Americans are reasonably receptive to European rifles. Take Sako, for example: a fine Finnish trademark that has its following here in the States. They’re well crafted, they tend to shoot well and they just look good and feel good. Their design and functioning is not such a far departure from the American sporting rifles we have come to trust.
Don’t think there wasn’t a fair amount of distribution work involved in bringing Sako to prominence here, however. The fact is, any number of quality European rifles have had a tough time becoming established in America; usually due to poor or neglected importation and marketing.
Tikka, a Sako product, was one of them. But the latest offering, the Whitetail series sporters, and new backing from the Beretta Holding Group, should turn heads and tides. The Whitetail is a rifle with European class and American character. And it has it all with accuracy to spare.
There are six Whitetail sporter versions currently imported: The Hunter, Pro, Hunter Deluxe, Hunter Synthetic, Hunter Stainless Synthetic and Battue Light. (The line actually includes three additional models–the Continental, Semi-Sporter and Sporter–which are essentially varminting or tactical versions.) During the early part of this year I shot a couple hundred rounds through three of these models and all performed well.
The Whitetail Hunter Deluxe, with a suggested retail price of $745, is the fanciest of the six. What sets it apart is mainly a beautiful piece of walnut finished to a mirror gloss. Other than that, its features are representative of the entire line: A free-floated, hammer-forged chrome-molly barrel; a counterbored bolt head with twin lugs; a spring-steel Sako-type extractor and spring and plunger ejector; a handhoned, adjustable trigger and sear; integral scope mount rails; adjustable length of pull; pistol grip palm swell; detachable three-round magazine and two-position safety.
While I didn’t get much range time with this model to speak of, I did spend a few days hunting with one at the Tejon Ranch in Southern California during the spring. The Tejon, 272,000 acres, most of which is contiguous, is home to a variety of free-ranging game animals, including elk and pronghorns. A working cattle ranch, it is also crawling with wild hogs, and I was fortunate enough to take both a trophy boar and a younger boar for the freezer. My rifle was chambered to .30-06, and shot Federal Premiums loaded with 165-grain Trophy Bonded Bear Claws very well. I shot the first hog on the first evening of the hunt, just before dark, at a distance of about 100 yards. The bullet, a perfect mushroom, was recovered in the offside hide after having plowed through both lungs.
Two days later I shot a second a large boar weighing close to 300 pounds with nice tusks. In wind and spitting snow and rain, stalking conditions were excellent. Using a stump as a rest, I shot it at a distance of about 75 yards through the top of the lungs. The shot was a little farther back than it should have been, but the bullet exited completely and the hog piled up about 80 yards later. In both instances, the rifle shouldered naturally, and felt no different than a Model 700 or Model 70.
The Whitetail Hunter is one of two test models that I didn’t get to hunt with but I spent a lot of time with it at the range shooting a variety of factory loads. In .243, it was topped with a new Redfield 3-9X Illuminator scope, the reborn company’s top-line product and the same scope I used while hunting hogs. Weighing in at 14.9 ounces, I found it quite complimentary to the seven-pound rifle. All Whitetail series rifles feature an adjustable trigger, which I didn’t bother to mess with since it broke cleanly at an even three pounds. For accuracy evaluation I shot a number of three-shot groups off a rest and sand bags with nine different factory offerings featuring as many different bullets in several grain weights. My goal was to find out just how many of them would group under an inch, and I was pleasantly surprised. Five of the loads tested performed favorably, with some providing very excellent results.
For example, Federal Premiums with 70-grain Nosler Ballistic Tips consistently grouped in the half-inch range, with the best group down to .364 inches. Fifty-eight-grain Hornady Moly Coated V-Max loads consistently shot under an inch, and Hornady’s 100-grain Interlock loads were consistently in the .6-inch range. The Whitetail Hunter performed almost as well with Winchester Supreme 100-grain Power-Point Plus loads, which ranged anywhere from just over an inch to as tight as .502 inches (though I don’t doubt such inconsistency was my fault).
Easily, that’s two top-performing deer loads and a pair of very accurate varmint loads. Not bad for an out-of-the-box rifle with a suggested retail price of $615.
The Whitetail Hunter Stainless Synthetic, with a suggested retail price of $680, is built on a polymer stock and is as handsome as any stainless deer rifle in the woods. Without any adjustment, the trigger broke at a crisp 31⁄4 pounds, where I left it. Atop it I mounted a BSA 3-10X Catseye, which features a somewhat modified European style heavy-post reticle. The rifle, a .30-06, at 71⁄4 pounds, balanced nicely with the 16-ounce scope, which is really nothing out of the ordinary. Accuracy, however, was far better than ordinary.
