A New Icon in the Field - Thompson/Center's bolt-action rifle

A New Icon in the Field - Thompson/Center's bolt-action rifle

Thompson/Center's bolt-action rifle couldn't be more aptly named.

Thompson/Center has done well over the years with its extensive line of single-shot handguns, rifles, and muzzleloaders. In fact, if BATFE counted blackpowder arms, T/C would be one of the largest firearms manufacturers in the country. Many businesses would be content with that, but T/C's Greg Ritz felt there was a place in the market for a quality bolt-action rifle.

Thompson Center Bolt Action Rifle

Ritz and the T/C design crew started with a blank slate when they decided to build a new bolt gun. They talked to custom-rifle builders, like George Gardner of GA Precision, as well as people who compete and hunt with rifles for a living. Between their feedback and design input from T/C's in-house designers and engineers, the team came up with a solid yet graceful action they thought would serve as the heart of the new bolt-action rifle line. They christened their new baby the "Icon."

The Icon Inside And Out

The Icon's action is machined from bar stock in the T/C factory. The influence of the tactical community on its design is immediately apparent in its three-round, detachable-box magazine; flat bottom; solid top; and integral Weaver-style scope-mounting rail.

Manufacturer:Thompson/Center Arms
Model:T/C Icon
Operation:Turn bolt
Purpose:Medium Game
Action Type:Bolt action
Magazine type and capacity:Detachable; 3 rounds
Receiver material:Solid top, CNC machined from bar stock
Calibers:.22-250, .243 Win., .308 Win., .30 T/C
Barrel Length:24 inches
Rifling:5 grooves; 1:10 RH twist
Overall Length:44 inches
Metal Finish:Polished blue
Trigger Type:Single-stage
Pull weight:3.5 pounds; trigger is adjustable for pull weight, overtravel, and sear engagement
Weight, empty7.25 pounds
Safety:2-position with bolt lock; type: mechanical
Sights:None; integral Weaver-style base
Stock:Select grade walnut
Stock finish:Oil
Length Of Pull:14 inches
Checkering:20 lines per inch checkering with ribbon accents
Buttpad:Black, soft-rubber recoil pad
Sling studs/swivels:Fixed studs

In theory, the solid top makes for a more rigid--and therefore more accurate--action. The integral scope-mounting base also helps, as it eliminates yet one more variable from the scope-mounting equation. Further bolstering the Icon's accuracy are three integral recoil lugs that interlock with the stock's integral aluminum bedding block. When combined with the action's flat bottom, this results in a rock-solid melding of the stock and action, which is essential for benchrest-quality accuracy.

The Icon's solid bolt is machined from bar stock, and the finished product is a jeweled, three-lug affair that provides a short, 60-degree bolt lift for greater clearance between the bolt handle and the scope's ocular lens for shooters with meaty hands. A small "T-slot" extractor is milled into one of the lugs, resulting in a solid ring of steel that uniformly supports the case head. A plunger-style ejector in the boltface accomplishes ejection.

Yet another interesting feature of the Icon is its interchangeable bolt handle. A butterknife-style handle is standard, but round and oversized tactical models are available. My test rifle had the optional round knob, but replacing it with one of the other handles is easy with the supplied bolt disassembly tool. To break it down, all you have to do is release the spring tension, push down on the shroud, remove the bolt handle, and remove the firing pin and firing pin spring from the bolt body. To replace the bolt handle, simply insert the chosen handle upon reassembly.

Other unique features include a racy, skeletonized bolt shroud and a slick bolt release on the left side of the receiver. Operation of the release is easier and more instinctive than competing designs.

The Icon also has a unique, two-position safety. With the safety in the "On" position, the bolt is not locked. However, an independent bolt lock will lock the safety "On" and block the bolt from being raised. It is a simple, out-of-the-way part that won't offend those who prefer a simpler, two-position safety.

