The new Lite version of Tikka's "go-to" fox and deer rifle features some improvements that impressed Bruce Potts, who found it hard to fault
I tested the stainless steel .243 version of this new model of the iconic Tikka last year when it was launched but I wanted to test the entry-level version, too, which is, let’s face it, the industry standard when it comes to a fox/deer rifle. If you have £1,000 in your pocket, the new X version of the Tikka T3 rifle is a no-brainer.
A dependable “go to” rifle
Tikka has the kind of heritage not only in manufacture but also in durability that makes it the dependable “go to” rifle because you know it just works. This is why it is so popular with professional deer managers, estate managers, keepers, rangers and sportsmen alike.
The test rifle was chambered in one of my favourite cartridges, the .222 Remington, which transcends the boundaries of its origins as a target and benchrest round to being a great vermin-come-fox-and-small-species deer calibre. I have used a Sako .222 Rem extensively for roe in Scotland where that cartridge is legal for roe deer.
The T3X is available in many guises, including stainless steel, a laminated stock, tactical and heavy-barrelled; the Lite is a synthetically stocked, blued steel sporting rifle.
The blued steel version still uses the chromium-molybdenum steel in the barrel construction, which is cold hammer forged, and has a deep and even, semi-matt blued finish, which is ideal for subdued light reflection. It is Sporter-profiled for a lighter weight and this, of course, helps in keeping the overall weight down when a scope and moderator are fitted. It comes threaded with a metric M14-1 pitch. Tikka takes pride in individually crowning the muzzles of each rifle, which ensures that a bullet’s exit from the barrel is perfectly concentric to aid accuracy.
What can be said that has not been said a thousand times before with the Tikka T3? This Scandinavian sporting…
This model Lite comes with a 20in-barrel length — ideal when a sound moderator is fitted as the overall length of the rifle at 40½in is not increased greatly. It came chambered in .222 Rem, which is a darling of a cartridge that has become overshadowed by the larger .223 Rem case. Here you have button-rifled rifling that has a 1-in-12in twist rate to accommodate up to 55-gr or 60-gr bullet weights and six-grooved rifling that together add to the bullet’s stability. It is free-floated for three quarters of its length, so you now have a one minute of angle (MOA) accuracy guarantee.
The action on the Tikka has always been its strong point and it is still one of the smoothest actions on the market in its price range. The all-steel action uses a separate recoil lug union to secure the barrelled action to the stock for a solid bed. This steel lug is set into the synthetic stock forward of the front stock screw and this locates into a recess slot in the receiver bottom. There is no pillar or synthetic bedding material but the floorplate does have steel washer inserts to the stock screwholes to ensure a non-crush, even tension — again, all helping in maintaining a solid action.
The T3X has an improved ejection port to the action; it has been enlarged to allow unimpeded case ejection and, even better, also allows a single round to be fed into the chamber quickly if necessary.
The receiver top has additional drilled and tapped screw fitments for a scope mount as well as the usual full-length Tikka dovetail rails; all bases have been covered. The bolt has a low 70° bolt lift for smooth and fast operation and for ensuring low-mounted scopes are avoided, too. The twin-locking lug end and sprung ejector run incredibly smoothly in the action and the T3X now has a metal bolt shroud. This encompasses the rear of the bolt and has a spring inserted to avoid any vibration noise. Old models had a plastic one and people weren’t keen.
The trigger is just what you want on a hunting rifle; it has a slim but grooved trigger-blade with plenty of space in the trigger-guard for a gloved hand. It has a single-stage release that breaks very cleanly at 3.15lb, on test, with zero creep. You can adjust the pull/weight from 2-4lb by removing the magazine and accessing the adjustment screw through an aperture in the floor plate.
The magazine is polymer made and rustproof; and because the T3X design uses a one-action size for all calibres, the magazine has an inset to seat the shorter .222 Rem rounds forward in the magazine for a reliable feed. Four rounds can be loaded. The safety locks both the trigger and bolt and is either on or off with a silent smooth action.
The newer T3X stock has several improvements and you also have an adjustable cheekpiece option that raises the height for perfect scope-to-eye alignment. This standard Lite model still has a black-coloured stock made of fibreglass reinforced with polypropylene. It’s tough and further enhanced by a more solid profiling and there is a foam insert in the interior of the rear stock to eliminate any hollow echo noise.
