The T/C Contender G2 Muzzleloading Rifle

By Randy Wakeman

T/C G-2
Illustration courtesy of Thompson/Center.

The tested gun is a 2004 Thompson/Center Contender G2 .45 caliber muzzleloader, blued with a walnut stock. Though T/C lists the gun at 5-1/2 pounds, this example tips the scales at 6 pounds seven ounces. Apparently, Thompson's weighing methods are different than my electric scale procedure.

Though billed as a 24" barrel, the effective length sans QLA is right at 22". It features the traditional Thompson painful ramrod, too short to be of much use in swabbing, and no palm saving end unless your hands prefer sharp edges. Warne Maxima steel bases and quick release rings were added along with a Sightron SII 2.5 x 10 x 32mm scope, completing the package at 7 pounds 11 ounces.

For comparison's sake, the walnut and stainless steel Encore in similar configuration is approximately a 10 pound gun. While not quite as specified, the Contender is still more than 20% lighter, of no small significance if walking all day across the tundra. For comparison, my scoped, .50 caliber, tapered "knightlite" barreled Knight Elite weighs 9-3/4 pounds, and my unscoped nickel / synthetic Austin & Halleck 320 weighs 8 pounds 14 ounces. My scoped and race-ready Savage 10ML-II SS, laminated stock muzzleloader tips the electronic scales at 10-1/4 pounds with its 3 x 12 x 42mm scope.

In general, the better inlines I've tested are all pushing 10 pounds or so before you hit the woods, with little discernible difference between them. Those wishing to save weight can go the blued barrel, hollow composite stock route, but that still seems less than ideal, as the hollow stocks often make muzzleloaders muzzle heavy.

I've long regarded 1:28 twist barreled .45 caliber inlines as being, generally, a poor choice. A .45 can never been a .50 caliber rifle, yet a .50 caliber inline can shoot .45, .429, .40, and even .357 caliber saboted projectiles in addition to bore-sized offerings such as Powerbelts and other conicals. The muzzleloading enthusiast has more choices to suit his needs, and I like choices.

Additionally, the smaller bores have less barrel volume in which to consume powder, and have revealed themselves to be more finicky shooters. Rather than deliver on the potential of lighter weight and compact size to compliment the caliber, more often than not the .45 caliber guns are just .50 caliber inlines with a smaller hole in the barrel, and actually more weight as a result. I don't care to hunt pheasants with a 20 gauge in a 12 gauge frame, and I see little need to slug around a .45 caliber muzzleloader that offers nothing over the same model in .50 caliber except more weight, and less capabilities.

The Thompson Contender G2 is the first .45 caliber muzzleloader that truly delivers on the promise of a lighter, better handling muzzleloader that compliments the caliber. Though no toothpick, the 2 pounds or so that you actually do save make it a svelte, stylish, functional option compared to the rest of the pack.

The initial gun had, of all things, scope mount plugs that were very hard to remove, as though they were applied by air hammer. This was a first for me. After confirming that "righty tighty, lefty loosey" had not changed, I twisted away with 18 of my 11 favorite screwdrivers on the filler plugs. Three came out with strong encouragement, the fourth came out in pieces. The barrel was sent to Thompson, and they replaced it in short order. A postcard arrived to inform me they had received it, the new barrel arrived the next day. Excellent customer service, as usual, from Thompson. The filler screws on the new barrel came out with my thumbnail, as many do.

Thompson usually has the best instruction manuals in the industry, and the G2 manuals supplied were no exception. The top of the hammer has a "rimfire-neutral-centerfire" selector. With a rebounding hammer on the G2 similar to the Encore, the selector was set to center-fire then forgotten about. It is no issue on the G2 that I can see; apparently it is on the old style Contender that does not have the newer action style. Consult your manual for more information.

The trigger initially broke at about 4-1/4 pounds. After a few shots, it lightened up to an average of 3 pounds 5 ounces, and stayed there. Like my Encore, the trigger had no creep, grit, or initial take-up at all and consequently feels much lighter than it really is. At the range, it in no way hindered my shooting. The first range session, with freezing rain and a gusting, 22 to 34 mph crosswind, resulted in little more than my remarkably authentic impression of an idiotic in a cornfield, surrounded by a swirl of spit patches, and assorted flying targets not originally designed to fly.

