Thompson/Center Contender G2 Rifle
By Chuck Hawks and the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
In 1965 gun designer Warren Center struck a deal with the K. W. Thompson Tool Co. to produce a single shot pistol of his design. The company's name was changed to Thompson/Center Arms, and history was made.
Thompson/Center Arms did not invent the modern single-shot hunting pistol, but their original Contender pistol did popularize the type. Later the T/C line expanded to include muzzleloading rifles and accessories, and both rimfire and centerfire rifles.
All T/C firearms are based on a T/C break-open action. All are of high quality and produced to high standards. All are among the best of their type, and have won innumerable silhouette target competitions and been used to bag game all over the world.
T/C's precision investment castings come from their own casting facility in Rochester, New Hampshire, Thompson Investment Castings. The action body, hammer, trigger, safety switch, and trigger guard of the test rifle all appear to be investment castings.
One of the unique features of these T/C guns is their ability to change calibers by changing barrels. The Contender G2 (second generation) pistols and rifles can even change from rimfire to centerfire cartridges. Another notable feature is their Life Time Warranty.
The specific firearm selected for this review is a Thompson/Center Contender G2 rifle in caliber .17 HMR. This is a blue steel and walnut version of the famous Contender and marks the entry of T/C into the hot .17 HMR market.
Here are the basic specifications of the G2 rifle taken from the T/C web site (www.tcarms.com).
T/C makes this statement about their Contender G2 rifle: "Its versatility, with regards to selecting either rimfire or centerfire barrels makes it a multi-use rifle. It's an ideal plinker, small game and varmint rifle, and is one of the lightest hard-hitting deer rifles there is. It's at home in a trapper's pack basket as it is in deer camp. As a 'carry gun,' they don't get any better. It will become your favorite in any of the seasons."
Our first impression of the Contender G2 when it arrived at Guns and Shooting Online was that it had a weird looking stock. Our second, when we assembled it, was that it is muzzle heavy. That .17 caliber hole leaves a lot of steel in the 23" barrel blank, so the rifle balances about 2.6" in front of the trigger guard.
The buttstock shape is a function of the way the grip is mounted on the Contender pistol, and the G2 rifle is based on the pistol action, so the same system is used for the rifle version. This makes a full, handgun style, pistol grip mandatory. The forend is a plain but reasonably proportioned beavertail type.
This buttstock design is unfortunate, as the rifle would be far more attractive with a straight hand or semi-pistol grip buttstock and a straight comb. The present system requires a pronounced Monte Carlo comb to raise the eye enough to align with a scope. This, in turn, requires extreme fluting to make it possible to get the strong hand around the neck of the stock.
The result is a stock that looks as if it were designed by a committee--or like a makeshift arrangement, which it is. I realize that a change would require casting a rifle specific frame, but it would be worth it if T/C is committed to the rifle business. Since the G-2's MSRP is $600, which is serious money for a rimfire rifle, T/C ought to be serious about this rifle.
This ugly buttstock is inletted so loosely that daylight can easily be seen around both sides at the rear of the action. It is completely devoid of checkering or other adornment. There is a pistol grip cap (necessary to hide the grip tang screw) and the butt terminates in a black, rifle style, ventilated recoil pad. A solid rubber butt pad would be more appropriate, and more attractive, on a .17 HMR rifle. Detachable sling swivel studs are provided, which is always appreciated. But, all in all, this stock is not T/C's best work.
My old Contender pistol came with a nice, gloss finished, walnut grip and forend. The current G2 rifle also comes with a black walnut buttstock and forend, but the finish looks like a dull oil finish. The pores of the wood are well filled, but if this were my rifle I'd add a few coats of hand rubbed Outer's Stock Oil to give it a gleam.
The wood on the rifle sent for review is dark (or at least stained dark) and straight grained without much figure. It was correctly sawn to provide stability and strength and should be a very durable stock.
The ergonomics of the G2 are fine. The rifles shoulders easily and lines up properly. The trigger finger falls naturally on the trigger. The forend is hand filling and comfortably shaped. Despite the stock's weird shape and the muzzle heavy balance of the G2, its light weight and short overall length make it a fast handling package. How well it would handle heavy recoil I do not know, but that is not a consideration in .17 HMR caliber.
Operation of the G2 rifle is pretty simple, and identical to a Contender pistol. Pressing up and rearward on the trigger guard "tail" opens the action. Much less force is required to accomplish this than with my old, first generation, Contender. Once the action is open, a cartridge can be manually inserted into the chamber. Then close the action. It locks-up tight with no play and it has proven to be hell for strong, far in excess of the strength required for a .17 HMR rifle. (The G2 is available in calibers up to .45-70!)
On top of the hammer is a pivoting safety lever that blocks the hammer when it is aligned with the centerline of the rifle. When on "safe" the lever covers a small red dot. To the left of the red dot is a small letter "C" and to the right a small letter "R." Move the lever to cover the "C" and the hammer is set to fire a centerfire cartridge. Move the lever to cover the "R" and the hammer is set to fire a rimfire cartridge.
With the hammer's firing pin selector properly set, all that is required to fire the rifle is to manually cock the hammer and squeeze the trigger. After firing, open the action to extract the fired case, and remove it manually.
