A few years back we took a detailed look at the T3 Tactical rifle with the 24″ barrel and found some things we liked and did not like about the rifle. Tikka has continued to make some higher quality rifles that are relatively affordable which have been imported by Beretta USA. Unfortunately Beretta does not import every rifle that Tikka makes so we in the USA miss out on some of the unique stuff, like their T3 tactical chambered in 260. One of the more recent rifles that Tikka has introduced is their T3 Sporter which is designed to be a competition target rifle that is similar to their old Master Sporter rifle from years back. The new T3 Sporter is available in the USA in limited quantities and it is based on their popular T3 series of rifles. We had the opportunity come up that allowed us to take one of these T3 Sporter rifles chambered in 260 and run it through a full review to see how it might perform as a dedicated sniper rifle.
Before we proceed, we wanted to remind readers that with our new web page layout, we are able to easily use higher resolution images, which we have done. So feel free to click on each of the images in this review to see higher resolution versions. And do not forget to look at all the detailed specs on the right hand side of the page.
The T3 Sporter is available in two different barrel lengths (20″ and 24″) and is available in five different chamberings including 308 Win, 260 Rem, 6.5×55 Swede, 223 Rem and the 222 Rem. The 222 is really the only odd ball one there but it is a popular varmint hunting cartridge. The rifle we had on hand to evaluate was a 24″ barrel chambered in 260 Remington which had just ran through one of our Advanced Long Range Precision Marksman courses with a student. Both the student and rifle did well. All of the T3 Sporter rifles with a 20″ barrel are threaded for a suppressor or muzzlebrake and the 24″ versions are available with barrel threading as an option. This rifle had the threaded muzzle and a non-Tikka/Sako muzzlebrake installed. As the rifle was not ours, we elected not to remove the muzzlebrake and to run the test with it installed.
Back before the days of widely available synthetic stocks, laminated wood was a better option over a standard walnut wood stock as the various layers of laminate stiffened the wood up and it allowed the stock to not flex nearly as much as a traditional wood stock that changes when the weather and moisture in the air change. Since the T3 Sporter is intended for competition shooting and not tactical work, Tikka has elected to use laminated wood for this rifle. If you compare the shape of the Sporter stock to that of its distant cousin, the Sako TRG-22/42, you will notice that the shape closely matches the shape of the popular Sako sniper rifle. This is not a bad thing at all as the TRG design is very ergonomic and well designed.
The padded buttpad adjusts vertically, sliding up and down, and it is also adjustable for length of pull using a spacer system. The operator can use additional spacers to lengthen it, and of course can remove spacers to shorten the length of pull. The spacer system is not as quick or easy to adjust as some other adjustable stock setups, but it is the most solid adjustable design and allows for a very rigid stock. The cheekpiece adjusts up and down and locks into place via a single tightening screw. The cheekpiece also can adjust laterally side to side by using screws under the cheepiece where the vertical pillars attach to the raised cheekrest. These same vertical pillars have a clever system where a screw threads into the forward pillar allowing the user to set a “memory” for the height of the cheekpiece by threading the screw into, or out of, the pillar. This allows the cheekpiece to drop immediately back to its pre-set position. This is especially handy because the cheekpiece must be removed in order to remove the bolt from the rifle. The cheekpiece has a canted edge to it to provide more comfort for right handed shooters. There is a left handed version of the T3 Sporter for those that need or desire a left handed rifle.
When looking at the stock it is obvious to notice that it is tailored for a right handed shooter due to the shape of the pistol grip area with its thumb rest and the afore mentioned cheekpiece. The pistol grip is very nicely contoured to allow for a very comfortable fit for the shooting hand, but this prevents off handed shooters from being able to use the rifle comfortably. The pistol grip is a vertical style pistol grip that puts the trigger finger in an excellent position to get a properly aligned trigger squeeze. This is a good thing as the trigger is a target style trigger with a light trigger pull. The trigger is adjustable and on our test rifle was measure at just a hair over 1 pound, which we consider to be too light for a tactical rifle, but it is very nice for a target or range only rifle. The trigger has a semi-wide shoe with vertical ribs and broke very crisply with no creep or overtravel. For a factory rifle, it was a very nice trigger. As was mentioned already, the thumb rest is nicely contoured and the stock very comfortable to shoot.
