Gun test: Tikka T3X Super Varmint Cerakote
- Credit: Archant
Broadsword tests the latest incarnation of the all-conquering Tikka T3X – the T3X Super Varmint Cerakote - and ends the review highly impressed!
It’s hard not to be impressed with the Tikka brand. Their longevity in the market place is testament to a manufacturing ethos to make the best, with that legendary Finnish engineering creating rifles for real shooters that appreciate quality and performance.
This model has a 24" barrel and is only available in 6.5mm Creedmoor, while the shorter 20" model can be bought in .223 (1 in 8 twist), .22-250, .243, .270, .308 and 6.5mm Creedmoor. The barrel has a Cerakote Tungsten coating, making it both aesthetically pleasing and probably the best finish you can get on a hunting arm. It perfectly complements the polymer stock, which in turn is upgraded to the Roughtech material.
Seeing that the Tikka T3X has to be one of the most widely sold and accepted stalking rifles in Britain today, not only as a personal stalking arm but for training purposes, it’s anyone’s guess how many estate rifles will be sold in this Super Varmint Cerakote format, especially in 6.5 Creedmoor.
Tikka T3X Super Varmint Cerakote stock
It’s the stock that first grabs the eye. The T3X has seen continuing evolution and improvement, with Tikka gradually tweaking the design to achieve a perfect platform to handle and bed a rifle to. The stock material has been upgraded to Roughtech status for an enhanced level of strength and rigidity, but with a lightweight and well-balanced feel that doesn’t feel bulky at all.
I like the stock overall. It has a really good tough exoskeleton that has a dense foam filler, so there’s no annoying resonating echo on firing. The forest green finish is nicely crinkled with a light splattering of black spider web to keep things interesting. You have the addition of a steel recoil lug positioned in the stock inlet just forward of the front stock screw that allows a consistent and firm bedding contact for the action and stock union. This greatly enhances consistent and repeatable firing, ultimately resulting in better accuracy overall. The bedding has no compound as such but sits on two well engineered pads front and back, with minimal compression from the stock screws that sit on aluminium washers under the floor plate.
The forend is particularly good now as it has the addition of cross bracing within its structure, so there is no twisting or bending at all. Up front on the forend you have the typical T3X broad profile to accommodate the varmint profiled barrel. There is plenty of free-floating space for the barrel to breath and prevent bipod bounce from upsetting barrel harmonics, and the separate black forend grip panel held by two grubs screws increases the stock width from 1.5" to just over 2.0", which effectively widens and deepens the forend. This aids grip, facilitates a better fit for a bipod and rides the bags better from a benchrest position.
With this model you have an elevating cheekpiece design, ideal for getting that perfect eye alignment and comfortable shooting position. It has a sturdy four-notch position but it is possible to secure the cheekpiece at any height via the large polymer grooved locking wheel to the right of the stock. Maximum elevation is about 1.5" with an ambidextrous black polymer rounded edge and 5.2" cheek piece.
The recoil pad has a very nice tactile soft and grippy finish to aid hold and reduce recoil but it does not snag in the shoulder. Also, the butt plate can be adjusted with plastic inserts to lengthen or shorten the length of pull. With the options to lengthen LOP, a wider and more stable forend plus height adjustment, the Super Varmint stock does not disappoint.
- 1 11 of the best: .22 rimfire rifles reviewed in 2021
- 2 Sako S20 Precision rifle - test & review
- 3 Hand-built by robots: the NEW Beretta BRX1 rifle
- 4 BERGARA B14 HMR IN 6.5 CREEDMOOR (LH) - test & review
- 5 Ruger American in .300 Blackout - test & review
- 6 Shooting long-range rimfire: part 2 (you don't need expensive kit!)
- 7 Gun test: Daniel Defense Delta 5 Pro in 6.5 Creedmoor
- 8 Gun test: Bergara BXR Carbon .22 LR semi auto rifle
- 9 Comparison test & review - Howa v Sauer .223 rifles!
- 10 Brand new Stalking Show coming in 2022!
