by Chris Redlich
A few months had passed since my return from an Alpine hunting trip on New Zealand’s South Island and many experiences had made a lasting impression. One thing that stood out, apart from the fantastic hunt and breathtaking scenery, was the use of my outfitter’s rifle, a Tikka T3 Lite Stainless.
A lot has been written on the Tikka T3 and for that reason I won’t be conducting another review - more an appraisal of an already immensely popular hunting rifle based on my own field experience.
To begin with, the Tikka T3x launched in Australia in 2016 is an improved version of the previous T3 but the overall appearance, silky smooth action and inherent out of the box accuracy is still the same. This is true across the entire T3x range, whether it be the blue action and wooden stock or the stainless synthetic combination.
My New Zealand guide, Dave, uses a Tikka T3 Lite Stainless in 270 Win and 300 WSM. Both have their triggers lightened to 1.5lb and are almost identical apart from the suppressor on the end of the barrel. Understandably, the 300 WSM had the biggest suppressor. As far as loan rifles go, they shouldered and shot perfectly. The sighting-in process between the 270 Win and 300 WSM was a breeze, with the 270 Win printing around an inch lower than the 300 WSM at 100m.
The suppressors remained attached during the sighting-in as they would during the hunt. The point of impact can vary with the suppressor on or off, as it has an effect on the harmonics of the barrel during the firing process. This set-up of two different calibres on exactly the same rifle platform is a smart move by Dave and makes perfect sense. A client who requires a loan rifle to hunt the chamois and tahr can pick up either rifle, point comfortably and shoot without hesitation. I can’t speak on behalf of other hunters but this worked well for me.
After my success with the Tikka T3s in New Zealand, taking one-shot kills with the 270 Win on a chamois in appalling conditions and a tahr, high in the mountains with the 300 WSM, the power and accuracy of the 300 WSM combined with the feel of the Tikka T3 appealed to me and I had to make one my own.
I thought that if I was going to buy a T3x Lite, why not go one better and make it a Superlite. I ordered my first-ever Tikka T3x Stainless Superlite rifle in 300 WSM. There were none available in Australia at that time so I had to wait for it to come from Finland. Straight away it felt perfect. A great combination of light weight, feel and balance. Like all Tikka bolts, the action was silky smooth. The fluted barrel of the T3x Superlite contributes to the weight reduction and is the only difference compared with the standard T3x Lite.
The new synthetic stock is ambidextrous with a nice palmswell on the pistol grip, and its modular design has optional handgrips that can be ordered from Tikka if you want to customise the fit. I was happy with the feel. The magazine holds three of the fat 300 WSM cartridges and I bought an additional spare magazine. As well as the rifle I picked up some reloading equipment, including a Redding die set, brass and bullets.
On recommendation I settled on DNZ single piece alloy mounts. Made in the US, I knew nothing of them before, but after doing some homework I’ve found they’re a popular mount and provide great strength while keeping the weight down.
The base of the mount fastens firmly to the top of the receiver using the supplied Allen cap screws to the existing threaded holes of the Tikka. The scope I fitted for starters was a Swarovski Z5 with plex reticle off my .284 Win hunting rifle. While I thought it a good idea at the time, sharing a scope between two rifles started to become a pain and I grew tired of sighting in the rifles between scope changes. I’ve since bought and mounted a Swarovski Z3 3-10x42 with 4A reticle. The new Z3 is much more compact and a better fit on the Tikka.
Prior to my first fire I lowered the pressure of the adjustable trigger to the minimum of 2.5lb. For the running-in of the rifle I used Federal Power Shok 180-grain Soft Points. After each three-shot group I would run a patch of solvent through the barrel, then a dry patch and refire. The running-in process doubled up as my sighting-in.
Straight away I fired a sub MOA group with the Federal ammunition which is testament to the claim of Tikka and its sub 1’’ MOA guarantee. I won’t lie - the 300 WSM does have a little kick off the bench. However, it’s not reflected at the other end on the paper target. Shot after shot, the Tikka lived up to its reputation as an accurate out-of-the-box rifle.
