riflescope (see the sidebar for more about it), gathered up a collection of .30-06 factory loads and a couple of favorite handloads, and headed to the range.
After running several double handfuls of ammunition through the rifle to get a feel for the action and trigger, I settled in for serious accuracy testing at 100 yards. According to Mike Schoby, editor of our sister publication Petersen’s Hunting, who recently visited the Sauer factory, the German engineers who designed the 101 established an accuracy parameter requiring sub-MOA accuracy from five-shot groups. While I typically test hunting-weight rifles with three-shot groups, I also fired five-shot groups with each ammo type, and the results are listed in a separate column in the accompanying chart.
While building the two handloads for the Sauer 101 XT, I was unable to seat the 150-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip projectiles to just kiss the rifling leades as I prefer to do. Seated to SAAMI maximum overall length—anything longer didn’t feed properly from the magazine box—bullet ogive was short of the leades. I could have seated them out and single-loaded the cartridges, but that defeats the purpose of a good repeating, big-game rifle.
Throughout my shooting the 101 ran like a well-spun top, chambering, firing, and ejecting every type of ammunition put through it without a hiccup. At not quite 6.75 pounds bare, the 101 handles like a wand and feels good in the hands, courtesy of the soft-touch finish. It does, however, recoil with authority because of its light weight. That the recoil pad is thin and a little too firm doesn’t help.
A checkering pattern of tiny shapes—that look for all the world like an upside-down Nike logo—provided a good, secure grip even when my hands were slippery with sweat. As mentioned, the buttpad was not deep enough to really tame recoil. Though it kept the rifle from slipping on the floor when leaned in a corner, I’d like to see another half-inch of squishiness.
In the final analysis, the Sauer 101 Classic XT is one of the most user-friendly, ergonomic, reliable, accurate European rifles I’ve had the pleasure of using. Operation is simple, intuitive, and comfortable. It handles like a Mercedes, but works like a mule. Cost is within the reach of almost any really serious big-game hunter. The synthetic 101 is a rifle I’d gladly hunt with anywhere—from the Northwest Territories to the dusty plains of South Africa, from the Rocky Mountains to the Florida swamps.