Kit test: Tikka TAC A1 BLK LBL forend add-on

Rifle shooter shooting a Tikka TAC A1 BLK LBL

Stability off a bench or prone is assured with this new BLK LBL bipod system, It's so good I bought it! - Credit: Archant

Broadsword takes a look at a forend add-on from BLK LBL that makes the famously tacticool Tikka T3x Tac A1 even cooler!

Close up of ball and socket joint on the Tikka TAC A1 BLK LBL forend add-on

The heart of the system is the ball and socket unit set within the forend frame. Note the large dimpled button to release the locked bipod legs - Credit: Archant

There is no doubting the fact that Tikka have had fantastic success with their tactical version of the TX3 rifle. The TAC A1 has unquestionably become one of the best rifles of this genre for the price. Build quality and out-of-the-box accuracy, coupled with decades of Tikka’s legendary reliability, have made the now iconic TAC A1 the go to Tactical centrefire.

However, and as is often the case with such popular rifles, you will always find some back-room boffin or custom shop eager to tweak and improve certain aspects of the design. It’s really a huge compliment that people are willing to invest thousands of pounds in research and development on a new aftermarket part. We have seen new bottom metal magazines and bolt shrouds for Tikkas in the past as well as various new stock designs and materials, but this new forend attachment from BLK LBL Bipods, an American firm and marketed by GMK Ltd, is very special indeed.

I will be the first to admit that tacticals are not my type of rifle at all, but after testing one of the first Tac 1s in .308 Win I was seriously impressed and bought the test rifle! If you want to fit a bipod to the TAC A1 then there is plenty of provision with the excellent M-Lok slotted attachment system, to which the forend has plenty of fixture points. But then you have that bipod, which is bulky and quite often gets in the way for off-hand shots, etc. Enter the new BLK LBL, which is a straight swap out after-market forend that really enhances the original TAC A1 design with the integration of an adjustable bipod system.

Yes, it’s a tad pricey at £600-ish, but it is worth every penny as it completes the rifle in my view and does away with that awkward bipod issue. Now you can have one permanently on hand yet tucked away for improved handling.

It is not only the Tikka T3x Tac A1 that benefits from this forend add-on, as similar rifles have versions of their own in the form of AR platforms, Sako TRG and Ruger Precision rifles.

Dimensionally there is a choice of 11", 14" or 17" models, of which GMK have the 14" model. Dependent on barrel length you can choose the forend that best suits you. This Tac A1 has a shorter 20" .308 Win barrel and as such the forend still leaves 5" clear in front of it.

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The original forend is 13.75" long and has an octagonal profile of 1.75", excluding the built-in Picatinny rail, and weighs 415g. This BLK LBL model is 14" and weighs 720g and again has an octagonal profile, but wider at 2", so there’s plenty of room to clear the heavy varmint barrel. Also from a sound moderator fitting point of view it allows an at least 1.75" diameter mod to be fitted over the barrel and into the forend’s front aperture.

Tikka TAC A1 BLK LBL forend add-on

The new BLK LBL is a direct swap for the old forend, below, giving the user a nicer grip and superb fold away bipod - Credit: Archant

You have an overall matt black anodised finish to the aircraft-grade aluminium sub-structure, and unlike the original Tikka forend, which has two Allen screw fixture points at the rear for attachment to the rifle’s action, this model has a single rear Allen screw fixture that perfectly aligns the forend to the action tang and centralises the barrel within.

Visually it is similar to the original Tikka’s forend, except for being a little wider, but it still has the full length Picatinny rail on top, which integrates with the action rail for one long continuous scope, thermal or NV mounting system. Installation takes less than five minutes and requires no special tools. Absolute doddle.

To the forward section the aluminium is pierced with vented slots of various oblong sizes and chevron shaped cutaways to the base to allow heat dispersion and also lighten the whole unit a little.

The rear section has a total of 10 angled forward vents, four of which are non-pierced, adding to the appealing overall look and practicality of the piece. You also have a Q/D fitment point at the rear above the securing Allen screw for sling attachment, and you still get four M-Lok attachment points to the base if you need them.

