According to the 16th Edition of Cartridges of the World, development on the 223 Remington case started in the late 1950s and was adopted by the U.S. military in 1964. As of this writing, the cartridge’s use in M16/M4 variants make the pair the longest-serving rifle/ammunition combo in our nation’s history. One of the reasons for that longevity is that both the platform and the round lend themselves to further development, including different powders, barrel twists, barrel lengths, bullet weights, bullet shapes, bullet construction, sighting systems, and much more.
The 223 Remington (the military version is called the 5.56 NATO and is slightly different) may easily be the number-one-selling centerfire rifle round in the U.S. right now. While the 223 may be the most popular centerfire rifle round in the U.S. at this point, we have no intention of claiming it is the best — for anything. But many people forget how many roles there are in which it serves very well, such as a varmint and small-game hunting round, along with, believe it or not, long-range shooting.
We selected three rifles from three companies to see how well and how easily they fired the 223 Remington cartridge. The first was a Ruger Hawkeye Predator 17122, $1359. The second was a CZ Model 527 03019, $785. Last was a Tikka T3X Varmint JRTXH312, $999. We wanted to test bullet weights from across the spectrum. Since that kind of selection was impossible to find during the ammo drought, and because we have several decades of experience in loading good 223 rounds, we rolled our own. We relied heavily on the Lyman 50th Edition Reloading Manual and Hodgdon’s online reloading sources at Hodgdon.com. We used bullets from Barnes (36-grain Varmint Grenade 30171), Berger (55-grain Flat Base Varmint 22311 and the 80.5-grain Fullbore Target 22427), as well as from Sierra (69-grain Tipped Match King 7169). We tested various loads, using all Hodgdon powders: H322, H335, Varget, and CFE 223. We also made exclusive use of CCI BR4 Benchrest primers and Lapua brass.
Here’s how the rifles performed:
Gun Tests Grade: A (OUR PICK)
Rifles made by Sako (pronounced sah-co) in Finland are renowned for their quality and accuracy — and justifiably so. Tikka rifles are engineered and produced by Sako in the same plant and have a great reputation of their own. Think of them, perhaps, as the price-point brand for Sako. They accomplish some of that through simplifying the manufacturing process and going for economies of scale. Want a 260 Remington? No problem. Have a need for a 223 Remington? Once again, no problem. However, you’ll get the same-size receiver. The latter cartridge may be a half inch shorter, but Tikka just sleeves the magazine and changes the bolt head and barrel to make these two different rifles.
|Overall Length||44.0 in.|
|Barrel Length/Twist||24.0 in., 1:8 in.|
|Overall Height w/o Scope Mount||5.25 in.|
|Weight Unloaded||8.3 lbs.|
|Weight Loaded (55 grain, 6+1 rounds)||8.5 lbs.|
|Magazine Type||Detachable box|
|Drop at Comb||0.25 in.|
|Drop at Heel||0.5 in.|
|Buttplate||Rubber recoil pad|
|Length of Pull||14.0 in.|
|Receiver Scope-Base Pattern||Tikka grooves; machined for Pic rail|
|Trigger Pull Weight||1.3 lbs.|
|Safety||Two-position thumb rocker|
Tikka unveiled a host of new camo patterns for the company’s stocks at the 2019 SHOT Show. The stock on the Varmint model we have is basic black. Actually, kinda boring. But it is a very functional boring. The base material for the stock may be black polymer, but Tikka goes a big step forward and fills it with foam. No more “Thunk!” when your buttstock slaps against the tree trunk. Also, the stock comes with a soft recoil pad — not a big issue on a varmint rifle, but still nice. Also, the buttstock sports a good cheekpiece that would work for left- or right-eyed shooters. It helps, but it is still a bit low, so we added on the Blackhawk cheekpiece from Midway (125776, $38). Two different pistol grips are available. Our sample came with the more vertical of the two options. A second grip with a more conventional sweep is also available. Those can be purchased through the Beretta website, BerettaUSA.com, $22. Beretta now owns Sako/Tikka. We tend to do a lot of positional shooting and prefer the vertical grip. There is an additional Torx-head screw in the fore end that can be used to anchor an optional beavertail that fits over said fore end. You remove the front sling-swivel stud, fit the new fore end over the existing one, and tighten both screws back down. The beavertail ($29) is available from the Beretta site as well.
The T3X Models have a steel recoil lug inserted into the stock, which fits into a mortise in the action. Everything is nice and snug and doesn’t move. Be aware that the action screws are not mounted through any kind of pillars and can be over-torqued. The stock free-floats the barrel, leaving a considerable gap. The fore end channel is also well reinforced, with little flexing even when intentionally compressed.