These T3X stocks also have a modular design that allows the pistol grip to be replaced with separate inserts, sold to vary the grip angle to suit your shooting style. This Super Varmint was nice and hand filling, allowing a very steady hold with good palm swells to both sides. The addition of an asymmetrical grip pattern instead of checkering works well. All in all, it’s a well-designed stock.
Tikka T3X Super Varmint Cerakote barrel and action
Due to its Varmint credentials, the barrel is suitably profiled, starting at 1.25" at the action with a slow taper to 0.8755" at the muzzle. You have a 5/8 24 pitch (UNEF) thread with a thread protector and 11° target crown. The 24" length is perfect for this model, as it steadies and provides just that extra bit of velocity from factory ammo or reloads – ideal for longer-range use. Yes, with a mod fitted it’s a bit longer than most but this Tikka will probably mainly spend its life shooting off a bipod anyway. In 6.5 Creedmoor you have a 1 in 8 twist barrel, with a six-groove hammer-forged barrel that proved exceptionally accurate in the test, exceeding Tikka’s own three-shot MOA guarantee.
What is particularly nice and quickly becoming the new 'bluing' is the excellent and highly practical Cerakote finish. This T3X wears the best shade Tungsten, which conceals reflections, is hard wearing and is a great colour combination complementing the green stock very nicely. Rather than your usual blued steel or stainless-steel finish, a Cerakote finish is an applied surface covering system that adheres to the metal’s pores and forms a protective surface. It is a polymer ceramic composite coating, which when applied to metal gives a high resistance to abrasion, corrosion, wear and chemical attack, and delivers impact strength as well as hardness.
Now the famous Tikka action. When I was a teenager Tikka were renowned for their ultra-smooth bolt action and today this is still the case and one of their iconic features. The T3X’s silky smooth operation can be attributed to the solid, one-piece machined stainless steel action and low bolt lift. The bolt has twin locking lugs opposite each other, is semi-coned in profile (smooth cycling) and has a single extractor claw and plunger type ejector. The head of the cartridge is well supported in the bolt head’s forward recess and the primer pin hole is perfectly centred, aiding precise primer ignition.
What is particularly good is the spiral fluted bolt, which reduces weight but helps in the smooth cyclic rate with six intertwined profiles – very nice and lovely to look at. This model has the addition of an enlarged plastic bolt knob, like the old Super Sport models, that allows a fast positive grip, gloved hand or not, and in any weather conditions. To finish off there is a cocking indicator that shows a red protrusion from the metal bolt shroud when the rifle is cocked.
The ejection port is enlarged for easier access to load a single round if necessary, and it does help, although it’s easy enough to drop the mag if you are not in a hurry. Sensibly Tikka have added the full length 6.25" picatinny rail made of stainless steel with 15 slots, so there is plenty of room on this universal fitment, making this model ideal for gaining correct eye relief when running large longer-range scopes or any thermal or night-vision scope options out there.
Tikka T3X Super Varmint Cerakote trigger, safety and magazine
This Super Varmint has a very precise two-stage trigger unit, rather than the usual single stage that I like. But I have to say, as far as two stages go this is really rather good. The first stage does no more than familiarise your finger with the trigger position, getting ready to fire. You then have a very smooth inflection of the trigger blade to the second pull position of 6mm. It’s very light and does psychologically prep you for a clean and deliberate trigger pull. This broke at 2.15 lb on the test gun, with a lovely crisp let off and no over pull – just right on an accurate long-range rifle for precision shooting.
Safety-wise you have the pretty much standard lever-operated design mounted to the right side under the bolt, with just a good honest forward position with a red dot for fire and a single click rearward for safe. But for the more safety conscious there is a small lever that you can depress when the rifle is on safe to open the bolt and remove a round. It’s handy for getting up a high seat or over a fence to make the rifle safe, and it operates silently with just a little downward pressure.
The Super Varmint, designed for a little more firepower, comes standard with a five-shot magazine. It is sensibly made of a hard black impact polymer, making it both light, durable and impervious to rust. It’s easy to remove; just press the magazine release at the front of the magazine well and out it pops. It’s a five-shot mag with a polymer follower marked M+ for the Creedmoor round. It sits in a polymer magazine and trigger guard – again a good idea to repel the dreaded rust.
