World Premiere -Tikka TACT A1 6.5CM concept with new Steiner M7Xi 2.9-20x50 MSR2
Sometimes, we get opportunity to combine several interesting things in same review. This is one of those pleasant occasions. Rifle first, then new Steiner scope. We hope you enjoy this, with all its typos. English is our 3rd language, bear with us please!
Hardware, Tikka TACT A1
Many moons ago, we had interesting discussion with people at Sako factory. To cut long story short, we ended up specifying our own Tikka rifle by using standard production parts- and then added some aftermarket parts based on what we could use in our own rifle. Rifle is not, by any means, intended to be "best for all" textbook sample, but we still dare to claim that each modification has basis for practical long range precision rifle. Competition tuned rifles can be basically same, but also different. For instance, I don't know anyone who wants to add lead weights (to reduce recoil) on rifle that must be carried long distances too.
Firstly, we selected T3x TACT A1 (named earlier as TAC A1) to be platform for our tweaks. Selection was easy: we did it for a same reason as any TACT A1 owner. TACT A1 is very solid rifle, offering nothing exclusive or even exotic - but is still a well made and reliable performer in all aspects, a global success for a good reason. It is one of rather rare rifles that needs no "must have" modifications right after first range trip. T3 series rifles can still be fine-tuned easily and many owners do so too, aftermarket accessory offering is massive. But, above all and most importantly, typical T3x series rifle is very accurate straight from factory cardboard box - the most wanted feature to any precision rifle shooter. Feature that even some $$$ custom rifles are not able to challenge.
Rifle was ordered as Coyote Brown cerakote. TACT A1 trigger is, or at least used to be, only double-stage T3x -series trigger and has very clean break. I am not going to use phrase "glass rod" because I actually broke one in elementary school chemistry class. No trigger has felt same to me really. TACT trigger can be adjusted without removing stock or trigger guard. It adjusts down to about 900g, 2lbs. It is pretty much lowest that can be used in practical all-weather rifle, as gloves must be kept on sometimes too. Under 1000g will most likely cause "ooops" - moments, sooner or later.
Rifle was built with longest and heaviest stainless barrel T3x -series has to offer, 24" long pill from Varmint. Barrel is actually still not too long or heavy, but heaviest profile inertial force tames down recoil - and most importantly, offers more muzzle velocity for long ranges. Heavy profile also absorbs heat better. Stainless thermal conductivity is typically one third compared to typical carbon steel, about 15 watts per kelvin per meter. In practice stainless heats slower- but also cools slower if hot. Standard TACT A1 is offered with CrMo too as same profile 24". As a hindsight after actual tests, barrel could -even should- have been be slightly longer and much heavier too, but this is the one we went with. It worked well!
Stainless as material is considered to be almost maintenance free by some, but this is only a semi-truth at best. Powder residue corrodes stainless too, although it happens with slower rate than with CrMo. Copper fouling is valid issue with either barrel material, but can still be considered to be periodic maintenance type of issue rather than constant nuisance with 6.5 CM caliber. Especially with smooth Sako / Tikka barrels that are never too sensitive to fouling.
Varmint profile barrel was directly available as 6.5 Creedmoor calibel, its 8" twist stabilizes almost any 6.5mm long range bullet. 6.5CM has ensured its position rather recently as most popular short-action long range cartridge- and it did not happen for no reason. There are other similar performance - even better - short-action cartridges, but CM is here to stay. Shortly said and as reference, it offers 20...30% flatter trajectory and less wind correction compared to 308Win with same barrel and action length- with milder recoil too. Improvement comparison as ballistic percentages is misleading in a sense that practical long range first round hit probability increases much more than pure ballistic numbers suggest- this was also confirmed by US SOCOM in their own tests. CM also feeds from 308 magazine and uses same case head with 308, so its success is really no-brainer.
AR15 is said to be "Barbie for men", but same can happen with bolt-actions too. Remington 700 has traditionally being most popular for customizing due to massive aftermarket offerings, but Tikka T3 series is not too far and is catching up, as its global popularity leads directly to huge aftermarket demand. With TACT A1, temptation for tweaking is even bigger, thanks to standard AR15- style buttstock thread (buffer tube) and directly compatible pistol grip. Virtually any equivalent AR part fits, and there are LOT to choose from.
In practice, scope height vs stock limits working stock options to very few, as cheek rest must be set much higher than in any typical 5.56 or 7.62 AR rifle requires. One of stocks that passes this check is Luth Modular stock assembly. Luth stock had also feature that bolt-action stocks rarely have; pull length adjustment without additional carry-on tools. It is nice feature for four-season clothing use- or for those who use of thick protective vests occasionally. Luth MBA picatinny rail on bottom was scientifically engineered (Dremel) to accept TRG M10 original monopod. This worked well, but M10 monopod has to be set to almost closed if bipod and whole rifle is kept low in prone position. Unlike TACT A1 original stock with sturdy aluminum frame, Luth composite is also very light. Using AR stock requires using AR -type buffer (stock) tube, we used 6061-T6 aluminum mil-spec type carbine tube. It is very light as well, but still stiff.