But what makes this BLK LBL forend such a game-changer is the very clever and innovative design of the onboard folding bipod assembly. It features a barrel-through design with swivelling ball-and-socket joining system and extendable rear folding integrated legs. This cleverly allows the rifle to literally sit within the bipod, perched on top of the bipod fitment. This allows a far better distribution of weight and as such the axis of rotation of the bipod centres on the bore, making it very stable indeed.

That eliminates all the top-heavy wobble that is common when larger tactical-type scopes are fitted. Instead the Tikka feels much more planted to the ground and very stable in the aim.

This ball-and-socket pivoting joint feature is such a good idea and really does achieve a fluidity of movement, like a good camera/video tripod mount. It dramatically stabilises aim and thus instant target acquisition.

It sits 5" back from the forend and pivots on a single attachment point hanging from the upper Picatinny rail. This allows a very good range of rotation from the aim point. In fact, you have 40° of panning available and 15° of cant in each direction. This in reality gives you all the movement you need to adjust or readjust your aim from a prone or sitting position. Any more and you would have been in the wrong position to start with!

Tikka TAC A1 BLK LBL forend add-on

The frame aperture is large to allow a heavy barrel and sound moderator to fit and clear the sub structure easily - Credit: Archant

It is really well made as the tilt, pan and swivel are very smooth to operate and feel well put together, with the ball and socket precisely fitting each other. There is a small amount of grease applied when new and it would be a good idea to keep up with this regime of a dab of grease now and then to keep things fluid. But be careful not to use too much, as it would attract grit. 

Forward of the ball swivel is the ball-and-socket adjuster, which is a large turn ring accessed via apertures to right and left. Rotate to loosen or tighten the movement of the ball and socket, or lock-off for an ultra-stable, non-wavering base. It’s very convenient and easy to access. I initially looked for a lock screw but realised it’s the whole turn wheel, which is much better. It seems I need my eyes testing!

From the base of this ball the single legs of the bipod are attached to each side via a single screw. To release the legs all you need do is to put your finger into the convenient 2" slot above the leg at the rear and push down. That’s all that’s needed to release the leg from its capture from a cleverly placed magnet a third of the way up the leg and a corresponding steel pad set into the body of the bipod.

It’s all really neat and keeps the legs tightly tucked away into the body of the forend, so when not in use there are no projections from the supporting hand to snag on. Just perfect. This means there’s nothing to catch on clothing, gear or branches when on the move or when storing the rifle, and nothing to impede shooting off hand or from a barricade.

At full deployment, that is, at 90° to the barrel axis, each leg clips into position by means of a large dimpled button that is set within this pivoting ball, one to each side, which is depressed to release.

Each leg is made of aluminium and has a flattened triangular form with a nice rubber foot to each side and a length of 8" total, 7.5" protruding. This can be further lengthened with an inner leg via an inset spring-loaded grooved button near the top inside of the leg. This gives six additional height options as the button locks to the leg body; all very secure and fast to deploy in the field. The maximum height at full extension is thus 11.75", a very good height to clear foliage, with variable adjustment to both sides for uneven ground.

Tikka TAC A1 BLK LBL forend add-on

Fully extended gives ample height for any terrain and can be adjusted for each leg for uneven ground - Credit: Archant

Test conclusions
I bought it! That should really tell you all you need to know. Yes some may say it’s a tad pricey but what price would you give for total control on your rifle in any terrain while achieving such ease of use, flexible height, convenience and adjustable shooting/aiming positions. I am going to buy a longer MAE sound moderator so that it tucks right into the new forend for a seamless look. The Tikka TAC A1 was a superb rifle already, this great addition takes it to the next level. 

Contact GMK Ltd 
Price:
£600 
Web: www.gmk.co.uk 
Tel: 01489 579 999 

Tikka TAC A1 BLK LBL forend add-on

Cutaway to rear of the forend allows a finger to release the grip from the inset magnet - Credit: Archant