Its tough green finish makes a nice change from stainless steel and protects this neat little rifle from damage in the field, says Bruce Potts
The Tikka T3X has to be one of the most widely accepted stalking rifles in Britain today. It comes from the old firm of Tikkakoski, Finnish for ‘woodpecker’, hence the two back-to-back stylised woodpeckers in its logo, and this version has a super-tough and practical Cerakote finish.
Rather than the usual blued steel or stainless steel finish, Cerakote is an applied coverage system that adheres to the pores of the metal and forms a protective surface from the elements. It is a polymer-ceramic composite coating that gives a high resistance to abrasion, corrosion, wear, chemical attack and impacts. It also repels dirt and moisture and has lubrication properties that make it even smoother for bearing surfaces such as bolts.
Available in a wide range of colours the ultra-smooth finish is anti-reflection. The finish of a waterproof stainless barrel can shine a bit, but the Cerakote is much more hunter-friendly. I have several rifles coated in Cerakote and it acts like an armour plating, so you can forget about the weather and scratching it as you stalk.
The rest of the rifle is the standard T3X, which has the improved stock design from three years ago, modular stock inserts, improved bedding, larger ejection port, metal bolt shroud and, of course, Tikka’s legendary smooth bolt system and accuracy.
Barrel and action
At 20in long with a 1-in-10 rifling twist and six grooves, the Cerakote gives good performance for bullets up to 100-gr weight. You also have a metric 14mm/1 muzzle thread for a sound moderator; the Stalon was supplied and performed admirably. The barrel is also free-floated up to the thicker part of the barrel end near the chamber to aid accuracy.
Tikka actions are always smooth and this T3X has a lightning-fast and silky smooth one, which can be attributed to the low bolt lift. It has a twin locking lug arrangement opposite each other and semi-coned in profile, with a single extractor claw and a plunger-type ejector. All feature the Cerakote finish to enhance performance.
The ejection port is enlarged for easier access to load a single round if necessary. Scope attachment has been enhanced with additional drilled and taped holes for a scope rail — to be used for night vision or longer scope. Or you can simply fit the Optilock scope mounts to the integral dovetails with recoil stop.
The Tikka T3X has a metal bolt shroud now, which is sturdier than the older plastic one and safer too.
Trigger, safety and magazine
There are no issues here — trigger, safety and magazine are safe, reliable and adjustable and they are fine as set at the factory. This rifle had a pull weight of 2.85lb, which was perfect; crisp and broke like glass. The safety is a toggle unit in the forward position for fire and rearward for safe — the latter locks both the bolt operation and trigger.
The magazine system is three shots in .243 Win but larger mags can be ordered. Made of a hard-impact polymer, it is light and durable. It’s easy to remove, simply press the mag release at the front of the magazine well and it pops out.
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The T3X stock was revamped three years ago and is far better for it. The addition of a steel recoil lug position allows a consistent and firm bedding of action to stock for accuracy.
There is a nice green moulded-in colour to the stock that complements the Cerakote finish very well. The stock is also more rigid and foam filler stops any hollow sounds when it is knocked. The recoil pad is a redesign, too, with better, softer and grippy finish to aid hold and reduce recoil.
The new modular design allows the pistol grip to be replaced with separate inserts, sold separately to vary grip angle to suit your own personal shooting style. They are not really my thing but the new asymmetrical pattern instead of chequering does grip very well.
The synthetic stock also has an extra single attachment point to the fore-end so you can change the width of the fore-end too.
At the bench
This Tikka T3X Cerakote rifle is fitted with a Steiner Ranger scope of 4-16x56mm, which was good with clear and well-defined optics, illuminated reticle and parallax adjustment. You also have a ballistic turret exchange system supplied to match the trajectory of your bullet for instant correction. The aforementioned Stalon sound moderator is light and quiet in use.
- I had a good selection of .243 Win ammunition for test, as well as my portable reloading bench to fine-tune accuracy on the range if needs be. Despite the short 20in barrel, I first tried the Sako 70-gr loads that achieved 3,392fps for 1,789ft/lb and tiny 0.75in three-shot groups at 100 yards.
- The Winchester 95-gr XPs shot 1in groups at 2,931fps for 1,813ft/lb. The same weight Winchester Ballistic Silvertips shot 2,875fps and 1,744ft/lb.
- The Sako and RWS 100-gr loads, legal for large deer in Scotland, achieved similar 1in groupings with 2,821fps for 1,767ft/lb and 2,828fps for 1,776ft/lb respectively. These results were close to minimum legal requirements due to the 20in barrel.
- Reloads increase the velocities and can improve accuracy, which is why it’s a good string to have to your bow. Best reloads for accuracy were the Hornady 95-gr SSTs (Interlock) with 41.0 grains of Swiss RS50 powder for 2,920fps and 1,799ft/lb.
- A good 100-gr load to increase the velocity is 44.25 grains of Alliant RL-19 powder under a Sierra GameKing at 2,849fps and 1,802ft/lb.
In the field
This is where the Tikka and its new finish showed its real mettle. Chinese water deer season had started to provide an ideal opportunity to see how the T3X would perform in the deluge of rain we had been having.
It’s a lightweight gun to start with and, fully loaded with moderator, scope and sling, the T3X is easy to carry and manoeuvre. CWD live in the ditches on field margins and hedgerows and pop out to the field at last or first light.
The fields on this farm are large and in a bowl shape, so are very wet
at the bottom where the deer are. Despite crawling about on all fours and checking out the deer runs through the hedges, I didn’t have
to worry about the Cerakote finish.
I had loaded the Sako .243 Win 90-gr Gamehead to see how it would perform, despite the 70-grainers being more accurate.
Chinese water deer are small and I did not want to spoil too much venison with a lighter, faster bullet.
I sat in a ditch with the rifle rested on my trusted sticks at knee height as I leaned against a fence post, looking downwind across the patch work of small fields. Sure enough, half an hour before dusk out they came, small groups and singletons.
That Steiner scope was excellent, the quality glass cutting through the gloom. I picked out a single younger doe to cull. As she fed along a hedgerow and rising slope at 85 yards, the Sako Gamehead dropped her with a heart shot. The Tikka had proved itself and the farmer was happy and invited us back — win-win.
The Cerakote version of the Tikka brings a custom feature to a commercial rifle and further enhances the ability of the T3X as a stalking rifle. I am not fussed about the modular stock-changing inserts and I would still love to see a thumbhole stock version, other than aftermarket options. But as always accuracy was very good indeed, reliability can be assured and now, with the improved stock design and Cerakote finish, the T3X makes a rugged and reliable companion on any stalking outing.
- Accuracy: Excellent – factory ammunition and reloads work well but watch velocity with the short barrel 19/20
- Handling: Much better stock design; thumbhole version please! 18/20
- Trigger: No issues; a good, reliable and adjustable trigger 17/20
- Stock: Feels and handles a lot better with improved grip 18/20
- Value: Now with Cerakote finish, great value for money 19/20
- Score: 91/100