Sabatti Saphire Synthetic
- By Pete Moore
- 13 Comments
- Last updated: 27/04/2018
British shooters have just got used to Sabatti and their line of centrefire rifles. All based around a Remy 700-like action, which they call the Rover, and use for tactical, target and hunting guns regardless. The build is conventional with a fixed barrel, and from the examples I have tested, certainly more than capable! So, when they sent me their latest product, the SAPHIRE, I thought yes it looks OK, but closer inspections shows this is a switch barrel design and quite a departure from their previous action.
The name SAPHIRE has nothing to do with precious stones, but is the initials of a much longer title; Sabatti All Purpose Hunting Italian Rifle, they must have worked long and hard to get that one off the drawing board, pity about the E? Acronyms aside, this appears a much slicker product than the Rover and has the feel of a Sauer 202 about it! Most obvious, is the manner that the barrel is retained, as it uses a derivation of the 202’s split clamp receiver system. Also, the Ergal 55 aluminium alloy receiver has two integrated Picatinny bases, again like some models of 202, which is a practical feature. Along with a 3-lug bolt that gives a reduced lift angle of 60°, with feed from a 3-shot, single column detachable magazine, it comes over a lot slicker than previous models.
The bolt is made in three parts and has a floating head that we are told: ‘guarantees perfect contact on all 3-lugs, thus enhancing precision.’ The long pushing barrel is AISI 4140 steel (42CrMo4), cold hammer-forged with Sabatti’s Multi Radial Rifling (MRR), which is a polygonal form, as opposed to cut lands and grooves. The muzzle is threaded ½ x 20 UNF (complete with protector), which I imagine is done for the UK market and requested by the importers Range Right Ltd.
The stock is a grey polymer and is pleasingly rigid with none of that floppy and hollow feel that some makes have. Inside, the action void is well machined; at the front is what I would call a recoil shelf, as opposed to a pocket, as the lug butts up against it, rather than dropping into it. The forend has integral strengthening sections, so giving a rigid base that also free-floats the barrel. Overall, this is a well presented and manufactured rifle, that looks and feels good!
The stock is quite traditional in build, with a deep cheekpiece on the left and a low, raised comb, with the butt being finished off with a thick, rubber recoil pad. Moving forward, the pistol grip is generous and shows cast-in chequering panels, as does the underside and sides of the forend. Above are two, full-length finger grooves, the tip is slightly angled back. Annoyingly, there are fixed sling swivels, meaning attaching a bipod means fitting a QD sling stud. Range Right said they will, on request, fit QDs instead. There are two more furniture options; a walnut stock identical to the synthetic and a thumbhole the same to the one on the Rover, which would be my choice! Both these options put the price up a bit!
The 3+1 single column magazine is retained in the well by a press-forward catch integrated into the front face of the trigger guard. There are two trigger options; Standard (1.2 Kg pull) or Set; the weight of 1.5 Kg can be reduced to 250g, they are interchangeable and can be replaced by a gunsmith. I had the standard on my tester, which showed a bit of take-up movement, before it broke crisply enough at the advertised 3lb mark.
The safety is a 2-position lever, rear/right of the action, it pushes forward to FIRE and reverses for SAFE, where it also locks out bolt operation. Sabatti says there will be a 3-position variant, that will give a middle (SAFE with bolt operation) position. The bolt shows a butter knife type handle (again like the 202) and operation proved smooth and slick. The shroud angles rearwards and follows the line of the receiver and gives a clean and uncluttered look with a big, cocked action indictor at the base. The bolt face shows the usual spring/plunger ejector and extractor claw. Sabatti are to be congratulated on a good looking and well-built design, which offers a far more modern and sporty feel than the Rover action.
Being a switch barrel, the SAPHIRE is offered in calibre groups, which doubtless is all about the cartridge overall length (COL). Group A - 243 Win, 7mm-08, 308 Win and 7mm Remington SAUM. Group B – 6.5x55, 270 Win, 7x57, 7x64, 30-06 and 8x57JS.
Group C – 7mm Rem Mag and of course 300 Win Mag! I was not sure of other barrel lengths, as their website shows the rifle but when you click on the ‘technical features’ button it says ‘no content’, so I can only speak for the 308 on test, which pushed the tape at a pleasing 24”! With the trend these days for shorter tubes, I like the extra, as it gets the best out of all calibres; certainly 243 Win!
Like any switch barrel, you can often use the same bolt head for different calibres, like 243/308 Win and 7mm-08. The bolt head is removable so, if you were to want to switch to 7mm SAUM, you would have to change it to suit. It looks like the SAPHIRE uses a long action receiver to accommodate all calibres, which is common practice. However, to suit different COLs, both the magazine and well can be changed.
Barrel change was as expected; remove the bolt and the two action screws (you’ll need a 25 Torx driver) and separate the barrelled/action from the stock; pleasingly, it was a snug fit! There are three Allen bolts front/lower of the receiver, two on one side and one on the other. With a 5mm Allen key, slacken these off and the barrel slides out; on re-insertion, there’s a cut out at 12 O’clock on the chamber extension and an alignment key inside the receiver chase. As with the 202, best practice is to slide the barrel in and close the bolt, then retighten the cross bolts. The bolt locks directly into the chamber extension, which is sensible for a switch barrel system like this!
I rigged the SAPHIRE up with a KonusPro, LZ-30 2-12 x 56 scope and a Hardy Gen III reflex moderator. I used a cross section of 308 Win ammo, in weights from 150 to 170-grains and Browning’s new BXR and BXC (155 and 168-grain loads).
To be honest, I was not expecting a precise return to zero, as previous rifles that use Sauer’s system (including their 202) have never gone back on the money. But this is not a criticism and detracts little from the advantages of a switch barrel rifle. As it happens, I was correct, but even with systems like Blaser’s R8 or Mauser’s M03, which do offer near 100% repeatability, it would be a foolhardy hunter that did not check zero!
In 308, the twist rate measured out at 1-11.5”, Sabatti seem to have a penchant for this form, as both their STR and Tactical Scout offer the same pitch. Which, as I discovered, favours the 150/155-grain bullet weights.
For a 308, and even without the moddy fitted, the SAPHIRE proved very well behaved, which is always a result in this calibre! Functionality proved good with smooth bolt operation, magazine feed, extraction and ejection, no matter how slowly I worked the action. However, single feeding is not on the cards, as if you drop a round onto the mag platform it nose dives. If you need to, it has to be dropped into the chamber.
The trigger proved a bit awkward, as the initial take-up took a bit of learning; something I would get sorted, but the break was fine. As suspected, the Sabatti preferred the lighter weights, the 155 BXRs were shooting 0.75” and the 168 BXCs around and inch, with the heavier 170s at a tad over that. Speeds where good though, proving the advantage of a longer barrel. The BXR and BXC averaging 2925 fps and 2662 fps accordingly.
At a ball park figure of £900, the Sabatti SAPHIRE is a good rifle, you will pay a tad more for the thumbhole version and even more for the walnut, which is to be expected. Price-wise, it sits in the middle ground of around £1000, which is not bad at all for a switch barrel.