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Written by Keith   
Tuesday, 16 January 2007

Product Review – Tikka T3 Varmint Stainless

- By Saladin

 

I have written elsewhere about the process of choosing my first centrefire rifle, eventually opting for a stainless heavy barrelled T3.  Calibre of choice? 22/250.  So how did the rifle turn out? Please read on.

 


Aesthetics/technical

 

The Tikka T3 varmint rifles come only in a black, copolymer-synthetic stock.  The same stock is used on the T3 Lites, but for the varmint model Tikka have added a piece to widen the forend, and another piece has been added to raise the comb and form a cheekpiece.

 

 

Above: aesthetically, the Tikka T3 is a case of function over form.

 

 The stock material is very stiff and there are cross ribs running at 90 degrees to the barrel channel at intervals all the way down the forend. The result is little or no stock flex even at the forend tip ( unlike the weatherby fibreguards, for example) which, in my opinion, is as it should be. The stock features a palm swell, and has what I will loosely call “checkering” – it is actually a pattern of moulded nodules- on the pistol grip and forend for hand traction.  In practice, I’m not sure that grip is really enhanced all that much. The stock has an undeniably “plasticky” feel to it, and I could never describe it as one of the shooting worlds more attractive units, but it is an example of utilitarian function and cost minimisation.  For me, at the “budget end” of the market, I’d rather have my money spent on function rather than form. Take your pick, I guess. The Tikka stock certainly meets this requirement!  The butt sports a reasonable recoil pad, and gives a total length-of-pull of 350mm.

 

 

Above:  the forend is well braced, reducing flex. Note the recoil lug at left

 

            This rifle has the stainless barrel and action, but a blued version is available for those who’d prefer it.  The barrel is a reasonably heavy profile, starting at 28 mm diameter, running forward of the receiver for 30 mm before tapering away to 22 mm at the muzzle.  Barrel length is just under 23 &1/2 inches( 600mm). Open sights are not available. The muzzle has a concave recessed crown.  The cold hammer-forged barrel has been bead blasted to a flat, matt finish, presumably in an attempt to minimise reflective glare, and has been free floated from the receiver ring forward, with plenty of clearance right down the channel – combined with the ultra stiff stock, there appears to be no way contact can occur, which should aid in consistent accuracy. The barrel is nicely centred in the stock, which I like to see.

            The receiver is flat bottomed with plenty of bedding surface area.  The use of a single column magazine enhances this fact, allowing for a minimum of steel to be cut out of the bottom of the action. A similar philosophy has seen Tikka opt for a relatively small ejection port, leaving a solid bridge of steel from end to end of the action.  All of this should result in a very stiff action, theoretically increasing accuracy. The receiver top is equipped with machined scope rails for using the sako optilock scope rings.  It is also drilled and tapped for weaver-style mounts if you prefer that system.

           

 

Above:  The T3 receiver and optilock mounts.  The milled scope mount rails are excellent

 

 

  Tikka have opted to use a recoil lug kept captive in the stock.  This engages a slot inletted into the bottom of the action.  There are two bedding screws, one located behind the trigger assembly running into the tang, the other forward of the magazine well, just behind the recoil lug, holding the action in the stock.

 

 

Above: the bottom of the T3 action.  The inlet at the front mates with the recoil lug in the stock

 

            The bolt head is a two locking lug design, with a fairly short 70 degree locking rotation.  The lugs lock into the front receiver ring, not the barrel, making rebarrelling down the track a straight forward task. The bolt handle turns down into a rebate in the action for additional security.  Bolt release is achieved via a lever on the left side of the action.  A two position safety ( on or off) is located on the right side of the tang, handy to the thumb, and locks both trigger and bolt.  You cannot open the bolt with the safety on. It is a push feed design, with a plunger-type ejector in the counter-bored bolt face. A spring-type extractor is inletted into the bolt rim just above the right locking lug. 

 


 

Above: the T3 bolt face.

 

The bolt body is completely smooth, with no projections.  When Tikka claim a “glass-smooth” bolt travel, they aren’t kidding.  I can honestly say it is the smoothest action I’ve used, with no hint of binding. The shorter bolt lift combines to make it a fantastic set-up for the user.  Tikka only make one action length, but vary the bolt-stop locations to suit particular calibres.  The rear of the bolt is covered with a polymer shroud, in my opinion one of the drawbacks of this rifle. I would much prefer the whole assembly to be steel, but the shroud does seem to be fairly sturdy.  I would be careful to keep the shroud free of solvents though.  Just to be sure.

