Gun Review: Tikka T3 Lite .223

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T3-Lite-StainlessA lightweight varmint-buster with excellent accuracy!

This past year I had the pleasure of carrying, shooting and handloading for a new varmint rifle, the Tikka model T3 Lite. I acquired this rifle; a six-pound three-ounce blued steel and synthetic stocked model chambered for the .223 Remington cartridge early in the spring and had plenty of opportunities to try it on our local varmints.

First Impressions

The Tikka model T3 Lite is chambered for a number of varmint and big game hunting cartridges and is offered with both blued and stainless steel barrel and actions. The varmint calibres include .222, .223 and .22-250 Remington. I chose the .223 Remington because it has always been a personal favorite of mine for shooting varmints. It is a very easy cartridge to develop handloads for and doesn’t have a large appetite for burning powder, which helps in both the pocketbook and with the barrel life. Also, it is not too destructive on coyote and fox hides, which means very little time is spent sewing pelts.
The model T3 Lite in the standard calibres has a 22-7/16-inch barrel, while the magnum models have a 24-3/8-inch barrel. This is why, when combined with its light weight fibreglass reinforced polymer stock, it is such a pleasure to carry as a walking varmint and predator calling rifle. Standard features for this rifle include a cold hammer forged and hand-crowned barrel that is free floating to within three inches of the receiver. The magazine is detachable and holds four .222 and .223 Remington cartridges stacked in a single column; all other calibres have a three round magazine. Other standard features include a thick rubber recoil pad, sling swivel studs and a grooved receiver for integral scope mounts.

The Tikka T3 has a two-stage safety that blocks the bolt from opening and a fully adjustable trigger; from two to four pounds of pull with no noticeable creep and a very minimal amount of over travel. This is by far one of the easiest triggers on the market to adjust. Trigger adjustment is done without removing the stock and by inserting a 2.5 millimetre hex key wrench into the magazine well. The trigger is factory set at three pounds, which is nearly perfect for a big game hunting rifle.

The Tikka’s .223 calibre barrel comes with a fast one turn in inches rifling twist. So far I have experimented with a number of bullet weights ranging from the lightweight 40-grain Hornady V-Max and Nosler Ballistic-Tip on up to the 60-grain Hornady V-Max in this rifle. I found the Tikka to have an extremely accurate barrel and my groups showed a noticeable improvement after had I fired over 200 rounds through the bore. Once I surpassed this mark, I also found that the barrel was not as fussy about bullet seating depth with some makes of bullets as it had been when it was still new. It now seemed to settle down and shoot tighter groups with some bullets that earlier, it would not shoot with any degree of consistency, such as the 55-grain Speer. This is a bullet that shoots great in my other .22 centrefire rifles and packs quite a wallop on coyotes, often dumping them in their tracks.

Range Results

My best accuracy has been with 50- and 55-grain bullets, respectively. Thanks to the fast rifling twist, Hornady’s 60-grain V-Max bullets have shot good groups as well, averaging just under 3/4 of an inch for three shots at 100 metres. However, my results have not been quite as good with 40-grain bullets. These short, light weight bullets seem to have trouble stabilizing with the barrels fast twist. The accuracy is not very consistent when shooting top loads, and I have found for best results the velocity must be kept low to achieve decent accuracy. My best groups with 40-grain bullets comes when I don’t push them much faster than 3,300 fps, then I can get groups as small as 1/2-inch at 100 metres.

My target shooting consists of three consecutive three shot groups with my old Pro-Tach chronograph made by Competition Electronics set up to record the average velocity of the rounds. I found that both 50 grain Hornady V-Max and Remington PLHP bullets shot outstanding groups averaging from 3/8-inch to 1/2-inch in this rifle. This is excellent accuracy for a light barrelled sporter.

In The Field

Once fall approached, I switch from the lightweight 40- and 50-grain bullets to a 55-grain load for my coyote hunting. When it comes to coyote loads, I have always preferred a heavier bullet to a lighter one, even though it means giving up some velocity. I was anxious to try this little rifle on something larger than gophers, rabbits and beavers, which was the first varmint that I shot with the T3. Incidentally, beaver are considered a pest in my part of Saskatchewan, so drifting the rivers after spring break-up in a small boat or shooting over a beaver dam is a highly anticipated early season sport similar to southern hunters awaiting the emergence of the first gophers.

I made a point of carrying the Tikka throughout the fall hunting season. I found it to be such a handy and compact rifle that it was a joy to pack along in my pickup and it was also along with me when I hunted the southern prairies in October with my son for upland birds and pheasants. I had loaded 55-grain Remington PSP bullets with H-335 powder at 3,100 fps, and this load worked great on coyotes that Brad and I were able to flush from the buck brush coulees and pasturelands.

When the big game hunting season was over, I had more time to carry the Tikka in pursuit of coyotes. It seems that as one gets older, the weight of your rifle makes a big difference in how enjoyable your hunt is, and I definitely wanted to use this lightweight rifle some more. I was patiently waiting for good weather to try calling coyotes. My intention was to hunt on foot through the forest, calling along the steep, rugged, willow and aspen covered banks bordering the Torch River, a favourite hunting area of mine. I needed a calm day or at least, a northwest wind for an ideal set-up along the river, as it winds its way through the forest and farmland near my home.

