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Swinging single: after a brief hiatus, the legendary Thompson/Center G2 Contender is back and better than ever.

In 1967, the original Thompson/ Center Contender handgun came to market, and the timing was fortuitous. Silhouette shooting was all the rage, the relatively new .44 Mag. cartridge was skyrocketing in popularity, and more hunters than ever were pursuing big game with handguns. There were a handful of wildcatters developing handgun-specific cartridges, too, and the Contender was the perfect platform in which to debut these new creations. All of these factors played into the immediate acceptance of Thompson/Center's new single-shot pistol.

Another feature in the Contender's favor was an unmatched level of versatility. If you wanted to shoot silhouette targets with a .44 handgun one day, chase whitetails with a muzzleloader or centerfire rifle the next and round out your hunting season by calling in a big gobbler in the spring, there was only one gun with which you could accomplish all those tasks, and it was the Contender.

Despite the Contender's long history and its loyal following, changes to the T/C lineup over the years may have muddied the water a bit, so I'll do my best to explain the history of the Contender.

After the initial launch, the Contender stayed much the same until a few minor tweaks were added in the 1980s, giving rise to the G2 Contender that's still in production today. The original Contender frame was fine for most applications, but it needed to be beefed-up to handle hotter magnum cartridges like the popular 7mm and .300 magnums, so T/C introduced the Encore, which was similar in many aspects to the Contender but had a longer, sturdier frame. Later, T/C introduced the Encore Pro Hunter series, which added features like a rotating swing hammer (which was easier to access under a scope) and the FlexTech recoil-reducing stock.

Today, the T/C catalog includes various Encore Pro Hunter and G2 Contender frame assemblies and complete guns. The Contender line includes barrels for rimfires, shotguns, centerfire handguns and non-magnum centerfire rifles. The Encore Pro Hunter line includes all of that---minus rimfires--but offers magnum-caliber, slug, muzzleloader and turkey barrels. Modern G2 Contenders will accept all previous Contender barrels with a split bolt configuration.

In 2013, the G2 Contender was dropped from the T/C lineup. Some believed the original platform had gone the way of the Edsel automobile, but that wasn't the case. In 2015, after moving operations from New Hampshire to Massachusetts--a result of T/C's acquisition by Smith & Wesson--the G2 Contender returned to the market in both frame assemblies and complete guns. With the move, T/C guns benefited from tooling and machining updates--with attendant tightening of tolerances--as well as more streamlined production. Basically, the new G2 Contender offers all the things shooters loved about the original--with upgraded production.

"We received a number of calls and letters when the G2 Contender was dropped from the line," says Danielle Sanville, product manager at Thompson/ Center. But what Sanville and her team knew was that the Contender was coming back to market very soon, and it would be better than ever.

The current G2 Contender in .30-30 Win. comes with a heavy-contour 23inch blued barrel, and with an overall length of 36.75 inches and a weight of just 6.5 pounds, it is a handy carbine-length rifle perfect for dense woods. The barrel comes without sights, but it is drilled and tapped to accept G2 scope bases.

The barrel is "through hardened," a process through which steel of a certain carbon content level is heated to high temps and then quenched, resulting in a strong, tough barrel with the same hardness factor from the surface to the bore.

The walnut stock is well-figured, comes with sling studs fore and aft, and it has the Contender's hallmark high comb that helps align the eye with the scope.

To open the action, simply pull back on the oversize trigger guard, then rotate the barrel downward on its hinge pin. There is no ejector, but the extractor raises the empty cartridge for easy removal after firing.

The hammer is fixed. It doesn't swing to the left or right like the Encore Pro Hunter, but it's easy to access under most scopes. On the hammer itself you'll find a tang selector that rotates the firing pins. There are three positions: On the left there is a "C," indicating Fire for centerfire barrels; on the right, there's an "R" indicating Fire for rimfire barrels; and in the center, there is a red dot. Aligning the tang overtop of that dot acts like a safety because no firing pin is in position.

To fire the centerfire barrel, the shooter must rotate the tang to the left so it covers the "C." The "R" and the center red dot will still be visible. There is no traditional safety like you'll find on bolt-action rifles, so the hammer acts as the firearm's primary safety (well, okay, your safe gun handling practices are the primary safety, but that's always the case).

To swap barrels, remove the two pins and the fore-end, open the action, knock out the hinge pin, place the other barrel in position, and reassemble. Since the optic is mounted on the barrel itself, only minimal re-zeroing is required after a barrel swap.

Currently, the G2 Contender complete rifle comes with walnut buttstock and fore-end, but the company also sells a black composite buttstock/fore-end pair if you prefer that to wood. Removing the stock requires pulling two screws and the grip cap from the bottom of the pistol grip, along with removing the fore-end screws. It couldn't be easier.

You can also switch to a handgun grip. This ability to mix and match components does bring with it a word of caution. For instance, if you left the rifle buttstock in place while there was a pistol barrel (under 16 inches) attached to the frame assembly, you're now holding a Short Barrel Rifle, which is a National Firearms Act-covered gun. If you don't have the "tax stamp" for it, it's illegal under federal law. And since we're going through the legalities, while you can order barrels directly from Thompson/Center, the frame assemblies are an FFL item and available only through gun dealers.

