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Tikka’s T3x Arctic Review: A Gift from the North

Tikka’s T3x Arctic is a Beefed-Up, Scaled-Down, All-Arounder

Let’s say you want a rifle for your journey to the ass end of the world. Something that’ll run in a desert of ice, wind, and permafrost. It’ll provide safety and sustenance, taking on predators and game in places so remote that you’re as much a part of the food chain as the beasts you seek to dine on.

It’s here that the Canadian Rangers, CRs for short, do their nation’s bidding. Not as soldiers or snipers, but as the eyes and ears of a national defense force. Hunters, guides, trappers … hard-living men and women of the north, many of them able to say, “Les Stroud? Never heard of her,” likely with total honesty (even though he’s Canadian …).

The Canadian Rangers
The CRs is a sub-component of the Canadian Armed Forces Reserve officially formed in 1947 to provide a limited military presence in the country’s remote northern, coastal, and otherwise barely civilized areas. It’s a volunteer, part-time, civil-military force of about 5,000 people, split among five geographical regions.

We’re talking about them because we’re looking at the Tikka T3x Arctic through the lens of the Canadian Ranger’s requirements for its recently adopted C19 rifle. The T3x Arctic is the functionally, and practically identical commercial version of the issued rifle.

Despite being issued rifles, “The Canadian Rangers are not actually mandated with armed defense,” says Lieutenant Colonel Russ Meades, Commanding Officer of the 4th Canadian Ranger Patrol Group. “They’re mandated with observation and reporting.”

Meades’ patrol group is 1,050 CRs, covering 2.7-million square kilometers. That’s about the area of everything in the continental U.S. west of Texas, minus New Mexico.

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The Mission
Aside from performing sovereignty patrols, CRs provide a host of services within and beyond their communities. Search and rescue is a bread-and-butter mission, as is hosting Canadian military units when they operate in these remote locations. The CRs act as a community liaison and provide environmental expertise, wilderness education, guide services, and predator overwatch for the units during exercises.

The T3x Arctic is a purpose-built wilderness rifle, made to stand up to use in the most inhospitable environments found on earth. And, no, we don’t mean Chicago. Sako cut no corners on this rifle; it even comes with tools and a well-written, well-illustrated manual.

The T3x Arctic is a purpose-built wilderness rifle, made to stand up to use in the most inhospitable environments found on earth. And, no, we don’t mean Chicago. Sako cut no corners on this rifle; it even comes with tools and a well-written, well-illustrated manual.

The CRs are issued rifles for a few reasons; the first is personal security. The Canadian wilderness is a CR’s office, and it’s as wild as it is beautiful. It’s a place where predators, small and large, need to be scared off or dispatched. Second, it’s a means of sustenance. Whether at home or out on patrol, CRs hunt. And, unlike traditional military units, the Rangers keep their service rifles at home where they’re free to train and hunt with them. The remaining uses trail off into recruiting efforts, the rare auxiliary law enforcement, and even rarer military action.

The Rifle
Since the CRs stood up, the standard issue rifle for CR patrols has been the World War II-era Lee Enfield No. 4, Mk1 rifle. The bolt-action, .303 British caliber longarm is ideal for the harsh environment; the fact that it’s been in service with the unit for 70 years alone is testament of its suitability for the role.

“The old .303 was a great rifle in its time,” Meades says, “but it’s had its day. It could probably go on for many years to come, but the fact is we’re cannibalizing .303s right now because there just aren’t enough parts in the system anymore.”

This brings us back to the Tikka. The CRs began searching for a replacement for the Lee Enfield No. 4 nearly 10 years ago. The search ended with the adoption of a Tikka rifle custom made for the CRs, type classified as the C19.

Tikka and Sako rifles are made on the same production lines, by the same people, using the same equipment. Here’s the barrel inspection station in the Riihimki, Finland, Factory.

Tikka and Sako rifles are made on the same production lines, by the same people, using the same equipment. Here’s the barrel inspection station in the Riihimki, Finland, Factory.

The Tikka T3x Arctic is the commercial version of the C19 with no functional differences.  The only differences are the CR crest laser etched on the C19 stock, the red hue of the C19’s laminate stock (versus the T3x Arctic’s orange tones), and the contract requirement that dictates the C19 is manufactured by Colt Canada under license from Sako, Tikka’s parent company. The commercial rifle is manufactured on the Sako/Tikka line in Riihimäki, Finland, and exported initially in limited numbers.

We’re spending a lot of ink talking about the CRs, because understanding their requirements explains a lot about the features of the rifle they chose.