Early December brought just such a day. The wind was calm, the temperature wasn’t far below freezing and I had about two to three inches of fresh tracking snow. I left my pickup at first light and started out following the river. I was using my Phantom Pro-Series wireless digital electronic call made by Extreme Dimension Wildlife Calls, and would set the speaker about 30 metres off to my side. This way I reasoned, when a coyote came to the call, it would not detect any movement from me, while I picked it up in the scope.

I was on my third calling site. It was late in the morning and a light breeze was starting to rustle through the tree-tops. I had tried to move at least one-half kilometre between calling sites, and now I was starting to get hungry. Just one more, I told myself and then I would head back to my pickup. I set up on a high ridge overlooking a large horseshoe in the river. I could see down-stream to the south for a good 400 metres and up-stream almost half as far. I figured if a coyote left the bush and crossed the ice to start working its way in, I would have plenty of time for a shot.

I called for 20 to 30 minutes. Nothing had come in but the occasional raven and magpie that would fly over. Suddenly, a group of magpies started squawking downriver from my position. I quickly scanned the shoreline, double checking the willows and young second growth aspen along the banks below me. Then looking down river, where there was nothing but ice and snow only moments earlier, now stood a coyote staring directly at me. It must have picked up a reflection from my glasses when I moved my head, and now it wasn’t so sure about coming in to my jackrabbit in distress call as it was earlier.

The coyote turned and slowly started across the ice. I brought the Tikka to my shoulder and picked it up in the three and one-half-power magnification that I had earlier set my scope on. The distance was a solid 250 yards and I knew from shooting at the range that I could expect a couple inches of bullet drop. There was a cross-wind but the coyote was broad side so I figured the bullet would not drift too far off my target. I had a good rest with the rifles fore-end cushioned in my hand and resting against the sloping trunk of a jack pine. The coyote stopped and looked back over its shoulder. I quickly placed the crosshairs on the top of its back and squeezed off. The coyote swung around and showing no sign of a hit, trotted back to the shore. I chambered another round but before I was on target the coyote was out of sight.

I had a feeling there was probably another coyote lurking in the bush along the river so I continued calling for another 15 minutes before going down to see if I could find the coyote that I had shot at. I went downriver a short distance to an old winter trail then started working my way back, looking for a blood trail. I needn’t have worried. The coyote had piled up on the shore before reaching the willows along the banks. I had shot a large female with a prime, well furred hide.

I started dragging her back up the same trail that I had taken down to the river, but I didn’t get half way when I stopped to catch my breath. Scanning the bush, looking for nothing in particular, my eye caught something that didn’t look right. Peering through a small opening between the branches, I spotted a coyote facing toward me at about 80 metres away. I pulled off my mitt and threw the Tikka to my shoulder, the crosshairs settled for an instant on the coyote’s chest, and I pressed the trigger. The coyote then whirled and ran, disappearing among the pines.

I marked a stump close to where it was standing and hurried to the spot. There was no blood, only a running track heading off through the snow. I started following the track and after a short distance I found a few drops of blood on the trail. About 20 metres farther and I found more. Now scanning the bush ahead I spotted the coyote stretched out beside a log, it had covered almost 60 metres after taking a raking shot through the chest and exiting behind the ribs. I had switched bullets since the fall and I was now using Remington’s power-lokt hollow point bullet. These bullets were obviously opening up too slowly, but the model T3 had performed splendidly for me.

To successfully call in and shoot two coyotes on my first day in the bush with the Tikka was truly exceptional, and to say that I am impressed with this light weight and accurate rifle would be an understatement. My youngest son Zachary has now taken a real shining to the Tikka. After recently upgrading from a .22 rimfire to a centrefire rifle, he handles the T3 in .223 calibre remarkably well. The way I see it, the Tikka model T3 Lite will most certainly play a big part of my family’s future varmint hunting pursuits.

Handload Chart: Tikka Model T3 Lite .223 Remington

Test conditions: 20 degrees Celsius, Federal cases, CCI-400 primers

* It is recommended handloaders start at least five per cent lower than the maximum loads listed. We accept no liability for this chart.

40 gr. Hornady V-Max, 2.250″ OAL
Load Powder Velocity
27 gr. H-335 3335 fps *most accurate load
50 gr. Remington PLHP, 2.230″ OAL
Load Powder Velocity
22 gr. IMR-4198 3135 fps *most accurate load
50 gr. Barnes Varminator, 2.200″ OAL
Load Powder Velocity
22 gr. IMR-4198 3145 fps *most accurate load
55 gr. Speer, 2.240″ OAL
Load Powder Velocity
21 gr. IMR-4198 2995 fps *most accurate load
55 gr. Corbin Jacketed Home Swaged HP, 2.230″ OAL
Load Powder Velocity
26 gr. IMR-4895 3005 fps *most accurate load
55 gr. Hornady V-Max, 2.230″ OAL
Load Powder Velocity
27 gr. BL-C(2) 3020 fps *fair accuracy
55 gr. Remington PLHP, 2.240″ OAL
Load Powder Velocity
25 gr. H-335 3095 fps *most accurate load
60 gr. Hornady V-Max, 2.230″ OAL
Load Powder Velocity
23.5 gr. H-335 2945 fps *most accurate load

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