Testing the Laminated Stainless model in .243, Mark Stone finds out why the Tikka T3 is known as a top all-round rifle for stalkers and keepers
Ask any down-to-earth stalker or keeper which centrefire rifle they own and use, and chances are it’ll be a Tikka T3. It’s a rifle with an enviable reputation of combining value for money, accuracy and durability with one of the most comprehensive choices of styles and calibres on the market without reverting to the more costly switch-barrel alternatives. However, although I’ve seen plenty of them in the hands of others, Tikka is a make of rifle that for whatever reason had until now passed me by, although numerous friends had always encouraged me to try one.
Sitting in the middle of the range of Finnish-built bolt actions, the T3 Laminated Stainless is exactly what it purports to be: a compact, carbine-style rifle that comes with a laminated stock and a stainless steel receiver and barrel. Yes, even the model names are specifically descriptive, if only to ensure the buyer knows exactly what he or she is getting. Calibre-wise, shooters can pick anything from .222 Rem all the way up to .338 Win Mag. However, since the world seems to be positively overflowing with stalkers clamouring for .243 Win, this is once again the calibre size on test. There are various other small calibres out there that are equally useful – it’s just that the .243 seems to be the size nearly every manufacturer wishes to promote.
Laminates also allow the manufacturer a degree of freedom when it comes to cutting the chequering. The T3 LS has triplets of distinct, modern-looking diamond-cut panels let into both sides of the well sized and comfortable grip and squared-off forearm, a black rubber butt pad rounding off the short-style parallel comb stock.
Apart from the shine exhibited by the bolt handle, the receiver and 51cm threaded barrel have a satin or brushed finish, with a neat knurled cover supplied to keep the muzzle threading clean and protected. Since the receiver is able to cater for a large range of calibres, the bolt at times seems to have a longer-than-expected draw. That said, straight out of the box, the cyclic action is probably one of the smoothest and slickest you’ll encounter – it is a positive joy to use.
I will make one more comment about the bolt handle, if only to set the mind at rest of an occasional acquaintance of mine: the bolt handle isn’t exactly hollow, it’s just partially machined out. This is most definitely not to the bolt’s detriment, or some form of perverse cost-saving exercise. The bolt also benefits from a bright red ‘cocked’ indicator projecting from the rear shroud, while the bolt’s removal, courtesy of the large release lever that projects from the left of the receiver housing, reveals a two-lug system complemented by a strong ejector pin that doesn’t so much eject the empty case as it does throw it clear by the scruff of its neck.
In situ, a rocker-style safety sits to the right of the bolt and millimetres rearwards of the handle. The ‘safety on’ position deploys a strong lock that keeps the bolt handle down and in battery, while disengaging the safety reveals another bright red ‘live’ indicator, leaving the shooter in no doubt as to whether the T3 is ready to discharge the next round. Underneath, the direct trigger is shrouded by a black polymer guard that’s integral to the bottom plate, and the three-shot detachable magazine housing. This is released by the small lever that sits directly in front of the matching polymer mag, a gentle push dropping the moulded housing into the waiting hand.
Both from a rest and free-standing but without a moderator, the T3 LS proved easy to operate, smooth to mount and swift to come on to target with an unfailing trigger weight of 4lb 6oz. The trigger blade benefited from vertical grooves, enhancing contact and traction even when wet or cold. It is also adjustable should you so wish, while a set version is available as an optional extra.
The combined weight of rifle and scope tipped the scales at an exact eight pounds, with an overall length of 1,020mm. This all adds up to a fast, sharp-handling rifle that’s equally at home in a high seat, a 4×4 or walking along wooded rides.
I took the T3 LS out on a few foxing forays, but it seemed my previous ones had had something of an effect. Either the job I did was too good and all the Charlies had been eliminated, or – more likely – those that remained had learnt to keep their heads down. That said, a couple of evening sorties continued to emphasise the pleasurable working capabilities of the T3 LS, and a last session on the range once again proved that the rifle would place its bullet exactly where required. The deftness of this multi-functional outfit confirmed why the Tikka T3 has become as popular as it is, at times making me question why the grassroots stalker requires anything more elaborate.
Finally, remember that the Tikka’s T3 range is vast in respect of calibres and styles. So if the Laminated Stainless isn’t especially to your liking, fear not. All the models in the range offer the same inherent qualities as the T3 on test. There will be one for you – a fact you’ll see as evaluations of the various examples come and go.