The Tikka 512S O/U Rifle
By Chuck Hawks with Rocky Hays
I jumped at the chance to review this Tikka rifle, as I had not previously had an opportunity to shoot a Tikka firearm. Tikka is a subsidiary of Sako of Finland. The Tikka name appears on the corporations less expensive rifles, but the Tikka brand retains a good reputation for quality and accuracy.
The Model 512S is an over/under design that can accept rifle, shotgun, and rifle/shotgun combination barrels. It epitomizes the "one gun for everything" concept. Double-barreled rifles in medium and big bore calibers are a classic choice for hunting dangerous game, so I was also curious to see how the Tikka design would stack-up for such demanding use.
In this case the term "less expensive" is relative, as the recently discontinued Model 512S retails for about $1295 on the Web. (New rifles are still in stock at some distributors as I write these words). Additional barrel sets sell for $400-$700. This is not an inexpensive gun by most standards, quite the contrary, but it is relatively affordable as double rifles go.
The 512S that is the subject of this review is stocked for use as a rifle, and a wide variety of rifle calibers are available. This example is chambered for the .308 Winchester cartridge, a fine all-around caliber.
The thing that immediately caught my attention when I saw the 512S for the first time is the huge, open gap between the top and bottom barrels. This extreme separation perhaps aids barrel cooling, but it does nothing for the lines of the rifle.
The overall appearance of the Tikka is somewhat bulky, noticeably more so than, say, a Browning O/U Express rifle. This is partly due to the shape of its Monte Carlo buttstock, clearly designed primarily for use with a telescopic sight, and partly due to the excessive gap between the top and bottom barrels.
The metal finish is blue and the checkered walnut buttstock and forearm appear to have received a cursory coat of oil. The bluing is standard, run of the mill, factory hot blue, but the wood finish is simply inadequate. My first impression was that it had not been finished at all. A light hand sanding with very fine grit paper and many more coats of carefully applied stock oil would be necessary to achieve a proper finish. This would be time consuming but not particularly difficult to accomplish, but the necessity for such a "do it yourself" project seems inconsistent with the $1300 price tag of this rifle.
The Tikka 512S uses a locking system derived from the old Remington Model 32 O/U shotgun. In this system the gun is held closed by a close fitting "hood" that slides longitudinally over a tiny portion of the breech end of the top barrel. Kreighoff shotguns use a similar system. A conventional top lever operates this external sliding latch.
The barrels are of monoblock construction, a relatively inexpensive but perfectly satisfactory method if done correctly. This particular rifle exhibited a symptom I have never encountered before in a monoblock gun. As it was fired, small amounts of what appeared to be a rusty, oily liquid was forced from the very fine line where the actual barrel was surrounded by the monoblock at the breech. It made us wonder if the barrels were actually brazed or soldered into the monoblock, or simply a press fit.The top barrel is essentially fixed in place, stiffened by a full-length solid rib. Regulation of the barrels is achieved by adjusting the lower barrel.
The lower barrel is fixed at the breech (mono-block). About half way to the muzzle, hidden by the forend, is a second attachment point consisting of an adjustable, dovetailed ramp device that serves as a wedge between the barrels. The position of the attachment to the lower barrel along the incline of this ramp determines the distance between the barrels, and thus the vertical regulation. It is hard to describe, but easy to understand when seen in person. At the muzzle, the lower barrel is firmly clamped to the top barrel by means of a barrel band that allows for lateral adjustment. It is a clever system that (at least theoretically) allows the rifle to be user regulated for whatever particular load he or she prefers.
Be warned, however, that regulation is a major undertaking! Adjusting the lower barrel to match the point of impact of the upper barrel warps the upper barrel, changing its point of impact, often dramatically. The barrels tend to crossfire after adjustment, so expect to shoot plenty of ammunition chasing the ever changing points of impact around the paper. My advice is to leave the regulation as set by the factory if at all possible.
