May 01, 2018
By Steve Gash
Thompson/Center's break-action single-shot Encorerifle (introduced in 1993) has the strength to chamber a multitude of powerful,centerfire cartridges, including the .45-70. And the ability to addinterchangeable 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 ofseveral iterations of various calibers and barrel lengths. One new version iscalled the Pro Hunter Katahdin. The Katahdin name is appropriate because itcomes from the highest mountain in the state of Maine: a granite mountain thatis 5,267 feet high at the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Calledsimply "Katahdin" by the locals, the name means the "GreatMountain" 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 rifleis designed for "hunting moose in the thick cedar swamps of northernMaine." It is an appropriate pairing.
The Pro Hunter Katahdin is offered in three realthumper 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 forthis report. The .45-70 Government cartridge has been with us since 1873, andwhile dozens of faster, larger, and smaller cartridges have been developedsince, the .45-70 still occupies a prominent place in the cartridge picketfence. Big-game hunters and target shooters of all stripes appreciate its fat,slow, heavy bullets that consistently bag game, knock over silhouettes, andpunch holes in distant paper.
The frame is the same for all Encores, so anyaccessory Encore barrel will fit this frame. The Pro Hunter Katahdin isstrikingly handsome. The stainless-steel frame and barrel have a lustrous mattefinish, and the barrel is fluted. The barrel has a nice red fiber-optic frontsight, and an excellent, fully adjustable rear peep sight is mounted close tothe breech end. The barrel is drilled and tapped for scope mounts, but thatrequires removing the rear sight. With a scope mounted, the hammerspur ispretty hard to access due to the scope's eyepiece, and T/C solves this minorproblem by making the hammerspur adjustable. It can be moved to the right or tothe left for better access and locked in position with a setscrew.
The Pro Hunter Katahdin comes with T/C's FlexTechstock that features soft, molded-in gripping surfaces on the forearm, pistolgrip, and cheekpiece. They flex upon firing a round and soften the recoil. Thecolor is what I'd call a dark gray or maybe "off black." Inany event, it's attractive and comfortable to hold. In addition, the stock endswith a 1-inch-thick Simms recoil pad that also softens the blow of the powerfulloads for which the Katahdin is chambered.
The Encore Pro Hunter Katahdin with open sightsweighs 6.0 pounds. For testing, I mounted a Leupold VX-1 3-9X 40mm scope withDuplex reticle, and it brought the rig's weight up to 7.0 pounds.
I must relate a minor problem encountered whenmounting the scope. With the scope bore-sighted, the point of impact was about3 feet below point of aim at 100 yards, much more than the range of adjustmentof 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 ifyou're installing a scope on your Encore.
I fired several .45-70 factory loads for accuracyand velocity in the Pro Hunter Katahdin, and most were pretty mild, no doubtdue to the fact they have to be safe in weaker vintage rifles originallychambered for the round, including Trapdoor Springfields. Thus, pressures areheld to about 28,000 psi. Nevertheless, these loads aren't wimps and delivered1,650 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 allfactory loads was 1.68 inches. That's more than adequate for about any gamehunted with a rifle chambered in .45-70. The smallest group with factory fodderwas also the most powerful: the Hornady LEVERevolution 325-grain FTX. Groupsaveraged 0.84 inch. Velocity was 1,923 fps, and muzzle energy was 2,669ft-lbs.
The Fort Scott Munitions 300-grain Solid Copper Spunbullet also produced good accuracy; it averaged 1.02 inches. Federal's300-grain JHP averaged 1.36 inches, which also is not too shabby. The onlylaggard in the accuracy department was the Winchester 300-grain JHP, whichstrung shots in vertical lines and averaged 3.44 inches, top to bottom. It alsoproduced an extremely high velocity extreme spread of 156 fps, which resultedin a standard deviation of 64 fps.