There is also a larger and better soft recoil pad, sling swivel studs and, best of all, improved checkering — which translates as better “grip areas” — the T3X now has an asymmetrical grip pattern to both the pistol grip and fore-end that works well. The pistol grip has a securing screw so that the front and side section come off in one unit and you can exchange them for different angled grips to suit your own preference (these are sold separately).
Testing the Tikka T3X Lite out in the field
Now the fun part. I fitted a new scope from OpticsWarehouse called an Ultimax, which has the quality of German glass but at eastern European prices, with an illuminated reticule. I added an MAE Scout stainless steel moderator creating a set-up ideal for both fox- or deer- shooting duties.
The .222 Rem is a mild-kicking and low noise level round. With factory ammunition and the MAE muzzle, the report was little more than a .22LR high-velocity round, ideal for urban areas. The shorter 20in-barrel did reduce velocities, though.
I had five factory loads, with the lightest being the Federal 40-gr bullets. These shot 3,446fps for 1,055ft/lb energy and grouped three shots into 1in at 100 yards. The Remington 50-gr Accutip shot 3,077fps and 1,051ft/lb with 0.95in groups. The Winchester 50-gr bullets were slower at 2,951fps and 9,67ft/lb energy with just under 1in groups. The 55-gr Sako bullets shot 2,945fps and 1060ft/lb energy and 0.85in groups. The best, however, were the Norma 50-gr bullets at 3,045fps, 1,080ft/lb and 0.75in groups. All the groupings fell under the Tikka one minute of angle guarantee of 1in.
Reloads are easy on the .222 Rem and I soon worked out that this T3X liked the 40-50gr range bullets best; 40-gr Nosler Ballistic Tips shot well with 21 grains of integrated munitions rifle (IMR) 4198 powder for 3,372fps, 1010ft/lb and ¾in groups. Upping to 50-gr Hornady V-Max and 21.5 grains of Vihtavuori N130 achieved ½in groups, 3,101fps and 1,068ft/lb.
With the 50-gr small species deer-legal Hornady V-Max, the target showed how the small difference of 0.25 grains of powder shrunk the groups from 1in to ½in, making it well worth the increase. The 55-gr Sierra GameKing is a nice small-deer bullet with 22 grains of H322 powder and 3,076fps and 1,156ft/lb.
With the 50-gr V-Max reload, I also set up some Shoot-N-C targets that gave highly visible bullet hits. At 200 yards I had five shots off the bench clustering into 1½in — superb.
I chose an area of fast-growing maize to exploit the T3X’s hunting potential as the crop is currently high enough for deer to hide in during the day under its cooling leaves. Foxes would also favour it for a midday snooze — I was tempted myself.
I loaded up the detachable magazine with four rounds of Norma 50-gr ammunition, making it legal if a muntjac appeared and good for old Charlie, too. With the T3X’s synthetic stock you do not feel the need to cosset the rifle as you do with a wooden stock, so I was able to crawl unimpeded along the crop margins. Its grip pattern meant I was gripping well and the balance and silent nature of the new stock improvements made their presence felt.
I spotted two muntjac feeding along the hedges bordering the maize but, of course, they never stop for long and by the time I had deployed the T3X they’d scarpered. It didn’t matter, though, as a small crawl later, a fox appeared. The T3X was up and the Ultimax scope centred on its vitals The clean trigger action was released, sending the Norma 50-gr bullet on its way. Success.
Need to know
Manufacturer Sako/Tikka Ltd
Model T3X Lite
Type Bolt action
Overall length 40½in
Barrel length 20in
Length of pull 14in
Finish Blued steel
Stock Black synthetic, replaceable grip.
Magazine Detachable box
Trigger Single-stage adjustable, set trigger option
Price from £1,035
Left-handed option available
Importer GMK Tel.01489 579999
I had a head start with this T3X anyway, due to the inherently accurate .222 Rem cartridge, and when coupled with the T3X rifle it’s an all-round winner. True, most people go for a .223 Rem, but don’t discount its little brother. The improvements of the T3X are well worthwhile and add to the overall feel and performance. It remains the most stocked rifle on gunsmiths’ shelves for deer or fox shooters in the Britain.
An all-round winner