Tikka T3X Super Varmint Cerakote shooting test results
Having picked my jaw off the floor, I contemplated the results from the Super Varmint, which were nothing short of amazing, really. It was hard not to make it shoot well! I am a reloader, so went to town on this type of ammunition for fine tuning a good load for this rifle, but factory ammo also shot very well.
All but the Winchester Match were sub-MOA at 100 yards, with the American Eagle hovering just above. The new Winchester LF lead free 125gr cartridges shot a superb 0.65" group with a healthy 2,754fps for 2,106ft-lb of energy.
The Tikka also liked the lighter Federal 95gr V-Maxes at a speedy 3,266fps/2,251ft-lb energy and clustering three shots into only 0.85".
The fastest was unsurprisingly the Hornady Superformance SST 129gr ammunition at 2,852fps and 2,331ft-lb. That’s going to hurt down range, especially with 0.85" groups. It’s a great all-round load for those who do not want to reload.
Oddly the Hornady 120gr Match shot a low velocity 2,615fps. I don’t think that was because of the rifle, and perhaps I got a dodgy batch of ammo. I’m glad I chronographed it.
Reloading ammo is always an eye opener and a chance to fettle a good load into a better one. The Super Varmint definitely made it easy. Seating nearly at full OAL for a lot of the loads, we achieved some cracking loads, from 85gr fox loads to 140gr deer cartridges.
The new Fox lead-free bullets are readily available and the 100gr 6.5mm calibre can be a little finicky to load for, but this Tikka loved a load of 45.5gr of Vit N150 powder, a Fed Match primer and 2.7645 OAL for 3,104fps/2,140ft-lb and 0.50" groups. I was absolutely astonished. The GMX were a bit more hit and miss but still the Swiss RS50 powder yielded a nice 0.65" group.
The best groups were with the Hornady 129gr SST bullets loaded with 44.5gr of RL17 powder at 2.7955 OAL for a bug hole 0.25" group, consistently! At 2,955fps/2,500ft-lb, that load put the SUPER into Super Varmint in my opinion.
Heavier 140gr bullets also performed very well in this rifle, with both the Hornady SST interlocks and the newer 143gr ELD-X producing really tight groups. To prove the hard work off the bench under field conditions we had a few afternoons stalking Chinese water deer on big undulating fields in Buckinghamshire.
The highlight of the field test was an absolutely cracking CWD buck that was spotted at over 300 yards along a long shallow valley with a deep gully that we used to stalk in closer. The buck was about to disappear into the hedgerow so my son Jake deployed the bipod, took up the excellent two-stage trigger and at a lasered 284 yards dropped him dead in his tracks.
Tikka T3X Super Varmint Cerakote factory loads performance
Tikka T3X Super Varmint Cerakote review conclusion
I love the Cerakote finish, period, and for shooters that like a slightly heavier but well-balanced rifle with a varmint profiled barrel, the Super Varmint Cerakote is perfect. You also have adjustability in the stock where you need it and the Tikka action is so smooth and reliable – and the accuracy! And at a superb price that won’t hurt the wallet, it’s your call.
Manufacturer: Sako/Tikka Ltd
Model: T3X Super Varmint Cerakote
Overall Length: 44.25”
Barrel length: 24” (23.7 inch actual)
Calibre: 6.5mm Creedmoor
Length of Pull: 13.75”
Finish: Tungsten Cerakote
Stock: Green modular synthetic with adjustable cheekpiece.
Magazine: Detachable, 5 shot
Trigger: Two Stage adjustable
Importer: GMK (01489 579999)
Zeiss Uk | 01223 401500 (V8 scope)
Edinburgh Rifles | 07851 011085 (Fox Bullet)
Norman Clark | 01788 579651 (Reloading supplies)
JMS Sporting | 07771 962121 (MAE Moderators/Quickload ballistics)
Edgar Brothers | 01625 613177 (Hornady bullets, Alliant Powder)