According to a report commissioned by Canada’s Defense Research and Development directorate called Canadian Ranger Rifle: Human Factors Requirements Validation, the CRs mainly wanted a gun that addressed the No. 4’s shortcomings — namely it was heavy, big, and outdated.

The Canadian Rangers wanted a two-stage trigger, so Sako’s engineers made this Tikka two-stage adjustable trigger. It’s sweet, and it’s getting put in the Tikka TAC A1, and will probably be offered in more Tikkas soon.

The Canadian Rangers wanted a two-stage trigger, so Sako’s engineers made this Tikka two-stage adjustable trigger. It’s sweet, and it’s getting put in the Tikka TAC A1, and will probably be offered in more Tikkas soon.

The CRs are a mobile force, moving about the northern expanse on all manner of locomotion. Rifles are strapped to dogsleds, lashed to snowmobiles, shoved into a small aircraft, stowed in boats, and, of course, slung over the shoulder. Smaller and lighter is easier and faster to stow and deploy.

Aside from smaller and lighter, the Rangers wanted a rifle that met or exceeded the No. 4’s durability and reliability, while improving on its accuracy. They also wanted to move to a modern intermediate caliber that offers more commercial ammunition choices than the dated .303 British round. Commercially available ammo is important to the CRs because, in addition to the 200 round per year allotment, CRs can run any other ammo they choose.

The C19, and the Tikka T3x Arctic, checks all the boxes on the CR’s wish list, but does that make it a good rifle or a committee-designed jack of all trades?

Action
Despite the many advantages modern semi-auto rifles bring to the table, a bolt-action rifle is the most reliable firearm in the widest array of environments. Sure, you can keep an AR-10 running in the cold, but it’ll take time and energy away from whatever else is going on. And, when we say cold, we mean f#@king arctic cold.

Meades says, “Our more northerly patrols, say anything north of the 55th parallel, operate in -40, – 50 degrees C. A bolt-action is absolutely essential because it’s just embarrassing when a bear’s coming at you and your semi-automatic seizes up.”

Argue if you will, but lubes freeze and condensation formed on warm metal freezes. Frozen things lead to problems that turn semi-autos into single shots … if you’re lucky. Running a bolt beats tapping a forward assist over and over when things get dire.

The Arctic’s fully stainless steel action is smoother than Jacko’s moonwalk. Notice the Sako-style cross bolt used to shore things up since they had to take more material out of the stock to fit the double stack mag.

The Arctic’s fully stainless steel action is smoother than Michael Jackson’s moonwalk. Notice the Sako-style cross bolt used to shore things up since they had to take more material out of the stock to fit the double stack mag.

Extreme cold is only one of the environments in which the rifle has to work. The coastal areas contain humidity, salt water, and sand. The Tikka deals with these by way of stainless steel just about everywhere. The barrel, bolt and action are all stainless, including the newly designed extended stainless bolt handle that’s unique to the C19/Arctic. It doesn’t stop corrosion, but it slows it way down. A bonus is the way the stainless bolt runs in the action. Tikka actions generally have a feel all their own, but the Arctic’s full stainless action feels tongue-on-labia smooth. It’ll make anyone who spent $1,200 on a custom 700 action question their decision.

The Arctic’s action retains all the regular Tikka traits, including the two-stage safety, talon-like Sako-style extractor, constant tension ejector, broached machining. It adds the T3x’s improved rail mount interface and a stainless 5-inch-long (shortened to accommodate the rear aperture sight which we’ll get to), 0-degree Pic rail, and the slightly enlarged ejection port for easier single round loading. And the handier among you can modify this short action Tikka to run as a long action with relative ease. (Google it.)

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That’s tight. Standard rings will work, but we found this cantilevered ZRODelta M4 mount put the scope right where we needed it and let us remove the scope without tools to run the irons. It cleared the rear sight crown with a few thousands of an inch to spare.

As smooth and reliable as the action is, we did find one dark spot. Single round feeding is improved with the T3x action’s enlarged ejection port on most models, but the rim of single-fed .308 cartridges regularly hung up on the back wall of the Arctic’s CTR magazine, seizing the action. A jiggle of the rifle knocks the round forward and allows it to feed, but it’s an issue whenever the rifle is single-fed with the bolt all the way rear.

 

We reached out to Sako’s Miikka Tamminen, the product manager for this program, and he was unaware of this issue. He expressed genuine concern but wasn’t able to get to the bottom of it by press time. We’ll update this article on the web when he gets back to us.

Being men of action, though, we went ahead and fixed the issue ourselves. We did the unthinkable and took a Dremel to the rear wall of the $100 magazine. With a quarter moon ground off (see photo, left) the top and a little cold bluing, single rounds fed without issue. We acknowledge this calls for added attention when handling loaded mags due to the exposed primer, but it’s no different than lots of other mags.

