The Tikka T3 and T3x rifles have proven to be very popular in NZ since their arrival in 2003. The engineers at Tikka worked out what was important to buyers: smooth bolt, light weight, good trigger and very good out-of-the-box accuracy. The rifle has very few negatives – the main one being one action length only – but NZ hunters really don’t seem to care, and a visit to the local range certainly confirms the popularity of the rifle. Beretta NZ want Kiwis to keep loving these rifles, and so they’ve come up with a package for Tikka fans: rifle, scope, rings and ammunition all from the Beretta family.
The T3 and T3x are pretty familiar to most NZ hunters but it’s worth mentioning the positive features of this rifle. The 70-degree bolt lift with a 2-lug bolt is clever engineering, and combined with a smooth bolt, it makes quick follow-up shots easy. While many US companies looked to lawyer-proof their triggers, Tikka made a simple two-lever trigger that could be adjusted down to break at just over 2 pounds with a minimal amount of creep.
The T3 and T3x are a lot cheaper than Sako rifles and, while not strictly a budget rifle, they do make some concessions to affordability. However, the designers did a great job making the rifle look good; it has a bit of European flair, and the T3x has built on that with its replaceable grip. If I’m brutally honest, some US-made rifles are a bit ugly, and while the Tikka costs a bit more than these budget rifles, it’s still an affordable rifle which, of course, is another reason it sells well.
The rifle is based on the Tikka T3x Superlight but with a few nice upgrades. Firstly, the Strata stock has a very effective ‘True Timber’ camo pattern which, combined with the OD Green Cerakote finish on the barrelled action, makes for a very sharp-looking and practical set-up. The barrel, like the standard Superlight, is fluted and comes threaded for a low-profile radial muzzle brake. The bolt has an enlarged bolt knob for better grip, and the magazine is a 5-round version rather than the usual 3-rounder.
Next up is the scope which is a Steiner GS3 3-15×50; this magnification range is a good choice for calibres with longer-range potential. The GS3 is a 30mm tube scope with a useful 70 MOA of adjustment. The dials are capped and have low-profile resettable adjustments with well-defined detent clicks .
The ocular lens uses a fast-focus eyepiece and the reticle is a hold-over type with wind hold offs. The scope is made in the USA and has a matte non-reflective finish.
It’s paired with a set of Tikka Optilock rings that have gimbal-style plastic inserts to allow perfect alignment of the scope in the rings. Personally, I’m a big fan of Optilock rings and although they’re a $270 upgrade over the standard rings that come with a Tikka, it’s money well spent.
The last piece is the ammunition. Sako ammunition is now available in NZ – Beretta NZ say that it’s been tested extensively in Sako and Tikka rifles and provides excellent performance on game animals.
For this test, we were sent a Classic .270 Winchester rifle and three types of Sako .270 ammunition. The first was Gamehead, a traditional 130gn soft-point, flat-based bullet for medium-sized game like fallow, sika, reds etc. The second Gamehead uses the Sierra Tipped GameKing, in this case a 140gn version with a G1 BC of just over .5. The last round is the Powerhead II which uses the Barnes TTSX bullet; this is a 110gn monolithic copper bullet with a polymer tip to enhance BC. It’s worth noting that although the Barnes seems light at 110gns, its monolithic construction makes it behave more like a heavier bullet.
The first thing I did was lighten the trigger to its minimum setting – Tikka sets this to 1kg or 2.2 pounds. The bolt holding the trigger unit into the action acts as a natural barrier stopping the screw from coming out too far and going below 1kg. With this done, the pull weight was measured at 2.4 pounds and the release was pretty good with only the smallest amount of creep – barely noticeable, to be fair. The Optilock rings were a perfect match for the Steiner scope allowing just a few millimetres gap between the scope’s objective lens and the barrel. This is something that I personally like to see, as a low-mounted scope allows a better cheek weld on the stock which in turn allows for more consistent eye placement – that, in turn, makes it easier to shoot accurately.