One question arose during the test firing of this rifle: what if the lower barrel, which is normally fired first, was used exclusively and became significantly hotter than the top barrel? Would the solid mounts at the breech and muzzle ends of the lower barrel cause it to bow slightly and change point of impact in relation to the top barrel? I have no answer for this; we fired both barrels about equally at the range and did not allow either to get hot, suspecting the worst.
Cocking indicators, located behind the top lever, are provided for both barrels. The trigger is a mechanical, single selective type and the selector is a button in the trigger, much like that on the Winchester Model 21 shotgun. Pushed to the left it fires the lower barrel first and pushed to the right it fires the upper barrel first. I would prefer double triggers on any double rifle, as that way a trigger malfunction can not leave both barrels unserviceable.
The sliding safety is mounted on the top tang in the conventional location. It is of the "automatic" type, meaning that it is automatically returned to the "safe" position when the action is opened. This is a very bad idea on a rifle that might be used for hunting dangerous game.
Can you imagine using both barrels to drop, say, a buffalo . . . only to be attacked by a second animal . . . completing a frantic, maximum speed reload barely in time to stop the charge at a distance measured in feet . . . only to find that nothing happens when you pull the trigger because the automatic safety is on? I can, and I want no part of such a rifle!
Closer inspection revealed other shortcomings in the Tikka O/U. Rather than supply a forend with each set of barrels, which is what Tikka should have done, a single forend is attached to whatever barrel set is used. Since .243 or .308 rifle barrels are much smaller in diameter than 12 gauge shotgun barrels, and since the same forend must fit both, there is a very large and unsightly gap between the forend and the rifle barrels. The forend fits properly only when 12 gauge shotgun barrels are installed. Those who criticized the unsightly gap between the 1964 Winchester Model 70's forearm and free-floating barrel should see the cavernous forend gap on this Tikka! It is easily the largest I have seen on any rifle.
The test gun was stiff and difficult open, even when empty. To those who say that such a gun will "wear in" I would like to mention that, if true, it will also wear out. A double gun should be both tight and easy to open. "Tightness" should be achieved by close tolerances and precisely machined and fitted parts; smoothness is a function of carefully polished mating surfaces.
I learned that after firing both barrels the 512S became much more difficult to open, requiring considerable force. (Once I had to resort to "breaking" the gun over my knee!) It turned out that the gun does not have rebounding hammers. Thus the firing pins remain imbedded in the primers of the fired cartridges, essentially becoming tiny secondary locking devices that must be freed to open the action. The drag mark left by the protruding firing pin is clearly visible on cases fired in the lower barrel. The Tikka 512S is about as far from a self-opener as it is possible to get.
Once the gun is open it is easy to see that there are no ejectors, automatic or otherwise. This is a major oversight. Cartridges are extracted only and must be removed by hand. Furthermore, the design of the extractor claw is such that it makes removal of fired cases difficult and considerably slower than it might otherwise have been. This is irritating at best and, in a rifle design that might be selected for hunting dangerous game, it could be lethal. All break-action dangerous game rifles should have automatic ejectors.
It might be worth mentioning that any O/U double rifle must be opened considerably farther for reloading than a side-by-side rifle. This slows reloading and explains why S/S doubles are preferred for hunting. The Tikka is so slow to open and reload that this becomes something of a moot issue in its case.
Open iron sights were included on the 512S test rifle. The rear sight is of the folding blade type. It incorporates windage adjustment by means of two tiny, opposed, Allan head set screws. This type of adjustment lacks precision but is better than hammering the rear sight back and forth in a dovetail groove. On the other hand, no provision of any kind was made for elevation adjustment. This is unfortunate, as with 180 grain factory loads the test rifle shot approximately 5" high at a distance of only 50 yards and 9 3/8" high at 100 yards. This is totally unacceptable for hunting any sort of game. The only practical remedy would be to replace the dovetail front sight blade with a taller blade, or to install an optical sight. A low power scope, such as a Weaver K2.5 or V3, would be appropriate.
The rear sight is low and hard to align quickly. It would be a poor sight for use on dangerous game, even if the rifle shot to point of aim. Since the test rifle was only fired at the range, these were problems that we could work around.