Much like its Sako TRG cousin, the stock is bulky through the action area with a wide platform for the action to set down into. That bulk continues in front of the trigger area where the detachable box magazine fits up into the action. The trigger guard and floorplate are made of plastic which gives us some concern for durability. The choice to use plastic was certainly done for cost reduction. As is visible in the pictures, the magazine fits completely up into the stock and is even recessed a bit. While this provides very nice protection for the magazine and prevents it from protruding below the rifle and getting snagged or bumped on anything, it also can provide some difficultly with rapid magazine swaps as occasionally we found ourselves fiddling with getting the magazine aligned and into the mag well. There is a magazine release button in front of the magazine which can also take a little getting used to before you are able to find it and release the magazine without having to look where it is. The magazine does not fall free from the well without having to pull it out which makes rapid mag swaps a bit more difficult. The magazines themselves are a polymer (fancy plastic) with a single stack design that holds 5 rounds of 260 ammunition. Some of the smaller calibers, such as the 223, will hold 6 rounds. The rifle fed well from the magazines throughout our tests without any hangups.
The stock nicely curves up in front of the magazine well and blends into a flat and wide forearm area that provides a stable and solid shooting platform when shooting from a fixed rest such as sandbags. There is an accessory rail on the bottom side of the forearm that allows for all of the traditional adapters to be used for sling studs, fancy bipod mounts and even small picatinny rails. The forearm also has some ventilation slots cut into it to help aid with barrel cooling. On the left hand side of the forearm is another smaller area where a smaller accessory rail is attached and this can be used for a sling swivel or other items. Of course, as you might imagine on a target rifle, the barrel is free floated all the way back to the receiver. The stock is mounted to the action via the traditional action screws through the floorplate. The stock is not glass bedded but has aluminum pillars that the screws mount up through.
The action on the rifle is the standard Tikka T3 action that is found on their normal hunting and tactical rifles and in which incorporates the normal push feed T3 design. There is a two position safety on the right hand side of the rear tang, forward is fire, to the rear is safe. The bolt is polished steel that incorporates a nice Sako style extractor with plunger for ejection. This extractor setup is popular and should come as no surprise given the family ties with Sako. There is also a large bolt knob with black hardened finish around the knob itself. The nice thing about the Tikka bolts is that the knobs are removable quiet easily and aftermarket bolt handles are available and easy to replace onto the bolt. The rear bolt shroud is a somewhat blocky design that does incorporate a cocked indicator. There are two bolt lugs on the front of the bolt.
The action itself is mostly enclosed with a small ejection port on the bolt side. This style of action using an ejection port is used by many custom action builders as it provides more stiffness versus the actions with an open top. The downside is that it is more difficult for an operator to get his or her finger inside the action to help single feed or remove spent brass they may have failed to extract. There are 17mm dovetail groves machined into the top of the action that can be used to mount dovetail style rings directly to the action. The action is also drilled and tapped to allow mounting a picatinny style rail on top, which is how our test rifle was setup. The upper sides of the action are milled down flat that gives the action a hex style shape to it. There is also a bolt release lever on the left hand side of the action that requires just a simple press while pulling the bolt to the rear to remove the bolt from the action. The bottom of the action has the recoil lug directly machined into the action itself, there is not a separate recoil lug like on the Remington 700.
Mounted to the action is a 24″ (actually 23.6″) hammer forged heavy barrel. As mentioned earlier, a 20″ barrel option is available which automatically comes threaded with the 5/8″-24tpi thread spec for a suppressor or muzzlebrake. The 24″ barrel version is not threaded by default but is available with threading as an option, which this one had. The 260 Remington version of the Tikka Sporter rifles have a 1:8″ rate of twist which is fast enough to stabilize the heavier 142gr, or higher, bullets. Tikka typically does a good job selecting their rates of twist as even their 308 rifles have the 1:11″ twist that many consider ideal. The heavy barrel and action have a good even, semi-matte bluing finish applied, while the bolt remains polished steel.
Overall with the target style stock design and the brighter orange laminated wood, the rifle has a unique look to it that we find attractive here, though not very tactical. The rifle is comfortable and decently light at less than 10 lbs, to allow it to be easily carried around. The wood laminate concerns us only in that it will invariably get scratched when being used as a tactical rifle and if the operator can live with that, then there appears to be some potential to the rifle. It is almost like a half priced younger cousin to that Sako TRG we keep mentioning. Of course, the proof is in the shooting and the question needs to be answered whether the rifle can shoot. It must be time for our favorite part of the evaluation process.