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The bolt head sometimes hung up on the rear lip of the CTR mag, so we ground a notch with a Dremel to let it pass.

Speaking of the mags, we’re fans of the standard CTR mags that come with the Arctic. The 10-round, double-stack mags work flawlessly, single feed issues not withstanding, and impart the handling characteristics of a rifle with a magazine half that size. For the price of the rifle, though, we wish it came with more than one.

Barrel
The 20-inch, stainless steel, cold hammer forged, medium-heavy contour barrel is tipped with a U.S.-friendly 5/8×24-inch threaded muzzle that’s home to half of one of the Arctic’s standout features: the aperture sights.

The stainless barrel is just that — no chrome lining, no fillers, just Sako’s specified grade of stainless steel that’s better suited to hammer forging than rack-grade stainless. It just happens that the steel made to withstand the higher deformation of hammer forging is also a little more corrosion resistant.

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New Frontier
While there’s a lot in common with existing Tikkas, there’s a whole lot that’s unique to the Arctic platform. These are the features that came in response to the CR’s requirements, fueling the rifle’s premium price tag.

So, the sights. Sako’s Tamminen says the company couldn’t find a sight on the market that gave them the combination of durability, ease of use, and range required for the CR’s contract … so Sako made its own. The steel sights are probably the single biggest contributor to the rifle’s key attribute: it’s fun as hell to shoot.

The rotating drum rear sight has six apertures for ranges from 100 to 600 meters. Adjusting for elevation is straightforward — turn a screw on the front sight to raise or lower the point of impact. The rear is a different animal. In order to make the sights as accurate and durable as possible, instead of a single shaft design, the Arctic rear sight uses a pair of bolts tensioning the carriage from both sides for maximum resistance to unintentional adjustment.

“You’re not just wearing gloves, you’re wearing gloves inside beaver or seal mitts,” says Meades of the Rangers operating in the -50 degree C temps. “You don’t have a lot of sense of feel there.” Accordingly, the six-position aperture drum is all about the glove life, presenting a large surface from the top down that’s easy to turn on purpose, but protected from accidental knocks by tall ears on the sides.

The Arctic’s bottom metal is similar to the Tikka CTR, but it houses a completely new trigger developed for the C19/Arctic rifle. It’s an adjustable two-stage trigger with a break that feels smooth and crisp with no overtravel. Set at 2.3 pounds, our Lyman trigger scale measured fluctuations of about 0.2 pound over and under for 10 pulls. This does not feel like a typical factory trigger.

Tamminen describes it as an economical version of the Sako TRG trigger. He said it’s getting used in the Tikka TAC A1 now and will probably find its way to other Tikkas in the future. He says the Tikka two-stage withstood a “heavy testing cycle,” and has a seriously fast lock time, something the Sako’s triggers are known for.

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Take Stock
The stock is another component developed for the Arctic. It’s a highly stable, engineered wood laminate that’s as tough as a steel beam, but way more comfortable to rest your cheek on. It’s also got that distinctive coloration that we dig. When asked why wood instead of synthetic, the CR’s Meades said the unit was simply distrustful of plastic in the cold and, at the same time, wanted something warmer and with more character than a synthetic stock could supply.

Tamminen says they went with the orange hue on the Arctic to increase visibility of the rifle; remember, the CRs aren’t military, they want to be seen. He says the wooden stock might be easier to repair in the field using basic hand tools and adhesives, but acknowledges the choice likely came down to an aesthetic consideration made by the customer, as polymer stocks, like that of the Fin’s RK 95 assault rifle, have been in service in the frigid Laplandian north for years without issue.

While wood stocks aren’t unique to the Tikka line, this one is. It’s got that Sako-style cross bolt and aluminum spacer system. The cross bolt is needed to shore up the stock since the double stack CTR mag requires thinner walls. And the aluminum butt stock spacer system was designed for easy, semipermanent adjustments that accommodate seasonal clothing changes. The stock itself is cut shorter than most for use with heavy winter clothing, the spacers added for temperate weather use.

To accommodate seasonal clothing changes, the Arctic’s stock is cut shorter than your average stock and lengthened with aluminum spacers. The spacers slide on from the side with the screws loosened, vice removed, thus reducing installation time and limiting the chance of cross threading.

To accommodate seasonal clothing changes, the Arctic’s stock is cut shorter than your average stock and lengthened with aluminum spacers. The spacers slide on from the side with the screws loosened, vice removed, thus reducing installation time and limiting the chance of cross threading.

