Finnish rifles have a well-deserved reputation for quality, durability and accuracy. Although many were originally developed for Finnish hunters, the reliance of the Finnish defense forces on individual marksmen has spurred development of tactical versions of rifles as well. The Tikka T3 Tactical is a special favorite of mine among precision marksman’s rifles from Finland since it combines toughness and accuracy with lightness. Although the Tikka T3 is not as well known in the U.S. as some other tactical rifles, Tikkas have been used by various law enforcement agencies and military special ops units around the world including the SAS (British Special Air Service).
I wanted to try the Tikka T3 Tactical specifically because I felt that too many precision rifles I’d been testing were heavy and rather dead in the hands for off-hand shooting. Yes, tactical rifles are shot from a rest/bipod while kneeling or prone when possible. Still, the ability to take an off-hand shot quickly is important.
I had this very discussion with a member of the Secret Service Countersniper Team some years ago after watching him quickly throw up his rifle, acquire the target and punch the X-ring off-hand. He was just checking that his rifle was still zeroed in after arriving in St. Louis for a Presidential visit but as a countersniper his mission was to identify a threat and engage it quickly from whatever position he could get a shot.
When I first handled a Tikka T3 Tactical, I was impressed with how lively it felt in my hands – that absolutely convinced me to try it. The T3 Tactical is available in two chamberings, the .223 and .308. This may help keep the weight down a bit since some other tactical rifles are designed so that they can handle .300 Win Mag or even .338 Lapua as well and they need to be a bit heavier.
Tikka T3 Tacticals are also available in two barrel lengths, 20 and 24 inches, in each chambering. I opted for the .308 with 20-inch barrel. A muzzle brake is available for the T3 Tactical and, though I initially ordered the Tikka without the muzzle brake, I later added it. I’ll admit it was partially because I like the aggressive look but I also felt it might be useful when shooting prone to channel the gases.
Without the muzzle brake, the T3 Tactical in a 20-inch configuration is a bit over 40 inches long overall and weighs about 8 pounds. Although I normally use a bipod on a tactical rifle, I specifically did not add one to the Tikka since I wanted to keep weight down as much as possible. I felt I could get away without the bipod at least partially because the shape of the T3 fore-end allows it to be used quite readily on expedient rests.
The T3 has a lot of other features I really like. The cheek piece, for example, allows for adjustment to five different positions and spacers allow length-of-pull (LOP) to be adjusted. As a result, the synthetic stock remains light and handy, the shooter can tailor the rifle to fit for the best cheek weld and comfortable fit to the shoulder. Note that the cheek piece can be reversed for a left-handed shooter. The ambidextrous palm swell is very comfortable and unlike some rifles I’ve tried does not feel over large in my hand. The synthetic stock is produced of glass fiber-reinforced polypropylene and is designed to be quite rugged and resistant to weather.
The barrel is cold hammer forged for greater accuracy and has a 1-in-11-inch twist. Heavy enough for accurate shooting, the barrel is free floating. The muzzle is threaded for the muzzle brake I mentioned previously, but it may also be used for a suppressor. I would note here that based on my experiences in Finland, a substantial number of Finnish shooters use suppressors on their handguns as well as long guns. As a result, engineers at Tikka are likely quite used to mating rifles to suppressors, should an agency or military unit choose to order quiet Tikkas.
A non-reflective black phosphate finish to the barrel prevents glare or reflection and adds durability. The stainless steel two-lug locking bolt is Teflon coated for smoothness of operation. The spring-loaded ejector is easily stripped for cleaning or other maintenance. For ease of rapid operation, the bolt handle is designed to fill the palm yet allow the shift from pulling to pushing quickly.
The safety is a two-stage type that locks the trigger and bolt handle when engaged. A red dot clearly shows when the safety is off, while a cocking indicator protrudes from the rear of the bolt with another visible red dot. The cocking indicator can also be easily felt with the thumb. The single-stage trigger is adjustable for weight of pull between 2 and 4 pounds. I did not put a gauge on my Tikka, but the trigger pull is just dandy.
Two features that I strongly favor in tactical rifles today are both incorporated into the Tikka T3 Tactical. First, it has a Picatinny (MIL-STD-1913) rail that allows an array of optics to be readily mounted. Second, it has a detachable five-round magazine (six-round mag in .223). As an aid to tactical marksmen who might have an array of ammo available – precision match, AP (Armor Piercing), frangible, tracer, etc. – color-coded magazines with blue and red lower portions are available for the T3. This is a simple option, but it adds real versatility.
