December 14, 2018
By Tom Beckstrand
Photos By Mark Fingar
The long-range revolution is well upon us with continuously improving manufacturing techniques giving rise to very powerful, very accurate and inexpensive ballistic calculators and low-price, quality optics that, together, have created the perfect storm for today’s rifle shooters. It has never cost less nor been this easy to shoot far and accurate then it is today.
The big tell was at the SHOT Show where several major manufacturers unveiled rifles designed explicitly for long-range recreational and competitive shooting. These rifles are a little heavy to carry up a mountainside, but are extremely comfortable to shoot a lot once they’ve been adjusted to fit the shooter. Of all the offerings I saw this year, none excited me more than the Tikka T3x Tac A1.
Why a Chassis?
Accuracy at long range requires consistency, so rifles dedicated to this pursuit must have actions seated rigidly in either a stock or a chassis. This often means glass bedding in a composite stock, but a chassis can usually have the barreled action dropped right in. A chassis is made from aluminum so it doesn’t crush or flex under recoil or when the owner tightens the action screws.
Bolting the action into a full-length section of aluminum makes for a very stable foundation. This set up is ideal for long-range precision since there will be no barreled action movement from one shot to the next. Given the accuracy of modern manufacturing techniques, building this type of chassis is not as expensive as it used to be.
Some shooters don’t particularly care for the look of a chassis rifle, and that’s a fair criticism. However, there is no faster or easier way to get a rifle to comfortably fit a shooter than by using a well-designed, adjustable chassis.
The chassis on the Tikka’s new T3x Tac A1 is the embodiment of superb engineering. An advantage that Tikka enjoys is that there are no clone actions that share the same footprint.
Chassis designed around Remington 700 clones can suffer from insufficient support around the rear action screw. This occurs because slight changes in the rear tang (the part of the action that sits just underneath the back of the bolt when it’s closed) greatly influence how low the action sits in that part of the chassis. If the tang isn’t shaped just right, tightening the rear action screw will bow the action. Tikka is the only manufacturer that makes their action, so a chassis designed for it will fully support both action screws.
The center section of the Tac A1 chassis is a solid aluminum block that supports the action, houses the trigger and magazine, and serves as the foundation for the side-folding stock and M-Lok forend. That’s a lot of tasks for a single piece of aluminum.
A big advantage of using a chassis is that there is no longer a need for bottom metal or a floorplate. The chassis houses everything necessary for a detachable box magazine (DBM) and positions it perfect for reliable feeding.
Speaking of DBMs, the magazine the T3x Tac A1 uses is similar to the one found in the legendary SAKO TRG-22. The floorplate, however, on the Tac A1 has been modified so that it cannot be used in the TRG-22.
The Tac A1 magazine is a center-feed, double-stack model. These magazines are nowhere near as popular as the Accuracy International AICS magazine, but I like the Tikka magazines better and wish they were found on more rifles. The reason I like the Tikka magazine is that the overall height is much shorter than the AICS even though both hold 10 rounds. The American Rifle Company (ARC) has just come out with an AICS-pattern magazine that has the same double-stack, center-feed features of the Tikka magazine, but it’s too early to tell if it will be reliable.
Magazine height might not matter to some shooters, but it will become an issue when shooting from improvised field positions. Keeping the magazine tucked up out of the way and as close as possible to the rifle is always a good idea. No one does a better job of this with a center-feed magazine than Tikka and SAKO.
The T3x Tac A1 chassis has a folding stock machined from aluminum with an adjustable Kydex comb. Depressing a small button just behind the action’s tang allows the stock to fold. This allows the shooter to remove the bolt without moving the cheekrest, but the real advantage is in portability and storage. A bolt-action rifle with a 24-inch barrel and a folding stock uses the same-size carrying case as an AR-15.
The folding stock uses two large thumbscrews to hold the cheekrest in place. Once tightened, I found that the cheekrest is very secure. The two screws allow the shooter to adjust both height and angle. I like to shoot with the back of the cheekrest slightly higher than the front so that the comb pulls slightly away from my face under recoil. Such an adjustment is possible with the Tac A1.
The length of pull is adjustable using spacers that are included with each rifle. Two are angled, offering additional adjustment to properly fit the rifle. Two screws on the buttpad hold it in place. Once removed, stacking spacers is all that’s needed to increase the length of pull.
The buttpad is also height adjustable. The screw in the center of the buttpad loosens to allow the buttpad to slide up or down for an ideal position. This is a very nice feature since rifles of this type are frequently shot in the prone and raising the buttpad puts much more pad in contact with the shoulder, greatly diminishing perceived recoil.