For our shooting tests we mounted one of our traditional test scopes to the rifle using some Leupold Mark 4 rings. The scope is a Leupold Vari-X III 6.5-20x50mm LR scope that we have used on numerous rifle reviews and it has always worked well for us. Of course, with the Pictinny rail mounted, mounting the scope was the same as any other tactical rifle with a rail and didn’t take much time. We were able to round up four different long range match loads from three different ammunition manufactures for our testing. We had our trusty HSM 123gr Scenar load, their 142gr Sierra Matchking load, a hotter Corbon 123 gr Scenar load and finally the Black Hills 139gr Scenar load. This was a nice mix of different long range loads and it should show the capability of the rifle nicely. Do notice that three of the four loads use Lapua bullets and while we prefer to have a wider mix of bullet manufacturers, we also did not have a lot of choices with 260.
Of course, it was another rifle review performed in the early winter of Montana so we had snow, like usual this time of year. The shooting was done in 25 degree weather with little to no wind, which was nice. All groups that were measured were fired at 100 yards with a front sandbag and a rear sand sock. The shooting results are listed below:
|Corbon 123gr Scenar||.686″||.549″||.66 MOA|
|HSM 123gr Scenar||.904″||.565″||.86 MOA|
|Blackhills 139gr Scenar||.680″||.399″||.65 MOA|
|HSM 142gr SMK||1.022″||.731″||.98 MOA|
Note first that all of the loads averaged under 1 MOA. Normally the HSM 123gr is at the top of our best performing 260 factory ammo, but in this particular case the Tikka did not shoot it as well as it did the Corbon or Blackhills. The Corbon 123gr was extremely consistent, easily printing the most consistent sized groups from group to group. It was down in the .5 – .75 MOA range with every group. The Blackhills had a tighter average but it was not as consistent as the Corbon. It just had some really tight sub .5 MOA groups that would bring the overall average down. For a factory mass produced rifle in a non-bedded stock, shooting factory ammo, the results were not bad at all.
The muzzlebrake on this rifle is not the factory Sako brake that is designed to fit on these rifles but rather an aftermarket setup and it does need to be mentioned that while it did a good job of reducing recoil, which isn’t harsh with the 260 to begin with, it also was extremely loud. Even noticeably louder than a majority of the other muzzlebrakes on the market. We cannot explain why, but we thought it should be mentioned.
We also noticed that when feeding from the magazine there was a “hitch” in the cycle when the round was being stripped from the magazine and fed into the chamber. It was a noticeable notch that prevented the action from being labeled “butter smooth” by us. It never failed to feed and was never a malfunction, but it was just not as smooth as we would like. The bolt throw on the bolt is very short and this allowed for some easy and quick rapid follow up shots… but we continued to notice the hitch in the cycling of the bolt during these same rapid fire drills.
It should also be noted that we were reminded of just how “warm” a wood stock feels. This was especially apparent when we were shooting in below freezing temperatures. There is something to be said about the warm feel of wood versus synthetic stocks. Of course, the merits of a synthetic stock for tactical use far outweigh a “warm” feeling, but it was funny how we noticed it.
Overall impressions of the rifle are positive. No, it is not ideally suited for the sniping role, but it certainly can fill the role if needed as the rifle is comfortable, has nice accessory rails and provided good accuracy for an out of the box factory rifle. There are more and more stock options that are available for the T3 rifles from the likes of Manners, Accuracy International, Bell and Carlson and others. This could allow for the opportunity to pick up one of these T3 Sporters and then put it into a different stock to get even more performance out of the rifle. The hitch in the feeding cycle from the magazine was a minor complaint but we are aware that it never once failed to feed or cause a problem. The stock is comfortable and if needed, it could easily be spray painted and put into service as is. If painted in this manner, then a bit of marring on it wouldn’t bother you as much as it would a pretty laminated wood finish. Typically using a target rifle for a sniper rifle doesn’t work out, but in this particular case, we think it could be doable.
[…] Update: A new version of the Sporter has been released by Tikka, read our review. […]