Sauer is a time-honored name in fine German sporting firearms. Dating back to 1751, it’s the oldest German brand still in operation, but it gets a bit confusing. After mergers, splits, World War II and the Cold War, the Sauer name today is associated with two altogether separate companies. The firearms we’re talking about today, the Sauer Models 100 and 404, are manufactured by J.P. Sauer and Sohn, not to be confused with the also excellent but altogether different SIG-Sauer line.
J.P. Sauer and Sohn firearms—rifles and shotguns—are produced in Isny, Germany, where today Sauer and Sohn is part of the Blaser Group, producing Blaser, Mauser and Sauer products in Germany, and Rigby firearms in England. Clearly there are shared technologies and efficiencies among the brands — and separation. Although produced in the same factory, a Sauer is not a Mauser; and a Mauser is not a Blaser. However, in the main, all three brands are associated with premium-quality firearms.
The Sauer Model 404 is the top of the Sauer line; although quite different from the Blaser in almost all ways, it’s a modular rifle with interchangeable barrels. A few years back, Sauer introduced the Model 101, a medium-priced top quality bolt-action, not modular or interchangeable, but a fine conventional bolt-action sporting rifle. We’re going to leave the 101 now, because Sauer’s new Model 100 places it in the middle of the Sauer rifle line.
It would be a disservice to call the Model 100 an “entry level” sporting rifle. Price-wise it is, manufactured in Germany, imported by Blaser USA in San Antonio, and on the street with a suggested retail starting at $699. The Model 100 is offered in numerous chamberings, but two basic models: Classic in walnut; and Classic XT in synthetic. There are bolt actions that are less costly, and many that are more. Today this is sort of a “medium” price range, but the big question guys in my business ask among ourselves is: “How can they produce this rifle at that price?” The Model 404 is something else again, a premium-quality rifle in numerous grades and innumerable options. Both are simply excellent rifles, but they are so different one wouldn’t suspect they came from the same manufacturer. So let’s look at them separately…
SAUER MODEL 100
The test rifle was a Classic XT in .270 Winchester with synthetic stock. Described as “ERGO MAX,” the stock is slim, no cheekpiece, with a very straight comb, Schnabel fore-end, and what I might describe as “basket weave” checkering in the stock. It has a very good feel; a full-sized hunting rifle with 21.5-inch (56mm) barrel weighing a comfortable 6 3/4 pounds without scope.
The action is a three-lug push-feed with 60-degree bolt lift. Bottom metal is steel with a detachable polymer double-stack magazine. I am personally not into detachable magazines, but I like this one. Even though it seats absolutely flush, the capacity is five with standard cartridges, four with belted magnums, plus one in the chamber. Feeding is smooth and consistent—the magazine really works, but I don’t know how they cram that capacity into a magazine that small. The safety is a typical horizontal lever behind the bolt handle root (right side) except it’s a three-position safety! Forward, marked with a red dot, is “fire.” All the way back puts the rifle on safe with the bolt locked; the intermediate position keeps the rifle on safe but releases the bolt for unloading.
The action is firmly bedded with what Sauer calls the “EVER REST” system while the hammer-forged barrel is free-floated. Trigger pull is adjustable from 2.2 to 4.2 pounds by turning an Allen screw just ahead of the trigger. Set from the factory it was a very crisp 2 1/2 pounds, so I didn’t mess with it!
I’ve been to the Isny factory and I’ve seen their massive machines for hammer-forging barrels and I’ve seen superb accuracy in a lot of Blaser, Mauser and Sauer barrels that came off those machines. The receiver is drilled and tapped to accept standard Model 700 mounts (smart!), but I used the Sauer Hexalock detachable mount and put a Leupold VX6 3-18X scope on it. With a good trigger, what appeared to be sound bedding, a barrel that was almost certain to be good and a great scope, I expected the rifle to shoot well. I didn’t expect it to shoot as well as it did. Sub-MOA groups were routine with all the factory loads I tried.
At this point the best group came with Hornady Superformance with 130-grain GMX — 0.306-inch, well under a third of an inch. That’s spectacular for any factory rifle with factory ammo, but it was also an anomaly; by some margin the rifle’s best group to date. What impressed me more was the consistency. This rifle groups very well with everything I’ve tried. It is one of the most consistently accurate production rifles I’ve seen.
So far, the only hunting I’ve been able to do with it is wild hogs. All the shots have been close; no real challenge for the rifle’s capabilities. On the other hand, all the shots have been of necessity fast, and I’ve continued to be impressed by the rifle’s balance and handling qualities. On its website, Sauer touts is as “100% Sauer: The entry into the world of Sauer.” Okay, that’s true, but the Model 100 is a lot more than that. It’s just plain a great hunting rifle. Initial chamberings include .222 and .223 Remington in a “mini” model; .243, 6.5mm Creedmoor, 6.5×55, .270 and .308 Winchester, .30-06, 8×57, and 9.3×62 in standard; and 7mm Remington Magnum and .300 Winchester Magnum in a magnum version.
