Thompson/Center’s break-action single-shot Encore rifle (introduced in 1993) has the strength to chamber a multitude of powerful, centerfire cartridges, including the .45-70. And the ability to add interchangeable barrels allows the rifle to be transformed into a muzzleloader, a shotgun, or other centerfire cartridge configurations.
The Encore series called the Pro Hunter consists of several iterations of various calibers and barrel lengths. One new version is called the Pro Hunter Katahdin. The Katahdin name is appropriate because it comes from the highest mountain in the state of Maine: a granite mountain that is 5,267 feet high at the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Called simply “Katahdin” by the locals, the name means the “Great Mountain” in the language of the Penobscot.
The mountain is home to a wealth of big game, including black bears, whitetails, and moose. T/C says that the Katahdin rifle is designed for “hunting moose in the thick cedar swamps of northern Maine.” It is an appropriate pairing.
The Pro Hunter Katahdin is offered in three real thumper cartridges: .460 S&W Magnum, .500 S&W Magnum, and .45-70. This gun is not for sissies.
I received a new Pro Hunter Katahdin in .45-70 for this report. The .45-70 Government cartridge has been with us since 1873, and while dozens of faster, larger, and smaller cartridges have been developed since, the .45-70 still occupies a prominent place in the cartridge picket fence. Big-game hunters and target shooters of all stripes appreciate its fat, slow, heavy bullets that consistently bag game, knock over silhouettes, and punch holes in distant paper.
The frame is the same for all Encores, so any accessory Encore barrel will fit this frame. The Pro Hunter Katahdin is strikingly handsome. The stainless-steel frame and barrel have a lustrous matte finish, and the barrel is fluted. The barrel has a nice red fiber-optic front sight, and an excellent, fully adjustable rear peep sight is mounted close to the breech end. The barrel is drilled and tapped for scope mounts, but that requires removing the rear sight. With a scope mounted, the hammerspur is pretty hard to access due to the scope’s eyepiece, and T/C solves this minor problem by making the hammerspur adjustable. It can be moved to the right or to the left for better access and locked in position with a setscrew.
The Pro Hunter Katahdin comes with T/C’s FlexTech stock that features soft, molded-in gripping surfaces on the forearm, pistol grip, and cheekpiece. They flex upon firing a round and soften the recoil. The color is what I’d call a dark gray or maybe “off black.” In any event, it’s attractive and comfortable to hold. In addition, the stock ends with a 1-inch-thick Simms recoil pad that also softens the blow of the powerful loads for which the Katahdin is chambered.
The Encore Pro Hunter Katahdin with open sights weighs 6.0 pounds. For testing, I mounted a Leupold VX-1 3-9X 40mm scope with Duplex reticle, and it brought the rig’s weight up to 7.0 pounds.
I must relate a minor problem encountered when mounting the scope. With the scope bore-sighted, the point of impact was about 3 feet below point of aim at 100 yards, much more than the range of adjustment of the scope. This could have been easily remedied by shimming the scope base, but because I was not taking it hunting, I just placed another target below my “aiming” target and tested loads with no problem. But it’s something to keep in mind if you’re installing a scope on your Encore.
I fired several .45-70 factory loads for accuracy and velocity in the Pro Hunter Katahdin, and most were pretty mild, no doubt due to the fact they have to be safe in weaker vintage rifles originally chambered for the round, including Trapdoor Springfields. Thus, pressures are held to about 28,000 psi. Nevertheless, these loads aren’t wimps and delivered 1,650 to 2,000 ft-lbs of energy at the muzzle.
Accuracy with almost all loads was excellent, ranging from 1.3 to 1.7 inches at 100 yards. The average group size of all factory loads was 1.68 inches. That’s more than adequate for about any game hunted with a rifle chambered in .45-70. The smallest group with factory fodder was also the most powerful: the Hornady LEVERevolution 325-grain FTX. Groups averaged 0.84 inch. Velocity was 1,923 fps, and muzzle energy was 2,669 ft-lbs.
The Fort Scott Munitions 300-grain Solid Copper Spun bullet also produced good accuracy; it averaged 1.02 inches. Federal’s 300-grain JHP averaged 1.36 inches, which also is not too shabby. The only laggard in the accuracy department was the Winchester 300-grain JHP, which strung shots in vertical lines and averaged 3.44 inches, top to bottom. It also produced an extremely high velocity extreme spread of 156 fps, which resulted in a standard deviation of 64 fps.
