A 3.5-Inch Group at 850 Yards? Tikka’s Amazing T3X TAC A1 6.5 – Full Review.
Normally, I am a buy American kind of guy. I drive a Ford truck, I drink Coors, and go out of my way to buy work boots made in the USA. Sometimes, however, we want something a little bit exotic. Maybe not Thai ladyboy exotic, but exotic like English shotguns or high-end Scotch. A Finnish rifle is like that for me.
You have to respect a country that gave a beat down twice to the Soviet Union, and once to the Germans, in the same war. Also, I tend to have a lot of faith in rifles or tools built in a country that extends over the Arctic Circle as long as their national sport isn’t drinking vodka while starving peasants. If you make bad hunting tools in the Caribbean, you eat coconuts instead. If you make bad hunting tools in the frozen north, you starve to death.
This is the part where if I had a gun I was lukewarm about, I would wax eloquent about the history of Finns shooting people and braving nature for 600 words so I didn’t have to address the actual object of review. Fortunately for me, I don’t have to. The Tikka T3X TAC A1 is quite possibly the most impressive rifle I have ever picked up. And I have shot a couple rifles in my day.
- Chambering: 6.5 Creedmoor
- Barrel: 24-inch variants
- Twist Rate: 1:8
- OA Length: 43.8 inches
- Weight: 10.8 pounds
- Stock: Chassis
- Sights: None
- Action: Bolt
- Finish: Matte-black
- MSRP: $1,899
Just a couple of years ago, you would need $4,000 just to buy a chassis system for your existing rifle, if you had one of the few that would fit. The TAC A1 comes out of the box dressed for success, with an extremely well thought out chassis. The buttstock is adjustable for length of pull by inserting spacers, and includes enough options of stacking to make this fit anyone. The spacers are held in by man-sized bolts, which eliminate any movement once you are tightened down. You can also adjust the position and cant of the toe of the stock if you are so inclined, which again bolts down incredibly solid. Included on the toe is a three-slot Picatinny rail, ready to go to work if you like a monopod in the rear. No judgment to your personal tastes if you are so inclined. The comb height is adjustable, with a cutaway section for removing the bolt.
No need to do Tetris or collapse the comb for disassembly. I very much approve the securing set up. This is a weak point on many stocks with an adjustable comb, including both traditional style and chassis systems. There is nothing worse than having your cheek riser collapse in the middle of a trigger pull on an 800-yard shot. The Tikka has a unique set up of bolts that have been radiused, large knurled nuts for finger loosening, and steel retaining rings to ensure those nuts can’t fall off and become lost. The tolerances are so tight on this set up that you go from sloppy loose to as tight as hands can torque in three turns. Absolutely brilliant.
The stock is an aluminum skeleton to save on weight, with four built-in sling attachment points for whatever style you run. The aluminum ends in a steel castle nut, the same as an AR-15. If for some reason you don’t like the Tikka stock, you can replace it with any AR stock you care for. The castle nut is steel, and attaches to the other incredible chunk of engineering in the rear of the rifle- the folding section of the buttstock. This was not so long ago a segment of the market fully owned by Accuracy International, no one else built a folder that locked up solid enough for a precision gun. Tikka has definitely met that challenge, this device locks up like a bank vault. The hinge is entirely steel for durability and opens with a simple button press on top. It locks in the fully open position as well as the closed, a real finger saver.
The action is steel embedded in an aluminum chassis. It offers the slim lines and streamlined feel you would expect from a high-end bolt gun. There is enough gun to feel like a gun, and no excess. This model offers a 3 position safety, which operates incredibly smoothly. Simply by depressing the bolt release while the gun is on safe, you can extract a round from the chamber without ever needing to put the weapon on fire. Not a feature I would have been a die hard about, but a change from previous Tikka models.
The real brilliance here is the adjustment point. There is a hole in the magazine well that offers access to the trigger adjustment without needing to disassemble the weapon. It feels a little strange, adjusting an Allen key you can’t see. And it is a little tight to get into, don’t expect more than a ¼ turn at a time. But it works, and you probably only need to adjust it once. The Allen key is captured, so there is no danger of pulling it all the way out by accident. A marvel of machining. Once mine was adjusted down as light as it would go, I was shocked by how fantastic the trigger is. It features a small amount of no pressure take up, and then breaks like an Al Qaeda finger under interrogation. Which means by accident maybe? No, it breaks so clean it is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. I hope no one was planning on retiring off of aftermarket Tikka triggers. There is no need.The bolt moves like ball bearings on glass; that is to say smooth. I would easily compare the movement to any custom bolt action I have ever shot. This is one you just have to feel to believe. The craftsmanship here is a sight to behold, not a millimeter of tightness until the bolt completes its travel. It locks closed with the lightest of touches, and the pressure needed to unlock the bolt is, for lack of a more descriptive term, perfect. The trigger is far better than I would have believed at this price point as well. Mine came out of the box at a crisp 4 pounds, but is user-adjustable down to 2. My trigger gauge actually says 1.8 pounds, but it was made by the lowest bidder.