 

 

Above: T3 bolt body and shroud.  It gives a very smooth bolt travel

 

            The polymer issue also leads us to the trigger guard, and magazine.  Both items are manufactured from a glass reinforced copolymer.  Again, I would traditionally prefer steel.  It is obviously where Tikka have saved some money.  However, I guess you don’t need to worry about corrosion issues for these parts.  The single column magazine is released by a latch at the front of the magazine well, and I can confirm that it has never failed to feed reliably.

            The trigger features longitudinal grooves for grip and feel. For me, it has a nice curve and good width ( 6 mm).  The trigger housing is made from an aluminium alloy, but all internals are steel.  There is no provision for the owner to adjust sear engagement, but on my rifle creep was non existent.  Tikka claim that the sear arrangement is honed and polished by hand. Weight of pull is adjusted via a small allen key in the front of the assembly.  The manual suggests that it can be adjusted without removing the stock.  Don’t believe them!!! It is a damn fiddly procedure. Pull the action and it becomes quite an easy task. I set my trigger to minimum – around 2lb – and now have an outstanding trigger for field use.

 

 

Above:  the trigger assembly.  Weight of pull is adjusted via the grub screw at the front of the trigger assembly.

 

  

            The general workmanship and care put into this rifle appear to be very high.  The machining looks very good, and has been finished nicely.  No rough machining and reamer marks left like some Remingchesters I’ve seen over the last few years.  Notwithstanding the use of some non-steel items, it is a very well made design.

 

 

In Use

 

I chose to use the Sako optilock mounts and rings for scope mounting.  This appears to be an excellent ( though somewhat expensive) method, since it should put the scope pretty much on target windage wise right from the start – assuming the scope rails are machined correctly to begin with.  The Optilocks are also claimed to reduce stress on the scope tube.  Scope-wise, I opted for a Bushnell Banner 6-18 x40 AO.  It was the only scope in my price range made in Japan, which I figured was a worthwhile factor, and offered a useful spread of power for this calibre.  The total weight is just over 10 pound, which is actually not too bad to use as a carry around varmint rifle.  I’ve carted it through paddocks in search of bunnies with no complaints.  I wouldn’t want too much more though.  The rifle handles smoothly, the extra weight over a sporter helps to remain settled on field targets, and the heavy barrel resists heating up too quickly.

For day 1 at the range I used the one-shot, one-clean technique for the first six rounds, then two shots and clean for the next half a dozen to run in the barrel.  Patches passed through smoothly, and copper fouling wasn’t too bad, giving a fair indication that the bore is well finished.  I haven’t had to use Sweets 7.62 or it’s ilk at all to remove copper.  Hoppes cleans it up nicely.

The narrow ejection port does not preclude single loading from the top. I have skinny enough fingers to drop a round in the top and poke it forward into the chamber.  You can also just drop the round in and use the bolt to feed it forward with dependability.  The first real attempt at a five shot group was with some factory Remington 55-grain Psp’s.  These went down into a group just on an inch. Pretty impressive for a first up factory load. Several other groups recorded around, or just on, an inch, but nothing any tighter.

 

 

Above:  the first ever 5 shot group. Remington 55 grain psp’s

 

 

However, some three-shot batches of handloads were also taken, and some of these showed real promise.  Handload development over the last twelve months or so has resulted in a pet load of a 40-grain Hornady in front of 34 grains of BM2. Cases are Norma, primers are Federal.  This load, in this rifle, will shoot .5 MOA regularly – probably every time if I was good enough!  The search is continuing for a similarly performing 50 or 52 grain load.

 

 

Above: handloaded 40gr hornady, propelled by 34 grains of BM2 from Norma cases.  This load will reproduce this result regularly.

 

I should note that the chamber in this rifle is very tight.  Tikka seem to have kept tolerances to the lower end of the range, and distinct pressure signs arise well before maximum reloading manual values are reached.  If you are going to handload for a Tikka, I strongly recommend starting well below maximum and work up carefully.

In short, this rifle is excellent value. The quality of workmanship is fine – as you would expect from a Sako owned subsidiary- , any price cutting compromises are kept to non-accuracy related area’s, and it shoots fantastically well – almost anything will shoot MOA.  At around $1250, for a true varmint rifle, it is well and truly worth a look. I highly recommend them.

 

 

Above: the Tikka T3 shown disassembled. It is a mighty fine performer.

 

Brief Summary

 

For: outstanding accuracy, great trigger, smooth bolt travel, free floating barrel, light enough to carry in the field (just), general machining quality, low price

 

Against:  Plasticky stock feel and look, polymer trigger guard and bolt shroud, small discolorations in the barrel steel., Optilock mounts are expensive ( but excellent)

 

 

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 16 January 2007 )
 
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