Another feature that will be appreciated by some tactical marksmen is that in additional to standard sling swivel studs under the fore-end and buttstock, military type sling swivel studs may be attached on either side of the stock and fore-end. Overall, I would say that the Tikka T3 Tactical meets the KISS Plus principle: It is kept simple yet incorporates an array of features that enhance its usefulness.
On the T3, I used Leupold’s 3.5-10x40mm LR/T rifle scope, which is one of the best .308 tactical scopes available. The M1 version I chose has an illuminated Mil-Dot reticle and windage and elevation are adjusted in 1/4-MOA (minute of angle) clicks. I felt the ability to make such precise adjustments was particularly desirable as the Tikka is such an accurate rifle, which is guaranteed to shoot MOA groups (i.e., 1 inch at 100 meters) from the factory. In fact, every Tikka T3 Tactical is shot at the factory and rejected if it does not make a MOA.
I also like the side focus knob on the LR/T that allows me to easily adjust focus without removing my eye from the scope or having to remove the flip-up lens cover. Leupold’s illuminated reticles are good and I order them on virtually every Leupold tactical scope. I have shot using the illuminated reticle at night out to 300 yards and have always found that if I can see a silhouette of the target, I can hit it with Leupold’s illuminated reticle.
Since my T3 Tactical has a 20-inch barrel and is relatively light, I wanted a scope that would let me shoot out to 500 yards-plus, yet would not add undue weight or affect handling of the Tikka. The 3.5-10x40mm LR/T met this criterion. The scope weighs 21 ounces, which still keeps the weight of the T3 Tactical with scope and mount around 9.5 pounds. Speaking of mount, I chose Leupold’s QRW (quick release weaver-style) rings, which allow the scope to be removed or replaced quickly. Additionally, I fitted an ARD (anti-reflection device) to the LR/T to cut glare and eliminate reflection of the lens.
I expected the Tikka T3 to be accurate so I took along ammunition that I knew would maximize the rifle: Black Hills 168-grain match and Federal 168-grain match. I have shot 1/2-MOA groups with both of these loads and seen even tighter ones by better shooters so I know that they are very, very accurate.
I normally zero .308 tactical rifles at 200 yards so that’s what I did with the Tikka. It took a few extra rounds to get the rifle zeroed because I need to get new prescription shooting glasses and was having a little trouble seeing the LR/T’s reticle as well as I should have against the black bull’s-eye. Once I started placing the reticle at 6 o’clock then moving it up to center hold, though, the groups were good enough that I could adjust windage and elevation.
My best three-shot groups during the initial shooting session were 0.75 of an inch at 100 yards and 1.25 inches at 200 yards. In later shooting sessions I have managed 1/2-MOA groups at both distances, though not consistently. The best five-shot group I can remember was 1.75 inches at 200 yards. A friend who scored a 0.63 of an inch three-shot group at 200 yards, which is about 1/3-MOA, shot the best group. Over the four times I’ve taken the Tikka T3 to the range, I’ve fired over 150 rounds through it and have consistently found it accurate. Tikka sets high standards for accuracy and this rifle readily meets them.
Because I had chosen to keep the T3 Tactical as light and handy as possible, I specifically did quite a bit of off-hand shooting at 100- and 200-yards plates. I found it quite comfortable and handy when moving between targets. I also tried it off of field expedient rests to test how the flat fore-end worked; it worked quite well. I also tried using it around and over “cover” and, once again, found it very handy. I did a little kneeling with the T3 to shoot it over a low barricade.
Since tactical rifles will normally be shot quite a bit from the prone position, I also fired quite a few rounds prone. The rifle was comfortable to use in all positions. A couple of magazines were fired on the 100-yard plate prone as quickly as I could work the bolt to simulate the situation in which a tactical marksman must give covering fire to assaulting team members or escaping hostages. I did find when trying to reload relatively quickly that the rather small mag release was a little slow but not terribly so. The bolt operated very smoothly and quickly.
The combination of accuracy and handiness makes the Tikka T3 Tactical especially appealing. Many shooters will choose to add a bipod, which will aid in shooting prone or from other rests. The T3 Tactical is around $1,400, which is quite reasonable given the quality features of the rifle.
The Leupold 3.5-10x40mm LR/T is a perfect match for the Tikka, as it provides an optic that allows the shooter to maximize the Tikka’s accuracy. Just a side note to those who really don’t want to own many rifles, I have a couple of friends who use their T3 Tactical for hunting as well as for tactical shooting. At least some agencies encourage tactical marksmen to use their “tactical” rifle for hunting as well as duty so they get real world trigger time on it. The Tikka T3 Tactical can serve either purpose quite well.
Finnish rifles have a well-deserved reputation for quality, durability and accuracy. Although many were…
by Paul Markel / Feb 20, 2009