Another peculiarity was that the setscrews used for windage adjustment also controlled the tension on the folding rear blade. Leave them too loose and the sight would fold itself when the rifle recoiled--imagine that happening after the first shot at a charging beast! Set the adjustment screws too tight and the rear sight would not fold at all. If I owned one of these rifles and were using the iron sights, I would fully tighten the adjustment screws and forget about folding the rear sight blade.
Given all the inherent drawbacks of the iron sights, we simply fitted a scope so that we could properly review the test rifle. Scopes are better for about 98% of all hunting situations, anyway. In so doing we discovered that the Tikka scope base uses an oversize thumbscrew to attach to the rifle. This thumbscrew is so large that it can actually interfere with the scope's adjustment turret, restricting the positioning of the scope on the rifle. And the rings are fixed in one position on the base, aggravating the problem. Insure that whatever scope you select will actually work on the 512S before you buy.
The .308 Tikka scaled 8 pounds. It is supplied with 23 1/2" barrels. Overall length is 40 1/2" and length of pull is 14 1/4". The drop at the straight Monte Carlo comb measured 1 5/8". The receiver is decorated on the sides and bottom with roll stamped engraving of about 50% coverage. Strangely, there is a small amount of leaf and scroll hand engraving beneath the top lever, the only hand engraving found on the gun. Studs for quick detachable sling swivels are provided on the buttstock and on a lug beneath the lower barrel. A recoil pad is fitted to the buttstock.
A friend and I took the Tikka 512S to the range, where we fired it using both the supplied iron sights and a low power scope. 180 grain Remington Core-Lokt, 180 grain Winchester Silvertip, and "NATO" spec. 147 grain FMJ factory loads were used for testing. As it turned out, this rifle preferred 180 grain bullets, and the Remington Core-Lokt loads in particular. It was initially fired, using the iron sights, at a distance of 25 yards to insure that the bullets would at least hit the paper.
Initial windage adjustments were made at 25 yards, but nothing could be done to lower the point of impact, which was clearly very high. Because this rifle shot so high, subsequent shooting was limited to a range of 50 yards in order to keep the bullets on the paper. At that distance, 3-shot groups from each barrel averaged 2 1/2". This was deemed to be acceptable accuracy for a double-barreled rifle using rather poor iron sights. Combined groups fired from both barrels also went into 2 1/2", indicating good regulation.
Functioning was satisfactory, given the inherent limitations of the design and the shortcomings mentioned above. At least the rifle fired with each pull of the trigger without doubling or balking. The trigger pull was estimated to be about 4 pounds with slight take-up and a clean break. Recoil was subjectively average for an 8 pound .308 rifle.
After installing the scope goups improved substantially, and we were able to center the point of impact on a 50 yard target with the scope's internal windage and elevation adjustments. Using both barrels, the best groups shrank to about 1" (or 2 MOA) using Remington Core-Lokt ammunition. This is good accuracy for a double barreled rifle. Groups from the top barrel alone went into about 3/4" at 50 yards.
Unfortunately, the "one size fits all" concept is often found lacking in service, and so it is with the Tikka 512S. It is a gun that does a lot of things in mediocre fashion and nothing particularly well. For the same (or less) money, one can buy a number of more accurate and functionally superior hunting rifles and a companion shotgun. (Think Remington Model 700 ADL rifle and Model 870 shotgun, for example.)
Also on hand at the range the day we shot the Tikka 512S was a stainless NEF Handi-Rifle, a break-open design from the opposite end of the price spectrum that also features interchangeable barrels. Sadly, the inexpensive NEF rifle easily outperformed the expensive Tikka. Even more sadly, the Handi-Rifle appeared to be the better-designed and built rifle. We agreed that we would rather hunt with the NEF than with the Tikka.
The Tikka 512S is an interesting rifle for the inveterate tinker to play around with, but a poor choice for most practical applications.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
Copyright 2004, 2006 by ChuckHawks.com. All rights reserved.
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