March 21, 2011
Thompson/Center's new Hot Shot is one of the finest youth-specific rimfires on the market.
The older I get, the more time I seem to spend shooting rimfires. I'm not sure if it's because I really love shooting rimfires that much or because it's something my kids and I enjoy doing together, but whatever the reason, my plinking and practice sessions include more rimfires and far fewer double rifles and machineguns than in years gone by.
My family has a pretty good variety of rimfires, and my kids are experienced enough that, in truth, I don't think they really need a single shot anymore, but that didn't stop me from getting excited about the new Hot Shot .22 the guys in the T/C booth were showing off at last year's SHOT Show.
The Hot Shot looks exactly like a T/C Pro Hunter that got shrunk in the dryer. It has the same profile, the same trigger guard, and the same stock design. It even functions like a Pro Hunter. But the miniature T/C has a few operational differences and some cool features that make it one of the finest youth-specific rimfires on the market.
Safety Is Everything
When it comes to introducing new shooters to the sport, safety is everything. The Hot Shot's single-shot design is a safe one, and its hammer is easy enough for young shooters to cock. Its automatic hammer block safety means it won't fire when dropped or if the hammer slips while tiny hands are cocking it. The safety is always "On," and only pressing the trigger drops the safety to allow the gun to fire. There is also no lever to fumble with or forget; simply squeeze the trigger to make the gun go "bang."
The author's kids love banging away at their steel targets from MGM.
Simplicity is another reason single shots are so safe. To open the Hot Shot's action, simply squeeze the lever that protrudes from the bottom of the trigger guard and the barrel falls right open. To load it, stick a .22 LR round in the chamber and close the action. When you're ready to fire, a reasonable amount of force is all it takes to cock the hammer. Should the hammer slip out of those small hands before it hits fullcock, the automatic safety will keep it from firing.
The Hot Shot's front sight is simple but effective, and its excellent peep rear sight helps milk the utmost accuracy from the Hot Shot.
Two features that attracted me so strongly to the Hot Shot are its size and weight. Thanks to its very trim profile and slim, 19-inch barrel, the little rimfire only weighs 3 pounds. Its 11.5-inch length of pull is perfectly suited to young shooters, but an included 1-inch stock spacer allows the rifle to keep up with growing youngsters. Its bantam weight, short overall length of just 30 inches, and trim receiver make the Lilliputian rifle handle much better in pint-sized hands than adult-sized guns that are chopped down and marked as youth models.
The folks at T/C didn't want the Hot Shot to be just another inexpensive children's gun, and they didn't spare any expense making it shoot like a "real" rifle. The barrel is one of T/C's excellent match-grade tubes with a recessed target crown, and the rear sight is an adjustable peep. I have experimented with iron sights and kids a great deal, and I have come to the conclusion that new shooters more easily master a peep sight than a notched rear. I was thrilled to see T/C make a quality rear peep sight standard equipment. The Hot Shot is also drilled and tapped for a scope mount that should be available by the time you read this.
The Hot Shot's stock is a dead-ringer for the Pro Hunter's, though the faux inserts in the stock and fore-end are actually just accents molded into the synthetic stock rather than recoil-reducing FLEXTECH inserts. The finger groove accents in the grip and fore-end provide a bit of extra grip for hunting in inclement weather, and the comb height is just right for aligning little faces with the rifle's sights.
The Hot Shot's synthetic stock comes in black, green Realtree AP camo, and pink Realtree AP. All have matte blue actions and barrels. Since I have a son and a daughter, T/C sent me one of each of the camo guns for testing.
Built For Fun
The Hot Shot was designed more for plinking and small-game hunting than winning a small-bore match, so I decided to do all my testing at the ranch range. I don't have a good bench there, but open spaces combined with lots of dirt clumps and steel targets to shoot make the ranch a much more fun place to shoot than the public range. To help me out, I brought my kids, Chloe and Cole, and a pretty healthy supply of ammunition from CCI, Federal, and Winchester.
After familiarizing the kids with the rifle, I set up some paper targets as well as a pair of MGM's steel squirrel poppers for them and sat back to watch the fun. Both kids started out slowly as they tried to get a feel for the Hot Shot. Both were pretty nervous about cocking the gun, even though I explained that it wouldn't fire if they accidentally let go of the hammer as long as they kept their trigger fingers off the trigger as they've been taught. By the time they'd put a dozen or so rounds downrange, they were getting pretty comfortable with their new rifles.
