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Thompson-Center's one-gun battery; with a choice of 5 different calibers, the convertible TCR '83 can handle anything from varmints to elk.

* As my son, Bill, and I crept through the growth of chest-high sagebrush spotted with jack pine and gnarled juniper trees, the sun disappeared and ominous gray clouds settled over the area. Within minutes the wind picked up, moaning as it raced through the trees, and then we were in the midst of a howling blizzard. Wet snowflakes stung our faces and clung to our clothing like glue.

"The wind's right," Bill whispered, "but if this keeps up we won't be able to see those elk."

"Don't worry we'll see 'em," I hissed in reply. "Just keep that scope clear of snow so you can shoot."

We were working along the crest of a high ridge that separated two forks of Ditch Creek. Opposite our position, both east and west, steep slopes and rocky out-croppings formed the rims of the canyon. The elk herd we were stalking was in the east fork--at least a mile above where our truck was parked.

I tapped Bill on the shoulder and when I had his attention, I whispered, "They should be almost directly below us now. When we get into them, shoot either the biggest bull or the smallest calf. I'd prefer the latter for packing, but if there's a decent bull, bust him!"

Bill nodded, then stopped while we shed our backpacks to cut down on any noise we might make. This done, he pushed the top lever of the Thompson/Center TCR '83 single-shot rifle with his thumb and pivoted the action open to be certain the chamber contained a 30-06 round. Satisfied that everything was in order, we moved, a step at a time, toward the edge of the ridge.

The snowstorm was worsening and the cold wind whipped my face, numbing my ears that have been frostbitten many times over the years. We were in a half-crouch, covering ground just a step at a time and pausing after each step to look and listen. Then, as if on cue, the wind stopped, the clouds parted and sunlight flooded the canyonside.

We froze at the sight before us. We were damned near right in the middle of 50 head of elk! Yellowish-brown bodies milled around in the deep sage, the closest not over 2k yards away Antlers--spikes, three-points, four-points--appeared and disappeared above the backs of cows. A calf raised its head, locked me right in the eye, then went back to feeding. Bill was just in front of me and I could see that he was searching for a good bull among the bunch. He still held the rifle at his side, but the safety was off and he was ready for action.

The herd seemed to separate a little and there, 60 yards away and all by himself, stood a dandy bull--six points on one side, five on the other. His head was nothing out of the ordinary, but in body size the bull dwarfed everything around him. Very slowly Bill raised the rifle, sighted through the Burris 3-9X scope and there was an audible "click" as the rear trigger set. In that mountain stillness it sounded like a hammer hitting a horseshoe and I expected the bull to bolt in alarm. Instead, he just stuck his head and neck behind a juniper, forcing Bill to shift his aim from the bull's neck to the chest.

"Baroom!" The roar of the 30-06 was ear-splitting. I saw hair fly from high and behind the bull's shoulder and heard the 165-grain Nosler solid base spitzer bullet hit with a resounding thump. My stomach did a flip-flop at the realization that Bill had scored a lung shot, a high lung shot at that. By all the rules that bull would boil off the mountainside and stack up only when he reached the boggy tangle along the creek far below. our pack job would be four times more difficult if we had to follow the creek out.

But to my amazement the bull didn't head downhill. All around us elk were stomping, squealing and running, lining out for the top of the ridge. Even though he was mortally wounded, Bill's bull followed the herd. By this time Bill was reloaded, but instead of shooting he just took a rest over a big sage and tracked the bull in the scope. When he was about 150 yards away and 50 yards below the top of the ridge, the elk stopped and turned, looking very much like he was now ready to head down country.

Bill didn't give him the chance. The 30-06 barked again, the muzzle blast creating a shower of snow from the sage, and the bull's legs went out from under him. His neck was broken!

"Sure wish he'd kept goin'," Bill mumbled as he plucked the fired case from the chamber. "I'd have broken his neck right on top of the ridge and saved us that long uphill haul."

"Now that's confidence," I mused, "especially when you're shooting my rifle--one you haven't worked with much."

"I have no problem with this Thompson/Center," Bill quipped. "I've shot it enough to know where it shoots and that's what counts."

I guess when you strip away all of the rhetoric, Bill's evaluation of the TCR '83 rifle just about sums up my feelings. After a year in the field with it, there is little to criticize.

The Thompson/Center TCR '83 rifle was introduced in 1983 as a companion to the popular Contender pistol. Like the Contender. the rifle has interchangeable barrels for a number of popular calibers. However, the TCR '83 is not simply an enlarged Contender. In fact, interchangeable barrels are the only similarity between the two Thompson/Center products and even the method of interchanging barrels is vastly different.