SAUER MODEL 404
The top-of-the-line 404 is quite a different rifle. The same website hails it as “The Best Sauer of All Times.” Considering the company’s long history, that’s saying a lot. I don’t have enough experience with the brand to verify the claim, but I do think the Sauer 404 might be the most advanced sporting rifle I’ve ever seen! Currently there are nine stock configurations: Four in synthetic, three with adjustable comb; and six in walnut, mostly ascending grades but there’s also a full-stock Stutzen. The test rifle was a Classic; the basic walnut-stocked 404 in .300 Winchester Magnum without open sights.
The Model 404 has almost too many unusual features to list. It’s a two-piece stock rifle intended as a takedown and supplied in a compact attaché case. The front sling swivel is horizontally mounted on the fore-end tip. Now it’s starting to sound a bit like a Blaser, but the similarities are only in passing. The center of that forward swivel has a detent. Press and pull, and the front swivel pulls out to reveal your takedown tool. Instead of removing the barrel, as in Blaser, you remove the buttstock for storage in the case.
The same tool is inserted into an opening on the bottom of the fore-end and turned halfway to remove it. This is not necessary for storage, but is necessary for two important evolutions. The trigger is adjustable from 1.2 to 2 3/4 pounds, but it’s done in four positions on the left side of the receiver just ahead of the trigger. The settings are marked with Roman numerals I through IV, ascending, so I is the lightest and IV is the heaviest. For range work, I set it on II. To go hunting, I set it on IV.
Fore-end removal is also required to remove or switch the barrel. These screws are on the right side of the receiver, clearly marked 1, 2 and 3, operated by the same clever tool. To remove the barrel these screws are loosened in numerical order and then “4,” the articulated barrel index, is pulled down. This piece, extending forward from the action, also serves as the fore-end lock. Retightening or switching the barrel is done in the same numerical sequence. The bolt head is interchangeable, so the 404 can easily be set up with a variety of barrels using a combination of standard (.30-06 rim diameter) and belted magnum (.375 H&H rim diameter).
Okay, got all that? Let’s go back to the action. It’s a push-feed with six locking lugs in two rows of three. The bolt is oversize, with the lugs locking inside the barrel shank. The action is what I’d call “enclosed,” meaning that it has a loading/ejection port, but it’s large enough that single-loading through the port is simple and fumble-free. The 404 does not exactly have a safety. On the rear of the receiver what appears to be a safety is actually a cocking lever. This is very similar to the Blaser (and Krieghoff) system, but in my experience, they all have a different feel and thus take some getting used to. The beauty of the cocking lever is that the rifle is uncocked and inert until the cocking lever is pressed forward and up until it locks. Decocking is done by pressing a button on the bottom of the cocking lever; it will drop down under spring pressure to the starting position. I don’t recommend running around with a round in the chamber on any rifle unless action is extremely imminent, but the cocking lever system is extremely safe and positive. With the cocking lever down (uncocked), the bolt is locked. In order to release the bolt handle to work the action, you just put a bit of upward pressure on the lever.
The steel magazine is in-line, not staggered. This significantly reduces magazine capacity, three rounds with standard cartridges and two with belted magnums. On the one hand this is the single feature I don’t like about the 404 — reduced magazine capacity. However, I carried the rifle on a ten-day moose hunt in northern B.C., and I came to appreciate the benefit. Combining the slim in-line magazine with a trim action, the rifle has a very narrow profile that made it a joy to carry—and also extremely comfortable slung over the shoulder.
Unlike the Model 100, which is right-hand only, the 404 is available both right- and left-hand. The test rifle was right-handed, with a right-hand cheekpiece, but the straight comb felt just fine to left-handed me. The Classic had good, straight-grained walnut, well-cut checkering and an ebony fore-end tip in Schnabel shape. In .300 Winchester Magnum, the barrel length was just under 24 inches (62 centimeters), with overall weight unscoped at 7 1/2 pounds. Handling qualities were superb.
The receiver is dovetailed for Sauer’s detachable mount, very rigid and somewhat similar to the Blaser saddle mount. I actually shot it with two different scopes, initially a Sig-Sauer 2-10X. I hunted with that scope, but I needed to move it to another rifle so I replaced it with a Zeiss Conquest 4.5-14X and did some more range work. Accuracy with both scopes was about the same. I wish I could say that it out-shot the Model 100, but I really can’t! Mind you, it shot very well. Most groups were right at one inch or just under, but with some loads it wouldn’t quite do that With others it did a whole lot better. The best groups with this particular rifle were fired with Barnes VOR-TX with 180-grain TTSX, running consistently between 0.60- and 0.70-inch. This is also very fine accuracy for a factory rifle with factory ammo but, honestly, I wouldn’t expect less from a rifle like this.–Craig Boddington