(This is a reader-submitted review as part of our gun review contest. See details here.)
By Scott Cobun
At the get go, I’ll say I’m biased. Guilty as charged. However, I’m not just biased towards liking this particular gun. I like all guns. I’m an addict. If you asked me which gun you should buy my answer is always the same. All of them. I’m biased towards buying everything. Should you buy this rifle? Yes. That rifle? Yes. What about this pistol? Yes. Do I really need a belt fed 1919a6? Stupid question. Of course you do.
In all seriousness, I’ve been a gun owner literally – and I’m using that word correctly – since the day I was born. Partially as a result of owning a little of everything, I’m not a fanboy of anything. If it works well, I like it. I shoot competitively, I collect, I hand load (a wonderful time filler for someone with mild OCD and a chronograph) and guns are more than just a hobby for me. When I’m not shooting, I’m on the internet arguing with people over how to best shrink that group by a quarter inch at 200 yards…for no practical purpose whatsoever.
I’m floored the Tikka T3 has yet to be reviewed on TTAG. I think it’s the best value in bolt action hunting rifles today. That’s a bold statement. I’ll explain why I think it’s true.
Every gun I buy fills a particular role…which in reality is the perfect excuse to buy another gun. I perhaps don’t need a rifle that will shoot well on a balmy day in New Mexico while pursuing a Yeti. Everybody wants to own that one rifle that will do it all. The Tikka T3 Hunter in 6.5×55 is my “if you could only have one hunting rifle” submission to fill that role.
What makes for a good hunting rifle? I think many would correctly say it is caliber above all else, and the 6.5×55 is probably my all-time favorite all-around caliber. Since fighting over calibers is about as productive as discussing who’s the most beautiful woman on Earth (which is also lots of fun, especially with pictures), we’ll have to stick to the rifle.
Once we step away from the caliber wars, you’ll get my attention in a hunting rifle when talking weight and accuracy. The T3 bests the competition in both areas.
One of the biggest positives of the T3 is the rifle makes the caliber debate on .260 Remington, 6.5 Creedmoor and 6.5×55 a non-issue. The advantages of a short action rifle don’t materialize in the T3. Why? In order to keep down costs, those crafty Finns build each T3 on the exact same length action.
As a result, the .308 Winchester T3 will weigh the same as a .300 Win Mag. The only difference between long and short action calibers, aside from the chamber, is the magazine (available in short and long internal dimensions) and where the bolt stop is located on the bolt release assembly. Since there is only one action size, the whole long action vs. short action debate isn’t worth having. Don’t fret, this being the internet and all, I’m sure we’ll find something else to argue about.
Every T3 has the same profile barrel regardless of caliber, so the larger the caliber, the lighter the rifle. Every T3 weighs 3 to 3.1 kilos, which translated to American is approximately 6.6 to 6.8 pounds. That’s plenty light for a wood-stocked hunting rifle, hovering around a full three quarters of a pound lighter than a comparable Remington 700 CDL.
The action itself is a push feed bolt action with a Sako-style extractor and plunger ejector. The Sako extractor is larger, grabbing more of the case rim and as a result, giving greater reliability with a wider array of cartridges. This type extractor is a desirable modification often done by custom shops on push feed rifles. It does indeed eject the cartridges with much more enthusiasm than the competitors. With the Tikka, you don’t need to shell out the extra couple Benjamins for the machining work and parts, the improvements come standard.
The bolt throw is smooth and quick thanks in large part to the 70 degree bolt throw. The shorter throw is noticeably faster and feels more natural.
The strong two locking lug bolt handles cartridges from .204 Ruger all the way up to the brown-bear capable .338 Winchester Magnum. The bolt glides in the well-machined receiver without any grit or hesitation.
The two position safety will be very familiar to most shooters. Pushed to the rear in safe, it locks the action and immobilizes the trigger. It is quiet, positive, and intuitive. In addition, the bolt has a cocking indicator so that you don’t wind up pulling a dead trigger when it counts.
Townsend Whelen famously said “Only accurate rifles are interesting.” Let me tell you, he’d have hovered over the Tikka with drool descending from his stiff upper lip.
Tikka cold hammer forges the T3 barrel on the same machinery as that of their parent company, Sako. Sako rifles are universally extremely accurate and range from somewhat expensive to incredibly expensive. My dad, the biggest hunter in the family, used nothing but a Sako L691 in .300 Weatherby for a long time. Enough Pronghorn, Moose, Bears, Deer, Caribou, Coyotes, Elk and other fuzzy creatures have been felled by that Sako that I’d expect PETA probably has issued a fatwa on that particular rifle.
When he needed something more accurate – for reasons unrelated to anything practical – he stepped up to a custom rifle built by Rifles, Inc. If you feel the need more accuracy than provided by the Tikka, you’ll need to pay for it out the nose. The cold hammer forging of the barrel additionally ensures that accuracy lasts longer than a tour on the SS Minnow.
As the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding…unless you shoot paper targets instead of pudding. I’ve found paper a less satisfying but more scientific approach to accuracy evaluation. Pudding is much better suited for studying terminal performance. Maybe.
At the range this 6.5×55 Hunter consistently shoots 5 shot groups at around an inch off sandbags. My OCD and hand loads can get it down to a about half to three quarter MOA and that’s without locking the rifle into a mechanical rest. Keep in mind that this is a hunting rifle weighing in at 6.65 pounds delivering performance that will run with many factory heavy barreled precision rifles. One half MOA five shot groups is not a realistic or necessary expectation of a light hunting rifle costing around $700, yet here we are.
This is a pretty average group for the factory free floated 1 in 8 twist barrel. Discounting the 1st cold bore shot out of an oiled barrel (we all have our excuses), the group measures a respectable .606 inches. Including that first shot explodes the group to an enormous 1.031.