The magazine price has been a sticking point with some people about this new model. It only takes Tikka magazines, and they are $90 apiece. Currently, the gun comes with two, and you get a 3rd in the mail when you register the gun for warranty. Having now had the system in my hands, I am actually glad they chose this route. Tikka set out to build a gun and then a magazine, not a gun for a magazine, and it shows. The mag well is perfectly sized, it takes no pressure to fully insert a magazine or drop one free. The beveled top means you don’t miss on a fast reload, and the feed lips look as sturdy as I-beams. The Tikka magazine comes to a single feed point, which prevents double feeds so common in SR25 magazines. With the wide feed point on an SR magazine, it is very easy to short stroke the bolt and then pick up a second round on the recovery, which results in a debacle. The option also obviously existed to use Accuracy International magazines, but the price is the same, and then the gun would have needed to be built to AI spec. I see no issue with the magazines, and if you have doubts, I encourage you to go load and unload one if you can. Once you feel how it works, any doubt will be gone.
The pistol grip is also an AR standardized part, which you can switch if you like. The Tikka one is stubby and a little thicker than normal, but it works fine as is. At no point in my testing did I even think about wanting to switch it out. The same goes for the fore end. It is a standard AR part, and you can swap with almost any you like. The factory model comes with M-Lok as the standard, and a full rail on top. It is long enough for almost anything you need, even clip-on night vision in front of your scope if that is how you roll. If that is yours and not issued, please contribute to the Clay Martin Ferrari fund at the link below. The length also gives you plenty of distance to place your bipod for maximum stability. My one complaint about the entire rifle is that it didn’t come with any M-Lok rail sections, one would have been nice on the bottom for said bipods. I guess $10 in needed add-ons is a pretty weak gripe all things considered. The barrel is threaded with a thread protector in place, making this suppressor-ready on day one. Also included is a user-installable muzzle brake, which is quite effective at taming the recoil of the weapon.
WHERE IT COUNTS
So enough of the window dressing, the big concern for most of us is how did it shoot? The answer to that is that it was absolutely unreal. This rifle loved the Hornady ELD 140 grain. Every paper group I shot in zero was .3 inches or less, which is staggeringly good. I did cheat a little bit this time, my loaner F-class bipod from Accu-tec was incredibly stable. I have never used one of those before, and it does make a huge difference in holding the gun steady. You wouldn’t want to hump this model around in the woods for certain, but for range shooting it was a huge asset. One three-round group was so tight, I won’t even publish the center to center measurement I took.
It would be like telling you about that time Ms. June though Ms. December came over to borrow a cup of baby oil, and could they please wash their sexy underwear in my sink too. I went for a 780-meter paper group (sorry no 1,000 meter, Idaho is having historic flooding) which is something I rarely do. Usually, I shoot steel past 300 exclusively. I pulled one shot, which was still on my IPSC paper, but the other two were level, 3.5 inches apart. The level but dispersed horizontally is most likely a small shift in the wind. What I am saying here it is that 3.5 is a damn tight group for 780m, but in no way is it the absolute limit of the gun. I will be repeating this at 1,000 as soon as I get some more bullets, and maybe I will try to pull the trigger like I’m not a gorilla from the zoo this time too.
To put this in perspective, I was a sniper in two services for most of two decades. I graduated almost every sniper school in the DOD, and I taught both SOTIC and USMC Urban Sniper as a soldier and a contractor. In that time I was issued some pretty impressive bolt guns, some of which I can’t even tell you the name of. I haven’t tested durability yet, so excluding that the following statement is true. In a short action, I would choose this Tikka T3 over any bolt gun Uncle Sugar ever gave me. I would have no hesitation putting it up against a Surgeon, an Accuracy International, or any custom gun I have ever shot. I would go to the line, caliber for caliber, against any other gun I have ever laid hands too and not feel outclassed. I will get a redemption shot on paper grouping because Tikka can’t have this one back. I am buying it, and I would buy it at twice MSRP having shot it. Further, I have no doubt I will buy another one when it comes out in .260 Remington.
I don’t normally encourage my readers to go buy anything but rather let them make their own decision, but this is an exception. If you plan to buy a precision rifle this year, this is the one. Run, don’t walk to your dealer. Once people figure out what a bargain this is, no way Tikka will be able to keep up on production. Go get yours before they have a six-month back order.
P.S.- In the time between this writing, and the date of publishing, I have used the Tikka T3 and the Hornady ELD 140 grain to train one of my long range students. He shot a .31 inch group at 100 meters during zero, the best group he has every fired. Immediately switching to targets at distance, he had a first round hit at 855 meters, 958 meters, and 1,018 meters. This rifle and ammo combination continues to impress.