Initial sighting shots showed the worth of the muzzle brake; recoil was certainly reduced, and I can’t emphasise enough how this makes shooting groups easier. When shooting lighter rifles in bigger calibres, you always get flyers when benchrest shooting, but after shooting just over 50 rounds, I had no flyers – a good trigger and brake are what I put it down to. Accuracy-wise, I shot the three Sako loads and they all shot well; best was the Gamehead which shot groups in the .7 MOA range with .6 MOA being the best. Next up was the Gamehead Pro which shot consistent .8 MOA groups. Last was the Powerhead II; this shot groups between .9 and 1.1 MOA – it’s fast with velocities well over 3100fps. I did note that the recoil was more noticeable with the Powerhead II rounds – this is possibly due to the higher muzzle velocity.
Looking through the scope, my initial thought was that it was a good clear image. Sighting in showed the 1/4 MOA adjustments were accurate, and I did a 10 MOA elevation check which was well within the group size of the Gamehead rounds.
My only real complaint was that at 15x magnification, some form of parallax adjustment would be nice; to be fair, it really only showed itself at shorter distances of 60m or less where you’d likely turn the magnification down anyway, and when I did this, it eliminated any focus issues when sighting in. Note that at 100 yards, parallax was not present and past 100, not noticeable.
The scope was obviously a demo unit, and after carefully cleaning of the lens, I was rewarded with an even clearer picture. A note to hunters … clean glass does make a difference – just don’t scratch the lens by using a dirty cloth, better to get back to camp and do it properly.
Testing on the USAF 1951 optical test chart printed on A4 paper showed very good resolution, just getting into the -2 scale. The image was pretty consistent from edge to edge with only a very small amount of degradation right at the edges – this isn’t where you generally see animals, so no big deal. Contrast was skewed towards the brown/warm and while this doesn’t have the striking pop that scopes with a blue/cold contrast have, I do prefer it as animals are brown.
The hold-over reticle is called the S1 by Steiner and has both hold-over hash marks and wind dots for a 10mph wind. The hold-over points are set up for what Steiner calls ‘common hunting cartridges’ and based on how this works with other scope makers, it’ll likely work well for cartridges like .270, .308, 7mm-08 etc. Unfortunately, there are no subtensions given for the hold-over points, and accordingly, Steiner do recommend sighting in at longer ranges to verify the point of impact. Personally, I’d feel very confident holding over to 3-400 yards and using the accurate adjustments to dial for longer shots.
The T3x Rifle is a much-liked rifle in NZ, and it sits in a good space being both well-made and affordable. The Strata adds a few nice extras that make it a bit sweeter to use – it maintains the 1 MOA accuracy standard and the Camo stock and Cerakote finish certainly add to the visual appeal while also adding real-world benefit to hunters. The extended bolt knob is no gimmick; the T3x is better with it and it enhances the bolt manipulation with no downside. I personally use an even longer bolt knob on my T3 and would never go back to a standard knob. The brake, while being a simple radial design, definitely works, and if you don’t like it, you’ve already saved money when it comes to threading the barrel for a suppressor. The 5-round mag is a personal choice and, if it doesn’t affect your handhold, is a nice upgrade for those what-if situations. Overall, it’s a nice upgrade from the standard rifle.
The Steiner GS3 is a good scope with reliable tracking, sharp optics and useful reticle. Combine these two (T3x rifle and Steiner scope) with quality ammunition and you have a package that’ll allow you to shoot comfortably out to 5-600m.
The Sako Ammo impressed me with its consistency. Extreme spread (ES) below 30fps shows it’s assembled with some care and is often an indicator of consistent neck tension and brass weight/capacity as well as bullets with consistent ogive to base dimensions. The Powerhead had an ES of 54fps which is around where a lot of factory ammo sits, but the Gamehead had an ES of 28fps and the Gamehead Pro was at 17fps – pretty impressive!
This is my first test of a rifle-scope-ammo combo from one company. What can I say? It all works and works well, and there’s natural fit as can be seen by the fit of the scope over the bore – it’s near perfect and I’d say it’s no coincidence that it works that way. It’s also nice to see another brand of quality ammo in NZ – we really are spoilt for choice.
Tikka T3X Superlight Strata
Steiner GS3 3-15×50 Scope