The beauty of T/C selling complete guns is it gives those new to the platform a way to own a field-ready rifle (or pistol) from the get-go. For the G2 Contender rifle line, it's a frame assembly and barrel in .30-30 Win. Complete handgun packages are available in .22 LR and .357 Mag. as well. So you can go into your local dealer and purchase a G2 Contender in .30-30, and if you choose to accessorize the gun, you already have the needed receiver. If not, you start with a completed firearm with no need to shop for barrels.

The choice of .30-30 was an interesting one. In a time when magnums are all the rage, the .30-30 is, in terms of ballistics, rather antiquated. But the .30-30 is still a popular and versatile option (as evidenced by the fact that the .30-30 is still among Federal's top 10 cartridges in terms of sales). Out to 150 or 200 yards it's perfectly adequate for deer, antelope, black bear, hogs and similar game--especially given new bullet offerings like Hornady's pointed Monoflex projectile found in its LeverEvolution line.

The Contender has a reputation for accuracy, and the rifle did not disappoint. From 100 yards, groups averaged between 1.21 and 1.74 inches at 100 yards, with multiple groups under one inch. Recoil is manageable in this lightweight platform--thanks in part to a soft, thick recoil pad--and I could press the trigger and maintain my sight picture through the scope without excessive muzzle rise, making this a great rifle for recoil-sensitive shooters.

The Contender's long, straight trigger requires the shooter to position the tip of the finger on the curved bottom portion to maximize the mechanical advantage and produce the smoothest, lightest pull possible. Gripping the trigger high reduces mechanical advantage, so it's critical to learn to slide your finger into the proper position for the best results. The trigger break on the Contender was 4.2 pounds on average with no take-up and little overtravel.

I had an opportunity to hunt whitetail deer with the Contender in Texas not far from the Rio Grande and the Mexican border with Double T Outfitters (Double I had multiple tags in my pocket, but I never got a good shot at a really large buck despite long days of trying.

I did, however, get to fill my doe tags with the Contender. The first doe stepped out of a cat claw flat just before last light at a bit over 100 yards, and the Contender placed the bullet on the shoulder. The second doe was taken at half that range, again just before darkness fell. The 140-grain Monoflex Hornady bullet struck just behind the shoulder, and the doe piled up within 20 yards.

I got to do a lot of stalks on big bucks, and while these efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, I did gain a sincere appreciation for the Contender's short overall length and light weight. When moving through heavy thorn and trees, it's easy to snag a gun on low-hanging branches, but the Contender was easy to maneuver and so well balanced I could set up on the Bog Pod sticks quickly for a shot.

The compact design was also a blessing in the deer blind. The Contender certainly ranks among the easiest rifles to manipulate inside a confined space, and getting the gun up and into position was simple and fast.

Another great feature of the Contender is the fact that, unlike most bolt actions, the rifle isn't automatically cocked when a cartridge is chambered. It adds considerable peace of mind, and that feature alone adds a level of safety you won't find on many other guns.

After spending several weeks with this rifle, count me among the Contender's many fans. I spent time in the blind figuring out all the ways I could accessorize this gun, turning from a rimfire to a pistol to a muzzleloader and back to a centerfire with the turn of a few screws. With a suggested retail of $769 for the complete .30-30 rifle package (without scope) you may have enough room in your budget to start adding on barrels and grips, and that's when the true value of this versatile platform becomes apparent.

Sure, it offers just one shot, but that's not as big a disadvantage as it might seem. With the Contender, you'll learn to make that first shot count, as you always should. And with a rifle of this quality, one shot should be all that you need.



CALIBER          .30-30 Win.; additional
                 rifle barrels in .204 Ruger,
                 .223 Rem, 6.8 SPC, 7-30

CAPACITY         1

BARREL           23 in.

OVERALL LENGTH   36.75 in.

WEIGHT           6.5 lb.

STOCK            walnut

FINISH           blue

TRIGGER          4.3 lb. (measured)

SIGHTS           none; drilled and tapped
                 for scope

PRICE            $769 (complete rifle)

MANUFACTURER:    Thompson/Center Arms,


                         Bullet    Muzzle                Avg.
                         Weight   Velocity   Standard    Group
.30-30 WIN.              (gr.)     (fps)     Deviation   (in.)

H0RNADY LEVEREVOLUTION    140      2,283       17.6      1.21

WINCHESTER POWER MAX      170      2,157       22.3      1.41

FEDERAL TROPHY COPPER     150      2,259       20.5      1.74

NOTES: Accuracy results are averages of three three-shot groups at
100 yards from a fixed rest. Velocities are averages of 10 shots
recorded at 10 feet on a ProChrono digital chronograph.
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Publication:Petersen's Rifle Shooter
Article Type:Product/service evaluation
Date:May 1, 2016
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