It might not look like a stalking rifle, but Tim Pilbeam finds the Tikka T3 Sporter is more than up to whatever type of shooting he can throw at it
Before you say it, I know what you are thinking. This is not really a traditional hunting rifle, what with all its adjustable gizmos, heavy barrel and bright laminated stock, but the Tikka Sporter concept has been around for many years. In Scandinavia, they are used for a range of shooting disciplines such as target, biathlon and hunting.
I managed to pick up an older Tikka M55 Sporter in .308 from the 2010 Game Fair for under £500, and used it for deer control and target practice out to over 800 yards with ½MOA accuracy. In 2011, the new T3 Tikka Sporter was launched, and after I badgered importer GMK to lend me one, my late Christmas present arrived, much to my delight.
The Sporter, in simplistic terms, uses the T3 Varmint model steelwork dressed with a high quality laminated stock, designed to shoot in all positions. The T3 range guarantees 1MOA accuracy and exceptional engineering, resulting in one of the most popular rifles in the UK.
The action and barrel are both finished in matt black. An integral dovetail scope rail accepts a wide range of optical mounts, together with screw holes to help fit Weaver-style rails if required. The bolt, with its twin locking lugs is, as ever, simple and smooth to operate with a short, 70-degree throw. Combined with a large knob, it is a fast and effortless bolt to cycle. A standard extractor claw and plunger ejector system provide a reliable and proven ejection. To the rear, a cocking indicator is easy to see together with a two-position safety catch that locks the bolt when applied.
The single stage trigger is factory set to a heavy 3.75lb, but can be adjusted after removing the stock with the help of a hex-head key. As with most Tikkas, the trigger is crisp with little or no creep whatsoever, but if I was the owner, I would reduce it to just above 2lb, helping me shoot more accurately at long range. The trigger guard, as with the magazine, is made of high-density plastic, and is neatly enveloped by the laminated stock. The stock also drops down to cover the magazine, and with a capacity of six rounds (two mags supplied) it uses a single column feed with the release catch to the front.
The barrel is available in two lengths – 20in threaded to M18mm or 24in unthreaded – with a heavy profile and fully free-floating. This is ideal for target shooting, as the point of impact should not alter when the barrel warms up. This rifle has a twist rate of 1 in 8in, which is perfect for bullets over 50 grains, but a 1 in 14in is also available for the faster, lighter bullets.
So we have a proven, smooth and efficient action and a heavyweight barrel that I know will perform, but what about that stock? It is laminated wood with of a range of beige, dark grey and bright orange colours. A variety of spacers are supplied with the rifle, so the butt plate can be adjusted to increase or decrease the length of pull. The cheekpiece can be raised by over an inch, and moved sideways by just under ½in. To remove the bolt, the cheekpiece must be taken off using the Torx key, but there is a clever ‘memory’ screw that can be set to help refit it to a preset height. The pistol grip is smooth and recessed to allow the trigger finger to naturally curl around the stock. The thumb also sinks into the rear of the bolt area, making the whole handling experience an ergonomic dream. There is no chequering anywhere, and when it rains it is not the easiest of rifles to grip, but you can’t have everything.
The forend is vented, wide and chunky with a good clearance from the barrel. There is also an eight-inch adjustable rail for the fitting of a variety of slings and with the correct fitting kit, a bipod (not supplied). However, fittings supplied with the rifle include a T25 Torx key, QD clips and sling attachments.
Now for the interesting part of the test: How does it shoot? For the review, GMK supplied a Leupold 4.5-15×50 with a mil-dot illuminated reticle, secured with a set of Optilock bases and 30mm rings. Also supplied by Jackson Rifles was an ASE Utra Jet-Z Compact moderator. As for ammunition, I used a variety of weights and brands, namely 40-grain Federal Nosler Ballistic Tip, 55-grain Sako Gamehead soft point and some specialist rounds, Speer Gold Dot 64-grain, all supplied by GMK.
Once zeroed at 200 yards using a bipod, it was soon apparent that this was a very accurate rifle. With an unladen weight of 9lb (4.1kg), it gave me a stable platform to shoot off. I adjusted the butt pad and cheekpiece to the most comfortable position, allowing me to shoot groups of around 1.4–1.75in using all the different weights of ammunition. The best was achieved by the Sako 55-grain ammunition at 1.4in. I have some cheap military 67-grain stuff lurking about, and they still produced a two-inch grouping at 200 yards.
Bearing in mind that this is a .223, heavy rifle, with a moderator and bipod, the recoil was negligible, and thanks to the smooth T3 action, it was a pleasure to shoot. The pistol grip fitted my hand well, aided by the enhanced palm swell, giving me complete and total control of every aspect of the shooting process. I’ve got to say it – I felt at one with the Sporter. At 300 yards, now in variable winds, it achieved under a 2½in grouping, telling me that this is capable of a consistent ½-¾MOA.
Not content with that, I, together with experienced riflemen Matt and Chris, cluttered off to Wales to test the Sporter at longer ranges at WMS, courtesy of Andrew Venables. The wind was blowing down the range from the right at 8-12mph, which can be testing for such small bullets. Chris took control and once the zero was checked, the 800-yard mark seemed like a fair challenge for a person with his rather annoying natural ability. Once the bullets were dialled in for a sizeable 212in (17ft) of drop using the superb target turrets on the Leupold scope, Chris managed to hit a 10in steel plate with most shots, despite dialling in for 84in of wind using some higher quality match grade 77-grain ammunition.
Suffice to say, these shots are way beyond the range of responsible hunters, but they demonstrated the ability of the Sporter. Is it a hunting rifle, though – practical in the field or woodland? Before I come to a conclusion, I think the desire for better accuracy, and perhaps an increase in the popularity of longer-range varminting, has made the use of heavier rifles more acceptable. If you, like me, enjoy shooting anything from 50-yard foxes to 1,000-yard targets, the Sporter will suit you well. Lose the moderator and the rifle feels well balanced, and practical to shoot off sticks or resting the wide forend on something suitable.
This would make a brilliant varminting rifle, and with some careful homeloading, I reckon accuracy of around ½MOA could be achieved. Maybe it does look a little ‘loud’ when stalking, but frankly, I don’t care. If I was a ‘one gun’ sporting rifleman who also enjoys range work, this concept of rifle would be well worth considering.
In my opinion it is really designed for the target market, but in Scandinavia, they have superb competitions based on a biathlon-style contest, where competitors also use this type of rifle for hunting. With an SRP of £1,645, it is available in a limited range of calibres and can only be bought by special order, but it demonstrates Tikka’s ability to provide a personalised service to the all-round rifleman.