Head to head

Doubled up: The Tikka T3 Stainless Varmint (left) and the Kimber SVT (right)

Putting two .223 Rem heavy barrel varmint rifles to the test, Byron Pace pits a Kimber and a Tikka against each other and awaits the results

Getting off the phone with Riflecraft left my head spinning. I was about to take delivery of a curiously short, heavy and marvellously unique varmint rifle, with possibly the fattest barrel I had ever seen. This rifle was designed purely with varminting in mind, providing the maximum accuracy and manoeuvrability possible when shooting from a vehicle. It was with great anticipation I awaited my delivery of the Kimber SVT. Providing an exciting comparison to this largely unknown offering from America, GMK had sent over the popular Tikka T3 in the varmint stainless model.

The build ethos of the Kimber is bold. It really has only one function, and the SVT’s design doesn’t apologise for that or leave you in any doubt that this rifle will be most at home shooting from a static position. The chunky, swelled laminate stock cradles the calibre-specific Mauser-type action – but fitted with a fluted 18in bull barrel, the famously feather-light Kimber had transformed into a weighty brute. At 8lb 5oz unscoped, this was a heavy rifle with a lot of attitude.

The Tikka came with a much more modest synthetic stock, a thinner, un-fluted barrel of 20in, and the slick action so familiar to Tikka rifles. A full pound lighter, the more conventional stock shape makes it more endearing to use in the field.

The Tikka's two-position safety, with the action enclosed on top. By contrast, the Kimber has a three-position safety

With perfect testing weather gracing our shores, the range showdown came to a head quickly. To keep everything fair, both rifles were shot from 100 yards off the same Harris bipod, with the butt supported on a sandbag. Each rifle would be tested using Federal V-Shoks loaded with 40-55 grain bullets, and 55-grain Sako Game/ArrowHeads.

The consistency of the Tikka across all ammunition was impressive. At worst the three-shot groups opened up to 0.87in shooting Sako GameHeads, while its favourite, the 40-grain Nosler-loaded Federals, printed a cluster of just 0.48in. Given the twist rate of 1-12in, this range of bullet weights is where the Tikka would be most comfortable.

With the trigger on the Kimber brought down to a clean 1.5lb break, the wide blade helped to facilitate a precise and controlled release. Overtravel, sear engagement and pull weight are fully adjustable. Like the Tikka, the SVT performed respectably across all the ammunition, never grouping three shots at more than 0.9in. In this case it was the 55-grain Sako ArrowHeads that found particular favour, returning 0.65in groups with regular repetition.

The 1-in-9 twist of the Kimber lends itself to slightly heavier bullets, with 55 grains at the bottom end of the spectrum. With this in mind I hand-loaded some 64-grain Bergers. After a little tweaking, five shots slammed into the target with a ragged hole barely bigger than a five-pence piece. I am sure it would have shot heavier bullets with equal success too. The ability to load these heavier weights makes the rifle an excellent choice if you have longer-range shooting in mind.

With both rifles moderated, the extra weight of the Kimber did help anchor the rifle. I dare say it would shoot quite well even if not shouldered. This weight is hugely beneficial for taking long-range shots on small targets, but doesn’t lend itself well to hiking across rough terrain. The Kimber SVT is the type of rifle you will reach for along with the keys to the Land Rover. I could see this becoming a firm favourite with those looking for a dedicated foxing rifle. Dropping sharply down from the bulbous forend, the pistol grip is specifically designed to aid control when shooting off a rest. I did, however, find the stock a little too large for my hands, and would have found a slimmer profile more comfortable – but my hands aren’t particularly big.

The action on the Kimber has been stripped down but still functions flawlessly

The Tikka, on the other hand, was a nice compromise in weight. Heavy enough to dampen the recoil and aid accurate down-range performance, it would still be manageable as a stalking rifle. Indeed, it is much more suitable for those hunters who find themselves propelled across the landscape with two legs instead of 2.5 litres and 120 horses. With a flat-bottomed forend and raised synthetic cheek rest, it is not the prettiest stock in the world, but is certainly functional. A less plastic feel and the addition of rubberised grips would have been nice, but the stock does the job well and is comfortable to shoot.

Operating both rifles was a joy. The positive, controlled-feed action of the Kimber has been stripped down to the minimum specifications, producing the sweetest little Mauser action on the market. It functioned flawlessly. If I have one criticism it is in the extractor claw guide, which is secured to the bolt shaft by a single swivelling ring. Given the slimmed-down nature of the action, the guide is very thin and floats over a long section of the bolt – it is noticeably flexible. I would have preferred to see it secured to the shaft in two places. However, this has never caused any functional issue. The handle, meanwhile, is not quite to my taste and could be more refined in design. I would have expected a rifle such as this to have been fitted with more of a tactical handle, as found on Kimber’s ProVarmint model.

The Tikka action is incredibly strong, with substantial twin recoil lugs encasing the cartridge head in a deep recessed face. The clean lines of the uncluttered bolt facilitate the famously slick push feed loading, with a tried-and-tested plunger and sprung claw extraction. With the action enclosed on top, it remains as stiff and rigid as possible with only a side ejection port. My preference, however, is always for an open action, firstly for ease of top loading but also with safety in mind. In the dark, my final safety check is to stick my pinkie in the chamber to feel for a cartridge. This isn’t possible in the Tikka; nor is top loading owing to the magazine design. This, however, is more a personal observation.

Fitted with a custom-made one-piece Riflecraft Weaver rail, the Kimber is also a bit tricky to top load – although I have to say this 0MOA rail it is very well made and fits perfectly. I would recommend using this as your mounting method on the Kimber.

Apart from the functional design of the two different actions, the differentiating factor is the ethos behind each rifle. Whereas Kimber has stripped everything back to the minimum specifications, the Tikka’s ‘one size fits all’ action is far longer and bulkier than it needs to be for a .223 Rem. This is evident from looking at the magazine, where a quarter of the space is blocked out.

This is ultimately a cost-saving exercise, but from a practical standpoint makes very little difference apart from weight, and the fact that the action is probably stronger than it needs to be in these smaller calibres. The upside is that if you ever feel like re-barrelling your rifle, you will have a greater spectrum of calibres to choose from.

Neat though it would be, this isn’t a win-and-lose conclusion. If you want a sole purpose varmint rifle to shoot from a vehicle, or a static position at long distance, the Kimber SVT is the rifle for you. I certainly would be happy spending the extra £500. If, on the other hand, you need to be more mobile, possibly doubling the rifle up for stalking, then the Tikka T3 will tick all the boxes. Value-wise, the Tikka is a hard contender to beat for all-round use. With the aftermarket options now available to replace the plastic components, the Tikka becomes an even more enticing option. Decide what you want the rifle for first, then pick the rifle to suit.

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Posted in Centrefire, Reviews

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