To get the kind of accuracy Ritz wanted, T/C decided to step up its already state-of-the-art barrel-making facility. T/C has long enjoyed a reputation as one of America's premier barrel makers. But with input from a few of my favorite accuracy fanatics in the tactical community, they went the extra mile and started producing button-rifled, match-grade barrels to the highest standard.

T/C raised the quality of its barrels with simple steps, such as 60-degree

target crowns and higher-grade barrel reamers. Sixty-degree crowns are generally accepted as exerting less influence on exiting bullets because they allow vented gas to exit the muzzle to the sides of the bullet, rather than behind it. Further, the recess protects the crown from accuracy-destroying nicks and gouges.

As effective as those little changes are, T/C's switch to 5R rifling is, perhaps, the most significant factor in achieving the company's goal of half-minute accuracy. T/C's 5R rifling has five grooves, and the lands have angular sides. This reduces jacket deformation and fouling, and it results in a faster, cleaner, and more accurate barrel.

Once the Icon's 24-inch, sporter-weight barrel is mated to the barreled action, the assembly is bolted into an attractive walnut stock that T/C calls "select grade." The fine figure and rich, dark color exhibited on my sample gun's stock more than lived up to that description. The 20 lines-per-inch cut checkering was another nice touch, as were the distinctive curved accents. In my opinion, the wood on the few Icon's I've seen is unsurpassed on any gun in its price range. I hope T/C can maintain that level once the gun goes into full production.

The overall quality of the test rifle was incredible. Every part was precisely fit. The bolt was smooth, the magazine lock-up was positive but engaged with a minimum of effort, and the inletting was perfect. The result was a damn-fine-looking package that I hoped would shoot as good as it looked--especially since I had no experience with the test gun's chambering, the new .30 T/C.

A New Round For A New Rifle

T/C was looking to make a splash with the new rifle, and a hot new cartridge was the logical way to do it. So T/C teamed up with Hornady to create what may be the most efficient cartridge to come down the pike--the .30 T/C.

.30 T/C Trajectory Comparison
BULLET TRAJECTORY (inches at yards)
100 200 300 400 500
.30 T/C
Hornady 50-gr. InterLock 1.5 0 -6.9 -20 -40.7
.308 Winchester
Hornady 150-gr. InterLock 1.8 0 -7.9 -23.1 -47
.30 T/C
Hornady 150-gr. InterLock1.70-7.4-21.5-43.7

The .30 T/C is based on a shortened .308 Winchester case. That means it is a short, fat case, and that is a good thing. Unfortunately, it also means the newest .30 has less case capacity than the .308 Win. But Hornady's engineers, led by resident rocket scientist Dave Emary, had the benefit of years of evolution in powder technology and cartridge design. Using that knowledge, they set out, using the latest in technology, to design a cartridge on the premise of attaining "optimal ballistic performance."

For those of you who like to eat dessert first, that means a 150-grain InterLock bullet at 3000 fps and a 165-grain pill at 2850 fps. Now, for those of you who actually care about such things, here's how they do it.

To achieve this optimal ballistic performance, Hornady had to find the perfect balance of case volume, bore volume, and burn rate for a .308-diameter barrel of 24 inches. To further complicate matters, their design parameters called for the cartridge to achieve its full ballistic potential in barrels as short as 20 inches. To get there, Emary and his team tweaked the primer-propellant combination until they came up with the perfect match for each bullet.

Of course, it was much more difficult than it sounds, and it required a great deal of experimentation. Too hot a primer generates results in a burn rate that's too fast, as well as dangerously high pressures. Conversely, performance falls off dramatically with primers that are not hot enough. And a primer that is just right with one powder may not work with another.

As for divining the right propellant, well, that's a strange mix of science and voodoo I couldn't possibly cover in an entire magazine, much less a single magazine article. Suffice it to say those powders are not commercially available, and handloaders would be hard pressed to match the performance of Hornady's factory loads.

Increased velocity is not the only advantage the .30 T/C has over the .308 Win. Chief among them, believe it or not, is its decreased case capacity. Because its case contains approximately 20 percent less powder than the .308 Win., the .30 T/C has less recoil than either the .308 Win. or the .30-06 Springfield with equal-weight bullets, yet it achieves considerably higher velocities. Its ability to achieve pretty darn close to its full velocity out of short barrels is another mark in favor of the newest .30.