Configuration
In the stock setup, the Arctic is simply a gas to shoot. With days and days spent head down behind a Formula One–level precision rig this summer, the open-sight Arctic feels like hopping on a motocross bike and hitting the trails. With the largest aperture zeroed for 100 yards, popping clays on the berm under the zeroing target was doable. But the small targets really began popping when we honed in on the top of the 100-yard clays with the 200-meter peeper. The circle-in-a-circle sights proved accurate enough to reliably tag E silhouette steel at 300-plus yards while standing unsupported.

To wring a little more accuracy from the Arctic, we took advantage of the 5-inch rail and added an optic, a Steiner T5Xi 3-15x50mm, using a 34mm ZRODelta DLOC M4X mount. The mount set the optic about ¼ inch above the rear sight wheel, with the mount hanging one section over the front edge of the rail.

The stock is set up to run the onboard iron sights, so rather than chin weld, we added a Bradley Adjustable Cheek Rest to fill the gap. The Bradley rest provides a remarkably rigid platform for accuracy.

While the CRs run the fore end slick and shoot in the prone unsupported, we aren’t afraid to use a little accuracy crutch. We added a carbon fiber Spartan 300 bipod. The bipod snaps magnetically into a cup that replaces the forward sling stud. It’s 6 ounces of adjustable, on-call support. We like the adaptability, but the single attachment point means the base pivots too much on the flat-bottomed stock.

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Performance
We started our testing with a couple hundred rounds of Remington UMC 150s to get the round count up without breaking the bank. With the barrel seasoned, and one cleaning session, we broke out the Magnetospeed and match ammo. We clocked and grouped three types of rounds. First up, Remington Premier Match 168-grain Matchking BTHP ran at 2,487 fps, with an eye-twitching S.D. of 37.2. Next up, Hornady’s Precision Hunter 178-grain ELD X ran at 2,488 fps, with a very respectable S.D. of 12.3. Lastly, Federal Premium Gold Medal Berger 185-grain Juggernaut OTM ran at 2,471 fps with a 13.1 S.D. The Arctic got on famously with the Hornady, printing the best five-shot group of the day at 0.48 MOA. The Juggernauts made an impression too, with a 0.51 MOA. The Remington ammo was the third wheel, but still nudged a 0.85 group from the cold-souled fin. Our finding that the rifle likes ’em big seems to echo the Ranger’s findings, as we hear they’ll issue 180-gr Nosler Accubonds with the C19.

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As far as reliability, we haven’t logged a malfunction, aside from the easily corrected single-feed hang-up issue. And 8 pounds dry isn’t too bad for moving through the northern New England woods, the 20-inch barrel carrying well on a two-point sling.

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Value
Looking at all the unique components Sako made for the C19 project, it’s no wonder the rifle is on the spendy end. From the muzzle back, there’s new iron sights, reinforced wood laminate stock to hold the CTR bottom metal and mag, new two-stage trigger, winter trigger guard, stainless extended bolt handle, and stock spacer system.

Essentially, this is a custom production rifle that provides both a unique capability and an uncommon aesthetic. Still, Tikka’s known as a budget brand — though this is no budget rifle when it comes to price or performance. Based on the accuracy, durability, and desirability of a product endorsed by one of the toughest user groups on the planet, the $1,900 street price seems reasonable. Add to that the flat-out fun factor the Arctic supplies when run au natural, and it’s more than palatable.

Our only gripe is the lack of a second mag, and the fact we can’t run a brake or a can on the threaded muzzle without losing the front sight. Given all the considerations in the Arctic’s pro column, the cons aren’t enough to stop us from admiring what Sako’s made with the T3x Arctic.

The T3x Arctic’s rotary aperture rear sight is more durable, easier to use and faster to employ than any tangent rear sight. The iron sights are a big contributor to the rifles flat-out fun to shoot demeanor.

The T3x Arctic’s rotary aperture rear sight is more durable, easier to use and faster to employ than any tangent rear sight. The iron sights are a big contributor to the rifle’s flat-out, fun-to-shoot demeanor.

Tikka T3x Arctic

Caliber: 308 Winchester
Barrel Length: 20 inches
Overall Length: 40.25 inches (no spacers)
Weight (Unloaded): 8 pounds, 12 ounces (11 pounds, 12 ounces with optic and cheek rest)
Magazine Capacity: 10 rounds
MSRP: $2,099
URL:  www.tikka.fi

Accessories:
Steiner T5Xi 3-15×50     $2,275
ZRODelta DLOC M4X     $279
Spartan 300 Bipod     $395
Bradley Cheek Rest Elite Series     $125
Price as Featured $5,173

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