I was standing—much to my chagrin—on a pair of snowshoes, in 3 feet of snow, on a severe sidehill slope in the famous Catskill Mountains, with time slipping away. There was no lack of deer sign, in spite of the recent blizzard, but there was a definitive lack of deer. Discouraged with a tough deer season, I began the slow descent toward the main trail. Well, it was more of an off-balance saunter, with some tumbling, grumbling and cursing involved. After one good roll in the deep snow, I'd regained my feet, or rather my snowshoes, and leaned against a large oak to gather my thoughts, when I caught some movement about 150 yards downhill. A glance through the binocular indicated a thick set of antlers atop a mature buck; maybe he wouldn’t have moved the needle in Texas or Iowa, but for the Catskills at the end of season, he was everything I could ask for. I raised the Tikka rifle to my shoulder, broke the crisp trigger and a 140-grain Nosler AccuBond put that buck down almost immediately.
The Catskills may not be the highest mountains ever, but they’re rugged enough to make a hunter appreciate a nice, light rifle that carries well. The Tikka T3x Lite is just such a rifle. I don’t traditionally care much for light "mountain" rifles; they tend to feel whippy, they don’t usually settle down well, and the effort to shave ounces usually results in a stock that doesn’t fit me well. The T3x has none of these characteristics.
My rifle is chambered in 7mm-08 Remington, a sound choice for a light rifle as it presents a near-perfect blend of manageable recoil and striking power. As you’ll see, the T3x Lite shows a penchant for several different premium bullets, so field performance is nothing shy of wonderful. The short-action cartridge and correlative receiver help keep weight to a minimum, and that cartridge also functions perfectly in the 22.4-inch barrel, which is devoid of iron sights. The rifle is fed via a polymer magazine that holds three cartridges.
The T3x’s action is a push-feed design, with a bolt featuring dual locking lugs, a plunger ejector and a spring-loaded extractor. The bolt cocks on opening, and there is a red cocking indicator at the rear of the bolt shroud, allowing the shooter to know the status of the rifle at a quick glance. A spring-loaded bolt release is located on the left side of the receiver at the rear; simply depress the little lever and the bolt pulls straight out of the receiver. A two-position safety, which rocks fore and aft, sits at the right side of the bolt, and offers a positive grip under the shooter’s thumb; in spite of sub-freezing temperatures, I’ve never had any trouble with the Tikka’s safety. Working the bolt gives a wonderfully smooth feel when both loading and extracting cartridges, and the plain, smooth bolt handle is hollowed out, apparently in an effort to reduce weight.
I really enjoy the Tikka T3x’s crisp trigger; I measured the pull weight on my Lyman trigger scale, and though it broke consistently at 2 pounds, 9 ounces, it certainly feels much lighter. It is crisp, with no creep and just the slightest hint of overtravel, and it is wonderful in both field positions as well as at the bench. But if I had to pick a feature of the Tikka T3x Lite that stands out, it is the stock. Where many polymer stocks feel like they’re made from recycled plastic lunchboxes, the Tikka stock has a "fancier" feel, if you will. A foam insert in the rear of the stock helps to deaden any noise made when sticks or branches hit your rifle in the field; there’s none of that hollow sound that can spook game. And, where a number of polymer stocks can feel slippery in the hunter’s hands, the asymmetrical grip pattern affords a solid grip, no matter the weather. The pistol grip of the Tikka T3x Lite is modular, and can be changed to give a different feel, from the standard thin rifle grip (traditional pistol grip) to larger grip with a nice palm swell (vertical pistol grip). There is a Torx-head bolt at the base of the pistol grip that can be quickly removed to allow the grip to be changed. I opted for the fuller, vertical pistol grip (sold separately) and love its feel, both at the bench and in the woods. The 14-inch length of pull fit me much better than most of our American designs, which tend to run one-quarter to three-eighths inch shorter. A pliable recoil pad takes what little sting there is out of the light-recoiling cartridge and offers a firm grip on your shirt, jacket or coat to keep the rifle on your shoulder.
The T3x Lite uses a polymer trigger guard which also houses the magazine; and this may be the only feature I feel could be improved upon. I replaced the factory trigger guard with an aluminum model from High Desert Rifle Works and saw an improvement in accuracy while maintaining the lightweight motif of the rifle. The additional rigidity certainly played a role in the accuracy department, and a shim kit with washers of varying thicknesses allow the owner to adjust the depth of the new bottom metal so the magazine will attach properly.
This rifle was more than acceptably accurate before the trigger guard swap, producing three-shot groups at or just above 1 MOA (Tikka provides a 1-MOA guarantee) but the swap cut those figures substantially. I grabbed three boxes of premium ammo, including Federal’s 140-grain Nosler AccuBond load, Hornady’s Precision Hunter 150-grain ELD-X load and Nosler’s 140-grain lead-free Expansion Tip ammo. The Federal stuff shot the best, with three-shot groups measuring .64 inch, followed by the Hornady printing .76 inch and the Nosler .89 inch; all were more than acceptable for any hunting situation suitable for the 7mm-08 Remington. At a total weight of 7½ pounds when wearing a Leupold scope and a sling, the Tikka T3x Lite is a package that is a pleasure to carry, while still settling for the shot when the time comes. We’ve become good friends, and I look forward to more adventures.