.30 T/C Ballistics Comparison
.30 T/C
Hornady 150-gr. InterLock30002997
.308 Winchester
Hornady 150-gr. InterLock28202648
.30-06 Springfield
Hornady 150-gr. InterLock29102820

The Proof Is In The Pudding

In preparation for testing the new Icon, I mounted Nikon's new 3-12X42mm Monarch riflescope with side focus and BDC reticle in a set of Leupold QRW rings. The scope was sharp and clear, and Nikon's BDC reticle was a good match for the flat-shooting .30 T/C. The rifle's Weaver-style slots gave me a great deal of flexibility in mounting the scope.

The only load I could get my hands on was the 150-grain InterLock, and I couldn't get much of it. Fortunately, I had enough ammunition to sight-in the rifle and fire 10, three-shot groups over my Shooting Chrony chronograph.

The rifle was a joy to shoot. Recoil was negligible, and the adjustable trigger broke at a crisp 3 pounds. The magazine design made it impossible to feed cartridges individually, so I loaded three at a time in the magazine. I didn't mind because it didn't seem to affect accuracy, and it gave me a chance to put the magazine to the test. It fed perfectly.

Chronograph readings will make a liar out of most cartridge box ballistics tables, but I am pleased to report that wasn't the case with the .30 T/C. The first round blazed through the sky screens at 2994 fps, and the second clocked 3001 fps. The third round opened up my group to a still-impressive 0.38 inch and was recorded at 2988 fps.

That group and those velocity figures pretty much set the tone for the day. The smallest of my 10 groups measured a scant 0.265 inch, and the biggest was a pretty, little 0.734-inch group that would have been a great best group from just about any rifle. The average of 10 groups was 0.506 inch, despite a 20 mile-per-hour tail wind that had little effect on the bullets but moved me around on the bench quite a bit. The average velocity was equally impressive at 2988 fps for30 shots fired.

I came away from my test impressed. But nothing's perfect, and there were a few things about the Icon I would change if I could.

First, I would prefer a hinged floorplate instead of the detachable magazine. Detachable magazines are easily lost in real-world hunting conditions, and there is little need for fast magazine changes in the game fields. A hinged floorplate would also make single loading possible. I mentioned this to T/C, and I have a feeling we'll see a hinged floorplate, at least as an option, in the near future.

I also think the rifle was a little too heavy. The stock was unnecessarily thick in a few places, and I think some judicious whittling would improve the look of the Icon while making it livelier in the hand and reducing its weight. Once again, it seems T/C is committed to perfection, as the company representative told me they have already done that; production models will be much lighter and trimmer.

.30 T/C Icon 100-Yard Accuracy
Factory Load Velocity (fps)Best Group (inches)Worst Group (inches)Average Accuracy (inches)
Hornady 150-gr. InterLock29880.2650.7340.506

Overall, I really liked T/C's latest rifle and cartridge. As tempting as it is to say the Icon is a good gun for the money, I can't, because the fact is, it's a good gun at any price! And while the .30 T/C cartridge may not measure up in the eyes of the mega-magnum maniacs, it's a model of efficiency and innovation. However, as much as I liked it, my time with the new Icon was too short.

Fortunately, I had the opportunity to shoot the Icon again a few weeks later at our semiannual writer's roundtable, where I was pleased to see the test rifle's accuracy hold up at long range, too. Some kind soul had placed a motley assortment of fruit and plastic water bottles on the 400-yard range.

Using the Nikon's BDC, I carefully picked off several watermelons and one-gallon water bottles before lining up on a much smaller 20-ounce bottle. I recovered from recoil in time to see the bottle explode. I could have kept shooting, but I elected to quit while I was ahead. Six for six at 400 yards was good enough to tell me all I need to know--the Icon and the .30 T/C make a damn-fine pair.

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