The economic impact: Thompson/Center's innovative inline combines accuracy, simplicity and a very reasonable price tag.
Thompson/Center Arms has long been a major force in the muzzleloader world. The company's Omega, Encore and Triumph models pretty much cover the field, and the quality and accuracy of T/C rifles are well known. But if there is a hitch in this paradigm, it is that most of these models are a bit pricey.
Now T/C has addressed this issue with the introduction of its new Impact .50-caliber rifle. It has a host of neat design features that promise to make it justifiably popular with the frontloader crowd. The Impact retails for only $249, and T/C tells me that the big box stores will have it for even less.
The Impact is a typical modern-day muzzleloader in that it is a 209 primer fired inline, but similarities with other designs stop there. The Impact is simplicity itself. There are only three moving parts: the hammer, the trigger and the sliding breech-latch, cleverly called the hood by T/C (see the accompanying cutaway diagram). At first glance, the hood reminded me of the top latch on a Krieghoff or a Remington Model 3200 shotgun. A top lever, of course, activates these. Not so on the Impact. Just wrap your thumb and forefinger around the two cute little wings on either side of the hood, pull it back, and the action pops open, slick and easy. Sliding back the hood is not only instantly intuitive, it's also equally easy to accomplish by right-or left-handed shooters.
The unobtrusive little hammer spur at first looks like it would need an add-on extension to be usable, but such is not the case. Even with a scope mounted, the hammer is easy to cock or lower. The action has a hammer-block safety that prevents the hammer from contacting the firing pin unless the trigger is fully pulled. The trigger pull is three pounds, nine ounces, and it breaks like glass. (If only the run-of-the-mill centerfire bolt-action trigger were as good.)
The Impact's breech plug has a triple-lead thread that allows the plug to screw into the breech with only about five turns vs. many turns with only one lead, which makes the breech plug virtually seize-free. With the action open, it is easily removed for cleaning with a breech-plug wrench or a 7/16-inch socket.
The Impact sports a 28-inch barrel with a 1:28 twist for top accuracy with modern-day muzzleloading jacketed bullets and sabots. Like other T/C muzzleloaders, the Impact has the company's patented Quick Load Accurizor. The first one inch of the barrel is slightly larger than the main bore, providing perfect alignment of the sabot with the bore and making starting a projectile easy. It's a simple and effective system.
The Impact comes equipped with Williams highly visible fiber optic sights. The rear is fully adjustable and displays two red dots. A green dot graces the front. Most hunters will choose a scope, however, and the Impact's barrel is drilled and tapped for a mount.
The black composite stock is both sturdy and attractive, and it features a functional recoil pad on the butt. A LongLeaf camo-stock and blued-barrel version is also available. The stock's length of pull is adjustable by simply removing the one-inch spacer between the recoil pad and the stock. This is great for anyone of small stature, and it makes the Impact a good choice for a starter gun for a youngster, as the spacer can be replaced when necessary as the new hunter grows. It's a nice touch. The rifle also comes with quick-detachable sling swivels installed.
T/C IMPACT LOAD VELOCITIES (FPS) Pellet Propellants (two 50-grain pellets) Bullet White Hots Pyrodex Triple Seven T/C 200-gr. Shock Wave 1,873 1,876 1,752 T/C 250-gr. Shock Wave 1,742 1,712 1,747 T/C 300-gr. Shock Wave 1,635 1,629 1,602 Barnes 290-gr. Spit-Fire 1,637 1,695 1,635 Hornady 250-gr. SST-ML 1,751 1,785 1,788 Hornady 250-gr. SST-ML Low 1,714 1,788 -- Drag Hornady 300-gr. SST-ML Low 1,625 -- -- Drag Hornady 240-gr. XTP-MAG 1,780 1,703 1,710 Hornady 300-gr. FPB 1,625 1,629 -- Loose Propellants (100 grains by volume) Bullet Blackhorn Pyrodex Triple Seven 209 (2FG) (2FG) T/C 200-gr. Shock Wave 1,938 -- 1,901 T/C 250-gr. Shock Wave 1,826 -- 1,780 T/C 300-gr. Shock Wave 1,776 1,593 1,666 Hornady 250-gr. SST-ML -- 1,702 1,830 Hornady 300-gr. FPB 1,849 -- -- Hornady 250-gr. SST-ML Low 1,929 -- 1,829 Drag Hornady 300-gr. SST-ML Low 1,849 -- -- Drag Hornady 240-gr. XTP-MAG 1,959 1,720 1,879
AT THE BENCH
After a challenging Missouri deer hunt (see sidebar), I spirited the Impact home for testing. The test gun was equipped with a clear, bright Nikon 3-9x40 Omega Muzzleloading scope attached with Nikon (Warne) rings. The Omega was a delight to use and had Nikon's patented BDC (Ballistic Drop Compensating) reticle, specifically calibrated for today's high-efficiency muzzleloading bullets. In use, the main crosshair is zeroed at 100 yards, and the four circles below the intersection then provide aiming points at 150, 200, 225 and 250 yards (at 9X). The scope has a quick-focus eyepiece, quarter-minute click adjustments and acres of eye relief--a full five inches at all magnification settings.