The T3X Varmint ships with a single, six-round magazine. Replacement magazines are easily available through Beretta. Aftermarket magazines allowing for a longer cartridge overall length are also available. More on that later.
We have tested custom rifles with actions as smooth as a Tikka, but not many production rifles. The way the bolt glides in the raceway is matched by a very good factory trigger that is easily adjusted to 2 pounds or less. Just remove the action from the stock and use an Allen key to rotate the screw facing forward from the trigger. A little does a lot, and the bolt that holds the trigger on the action prevents the trigger-adjustment screws from being backed out too far. Our trigger broke cleanly, with virtually no overtravel, with a mere 1.3 pounds of compression. Standard deviation on ten trigger compressions was only 0.6 ounces.
The bolt was a two-lug piece, with a Sako-style extractor and a plunger ejector. The barrel on the Tikka measured about 0.87 inches at the muzzle and about 1.13 inches at the receiver, making this the heaviest of the three rifles tested.
Accuracy was very good, averaging 0.91 inches for multiple five-shot groups. Toss out the 36-grain Barnes Varmint Grenades from the results and the Tikka averaged 0.63 inches per five-shot group. Best groups for both the Berger 55-grain Flat Base Hollow Point and the 69-grain Sierra TMK were sub-half-inch.
Our Team Said: We don’t know that this would be the rifle we would pick if we were going to be doing spot-and-stalk all day, but it sure would be if we could post up someplace and try to call in some coyotes.
Another aspect of the Tikka that’s worth noting is the ability of the rifle’s hardware to come out of its stock and go into a PRS-appropriate chassis. Shooting the Precision Rifle Series is expensive, and ammo costs and new barrels are very real money considerations, with some of the more popular 6mm cartridges burning out barrels in as few as 1500 rounds.
One way to cut these costs is by using sub-caliber practice rifles. Cartridges like the 223 still have some long-range capability and can be hand-loaded to develop that further. The 223 uses one-half to one-third the powder many current long-range cartridges require. Barrel life on a 223 can easily be three to four times what it is with a 6mm Creedmoor. The practice rifle should be as close to the match rifle in form, balance, and accessories as possible.
We discovered that the Tikka T3X Varmint would do a marvelous job as a practice rifle in substituting for our MPA 6mm Creedmoor. Masterpiece Arms (MasterpieceArms.com) makes its Masterpiece BA Competition Chassis for the Tikka T3X action. Price is $1100 to about $1200 for the chassis. We used a Vortex PST Gen 2 scope instead of the Vortex Razor on the match rifle, but we were able to get the exact same reticle on both. The Masterpiece Arms chassis allowed the use of MDT magazines which, in turn, allowed the use of longer-than-normal 223 loads while still fitting in the magazine. That made it possible for us to work up loads using Varget powder, CCI BR4 primers, and Berger 80.5-grain Target bullets. With this set up, we got little-bitty groups and true 600-yard accuracy.
We used it primarily for positional practice on a 400-yard target. A great place to find aftermarket parts for the Tikka is Mountain Tactical at TikkaPerformance.com. The initial investment is steep, but the savings thereafter are worth it. We will note that the only way we managed to get the loads to do what we desired was to use a longer cartridge overall length as allowed by the aftermarket magazines. There was plenty of room in the short-action-sized Tikka receivers for the over-length rounds. The trim CZ and Ruger actions did not give us this option.
223 Remington Range Data
|Barnes 36-grain Varmint Grenade||CZ Model 527||Ruger Hawkeye Predator||Tikka T3X Varmint|
|Average Velocity||3786 fps||3726 fps||3595 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||1146 ft.-lbs.||1110 ft.-lbs.||1033 ft.-lbs.|
|Best Group||0.70 in.||0.99 in.||0.96 in.|
|Average Group||1.19 in.||1.25 in.||1.47 in.|
|Berger 55-grain FBHP||CZ Model 527||Ruger Hawkeye Predator||Tikka T3X Varmint|
|Average Velocity||3289 fps||3278 fps||3235 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||1322 ft.-lbs.||1313 ft.-lbs.||1279 ft.-lbs.|
|Best Group||1.00 in.||0.93 in.||0.44 in.|
|Average Group||1.23 in.||1.17 in.||0.62 in.|
|Sierra 69-grain TMK||CZ Model 527||Ruger Hawkeye Predator||Tikka T3X Varmint|
|Average Velocity||2884 fps||2848 fps||2806 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||1275 ft.-lbs.||1243 ft.-lbs.||1206 ft.-lbs.|
|Best Group||0.72 in.||0.86 in.||0.44 in.|
|Average Group||0.82 in.||1.15 in.||0.64 in.|
All testing was done at American Shooting Centers (AmericanShootingCenters.com) in Houston. Multiple five-shot groups were fired from each load tested. Muzzle velocities were determined via LabRadar ($559, MyLabRadar.com). All shots were fired from a Caldwell TackDriver shooting bag (Brownells.com, $49) aided by a T.A.B. Gear rear bag (TabGear.com, $39). For optics, we chose the Vortex PST II 5-25x50 with their EBR-7C reticle. This is a first focal plane, MRAD scope that has done yeoman’s duty for us in the past (OpticsPlanet.com, $999).