Range testing included nearly a dozen different loads with various bullets in different weights. Three-shot groups that consistently shot within an inch was again what I hoped for–and I got it with six of them. Several others test loads were in the 11⁄4- to 11⁄2-inch range, which is certainly reasonable for most big-game hunting applications.
Federal Premiums with 180-grain Nosler Partitions were consistently within an inch, and shot as well as .486 inches. The same load with Sierra GameKings also hovered at just under an inch. And 180-grain Grand Slams in Speer Nitrex loads shot as well as .624, but where generally in the one-inch ran
It wasn’t until I switched to a lighter bullet that the rifle really came into its own. Speer Nitrex with 165-grain Grand Slams grouped consistently in the .6-inch range, and Remington Premier loads with 165-grain Ballistic Tips shot consistently in the half-inch range. Such results would be impressive from any out-of-the-box ’06.
The Tikka Story
Good accuracy is within the reach of any manufacturer. It’s just that, to keep it consistently, they must pay closer attention to tighter tolerances, which adds time and cost to production and increases price or cuts into profit. A few manufacturers, though, have developed ways to build accurate rifles without cutting into production time and costs, including Sako.
You might say that the accuracy achieved in the Tikka Whitetail series all starts with a Sako foundation. And the history of how the two companies came to be one, and eventually wound up under the ownership of the Beretta Holding Group, is quite interesting. Established in 1893, Tikka originally manufactured gun parts for European governments, mainly Russia. Sako (a Finnish acronym for what translates to “Arms and Engineering Workshop of the Civil Guard”) was established in 1919 where, in an old brewery in Helsinki, it refurbished old military rifles for the Finnish National Guard as part of an effort to arm and establish Finland as its own nation.
In 1921 Sako became financially independent and widely recognized for its staff’s passionate ability to repair broken down military arms. In 1927, when it actually became officially known as Sako, it moved to Riihimaki and began manufacturing rifles for the Russian Army. After World War II, Sako turned its efforts toward manufacturing sporting rifles for European hunters.
“The first Sako that made it to America, in 1947, was ordered by Ambercrombi & Fitch,” says Tom Leoni, Sako product marketing manager. “It was one ugly rifle. It sold for $60, but it was a tack-driver. And Sako’s reputation for building a fine shooting piece escalated from there.”
In 1983 Sako purchased Tikka, which had been manufacturing sporting rifles for 25 years. In 1989, the Tikka plant was moved from its home town, Tikkakosken, to the Sako plant in Riihimaki, and since then the two rifles have been built by the same craftsmen and with the same machinery and tools. Today Tikka is not a separate company, rather a Sako product.
Which brings us back to manufacturing ideology: Tikka rifles are essentially a lower price-point version of a Sako, yet they feature the same quality barrels and craftsmanship that have built a lasting reputation for fine accuracy.
“When barrels come off the machinery, for example, they may end up on Sako rifles or Tikka rifles,” says Leoni. “They are one and the same, and that’s one reason why Tikka rifles are so accurate.” However, before moving the Tikka plant, Sako purchased Stoeger, an importer that struggled to bring Tikka rifles to the attention of American shooters in spite of the fact that Tikka rifles would outperform many American-made models of the day. It was the classic tail of a fine European rifle that couldn’t get its foot in the door.
Well, that door was opened widely in 1999, when Sako (and therefore Stoeger and the Tikka brand name) was purchased by the Beretta Holding Group. Today Tikka rifles are finally getting their turn in the American marketplace through importation by Beretta U.S.A.
The Little Things
Aside from excellent accuracy and the reputation of Sako and Beretta behind them, Tikka rifles have several refinements that should make them attractive to American shooters. For example, the bolt is easily disassembled into four pieces without the need for special tools. The trigger, though it’s not advertised, is indeed adjustable. And the barrel is free-floated. Integral scope mount rails atop the receiver provide a solid fit with optional Tikka Optilock scope mounts, but the receiver is also drilled and tapped to accept Weaver-type mounts. The checkering on the wood stocks I saw was very clean and attractive. And the grip’s palm swell was very comfortable.
These are features found on each and every Whitetail model, not just on upgraded versions. To me this represents a touch of class and attention to detail which, for my money, meshes quite nicely with tight, 100-yard groups. It is, in fact, a late-comer to the American marketplace, but the Tikka Whitetail was no doubt worth waiting for. We can’t help but be receptive to it now.