The popularity of inline muzzleloading these days has spawned a vast array of specially designed projectiles, propellants and primers. I gathered representative examples of several bullet, sabot and propellant types and then packed up and headed out to the range to test things out. The combinations that I tested are shown in the nearby load table. Actually, I was pleased to see that all of my recipes worked just fine. The vast majority of groups fired from a Lead Sled at 100 yards were well under two inches, and there were several that were right at an inch. I can therefore say that hunting accuracy will not be a problem with the Impact.
In order to keep things somewhat even between my combinations, I decided to stick with a charge of 100 grains--two pellets. All of the loose powder charges were also 100 grains, and they were, of course, measured by black-powder volume.
Three types of pellets were tested: Hodgdon's Pyrodex and Triple Seven, and White Hots from IMR (also a Hodgdon company). Hodgdon recommends the milder Winchester T7 209 primer for its pellets and regular 209s for the White Hots. The loose powders tested were Ramshot's Blackhorn 209, Pyrodex (2FG) and Triple Seven (2FG). Ramshot's Don Luhr recommends "the hottest primer you can get" for Blackhorn 209. Regular 209 primers are OK, but magnum 209s are even better, he says. Muzzleloader primers are not recommended for Blackhorn 209. I used regular Winchester 209s for all propellants, and they did just fine.
Space does not permit discussion of all of the loads tried, so let's hit a few highlights. Loaded with two 50-grain Pyrodex pellets, the 200-grain T/C Shockwave registered 1,876 fps and was very accurate. Recoil with this relatively light bullet was also mild. With the various 250-grain sabots, velocities were slightly slower, running 1,700 to 1,750 fps, and the accuracy was still excellent. Moving up to the 292-and 300-grain bullets, speeds of around 1,625 fps were the norm.
The Hornady SST-ML Low Drag projectiles come in 250-and 300-grain versions and feature a sabot with a tail upon which the shooter can add two or three 50-grain pellets, which can be carried as a unit for quick and easy loading. Hornady's SST-ML sabots (without the tail) performed very well, too.
Pistol shooters dote on Hornady's XTP jacketed hollowpoint bullets, so it is not surprising that they are offered in sabots for muzzleloaders. The 240-grain XTPs clicked along at 1,703 to 1,780 fps with the two-pellet loads.
Turning to the loose powders, it was deja vu all over again: good accuracy, consistent velocities, no surprises. Charges were 100 grains for everything. Top picks here were the various 250-grain bullets. Worthy of mention is the Barnes 292-grain Spit Fire, which delivered great groups with 100 grains of Blackhorn 209.
All in all, the new T/C Impact is an impressive muzzleloader. It offers an innovative design, including the sliding hood that totally encloses the breech, hammer-block safety mechanism and the removable stock spacer. Ease of loading via the QLA muzzle and a stupendous trigger round out the package. And it's 100 percent made in the U.S.
With T/C's reputation for quality, name recognition, the Impact's demonstrated accuracy and its very attractive price, this new rifle will no doubt make a big splash in the hunting fields this fall and for many falls to come.
RELATED ARTICLE: Thompson/Center
Type: Breakopen inline muzzleloader
Priming system: 209 shotgun or muzzleloader primers
Barrel length: 28 in.
Overall length: 41.5 in.
Weight: 6.5 lb.
Sights: Fully adjustable fiber optic, drilled and tapped for scope mount
Finish: Black composite (adjustable for length of pull); camo-stock/blued-barrel version optional
Maker: Thompson/Center Arms www.tcarms.com
RELATED ARTICLE: BRIAN'S BUCK
Thompson/Center muzzleloaders have long been top performers for deer hunters, and that was certainly the case for Brian Stephens of Clayton, Ohio, last year. As reported by Jim Morris of the Dayton Daily News (Dec. 9, 2009), Stephens was in his tree stand on his family farm on November 30 when he spied a doe and a buck with a huge rack.
At about 80 yards, the buck turned and he fired. Initially, Brian couldn't see for the smoke, but after a few minutes he started tracking the deer. "When I saw the rack, I couldn't believe it," Brian said.
The monster buck had an atypical rack with 18 points, and both main beams were more than 34 1/2 inches long. The bruiser weighed 215 pounds field-dressed. Local taxidermist Rick Musse thinks the deer will score about 235-likely a new non-typical state record taken with a muzzleloader.
Brian told me that he used his T/C .50-caliber Black Diamond XR that he bought new in 2004, topped off with a 1.5-5X Simmons variable. His load was a 250-grain T/C Super Glide Shockwave Sabot powered by two 50-grain Triple Seven pellets and Winchester 209 shotgun primers. Brian said that he's taken several deer at ranges up to 200 yards with this rifle.