There is no ejector. This is unimportant at the range, but an ejector would be nice to speed reloading in the field.
The trigger is a steel, medium width, smooth type. There is an external stop screw adjustment for over travel, which was properly set on the test rifle at the factory. A tiny Allen wrench is provided to adjust the trigger stop screw if required. No other trigger adjustments are provided.
The test rifle's trigger released at 4 pounds as measured by my Premium RCBS trigger pull gauge, with no perceptible creep. It is a good trigger, one of the best that we have encountered in a .17 HMR rifle. Its clean release will satisfy most users, and this contributes to good practical accuracy.
Since we had no other barrels, we had no reason to remove the barrel from the action once it was assembled. (It was shipped disassembled.) However, one of the unique features of the G2 is interchangeable barrels.
To interchange barrels, close the action and remove the two screws that attach the forend, and remove the forend. Then open the action and push out the fat hinge pin. A punch or screwdriver blade will do the trick, as not much force is required. The barrel will now separate from the receiver. Assemble in reverse order. G2 rifle barrels are available from T/C in calibers .22 LR Match, .17 HMR, .223 Remington, .30-30 Winchester, and .45-70 Government.
Fox Ridge Outfitters, whose web site is accessible from the T/C site, is the exclusive home of the Thompson/Center Custom Shop. They offer barrels in myriad other calibers, including some wildcats and many pistol cartridges. Fox Ridge Outfitters specializes in refinements and custom barrels for T/C's Contender and Encore rifles and pistols. Custom lengths, finishes, and cartridge options are just a few of the services offered by Fox Ridge, along with muzzleloading rifles and accessories.
The foregoing should give you a pretty fair idea of the aesthetics, operation, and versatility of the T/C G2 rifle. But, of course, the key issue is how it shoots. As we expected from a Thompson/Center product, it shoots quite well.
For testing purposes we mounted a Mueller Eraticator 8.5-25x varmint scope in high Weaver rings on a T/C steel base. The T/C base is standard Weaver pattern and mounts to the barrel using four screws (supplied). T/C also (per request) supplied a pair of their superior medium height steel rings, but our decision to fit the Mueller scope with its large 50mm objective required the use of taller rings, and the Weaver rings were on hand. The scope also made it a little awkward to cock the hammer and made us wish that an offset hammer spur had been supplied with the rifle, as Marlin does with their lever action rifles.
Guns and Shooting Online staffers Bob Fleck, Jim Fleck, Nathan Rauzon, Gordon Landers and I spent two long range sessions shooting the G2 rifle for record. We used .17 HMR ammunition from CCI (17 grain TNT bullet), Federal (17 grain TNT bullet), Hornady (17 grain V-MAX bullet), and Remington (17 grain AccuTip-V bullet).
We did our test shooting at the Izaak Walton outdoor rifle range south of Eugene, Oregon. The hot summer weather meant highs in the 83-93 F degree range, 10-20 MPH variable winds, and sunny skies throughout our time on the range. Wind is an important factor when shooting .17 HMR rifles, as a 10-MPH crosswind will blow the light bullet 3" laterally at 100 yards! We tried to shoot between the gusts and I disregarded flyers caused by the wind when measuring the groups afterward.
Except for the initial sighting-in at 25 yards to get the bullets on the paper, which took exactly two shots, all shooting was done at 100 yards. A Caldwell Lead Sled rifle rest weighted with a 25 pound bag of lead shot was employed to reduce shooter error. The Lead Sled sat on a solid bench rest.
Outers ScoreKeeper targets were used throughout, and for record we (as always with .17 HMR rifles) fired 5-shot groups. The big Mueller scope was set at 14 power. Here are the shooting results from the 120 rounds of ammunition that we fired for record:
AVERAGE GROUP SIZE, ALL BRANDS OF AMMUNITION = 1.21"
In addition, we did shoot a couple of 10-shot groups at 100 yards, with CCI and Hornady ammunition. These measured 1 13/16" and 1 1/2" respectively.
These are good results, in line with what we have come to expect from the better .17 HMR rifles. Remember that the shooting was done by five individuals at an outdoor range under rather windy conditions.
The Contender G2 is included in the article ".17 HMR Rifle Accuracy Test Results," which can be found in the "Rifle Information" section of the Rimfire Guns and Ammo Page. There you can compare the G2's range results with other .17 HMR rifles tested by Guns and Shooting Online.
As expected, functioning was 100%. There were no reliability issues of any kind.
All of us of found the break-action somewhat inconvenient at the range. Opening the rifle for loading altered the rifle's position in the rest, requiring the shooter to completely realign the rifle after every shot. This is not a problem in the field, of course, and we judged that the Contender's break-open action and external hammer make it, inherently, one of the safest rifles ever reviewed by Guns and Shooting Online.
Despite my, quite legitimate, carping about the design of the Contender G2 rifle stock, this is a high quality, well made rifle. It merits consideration by anyone seeking a .17 HMR rifle in its approximate price class. The T/C Contender G2 is safe, accurate, versatile, strong, and works well. And it is made in the U.S.A.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
Copyright 2005, 2006 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.
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