The Thompson/Center Encore 209x50
Thompson's break-open .50 caliber muzzleloader has been selling like mad, far exceeding Thompson's ability to produce them. The Encore is one of the most accurate rifles ever tested, firing 1" 100 yard groups right out of the box with a pair of Pyrodex 50 grain pellets and 295 grain Powerbelt bullets, in the snow, on several windy days, with no swabbing. And sub 3/4" 100 yard groups have been produced with regularity.
All metal parts of this muzzleloader smacked of high-quality and exemplary fit and finish. The barrel has very little contact with the forearm, and could best be described as "almost free-floating." The iron sights are excellent. It is the easiest muzzleloading rifle to prime and deprime, requiring no capper or consumables of any kind. The gun cocks with a resounding "snap," as one would expect of any hammer gun. The trigger, while a tad heavy at 4 3/4 pounds, exhibits zero take-up or creep, making it feel much lighter than it measured on the trigger gauge. The Thompson / Center Arms owner's manuals are exemplary, and deserve special praise as the finest in the muzzleloading industry.
The Maxima QD rings and solid steel base supplied are a joy. It is easy to remove the scope for cleaning of the rifle, and also allowing for iron sight use with the scope off.
On the negative side, the synthetic camo stock originally supplied was poor, a point amplified by the rest of the gun being nearly flawless. This stock does not belong on this rifle. The thin, overly soft recoil pad offered near instant collapse, bottoming out on every shot. The hollow buttstock made the gun muzzle heavy, and the pesky recoil pad was poorly fitted, leaving buttstock plastic jutting out on both sides. It is perhaps the worst stock set I've seen on a rifle in this price range; my Beeman R-9 pellet gun's stock is a stellar achievement by comparison.
To add injury to insult, the scope (despite 4 inches plus of eye relief) popped my shooting glasses every other shot. This appears to be a serious vendor problem with the synthetic stock. This may be corrected by now, I cannot say.
Installing the walnut stock set transforms the Encore into a whole new gun! The rifle is now neutrally balanced, floating horizontally when balanced on the fingers 1-1/2" in front of the trigger guard. The recoil pad supplied with the walnut stock set is ventilated, not solid as per the catalog. It is well fitted and stiffer (better) than the instant-collapse pad on the synthetic stock. The solid walnut stock set, offered on no other competitive gun, is a must for this rifle.
The ramrod, as supplied, is thin and painful. I replaced the stock Thompson ramrod with an XS Sights PowerRod, which eliminated the gun's only glaring deficiency.
Thompson's E-Z tip extractor has been released, and it makes cleanup a snap. Swing the extractor out of the way, back out the breechplug, and you are set to begin. Stick the muzzle in a pail of water, bronze brush the bore, dry patch, then follow with Breakfree CLP or your favorite gun oil. It only takes a few minutes.
The Thompson has a completely sealed action, exhibiting no blowback, and cannot possibly stick a primer due to its extractor. Like fine wine, the Encore has just gotten better with age. The 4" or so of length saved due to the absence of a bolt action makes this gun one sweet handling rifle.
Unlike other most muzzleloaders, the Encore is a "GCA" firearm and must be purchased from a dealer. With the change of a barrel, this rifle can become a centerfire .308, a rifled 12 gauge slug gun, or even a .375 H & H Magnum. The Encore is worthy of serious consideration by any one-shot hunting enthusiast.
The Thompson Encore has been referred to as the "Mercedes of Muzzleloaders." With its ease of maintenance, over-built design, lifetime warranty, and remarkable accuracy, I can understand why.
Copyright 2003 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.