The TCR '83 is a single-shot rifle built along the lines of the classic European single-shot sporter, but its design is quite advanced. Being a tip-up break-open action, it's much shorter than bolt-action sporters of similar barrel length. Barrels on the TCR '83 are 23 inches long, yet the overall length of the rifle is just 39-1/4 inches. Such a short rifle is easy and quick to handle, even at close quarters. But, it isn't a light rifle. My .30-06, topped with a Burris 3-9X Mini scope set in a Burris mount, tips the postal scale at 7 pounds, 14 ounces.

As a complete TCR '83 rifle comes from the factory, it's equipped with open sights. Up front is a gold bead while the rear unit is adjustable for windage and elevation and the rear blade folds down. The monoblock ur holes drilled and tapped in it for attaching a scope mount. Because the scope attaches to the barrel, not the receiver, scoped barrels can be swapped back and forth without changing the zero.

Provisions for attaching the barrel to the receiver are contained on the monoblock into which the barrel is threaded. Flat on top and measuring 2.865 inches long, the monoblock contains the extractor, the barrel pivot and the locking flange for the bolt. Forward of the monoblock about 3-1/2 inches is a piece welded to the bottom of the barrel to which the fore-end fastens.

The 23-inch long .30-06 barrel I tested has a muzzle diameter of .6 inch. At a point immediately in front of the monoblock the barrel measures 1.05 inches in diameter. These figures are essentially the same on my .223 Remington barrel.

The TCR '83 receiver is a solid piece of 4140 steel within which is contained the hammer mechanism, the sliding underlug bolt assembly and the top lever which withdraws the bolt and allows the barrel to pivot open. The bolt is a massie piece of round steel, the front portion of which is cut flat on each side so that it engages the lug on the rear bottom of the monoblock. This lug is hardened so it can't spread open when subjected to high pressure.

The trigger setup on the TCR '83 is usually the first thing that catches the shooter's eye. It's a double-set trigger like those popular on European sporters. Pulling the rearmost of the two triggers "sets" the front one so that only a few ounces of pressure are required to release the front trigger for firing. If you so desire, the rifle can be fired by simply pulling the front trigger. To "set" the trigger on my rifle, it takes a pull of 18-1/2 to 19 pounds on the rear trigger. Once set, the front trigger pull is so light I have no means of measuring it accurately. To fire the rifle by pulling the front trigger in the "unset" mode, a force of 7 to 7-1/2 pounds is required.

As you might expect, the trigger on a rifle design like the TCR '83 isn't a simple thing. To begin with, the trigger mechanism itself is set in the bottom of the receiver while the hammer is located well above it. On order that the hammer can be held in cocked position by the sear, yet the sear be released by the trigger, the sear has to be quite long. In the TCR '83 it's a round, hardened steel rod that attaches to the forward portion of the trigger, then runs vertically up into the receiver. When the trigger is puleed, the sear is drawn down so that it releases the hammer to be propelled forward by the hammer spring. There's a lot going on in that mechanism, particularly when the set trigger is used.

The crossbolt safety on this rifle locks the sear when it's pushed to the right. Once on safe, the safety is locked in position by a spring-loaded button entering from the front of the triggerguard. This buttom must be depressed and held in while the safety is pushed left to the fire position. The safety lock complicates the system a bit, but it's an attempt by Thompson/Center to head off one of those crazy lawsuits so prevalent these days. Thompson/Center devotes most of the space in its TCR '83 instruction manual to the operation of the trigger and the safety, and the hunter is well advised to read this carefully.

The buttstock and fore-end on the TCR '83 are made of walnut. There's not much figure in the stock of my rifle, but it looks good and is nicely finished. The buttstock, which is anchored to the receiver via a bolt passing through the center of the stock, has a classic comb design, a dainty cheekpiece and cut checkering on the pistol grip. A rubber butt pad is standard equipment. The length of pull on my rifle is 13-1/2 inches to the rear trigger, 14-1/4 inches to the front trigger. The fore-end, which attaches to the barrel shotgun fashion, also has functional cut checkering.

I could go on and on about the mechanics of the TCR '83, but this was covered in detail by Jon Sundra in the March 1983 issue of Guns & Ammo so there's no need to go all over it again. This article concerns the rifle's field performance.