Pistol grip style is, once again, very much personal preference, we ended up with Luth. Their "Chubby" grip design is conservative intermediate between PSG-1 style palmrest grip and typical ergonomic AR grip, and it has also thumbrest. Luth grip angle is slightly less steep than TACT A1 original or typical AR grip is, optimizing it more toward prone position shooting. This part was direct bolt-on - only noteworthy thing being thumbrest close proximity to TACT hinge frame corner. Still enough room for my average sausage-sized thumb, even with glove on it.
Unused handguard top picatinny rail was smoothed with Magpul FDE picatinny ladder. Most of unused MLOK holes were plugged with rubber panels. These together make bare-hand handling much more comfortable. It should also help with mirage distortions, blocking 50% of barrel length heat getting into line of sight. It worked or at least helped, mirage was not a problem during any moment of shooting.
As mentioned earlier, 6.5CM one advantage is low recoil. But we still wanted to absolutely minimize it. Excellent Terminator- series was natural choice for it, as we have had very good experiences about them in other calibers too. We went with T3 size, as Craig from Terminator products recommended. Brake did not lets us down this time either. Very fist shot with rifle brought grin to face, cannot remember last time with such a modest recoil with full-size bolt-action rifle. On fine gravel surface prone position and with TRG original bipod, reticle returns directly to center area of target when recovering from modest recoil tab against shoulder. What a silly feeling to seasoned 338 Lapua Magnum shooter! Sako TRG original bipod design is part of this, allowing some longitudinal movement while bipod feet stay exactly in their original spot. Bipod was fitted on Tikka with TRG bipod adapter.
Last small change we made was bolt knob and handle. TACT A1 original knob has nothing really wrong with it- its oversized and extended too compared to traditional bolt-actions. But we went with slightly longer and slimmer design, knurled finish to guarantee good grip for all conditions. Knob and handle style are again very much personal preferences - but there are also some reasons behind this small fine-tune we ended up doing: Typically, large calibers and long actions require firm, aggressive bolt manipulation for reliable and fast feed. Long cartridge fed from long magazine has certain static resistance, as bolt opening/locking phase has too. No matter how smooth bolt otherwise is. Longer bolt movement also requires more movement for whole arm, so its rather natural thing to operate magnums harder way when in a hurry. Very much like buddy's -69 Chevy C10 with 3-speed Saginaw transmission is shifted to reverse: it does not require violence, but violence still helps..a lot..! One known feature of Tikka T3x action is its overall smoothness. With factory ammo or full-choked cases, knob can be held with pencil-style 3-finger grip and still reload fast, no need to get aggressive at all. Besides, human muscular nervous system always looses its precision when force is increased.
Video from 100m range- can you spot anything paranormal happening..?
Zero set / 100m range test shoot
Both of ammunition we had were premiums. Lighter 8g/123gr Scenar was Lapua factory load, heavier and basically more promising for longer range was Sako TRG Precision ammo, topped with 8.8g /136gr Scenar-L
We took 3+5+5 series with both ammunition. First three to confirm zero, then 5+5 test groups with both. Lapua´s 8g average V0 was 830m/s, Sako TRG 8.8g 806m/s. Measured with Labrarar doppler system. Lighter 8g three groups average was 0.60MOA, Sako TRG ammo average was 0.68MOA. Ifs and buts remained, as with almost any range trip: if I would have done my part properly and without one certain bummer, Sako TRG load would have been very close to 0.5MOA as average. This was also confirmed in our next leg, with 721m / 788yd steel gong. Best individual 100m 5-shot test group was 10mm (0.39"), just over 1/3MOA as angular unit.
0.6MOA or better accuracy for 2 different ammo / 5-shot groups with brand new rifle is very good sign for further ammo testing or load development. Rifle is almost certainly under 0.5MOA capable, especially if self-loaded ammo is used for tuning. As a interesting side note- both ammunition also shot to same spot. Average POI was precisely same, just like shot with same ammo!
721m - SNAFU time!
We were well prepared for this: Forecast (Norwegian Meteorological institute) showed small change of light rain in previous evening, we ended up having thunder and heavy showers. We got soaked pretty fast. Then scope camera battery died and scope adapter lenses took mist inside. Phone adapter for Leupold Mk4 12-40 spotter did not fit to phone. Then USB powerbank plug came off from scope camera without us noticing it. Naturally, this happened with very best Sako TRG ammo 8.8g Scenar string, tight enough to get spotter exited: First 2 in same spot. Last one on same height and less than palm width left, meaning under 0.4MOA horizontal spread / less than 0.1MOA vertical spread. Overall, rifle hammered plate with almost boring hit rate, one shot after another. Right from very first shot and with both ammunition.
Photo below, Steiner @20x magnification. 721m plate D1.5, R0.5. Next plate U1 R0.5 could not be shot due to branches in trajectory line.