Rodriguez and his kids test-fired the two Realtree AP versions in green and pink camo. The Hot Shot is also available in an all-black configuration.
Chloe is 12 and weighs 63 pounds, and 10-year-old Cole weighs just 60 pounds. Both could work the Hot Shot just fine, though neither could hold it steady for more than about 10 seconds. If they didn't break their shots quickly, they would have to put the rifle down and regroup. A set of Stoney Point shooting sticks fixed that problem. It also helped them score consistent hits on the MGM squirrels out to 50 yards.
I didn't ask them to shoot groups for me, but both kids were able to keep most of their rounds inside a 3-inch Shoot-N-C sticker at 25 yards off the sticks.
Once the kids tired, I did some impromptu accuracy testing with the green camo Hot Shot. The pink rifle may have shot better, but I wasn't about to find out because my kids kept hovering around my camera in hopes that they might snap some shots of me with it. I wasn't about to give them the chance to post that photo on my Facebook page, so I stuck to the green gun.
Offhand from the 25-yard line, the rifle shot some pretty impressive groups with all four loads. I was not surprised to see Federal's Ultra Match load shoot the tightest groups, but CCI's 40-grain Velocitor, Federal's 40-grain copper-plated solid, and Winchester's affordable Wildcat load all performed very well. Though gusting winds and the gun's light weight combined to make holding the gun steady very difficult, all but one of the four loads averaged under 1.5 inches. That's pretty good, I think, for offhand at that distance in those conditions. The fine trigger, which breaks at a creep-free 3 pounds, 12 ounces, contributed to its accuracy.
With a price of $207, the basic black-stocked Hot Shot is unquestionably a fine choice to start young shooters with, as well as a great backpacking or compact truck gun.
Because the wind was so brisk and my steel range doesn't have a proper benchrest, I didn't do any real accuracy work beyond 25 yards. However, I did shoot about 50 rounds at 50 yards off shooting sticks and another 50 rounds or so from the 100-yard line from a variety of field positions at several MGM steel targets.
From 50 yards, hits on the small squirrels were automatic. On paper, it wasn't so pretty, but the 2.5- to 3-inch groups were a result of the swirling wind and less than ideal rest. I believe the rifle would have done much better with a good rest and a consistent wind. Because of the conditions and iron sights, I didn't bother shooting paper at 100 yards other than to see where the rifle was hitting. Once I figured out my hold, I was able to hit 8-inch plates with the Hot Shot easily from every position as long as the wind cooperated.
Not Just For Kids
I've shot a lot of rimfires over the years, and I have yet to find one that wasn't fun to shoot. However, there is a pretty substantial gap between the best and the rest of the rimfire contenders. The qualities that make the T/C Hot Shot stand out from the competition are its ergonomic, youth-sized stock; excellent trigger; safe, simple design; excellent peep sight; feather-light, 3-pound weight; and exceptional, practical accuracy.
Weighing in at only 3 pounds, the Hot Shot is a mini version of T/Cs popular Encore Pro Hunter. Not only does it look just like Dad's gun, it shoots very well, too.
Those same great traits also make the little T/C ideally suited to several grown-up roles. I can see pilots and outdoorsmen tucking the Hot Shot under the seat of a truck or airplane, in a dry bag in a boat or canoe, or in a backpack for extended hiking or fishing trips. Its compact size and lightweight won't be a burden, and it possesses the deadly accuracy and rugged simplicity a survival gun should.
I own some .22s that are more accurate and one or two that might qualify as cooler, but none possess the Hot Shot's combination of real gun features and true, youth-sized dimensions. Whether you're looking for the perfect starter gun for a kid or a lightweight, compact piece you may one day call on to save your bacon, its outstanding handling qualities and features combined with an MSRP of $234 ($207 for the black version) make the new T/C Hot Shot awfully tough to beat.
The loads shown here are safe only in the guns for which they were developed. Neither the author nor InterMedia Outdoors, Inc. assumes any liability for accidents or injury resulting from the use or misuse of this data.
NOTES: Average accuracy is for five, five-shot groups fired offhand at 25 yards. Velocity is the average of 10 rounds measured 15 feet from the muzzle with a Shooting Chrony chronograph.