I learned a number of things during my load development and accuracy tests with the TCR '83 .30-06. First, this rifle is no more nor any less accurate than any good .3-06 bolt-action sporter. This is really quite a compliment when you consider that all too often break-open and falling block actions won't perform on a par with a rigid bolt gun. Second, my TCR '83 .30-06 digests heavy loads just as well as do my bolt guns. There's a lot of steel in the massive receiver and plenty in the locking bolt system of this rifle, so you needn't worry about it balking when you feed it any reasonable handload.

Once I got the .30-06 tuned in, I switched over to the .223 Remington barrel so I could use it on a variety of varmints. Here again I found the accuracy to be good and it handled all of my handloads very well. Unfortuntely, my .223 barrel doesn't shoot any factory load with pinpoint accuracy. Remington Power Lokt hollow points and Federal spitzer boattail ammo turn in the best performances. Three-shot groups with these two particular factory loads run around the 1-1/4 to 1-1/2-inch mark.

Handloads, though, produce some excellent results and a few give the really superb groups I was hoping for. For hunting I settled on two loads. One, 22.8 grains of H4198 behind the 50-grain Sierra Blitz bullet produces a muzzle velocity of 3,208 feet per second (fps), and three shots will consistently group in 1/2 inch at 100 yards. This is the load I prefer for prairie dog and chuck shooting. For large varmints--badgers, coyotes, etc.--I prefer the Hornady 55-grain SX bullet pushed by 24.5 grains of H335 powder. This one gets out of the muzzle at 3,140 fps and makes mighty quick work of a varmint. The accuracy isn't quite as good as with my small varmint load, but groups hang in there at around .8 inch for three shots.

When you're shooting the TCR '83, bear in mind that it's a hunting rifle--a sporter--not a varmint or target rifle. The barrel is sporter weight. If you try to shoot multishot groups with it, or pour round after round at vrmints, the barrel will heat up and the point of bullet impact will change.

The first time I headed into the field with my TCR '83 for some serious varmint hunting, I encountered a problem I'm certain will plague many a hunter. I was driving my 4x4 pickup down an old rutted trail when a flurry of dust a hundred yards ahead caused me to brake to a stop. A badger was busy digging right in the center of one of the tracks. When I opened the door and grabbed the rifle from the gun rack, the badger stopped digging and stood half in and half out of the burrow, looking right at me. There was not time to get a steady position.

Standing offhand, I found the badger in the scope, pulled the back trigger to set the mechanism and reached for the front trigger. "Wham!" The bullet hit a foot above the varmint. I wasn't anywhere near on target when I reached for the front trigger and in the excitement of the moment I forgot that only a few ounces of pressure set that front trigger off. I bumped it with my finger and missed by a foot. At the bench the set trigger poses no problem, but during the excitement of the hunt--well, you have to be extra careful. With cold hands it becomes quite a problem. As far as simply firing with the front trigger is concerned, forget it. A 7-pound trigger pull is way too heavy for any hunting rifle.

As I see it, the double-set trigger on the TCR '83 is a mistake. Not one hunter in a hundred is experienced enough to handle it safely in the field. If the front triger were adjustable to 2-1/2 pounds, that would be different. But under the circumstances I think a good single-stage trigger will be the salvation of the TCR rifle. Is one in the mill at Thompson/Center? I have it on good authority that it is and that it will be available soon, perhaps even by the time you are reading this.

Following my own field tests of the TCR '83, I let other experienced hunters use it to bag a variety of varmints, a couple of pronghorns and the bull elk Bill collected. Following these hunts I asked for carefully considered comments. In every instance, the hunters felt that the TCR '83 needed a good single-stage trigger rather than the double-set design and all agreed that sling swivel studs should be standard equipment. A couple of shooters said that they would prefer automatic ejection to the simple extraction system, but most hunters like the idea of plucking the case from the chamber rather than having it flipped out into the mud or snow.

Overall, the consensus of opinion agreed with my evaluation--the TCR '83 is a strong, accurate, well-constructed hunting rifle. Aside from these rather obvious attributes, the feature of the TCR '83 that appeals most to me, and rew high praise from the others who used it, is interchangeable barrels. The initial cost of a complete rifle is $425, but for just $140 per barrel you can add whatever you need to cover everything from small varmints to the biggest game in North America. Such versatility at low cost can't help but be impressive. I wouldn't be surprised to see a varmint-weight barrel for the TCR '83 in the not-too-distant future and a shotgun barrel may be forthcoming. Consider the possibilities for just a moment and you'll understand why I predict that the Thompson/Center TCR '83 rifle is destined to become one of America's most popular hunting rifles.
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Title Annotation:evaluation
Author:Milek, Bob
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Mar 1, 1985
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