I love hunting the wild country—those mountainous, those rugged places on earth where just getting there is half the battle—but as I get older, I find myself looking for lighter rifles for those excursions. I’m the first to admit that I’m no sheep hunter climbing mountains into the clouds, but I’ll also contest that the Adirondacks and Catskill mountains of New York possess some rather rugged spots where a change in the weather can pose a threat to your life.
I own a bunch of rifles, and I’ve had wonderful experiences with them, but I came across a rifle recently that I’ve really enjoyed: the Tikka T3x Lite. I’ve always found ‘ultralight’ rifles to suffer from a lack of balance; while they are certainly light, they don’t necessarily point well, or settle down for the shot, or come to shoulder smoothly. I personally feel the Tikka T3x checks all of those boxes at a weight perfect for the backcountry.
A bit about the company: the Finnish Tikkakoski factory has been manufacturing firearms parts for over a century, but didn’t develop their own rifle until 1981. Now a subsidiary of Sako, Tikka rifles share the same reputation for accuracy that the Sako rifles have. I first came across a Tikka rifle about ten years ago when a friend asked me to help him develop a handload for his .25-06 using a bullet unavailable from factory loads. It wasn't long before we had that rifle printing .5-MOA groups; I remember liking just about everything about the gun.
The Tikka T3x Lite is a wonderful balance of portability, accuracy and dependability. It’s a push-feed bolt-action design with a detachable polymer magazine; the synthetic stock is highly ergonomic and the appointments well thought-out. The T3x Lite has clean, simple lines; my particular model has a clean, blued barrel free of sights, and the T3x’s receiver—with an oblong ejection port and numerous screw holes for a multitude of mounting options—has a two-position safety, moving fore and aft, with forward being ‘fire.’ The left side of the receiver (on a right hand rifle) has a spring-loaded bolt release. A small red cocking indicator protrudes from under the rear of the metal bolt shroud. That bolt uses two locking lugs at 180 degrees, a plunger ejector, a spring-loaded extractor on the bolt rim and a hollowed bolt handle to reduce weight. The trigger is crisp, with virtually no creep and just the slightest hint of overtravel.
The T3x Lite’s stock is an excellent design. The foam-filled rear portion helps to keep that annoying ‘knock’ that synthetic stocks are so famous for when bumped against a hard object. I am an unabashed fan of warm, figured walnut, but also realize that the polymer stocks have their place, especially in less-than-ideal weather or when trying to reduce weight. However, I’ve had an issue with the way so many polymer stocks feel in the hand; they often feel slippery, or have unnecessarily sharp edges. The T3x Lite’s stock is smooth where it should be and sharp where it needs to be; the pistol grip and forend have an asymmetrical grip pattern (I can’t call it checkering) that affords a positive, yet comfortable hold on the rifle. There’s also the option of removing one torx-head bolt and switching the stock insert for the pistol grip to change the grip angle; additional inserts are sold separately, but the one I received with the rifle has a nice swell to it that feels good from both the bench as well as field positions.
A pliable, one-inch recoil pad takes the sting out of the recoil, as well as keeping the rifle properly on the shoulder, even under wet conditions. The polymer, single stack magazine—which holds three or four rounds, depending on the cartridge—is easy to load and fits well in a pocket.
I chose the 7mm-08 Remington for this light rifle, as I feel the cartridge has enough bullet weight and energy to be a viable choice for game up to the size of black bears and elk, yet would be comfortable enough to shoot accurately from a light rifle. A 22-inch barrel will work just fine with the 7mm-08’s case capacity. I mounted a Bushnell 4500 Elite 2.5-10x40 scope in Talley Lightweight rings, and headed to the range.
Right out of the box, the rifle was an adequate shooter. Tikka advertizes a 1-MOA guarantee, and I had a couple factory loads that would hit that mark, or just a bit wider. I was getting an occasional flyer, and a friend recommended an easy fix. Always eager to tinker, I took the advice, and ordered a High Desert Rifle Works aluminum trigger guard/bottom metal for the rifle. It’s a simple task to switch out the factory polymer guard for the more rigid High Desert model, and it made a definite difference in my rifle. Groups dropped from 1- to 1¼-inch down to ⅝-inch—the rifle especially likes the Federal load with the 140-grain Nosler AccuBond bullet—which is more than a big-game hunter actually needs, but sure builds confidence when it’s time to take the shot. Feeding and extraction were no issue at all, no matter how fast the rate of fire.
Weighing in at under 6½ pounds, the Tikka T3x Lite has a street price of right around $680, and represents an excellent value. It’s available in time-proven varmint and big-game calibers, has a user-adjustable trigger, the action is nicely bedded, and it carries like a dream. For those who are drawn to the backcountry, you sure get a lot of rifle for the money with the Tikka T3x Lite.