In addition to the factory ammo, I developed several handloads, all of which produced a significant increase in horsepower. I used proven load data that had been pressure tested and kept pressure to about 38,000 psi. The muzzle energies of these handloads were as high as 3,200 ft-lbs.
Top performer was the Nosler 300-grain Ballistic Tip Hunting bullet. (Warning: This sharp-pointed bullet is not suitable for lever guns with tubular magazines.) Atop 55.5 grains of H4198 powder, velocity was 2,196 fps, and at 3,213 ft-lbs, muzzle energy was the highest of any handload tested. With a charge of 60.0 grains of IMR 8208XBR, accuracy averaged 0.83 inch, which was the best of the bunch.
Another winner was the Kodiak 350-grain Bonded Bullet over 56.0 grains of Benchmark. Velocity averaged 1,888 fps, and accuracy averaged 0.94 inch. The Hornady 350-grain Flat Point shot into 0.91 inch with a velocity of 1,834 fps. The powder charge was 47.5 grains of H4198. The Speer 400-grain Flat Point also favored Benchmark, and 55.0 grains produced 1,852 fps, a group average of 2.22 inches, and an average muzzle energy of 3,047 ft-lbs, the second highest of any load I fired.
The grand old .45-70 traditionally has been loaded with cast lead bullets, and 500-grain bullets traveling at about 1,200 fps have slain countless thousands of American bison. I used the excellent cast bullets from The Oregon Trail Bullet Co., but similar bullets are available from many other sources. I chose Oregon Trail’s 350-grain gascheck and 405- and 500-grain plainbase bullets for my handloads. All performed really well and would make perfectly fine hunting loads for almost any big game. Accuracy averaged from 1.00 to 1.20 inches, with excellent ballistic uniformity.
The Encore Pro Hunter Katahdin is a great rifle, and the .45-70 is a great cartridge. However, there can be too much of a good thing, and here we must take the bitter with the rotten. With the heavier jacketed bullet handloads, not only is the power level up, but so is the recoil—substantially.
Recoil is both subjective and objective. How shooters perceive recoil varies with their individual makeup and experience level. The objective component can be quantified. In addition to the recoil energy (in ft-lbs), the recoil velocity of the gun (in fps) is extremely important in how recoil “feels.” Maj. Sir Gerald Burrard, in his scholarly work The Modern Shotgun (1961), detailed many aspects of a gun’s recoil. He spent much time observing British soldiers shooting .303 service rifles and concluded that the threshold velocity of the recoiling gun that induced flinching in riflemen was about 16 fps.
For most factory loads fired in the scope-sighted Pro Hunter Katahdin (weighing 7 pounds), the recoil energy was about 16 to 20 ft-lbs, and the recoil velocity was 13.5 fps; both values are in the “tolerable” range. The heavier handloads had more recoil (around 32 ft-lbs) and higher recoil velocity (up to 17 fps). Note that if the gun is fired with open sights (weighing just 6 pounds), the recoil of such loads jumps to 44 ft-lbs, and the recoil velocity goes up to 20 fps.
Shooters can conveniently partition their ammo into two power levels: mild factory loads or equivalent homebrewed ammo and more potent handloads tailored to match whatever the need. In the field, the big-game hunter or backwoods wanderer can take comfort in the fact that such loads would cleanly take just about any game for which the .45-70 is suitable, within its range limit.
My gun’s mainspring was very strong and made the hammer difficult for me to cock. I generally used both hands to cock it when firing from the benchrest. Also, my gun’s trigger pull was pretty heavy, averaging 6 pounds, 2.5 ounces. And right out of the box, the action was stiff and rather hard to open. By the end of my shooting session, the action was much easier to open and close, but the hammer still required strong effort to cock it. I don’t see any of this as major detractions because the Pro Hunter Katahdin is such a well-made, good-shooting carbine, but these are things I think readers should know.
The Pro Hunter Katahdin version of the T/C Encore represents a modern, straightforward approach to the vexing problem of power, portability, economy, and versatility. It’s a fast-handling, compact carbine that’s ideal for hunting big, dangerous game in brush country, and it makes a fine companion for fishermen in bear country as it can deliver a bone-crushing blow to a recalcitrant bruin or any other critter with fang or claw bent on harm.
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