A small section of Picatinny rail sits on the folding stock’s toe. It primarily serves as an attachment point for a rear monopod. Covering the Picatinny with any of the aftermarket plastic covers also creates an ideally sized flat surface to ride a rear bag. While some shooters use rear monopods, everyone should use a rear bag when the shooting scenario permits.
The forend on the Tac A1 uses the M-Lok attachment method. The U.S. Army Special Operations Command (SOCOM) did a very thorough test and declared M-Lok the most repeatable and strongest method, so it appears the KeyMod/M-Lok war is finally over. M-Lok is nothing more that a series of channels machined into the aluminum forend to which accessories attach. If you don’t need to attach anything, M-Lok has an octagonal shape with enough flat area at the six-o’clock position to help stabilize the rifle. It is simple, comfortable and convenient.
The Barreled Action
The Tikka T3x features a two-lug bolt with a 70-degree bolt throw. Actions traditionally come in two flavors: two-lug bolts with 90-degree throws and three-lug bolts with 60-degree throws. The Tikka is unique with two lugs and a much shorter throw, a feat they managed pulling off by efficiently designing the bolt lugs. Even considering the shorter throw, bolt lift on the T3x Tac A1 is very light and makes for fast cycling.
The Tac A1 is also unique in a few aspects, one of which is that the recoil lug doesn’t sit between the barrel and receiver, but inside the chassis. The steel lug protrudes up from the chassis into a groove in the receiver. The receiver is flat, so the square recoil lug has plenty of surface area to anchor the action firmly in place.
As with anything seemingly unusual on a Tikka rifle, there is a very good explanation as to why they are made this way. Pull any Tikka barreled action out of its stock and measure from the front of the receiver to the forward action screw hole and it’ll measure just a hair under an inch. That entire inch is threaded to accept the barrel, providing generous mating surfaces between the action and barrel.
Examine any other factory action and you’ll see the threaded portion of the receiver is usually much shorter, meaning it doesn’t grab as much barrel. This normally isn’t an issue on a light hunting barrel, but heavy target barrels and long barrels can experience accuracy problems if the receiver can’t support much of it. They just don’t have enough meat to keep things from whipping around when the rifle fires.
Tikka rifles are known for being insanely accurate and the recoil lug arrangement and lengthy section of threaded receiver are partially responsible. The Tikka receiver has a very large bedding surface under and around the forward action screw thanks to the separate recoil lug and large threaded section. This monstrous bedding surface is what makes the action capable of excellent and very consistent accuracy. It’s rare to have unexplained flyers with a Tikka because of this arrangement.
In addition to one of the best action designs to ever see a production rifle, the T3x Tac A1 features the same barrel as SAKO’s TRG 22. SAKO owns Tikka and produces every barrel on all Tikka rifles. SAKO hammer-forges their barrels, so they are the longest lasting of all barrel types available. The company also figured out a long time ago how to make hammer-forged barrels exceptionally accurate. Both SAKO and Tikka have excellent reputations for producing accuracy because of SAKO’s barrel-making prowess. I’ve never seen a production rifle that costs less than $4,000 shoot so well or be as consistent as this rifle was during my range testing.
While the barrel makes the biggest contribution to accuracy, a good trigger makes accessing that accuracy potential much easier. The trigger in the T3x Tac A1 is new from Tikka and a perfect fit for this rifle. It is a two-stage trigger that adjusts from 2 to 4 pounds. Ours came set at 4 pounds. It’s heavier than I’d like, but the crisp letoff and absence of creep made for an enjoyable shooting experience. Adjusting the trigger is done by removing the barreled action from the chassis and turning one Allen-head screw. It simple. Anyone can do at home.
Whether you’re a veteran long-range shooter or newbie interested in seeing if the sport is for you, the Tikka T3x Tac A1 gets my vote for top pick in the production long-range rifle demographic. The sophisticated and inexpensive chassis design, low-profile and thoroughly vetted magazine and accurate barreled action combine to create a rifle that shoots right alongside other rifles costing two to three times as much.
Tikka T3x Tac A1
Type: Bolt action
Cartridge: 6.5 Creedmoor (tested)
Capacity: 10 rds.
Barrel: 24 in., 1:8-in. twist
Overall Length: 43½ in. (extended), 34¼ in. (folded)
Weight: 11 lbs., 4 oz.
Stock: Tikka chassis, aluminum
Grips: AR-pattern pistol grip
Length of Pull: 13½ in.
Finish: Blued (steel); anodized (aluminum)
Trigger: Adjustable; 2 lbs. to 4 lbs.
Manufacturer: Tikka, 800-929-2901
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