Firstly, thank you to all who advised and assisted in picking a new rifle for my new 243 slot.
In the end I rounded it down to a M595, Tikka T3 or a Howa 1500. Having looked around the internet, I gave Steve and Shane at Ivythorne Sporting a call as it looked like that had pretty much all the guns and options I was looking at, plus my time is precious and I liked the appointment system they run - no grabbing 5 mins of a shop assistants time to look at a gun. They also have a range to test the rifles out - perfect.
So I went in with a stainless barrel and laminated stock as my no1 choice - with synthetic stock as a fall back. I ended up with pretty much the complete opposite!
Shane was excellent in running through all the options and even stripping the guns for me to see the fine differances. The laminate stock was quickly ruled out due to it's weight.... nearly 10lb for a bare gun before mod and scope....
It was then a toss up between the T3 and the Howa - both stainless barrells and synthetic stock. My heart said Tikka my head said Howa - but neither really had me that excited... both were good, soild, plain rifles.
Then Shane showed me the Sauer 101 Classic XT - first glance it looked pretty unassuming, black stock, black barrells, but in the hands it just felt lovely. Nice smooth bolt, very similar to my mates M595. Nice shape stock, esp the little forend. A crisp light trigger set about 2lb and a 5 shot mag that flush fits. Basically it ticked all my boxes. It didnt have the stainless action or barrells but Im informed the coating Sauer use isnt a normal blacking and is durable as stainless steel. I summed it by saying it felt like a rimfire to hold not a big heavy centrefire. It comes in at £300 more than a T3, around Sako money I think?
Out on the range I was just as impressed. I'm new to the calibre and the rifle wasnt set up for me, but I still managed satisfactory hunting groups.
Then the mod - I tried an SL5 and a CMM4 both were good but I was torn between short fat and heavy and long slim and light! Then Steve showed me and I tried a new mod that had just come in - an AimZonic Compact. Small, short and light with a 5 year warrenty. I tried it, I liked it! I cant get too excited over mods, but this seemed to tick all the boxes!
So there it is. A Sauer 101 Classic XT in 243 with AimZonic Mod and Zeiss Duralyt 3-12x50. I hope that keeps me satisfied for a new years to come!
I would recommend Ivythorne Sporting to anyone - superb set-up, friendly knowledgeble guys and customer service that is very rare these days.