Using an overall length gauge, the throat on the barrel is insanely long. If you hand load you’ll need to set your OAL to comically long numbers to get within the .01 of the lands that rifles often love. The polymer 3 round single stack detachable box magazine has no trouble holding rounds seated to extremely long lengths. Unlike an H&K, the magazine works best when rounds are put in facing forward.
Strangely, the rifle defies conventional internet wisdom and doesn’t seem to care a great deal about OAL in my ongoing accuracy tests. The engineers at Tikka need to get with the program and comply with the rule that everything you read on the internet is gospel. In reality, the long throat of the 6.5×55 exists to accommodate the moose slaying 6.5mm 160 grain bullets used in Scandinavian countries every hunting season since Benjamin Harrison was President. Should you not remember wild success of the Harrison administration, you’re forgiven since he’s been out of office since 1893.
Know why there are no aftermarket triggers for the T3? They aren’t needed. Every T3, from the bargain T3 Lite to the expensive T3 TAC, comes with the same excellent single stage adjustable trigger. There is no take up, no grit, a glass-rod like break and no perceptible over-travel. I can’t figure out a way to improve the trigger, and apparently neither can the aftermarket trigger manufacturers.
Disassembly involves pushing a button, pulling out the bolt and cleaning the bore. If you’ve survived childhood you can disassemble this rifle. If you’re the type who still isn’t sure if scratching your nose with a running drill is a bad idea…you still pack the required intellect to strip and maintain this rifle. It’s stupid easy. Should you need to remove the action from the stock, you’ll find Torx head screws joining the two, a nice modern touch.
While not a penny is spared on the trigger or barrel, Tikka found a way to simultaneously save money and weight. You will find polymer in the magazine, trigger guard assembly and bolt shroud. This does nothing to make the rifle look or feel cheap.
The Tikka blends classic feel with modern technology and pulls it off nicely. My standard T3 Hunter came with a beautiful walnut stock with lots of figure. This isn’t the kind of rifle you can plink with at hub caps in your Bud Light T-Shirt in and feel good about doing it. Don’t get me wrong, you can still do that. You just will feel like you’re listening to Opera at NASCAR. This is a classy rifle.
What are the drawbacks to the T3 line as a whole? If dangerous game appears on the agenda, the T3 wouldn’t be the optimal choice. I hold true to traditionalist opinion that the controlled round feed is still probably preferable for dangerous game. In addition, the abbreviated three round capacity is a drawback. Will three rounds do the job? Probably. Are more rounds better? ‘Murica. There is a five round magazine available, but the $45 retail price is steep for a polymer magazine. Should you disagree and feel the need to take on things that can maim you back, the T3 is available in heavy hitting calibers that will do the job. Some won’t like the two piece bolt, but I’ve yet to encounter an issue. Honestly, all this is just being picky in order to justify the purchase of some future rifle.
The T3 Hunter model itself isn’t perfect and might not be the best of the T3 line. The polymer stock of the T3 Lite shaves a few ounces off the weight of the Hunter. The checkering on the rifle isn’t as aggressive or classic in appearance as one might like. The recoil pad is not as firm as the steel of an original Swedish Mauser but it could be improved. In heavy calibers the aluminum recoil lug might be an issue. Some don’t like the polymer bolt shroud or factory aluminum rings. I’ve got no major qualms about any of this, but those changes are ones that might make a near-perfect hunting rifle even better.
Obviously Tikka listens to their customers. Responding to these few minor complaints, they recently came out with the T3x. The T3x addresses the feedback while keeping the outstanding barrel, action and trigger the same. I’ll be putting my money where my mouth (or keyboard) is and picking up a T3x in the future.
Unlike the Democrats picking Hillary Clinton as their nominee, you’ll want to buy the Tikka T3 Hunter intentionally on its own merits and without need for collusion, threat or secret deals brokered in meetings on private planes. There are cheaper rifles and there are better rifles, but there aren’t lighter and more accurate rifles out there at anywhere near this price point. I don’t know what more you could realistically expect.
If you’re in the market for a new bolt action hunting rifle, you’d be doing yourself a disservice to fail to take a long look at the Tikka T3 line.
SPECIFICATIONS: Tikka T3 Hunter
Barrel: 24” barrel with 1:8 twist
Weight: 6.7 lbs.
Operation: Push feed bolt action
Price: $700 street
Ratings (out of five stars):
Accuracy: * * * * *
At this price point you’d be nuts to expect a more accurate rifle than the Tikka. At double the price point I doubt you’d notice a difference in your group sizes. I decided not to replace the factory scope rings and many small groups later don’t see a need to.
Ergonomics: * * * *
The stock is very generic and designed to fit everybody, so as a result it doesn’t fit anybody perfectly. I would love to see a right hand palm swell and softer recoil pad, but overall, the rifle feels great.
Ergonomics Firing: * * * * *
It’s all about the trigger. Pick it up and try it out. That’s all I can say. The 70 degree bolt throw is a noticeable improvement over the competition.
Reliability: * * * * *
No issues here. It would take a Department of Defense design by committee approach to screw up the simple stupid reliability of a bolt action rifle and a couple hundred bucks to bring the ejection of your Remington or Savage up to the same level.
Customization: * * * *
Unlike other bolt guns, you don’t need to do much. It comes with a very nice set of scope rings and sling mounts, all you have to do is fill both. There are plenty parts available out there from stocks to scope bases that fit the T3….but no triggers…because the T3 trigger is perfect.
Overall: * * * * *
Lighter than a comparable Remington or Savage and more accurate as well. If you’re looking for a serious hunting rifle, the T3 should fill the bill.