Though the Warne medium height bases allowed retention of the G2's rear ramp sight, the hammer clearance that seemed adequate with bare bands was less so with frozen, gloved hands. High Warne QR bases are the better choice for this gun in the field. The wind was strong enough to launch chronographs off the bench with a bit of encouragement from Triple Seven muzzle blast. I did learn that 100 grains of Triple 7 FFg launched a 220 grain 40 / 45 Dead Center at about 1902 fps average. The speed of the flying chronometers was not recorded. Nothing else of substance was accomplished to which I will freely admit.

Returning home, I reconfirmed my belief that the Leupold "Scopesmith" Magnetic Boresighter was perhaps the most pathetic product I've ever wasted money on. The only correct information about this plastic monstrosity is that yes, it is "safe," and "no batteries are required." Though the instructions state that it should never be placed on a loaded firearm, I personally cannot think of a finer place for it.

I did break out the SightLite 100 laser boresighter that I had previously picked up from Brownells. After getting past the imbecilic instructions that suggest you stick a supplied precision target (made from precision cardboard, no doubt) on the wall 15 feet away, I properly O-ringed the arbor, and spun the Sightron to crosshair zero on a building at 75 yards. Perhaps the neighbors felt it was outtakes from a Terminator movie, but no authorities became involved. The SL-100 is exceeding bright, with the laser clearly visible on brightly light buildings past 200 yards.

The SL-100 Mag Laser Boresighter worked better than described, as long as it is not used as described. It is readily available from Brownells, and fits any bore firearm from .22 to .50 caliber.

Next day at the range was a better day, 28 degrees F with a 6-12 mph, nine o'clock crosswind. The very first shot was at a laser-verified 102 yards, just to the left of the bull. Due to my renowned lack of ability (or perhaps I was just shivering incorrectly), the second shot was directly beneath it about an inch, the third shot of the group touching the first, completing a 1-1/4" center-to-center group, the worst of the afternoon. The G2 with 100 grains of T 7 FFg, pushing a 220 grain 40 / 45 Dead Center, grouped around 1" average, with a best of day group at .71". Imagine what it might do if I feed it something it really likes.

The gun was given a spit patch between shots, and the Triple 7 crud cylinder (that I had never had before) was evident with each swab; as the clean patch crunched through the fouling near the breech plug after each shot. Quickly using my razor sharp mind, I concluded that the massive, orange fireball from the muzzle after each shot showed that the 100 grains of loose Triple 7 powder was not completely combusting inside the barrel.

I'd like to see a bit more velocity than the 1900 fps load, but apparently the barrel volume of the G2 is the limiting factor. Over the next few weeks, T 7 FFFg is indicated, to see if we can get things up near 2100 fps. As tested, the 220 DC is about a 190 yard Maximum Point Blank Range, 6" kill zone load, retaining well over 1000 ft. lbs. of kinetic energy well past 200 yards.

The Sightron SII 2.5 x 10 x 32 scope is amazingly good. I was shooting an hour after sunset at 10X with no problems, when the targets looked like orange blobs to the naked eye. Exit pupil alone does not dictate the brightness of a scope, as scopes with better glass and coatings appear brighter even with similar exit pupils; the Sightron SII is testimony to that. It weighs just 10.9 ounces, and has an astonishing 100" of combined vertical and horizontal adjustment, something few scopes can boast. It would be hard to imagine a scenario where you could run out of adjustment with this beauty.

The Thompson / Center G2 Contender is a wonderful muzzleloader. It is by far the most accurate .45 caliber muzzleloader I've ever tested, and handles like a dream. This example is every bit as accurate as my Encore, and it may well be the only .45 caliber inline sabot shooter worth owning, delivering on the promise of lighter weight with little, if any, performance penalty. Thompson may have little clue on how to weigh their guns, but they certainly know how to build them. The G2 may well be the best kept secret Thompson has. One day, they may be actually forced to mention it themselves! It is the finest .45 caliber muzzleloader I've tested, and as time goes on, who knows, it may prove to be my favorite muzzleloader of them all. Congratulations to Thompson/Center Arms.

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Copyright 2004 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.