Value Guide: Short-Action Bolt Rifle Scores
|CVA Cascade CR3907C 350 Legend, $658||Jul. 21||A||Our Pick. Outstanding trigger and tons of features on a value rifle. Tied with the Savage M110 Hog Hunter.|
|Masterpiece Arms MPA BA MPR PRO 6mm CM, $2499||Apr. 21||A||Our Pick. A heavy, yet graceful beast of a rifle. The MPA is one of the most popular rifles on the PRS tour.|
|Christensen Arms MPR 801-03035-01 6mm CM, $1799||Apr. 21||A-||Lightest sample included in this group, tested for a sport that prefers heavy rifles, and it still almost won.|
|Ruger Precision Rifle 18032 6mm Creedmoor, $1599||Apr. 21||B+||Good accuracy and dependability. We would have liked a crisper trigger and a wide, flat fore end.|
|Savage M110 Elite Precision 57558 6mm CM, $1999||Apr. 21||B+||Least accurate with the Federal ammo. Black Hills and Berger ammunition were much better.|
|Savage Arms 110 Hog Hunter 223 Rem., $599||Feb. 2021||A-||Oversized bolt, adjustable iron sights, adjustable LOP, a box magazine, and a threaded barrel.|
|Christensen Arms Ridgeline 801-06015-00 6.5 PRC, $1793||Jan. 2021||A||Our Pick. Accurate with factory ammunition — even better with reloads. Carryover winner from Nov. 2020.|
|Seekins Precision Havak Pro Hunter 2 0011710059-F 6.5 PRC, $1895||Jan. 2021||A||Outstanding accuracy. We loved the stock and the trigger.|
|W’by Mark V Backcountry 6.5 RPM, $2249||Jan. 2021||B+||Beautifully put together, but downrange accuracy wasn’t up to what we saw with other rifles.|
|Bergara Premier M’tn 2.0 BPR28-65PRC 6.5 PRC, $1999||Nov. 2020||A||A 100% carbon-fiber stock and trim 24-inch barrel make this a premier mountain rifle.|
|Browning X-Bolt Max LR 035438294 6.5 PRC, $1180||Nov. 2020||A||A little longer and a little heavier than our other test rifles. Beanfield rifle rather than a mountain rifle.|
|Savage M110 Hog Hunter 57534 350 Legend, $487||Jul. 20||A||Our Pick. Compact size with a short, stiff, accurate barrel and a great trigger. Straight-wall chambering.|
|Ruger American Ranch Rifle 26985 350 Legend, $442||Jul. 20||F/B+||First sample failed when the bolt disassembled itself. The replacement rifle wasn’t all that accurate.|
|Winchester XPR Hunter 535741296 350 Legend, $635||Jul. 20||A-||A full-length rifle that looked great and handled well; dropped off half a grade for its just-average accuracy.|
|Winchester M70 F’wt SS 535234220 308 Win., $951||Apr. 20||A||Our Pick. Smooth handling, very good accuracy and classical styling.|
|Tikka T3x Lite Stainless JRTXB316 308 Win., $748||Apr. 20||A-||Best Buy. Functional polymer stock, the smoothest bolt in the group, and the best out-of-the-box trigger.|
|Remington Model 7 CDL 26423 308 Win., $798||Apr. 20||A||A nice piece of wood, a good trigger and a compact 20-inch barrel on a rifle that could really shoot.|
|Ruger Hawkeye Compact 37139 308 Win., $691||Apr. 20||B+||This rifle has a short length of pull and a 16.5-inch barrel. Could be a great truck gun.|
|Browning X-Bolt Micro Midas 22-250 Rem., $879||Dec. 2019||A||Our Pick. This is trim rifle from Browning is made for the small-statured or still-developing hunter.|
|Howa Model 1500 Youth 22-250 Rem., $529||Dec. 2019||A||Best Buy. With youth- and adult-length stocks available, this is a great rifle.|