TOP: Hornady 150gr SST, 0.7 inch.
BOTTOM: Norma 165gr Oryx, 0.85 inch
AN AFFORDABLE CLASSIC
The Tikka T3 rifle has become something of a classic in New Zealand, setting a benchmark for accuracy and build quality yet still being a very affordable hunting rifle. Wooden stocks and blued steel barrels are becoming somewhat of a rarity in gun shops now as New Zealand hunters embrace modern materials and processes. Stainless steel or Cerakoted actions and barrels, and fibreglass-reinforced polymer trigger guards and magazines are becoming the norm and when combined with high-strength polymer or carbon fibre stocks you have a good all-weather solution to New Zealand’s wet climate. These types of options didn’t usually come at an affordable price however, and were until recently more commonly seen on custom rifles.
The Tikka T3 has proved to be one of the most popular and affordable sporting rifles in New Zealand since its release 12 or so years ago and now the company have released a facelift model of the T3, the T3x. Tikka started manufacturing rifles way back in 1893 and over the next 90 years they had varying degrees of success. However in 1983 they merged with Sako, and then in 2000 the Beretta Group took them over. Both Tikka and Sako rifles are now produced in a multitude of calibres in the Sako factory in Riihimaki, Finland.
So, what has changed – and what hasn’t?
The two lug bolt on the Tikka T3 is a real selling point as it’s beautifully smooth, and the Sako style plunger ejector and claw extractor worked flawlessly in removing any fired or unfired cases from the rifle’s chamber. The T3x’s bolt remains the same, except that the plastic bolt shroud which covers and shields the rear of the bolt body has been replaced with an aluminium one. The bolt is still removed by pulling it rearward while depressing the bolt release button on the left rear of the receiver. Tikka states that the mechanism has been redesigned and made stiffer to make accidental release and loss of the bolt less likely; however when comparing a T3 and the T3x I was unable to feel a difference.
The aluminium recoil lug has been replaced with a steel lug which sits in a mortise in the stock and mates up with a recess milled into the floor of the receiver. This provides a very good bedding platform and allows the barrel to free-float for its full length.
Hollow stocks that make a noise when you’re pushing through thick bush are a pet hate of mine and so it was great to see the T3x now has a foam insert in the rear stock which lowers stock-generated noise.
The recoil pad has been replaced with a softer offering. The stock now has a modular interchangeable pistol grip which when changed from the standard grip to a more slim-lined piece allows those with smaller hands to get closer to the trigger. The pistol grip is held in place with a single screw, making changing them out very simple and quick. Grip checkering has been replaced with an asymmetrical grip pattern to allow for better control in all weather conditions.
Top-quality triggers are an essential part of an accurate rifle and for a factory offering, Tikka’s trigger assemblies on the T3x rifles are excellent. They’re fully adjustable from 2 to 4lbs, although the factory setting at 2.9lb was adequate as set, and the trigger broke cleanly without any drag or creep. The safety on the T3x is located just behind the bolt notch and is the normal two-position setup. In the forward position it exposes a small red dot signalling to the user that it’s ready to fire. Pushing the lever rearwards blocks the trigger mechanism and locks the bolt.
The stainless steel cold hammer-forged barrel which makes the T3 what it is, is well proven and has not been changed. The muzzle is crowned with a slightly concave profile which is an excellent feature to have on a hunting rifle which may receive barrel tip damage when being used in real world conditions in the hills.
The receiver has had some attention, with the loading/ejection port having been widened by 3mm which allows for easier top-loading of single rounds. While the enclosed loading/ejection port worked well to keep debris out of the magazine well and chamber, it was a little tight. The integral scope mounting dovetails milled into the top of the receiver have now been complemented with a set of mounting holes to allow the use of a Picatinny rail or similar scope mounting options.
The trigger guard, magazine housing and magazine are still all manufactured from a high strength polymer. While these components don’t have the style of well-machined metal ones, they’re incredibly strong, light and far cheaper to produce so are here to stay and will no doubt become more common on all brands of hunting rifles. The magazine on our T3x .308 test rifle held 3 rounds.
On the range
When I received a T3x in .308 for review from Beretta New Zealand the timing couldn’t have been better, as I was heading off on a sika trip later in the week. It came with a Burris 3-9 x 40 Fullfield II scope which is nice and compact and an excellent choice for a rifle of this calibre. With little time to sort out a suitable load, I grabbed a box of Hornady Superformance 150gr SST’s and headed for the range. After a few initial sighters to get a zero of 2 inches high at 100 metres, I fired a three-shot group and was very pleased to see it measured 0.7’’. There was no need for more sighting-in so the T3x went back into its bag as I headed straight for sika country. Back on the range a few weeks later I tried some Norma 165gr Oryx which also shot well in this rifle, with my best group measuring 0.85”.
In the field
The first thing that really struck me about the T3x in the field was just how lightweight and compact it really was. Pushing through scrub and beech forest with a heavy, long-barrelled rifle is no fun at all but the T3x was a joy to carry, not to mention its excellent accuracy. I took several sika meat animals at 250 metres with no trouble on my first trip into the hills with the T3x.
The changes Tikka have incorporated into the T3x are subtle and have addressed many of the niggles hunters had with the T3. In addition, the recommended retail price for the T3x is only $100 more the original T3, keeping the rifle in the really good price-for-quality category. On the range the .308 T3x test rifle performed very well with the T3x’s 1 MOA accuracy guarantee being well and truly proved.
In the field its light weight, build materials and accuracy proved it to be an excellent hunting rifle for New Zealand conditions.
Copyright 2017 NZ Rod&Rifle Magazine