Ballistics have gone forward btw, 10-15 or so years ago there wasn't much hope to go to 700m/800yd straight from 100m zero, with new rifle + caliber. AND to be almost positive to get first round hit to center mass or near it. Today, any free ballistic calculators are able to offer sufficient solutions for this level of accuracy. Happy days!
Photo below: My rain gear had some room for improvement btw, poncho is in back bag only if its not going to rain. And no, its not souvenir from Vietnam war. Same question was asked by certain British gentleman and sniper instructor in ATC Pirbright already, greetings to all HDPRCC Sniper Wing guys who are reading this :)
Videos below- on first and last string before actual rain, lighter 8g Scenar. Branch aligned from shooting position blocked view to lower half of plate completely, spotter saw some of hits. We shot 3 strings, almost all impacts to lowest right third of plate. 1 or 2 total misses, most likely going under. Recoil also appearing much worse than it actually was: Shooting point was on top of coarse baserock bump. Even slightest recoil movement caused bipod steel claws to move.
Second short clip with water in mic, fog inside adapter and clothes + bags wet - not worth watching really. But since we suffered for it, it must go online. If you want to participate to our misery, feel free to watch it too. This, as well as previous and by far the best group, was with heavier Sako TRG 8.8g / 136gr Scenar-L ammo.
Steiner M7Xi 2.9-20x50
Luckily enough, we got permission to reveal brand new Steiner M7 -series scope same time. Its actual availability is also very close, we are getting some too very soon. Our test scope was not prototype, but not standard serial production scope either. Scopes we have been using are still ready and basically identical to actual production scope. Only difference compared to standard scope is locking turret, this is optional feature.
Steiner is 350mm (13.8") long and weights 886grams (31.25oz). Kahles is shortest out of these three with 313mm (12.32") length. Schmidt&Bender 3-20 Ultra is intermediate, but close to Steiner with its 340mm (13.4") reach. Steiner is lightest out of these three.
In field of view comparison, S&B is slightly ahead of Steiner with its wider 3x view. Kahles offers much less FOV in lower end than other two comrades, but comparison in optical design sense can not be made directly as Kahles lowest power is 3.5x instead of 3x. On top magnifications, S&B is again offering widest image against other two. Steiner is very close to same with Kahles- if both scopes are set on same 18x magnification. Top end differences are mainly academic, as view is rather narrow anyways. None of three scopes tunnel on smaller magnifications. Modern super-zooms are never too forgiving with eyebox, Steiner is not any different compared to current market premiums. If gun ergonomics are about right, there will be no problems with any magnification.
Photo below: Last seconds before heavy rain. Note bloody remainings of squashed mosquito on cheekrest. You are never alone in Finnish forest!
General look and feel, including image tone, is very similar with its big brother M7Xi 4-28x50 scope- but new Steiner comes in smaller package. 50mm vs 56mm objective only makes any riflescope felt size much less bulky than 6mm in objective diameter difference on paper suggests. Shorter length emphases effect even more, just as it does with similar competing scopes. Steiner's 350mm total length equals traditional 3-12 scopes which are still considered to be on compact side. 2.9-20 is big scope in smaller package, good choice for anyone who wants to keep long range bolt-action scope compact and is ready to give some top magnification away as an trade-in. One typical feature for this type of scopes is hefty internal adjustment travel. This is valid issue with new Steiner too, offering generous 30mrad of internal adjustment range. 15mrad in first turret turn, 27mrad max on second revolution. New Steiner is also strong alternative for those who want to get proper LR scope for compact DMR- style semi-auto, without ruining its handy essence.
Photo below: Steiner's user interface with optional turret locks. As with almost any mil-scope with firm click step resistance, lock is not really needed but still specified by many modern army scopes. Turret will not turn by itself easily. Mount is rock-solid Spuhr ISMS series, FDE cerakote is not available as standard model.
New Steiner is solid performer in new short-style scope class. It does not do anything phenomenal compared to its short premium competitors, but does not seem to have any weaknesses either. 3x magnification opens possibility to use it even in Scandinavian moose hunt, as long as selected reticle works. Closest parallax setting is 50m, but in real life, view is perfectly usable starting from app. 20m distances. Just as many other scopes with same 50m lowest setting are. Not optimal for that close, but still usable. 20x top end magnification is sufficient to virtually unlimited shooting distance, as long as targets are not camouflaged or otherwise hard to pinpoint from background. Unlike 12x or even 15x scopes, 20x is just enough for spotting smallest caliber holes from darker tone background too. Smaller powers make it very difficult or impossible already at modest 100m or so ranges. Short scope "boosted" power is usable for spotting after own longer range shots too, especially with low recoiling rifles as 6.5CM is. Shooter can easily recover and catch his own impact splashes to closer app 300m+ distances, in those extremely rare occasions where missed shot happens. Price is not 100% confirmed yet, but it should settle to same or under to current M7Xi 4-28x56 scope.