In addition to the factory ammo, I developed severalhandloads, all of which produced a significant increase in horsepower. I usedproven load data that had been pressure tested and kept pressure to about38,000 psi. The muzzle energies of these handloads were as high as 3,200 ft-lbs.
Top performer was the Nosler 300-grain Ballistic TipHunting bullet. (Warning: This sharp-pointed bullet is not suitable for leverguns with tubular magazines.) Atop 55.5 grains of H4198 powder, velocity was2,196 fps, and at 3,213 ft-lbs, muzzle energy was the highest of any handloadtested. With a charge of 60.0 grains of IMR 8208XBR, accuracy averaged 0.83inch, which was the best of the bunch.
Another winner was the Kodiak 350-grain BondedBullet over 56.0 grains of Benchmark. Velocity averaged 1,888 fps, and accuracyaveraged 0.94 inch. The Hornady 350-grain Flat Point shot into 0.91 inch with avelocity of 1,834 fps. The powder charge was 47.5 grains of H4198. The Speer400-grain Flat Point also favored Benchmark, and 55.0 grains produced 1,852fps, a group average of 2.22 inches, and an average muzzle energy of 3,047ft-lbs, the second highest of any load I fired.
The grand old .45-70 traditionally has been loadedwith cast lead bullets, and 500-grain bullets traveling at about 1,200 fps haveslain countless thousands of American bison. I used the excellent cast bulletsfrom The Oregon Trail Bullet Co., but similar bullets are available from manyother sources. I chose Oregon Trail's 350-grain gascheck and 405- and 500-grainplainbase bullets for my handloads. All performed really well and would makeperfectly fine hunting loads for almost any big game. Accuracy averaged from1.00 to 1.20 inches, with excellent ballistic uniformity.
The Encore Pro Hunter Katahdin is a great rifle, andthe .45-70 is a great cartridge. However, there can be too much of a goodthing, and here we must take the bitter with the rotten. With the heavierjacketed bullet handloads, not only is the power level up, but so is therecoil- substantially.
Recoil is both subjective and objective. Howshooters perceive recoil varies with their individual makeup and experiencelevel. The objective component can be quantified. In addition to the recoilenergy (in ft-lbs), the recoil velocity of the gun (in fps) is extremelyimportant in how recoil "feels." Maj. Sir Gerald Burrard, in hisscholarly work The Modern Shotgun (1961), detailed manyaspects of a gun's recoil. He spent much time observing British soldiersshooting .303 service rifles and concluded that the threshold velocity of therecoiling gun that induced flinching in riflemen was about 16 fps.
For most factory loads fired in the scope-sightedPro Hunter Katahdin (weighing 7 pounds), the recoil energy was about 16 to 20ft-lbs, and the recoil velocity was 13.5 fps; both values are in the"tolerable" range. The heavier handloads had more recoil (around 32ft-lbs) and higher recoil velocity (up to 17 fps). Note that if the gun isfired with open sights (weighing just 6 pounds), the recoil of such loads jumpsto 44 ft-lbs, and the recoil velocity goes up to 20 fps.
Shooters can conveniently partition their ammo intotwo power levels: mild factory loads or equivalent homebrewed ammo and morepotent handloads tailored to match whatever the need. In the field, thebig-game hunter or backwoods wanderer can take comfort in the fact that suchloads 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 thehammer difficult for me to cock. I generally used both hands to cock it whenfiring 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 stiffand rather hard to open. By the end of my shooting session, the action was mucheasier to open and close, but the hammer still required strong effort to cockit. I don't see any of this as major detractions because the Pro HunterKatahdin is such a well-made, good-shooting carbine, but these are things Ithink readers should know.
The Pro Hunter Katahdin version of the T/C Encorerepresents a modern, straightforward approach to the vexing problem of power,portability, economy, and versatility. It's a fast-handling, compact carbinethat's ideal for hunting big, dangerous game in brush country, and it makes afine companion for fishermen in bear country as it can deliver a bone-crushingblow to a recalcitrant bruin or any other critter with fang or claw bent onharm.
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