The Thompson/Center Omega 50 Rifle
A fully floated barrel (or a barrel that easily can be), a simple action, easy to prime and de-prime, a light (3-1/4 lb.) trigger that has little take-up, easy to clean and maintain, excellent iron sights, and 1-1/2" repeatable 100 yard accuracy sum up the Omega Stainless / Laminate's many fine points. An excellent owner's manual is included as well as effortless breech plug access.
The ramrod is painful. I added a Thompson "Power Handle," that just doesn't add enough power. An XS Sights PowerRod would have been a better choice).
The cocking is a bit scratchy and noisy. The gun is somewhat muzzle heavy. The buttstock needs an extra 1/2" LOP, at least for me. The recoil pad is not horrid, but could certainly be thicker and less mushy. A heavy Kick-Eez pad would give extra length that is sorely needed and nicely balance the gun.
The sintered-metal trigger has a very slippery face and a distinctly "plastic" feel that makes the entire gun feel chintzy, which it is not. A wider, straighter trigger face (closer to the Encore) and a quality Kick-Eez or Terminator pad would correct this rifle's two most obvious faults.
Thompson released this rifle in 2002; it quickly caught on, and demand far exceeded Thompson's ability to produce. The drop-action, reminiscent of the Civil War "Burnside Carbine," seems like an old idea, and so it is. But, it is a very good one. This gun propelled Thompson/ Center Arms to an all-time record in sales and profits for 2002. As was the case with the Encore, the end of 2002 saw T/CA left with the happy misfortune of no inventory on hand, and a six-month backlog of orders.
The design of the Omega prohibits blowback residue from coming anywhere the trigger group. Additionally, it is a one-piece stock design featuring two recoil points. Again blowback-free, happily accepting the Warne Maxima QR bases and rings, and super-easy to maintain, it is not hard to understand why T/CA scored a home run with this rifle. All at an attractive price well below the Encore, and completely ambidextrous in design (as is the Encore).
Folks often vacillate between the two rifles. The optimistically measured 28" Omega barrel is identical in muzzle to breech plug length to the Encore's so-called 26" barrel; the breech plugs, bases, and sights are interchangeable. For moderate muzzleloading use at an attractive price, the Omega gets the nod. For dual-duty CF rifle / heavy muzzleloading use, or if you have a walnut affliction as I do, it is Encore all the way. They remain the two most successful exposed hammer inline muzzleloaders on the market today. The Thompson level of service, the Thompson warranty, and the loyalty of Thompson customers and dealers alike insure that they most likely will continue to be. It is wonderful to have a choice between such two such well-bred and supported firearms.
The gun originally tested was purchased shortly after the Omega was introduced in 2002. Since then, what was initially a home run by Thompson Arms has turned out to be a grand slam.
The buying public has spoken, and the Thompson Omega is the most influential muzzleloader of the decade. Already, the resounding success of the Omega model has resulted in the Spanish company BPI, parent of the CVA and Winchester Muzzleloading branded imported rifles, to rush an attempt at an Omega clone (the Winchester Apex) to market. There are more Omega (and Encore) inspired rifles in the works: the Denali break-open, and the 2004 Knight Revolution.
Though I cannot speak to all the running production changes in the Omega, the breechplug is worthy of a few remarks. The original Omega / Encore breech plugs (they are identical) were deeply concave at the face, offering a short path from primer to powder. Some shooters, using pellets and hard-to-load sabots, were crushing their Pyrodex pellets, which yielded poor results, to say the least. In response to the "too heavy on the ramrod" muzzleloaders, Thompson changed the breechplug into more of a solid design, with only a slight dip at the breechplug face to offer more pellet support. That it did, but with an unintended consequence.
Fouling buildup became a problem for some, packing the area from the breechplug out about two inches, and shooters complained. Thompson was able to replicate the problem, and made yet another running production change. Back came the deeply dished out, concave plug, but this time, with a solid ring of metal left intact around the perimeter of the plug to offer pellet support as well (a ".50 caliber" Pyrodex pellet is about .45 caliber in diameter). Finally, pellet shooters are happy, and with no exorbitant fouling build up. If your Omega or Encore has a buildup problem with fouling residue, an update breechplug from Thompson for about $20 delivered may relieve your headache.
Here we are, a year and one half later, and Thompson yet again has Omega demand that far outstrips its production capacity. Congratulations to Thompson / Center Arms for introducing the gun that most consumers want; still the easiest to maintain muzzleloader on the market.
Rather than rest on their success, I hope they do get around to a few improvements, such as losing that slippery trigger, updating their hollow synthetic stocks to solid stocks, and perhaps giving the consumer a walnut-stocked offering instead of the popular laminated version.
Finally, tapering the Omega's barrel would greatly improve its weight, balance, and aesthetics. I can only hope.
Copyright 2003 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.