My reloads consisted of 165-grain and 180-grain Nosler AccuBonds, seated in Norma brass behind AR2209 powder ignited by CCI Large Rifle Magnum primers. My Kiwi guide’s 300 WSM was firing 150-grain projectiles and although they performed well, I already have rifles firing 150-grain projectiles in other calibres. I decided to stick with the heavier projectiles in .30 calibre.
Using Nick Hervey’s and ADI reloading books for reference, I loaded up from minimum and settled on 66 grains of AR2209 for the 165-grain AccuBonds producing 3057fps average MV (muzzle velocity) and 64 grains of AR2209 for the 180-grain AccuBonds producing 2955fps average MV, all loaded to an overall length of 73mm to fit in the magazine. They both consistently produced sub MOA three-shot groups at 100m and printed almost the same on the target. I decided to stick with the 180-grain projectile as my preferred choice.
Although there was a difference of around 100fps in muzzle velocity between the two projectiles, I felt the 180-grain AccuBond, with a little more weight and better ballistic co-efficient, would perform better at extended ranges for accuracy and knockdown. Time to test the rifle at long range. Before the current crop of wheat was planted at the farm where we live, I set up a target at 300m on top of a contour. After working out my fall of shot of approximately 250mm, I recorded a 3’’ MOA three-shot group in a 15km/hr crosswind with two of the shots within an inch. For such a light rifle that is purely for hunting and not designed for target shooting, it shoots superbly at long range.
Not content to stick with one bullet, I loaded up some 168-grain Barnes TTSX behind 65 grains of AR2209 for 3013fps. The Tikka T3x was proving not to be fussy when it comes to different loads and the Barnes bullets also produced outstanding accuracy on paper at 100m. I loaded up half a box of 168-grain Barnes and the other half with 180-grain AccuBonds.
In the field
Load development completed just in time for the roar, I check-sighted the 300 WSM before the hunt. Using the same target for each, both brands of bullet had the same point of impact. With this kind of consistency I was confident in taking the Tikka T3x for its first trip afield. I loaded one magazine with Barnes, the other with AccuBonds.
The 2017 roar couldn’t come quick enough and I was keen to put the Tikka to good use in the hills. Although my main deer hunting rifle is a custom Brno in 284 Win, it’s heavy rifle compared to the T3x Superlite. It was a welcome change and an absolute breeze to.
Success came my way with the 300 WSM responsible for taking a large red stag and mature hind. The Tikka T3x and 168-grain Barnes TTSX combination performed flawlessly with both animals grassed immediately. The first hunting shots from the Tikka resulted in two kills - you can’t ask for more than that.
I still wasn’t completely satisfied with the trigger pressure of 2.5lb so I took the rifle to gunsmith Jim Kent of Toowoomba, who modified the trigger to achieve a new minimum pressure of 1.75lb. This is closer to the trigger weights of my other hunting rifles and feels much better. While Jim had the Tikka, I asked him to bead blast the surface of the Stainless Steel receiver, bolt and barrel to reduce the amount of glare. Glare is an important consideration when stalking a deer and the alteration was money well spent.
When I picked up the rifle I was impressed with the feel of the trigger and the non-reflective matt finish. More recently I took the Tikka T3x on a pig hunt. As you’d expect from this powerful cartridge, four wild pigs, including two large boars, fell instantly to the 300 WSM using 180-grain Nosler AccuBonds.
I’m very happy with my Tikka T3x Stainless Superlite. Based on field experience across the ditch, the decision was made to acquire a rifle I could take on my next international hunt and easily buy a box of readily-available factory ammo with confidence to know it will perform well. I don’t think anyone could argue the 300 WSM chambering has more than enough hitting power combined with outstanding accuracy to take out that once-in-a-lifetime trophy.
Off the bench the 300 WSM kicks a little but is not scary. The recoil is negligible for a one-off shot at a trophy or meat animal. As far as practical hunting rifles go, the Tikka T3x Superlite chambered in 300 WSM is the perfect mountain combination for taking medium to large game at extended ranges.