I’ll take it!
T3x Varmint Hunter had Chris Redlich opening his wallet
Adding to a growing list of contenders for Australia’s best-selling rifle, Tikka have released their T3x Varmint Hunter selection, the one in .223 Remington being purpose-built for long-range vermin control. To the company’s credit they continue to produce high-quality rifles with many an Aussie shooter, including myself, having at least one claiming tenancy within their gun safe. The T3x Varmint Hunter comes in two stock options – synthetic and walnut.
I understand the practicality of synthetic stocks but admit it’s hard to deny the beauty of walnut timber. The synthetic model is available in stainless only with the walnut alternative in all blued or stainless barrel and action. If first appearances are a good indication of quality then I was sold at ‘hello!’, the high-grade walnut stock having what I like to call a ‘tiger stripe’ grain structure which matches beautifully to the matte blued barrel and action.
Although retaining some recognisable signs of T3x genetics, the Varmint Hunter stock differs somewhat with its widened foregrip tapering to a bold target-style tip, the CNC fine-cut chequering lovely in appearance and providing a firm grip. Regardless of synthetic or timber stock, one thing Tikka always seem to get right is their pistol grip, a generous palmswell moulding to the hand while the chequering provides subtle but non-abrasive grip. The Varmint Hunter pistol grip is more vertical than on standard T3x models which are designed for a better hold while shooting prone or from a rest.
Moving rearwards to the buttstock is Tikka’s attempt to modernise the rifle’s appearance by subtly reducing the full curved lines of a traditional raised cheekpiece. They’ve achieved this beautifully and the new ergonomic Monte Carlo version is not only functional but retains a strong connection to their heritage. Rounding out the butt is the inclusion of generous rubber recoil pad.
Weighing almost 4kg (unscoped) I’m not sure the Varmint Hunter could be classed as a walkabout hunting rifle but for those who don’t mind hiking to an afternoon’s rabbit plinking session, the stock includes mounts for sling attachment. As per standard, the underside of the buttstock features a single sling stud and on the fore-end are two for optional bipod positioning or sling and bipod combination.
Locating the action precisely to the stock is a steel recoil lug which mates to the receiver rebate and is securely fastened by two action screws. While the barrel is free floating, computer-controlled machining has enabled a first-class tight fit of all other components including the polymer triggerguard and magazine bottom. At the heart of the rifle is Tikka’s unmistakeable T3x blued receiver with full-length 17mm dovetail to suit Sako Optilok rings or similar dovetail mounts. Additionally, the top of the receiver is drilled and tapped to accept mount screws suitable for a Picatinny rail or Weaver-style bases (Beretta supplied Burris two-piece bases and Steiner rings).
As with every T3x the silky-slick action is a rotating push feed design stainless steel bolt with dual locking lugs machined to provide a low-profile 70-degree bolt throw, the heavy-duty claw extractor and plunge ejector combined with the T3x widened ejection port promoting clear extraction of fired cases. A two-position safety is to the rear right of the receiver enabling easy manipulation by the master thumb, sliding rear for ‘safe’ and forward for ‘fire’ marked with a red dot on the receiver.
Bolt closure is clearly identified by a cocking piece indicator (red dot) exposed at the rear of the bolt when the trigger sears are engaged and ready for firing. The single-stage blade trigger is fully adjustable from an approximate 4lb ‘max’ to 2lb ‘min’ and anticipating a large amount of shooting for testing, I safely adjusted the trigger to a more comfortable 2lb in accordance with user manual guidelines. The barrel is the business end of any rifle and Tikka’s, manufactured by Sako in Finland, are renowned for outstanding accuracy. The Varmint Hunter features a heavy profile barrel, specifically designed for increased firing stability in challenging conditions and has a marginal taper measuring 29mm at the receiver and 22mm at the crown (the muzzle crown is recessed to help improve accuracy).
Tikka blued barrels are made of high-grade Chromoly steel and the rifling is cut by cold hammer forging, the company claiming their method of production is superior to other procedures, delivering high-quality consistency. The option of muzzle threading to standard M18 (18mm) is available for those who wish to fit a muzzle brake. All Varmint Hunter barrels are 600mm in length (23.7”) and the review rifle chambered for the .223 Rem cartridge has a fast-rifling twist rate of one turn in 8” suitable for stabilising high BC .224 bullets.
The one- piece magazine bottom and triggerguard are made from high strength synthetic polymer. The Varmint Hunter magazine holds six single-stacked rounds for the .223 Rem cartridge and is attached firmly and freed easily from the bottom recess by pressing the release catch. Importantly for the varmint shooter requiring extra shots, additional magazines made by Tikka are also available on request.
Range and field testing
After stripping and reassembling the rifle to have a better understanding of its internals and externals, I couldn’t wait to see how the complete package performed on paper. Using the supplied Burris two-piece mounts, I positioned the Steiner Predator 4 scope for correct eye relief and despite the Varmint Hunter now weighing a combined total of around 5kg (scoped and loaded), I wasn’t phased considering it was designed for long-range varmint hunting and target shooting.
As expected the Steiner scope provided a clear picture and sighting-in at the standard 100m was quick and easy with my first confirmatory group landing well under .5 MOA. Using supplied 77-grain factory ammunition, the heavy barrel provided a rock-solid platform for all range shooting, giving me the confidence required to go hunting. Prior to our excursion, my wife Sue-Ann competed at a long range ‘Hunter Class’ shoot with the review rifle which exceeded all expectations when she nailed some high scores (including numerous V-bulls) at the 500 and 600-yard mound, reinforcing Tikka’s high-quality manufacture.
Wet weather unfortunately foiled our plans for several hunting trips but with a slim window of opportunity opening, I took full advantage of the two nights we managed to go spotlighting. Although no foxes or feral cats presented, we were able to head-shoot numerous rogue hares at long range while they darted across the paddocks. Throughout the night’s shooting I felt confident in the Varmint Hunter’s capability in the .223 Rem cartridge and its ability for long-range feral pest destruction. And as if to back-up those opinions, my good friend Adam subsequently shot numerous wild pigs with his new Varmint Hunter stainless synthetic in .243 Win, having bought the rifle after my recommendation and remarked on how glad he was he’d invested his hard-earned cash.
Overall I wasn’t surprised to discover how well-designed the T3x Varmint Hunter is and I’m pleased Tikka haven’t changed the winning formula Aussie hunters have come to appreciate. I was so impressed that on returning the review rifle I ended up ordering myself a new Varmint Hunter in 6.5 Creedmoor, a rifle I can’t wait to use at the range and for long-distance varminting.
The Varmint Hunter family consists of eight highly accurate chamberings including .223 Rem (tested), .22-250 Rem, .243 Win, 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC, .270 Win, .308 Win and.300 Win Mag. Left-hand models aren’t available in all chamberings. Retailing for $2250 (blued/timber) and $2590 (stainless/timber) at time of writing, that price is expected for a well-made European rifle with a proven reputation. More at berettaaustralia.com.au