Groups consistently shot just over the 0.5in mark, which, for a factory sporter out of the box, is excellent.
By Bruce Potts
Thursday, 03 April 2008
Thompson Center Icon rifle review: Will the Thompson Center Icon rifle live up to its name?
Thompson Center Icon rifle review.
Having owned many Contender carbines in my life, I have long been a fan of Thompson Center (T/C) firearms.
This company certainly has the knack for producing highly versatile and compact hunting rifles, so it came as a welcome surprise when T/C announced that it had made a bolt-action rifle with detachable magazine and designed the rifle to reflect all the best that contemporary stalking rifles have to offer.
There are certainly similarities to the bolt from a RWS, as well as stock chequering panels comparable to a Sako, while the integral bedding block is reminiscent of the H-S Precision system.
Is this wrong? When it culminates in a capable non-custom stalking rifle, I think not.
Outwardly, the rifle has a conventional-looking steel action with a satin-finish black sheen. However, there are several good innovations, too.
First, the Icon comes without sights, but rather than have a go with the drill and tap the receiver for separate bases, there are integral Weaver-style bases built into the bridge of the receiver.
This is a common system and it has a wide range of scope rings that fit, so it makes sense and adds to the strength of the mounts. There are three slots for the front mount and two for the rear, giving a degree of flexibility for scope length mounting and positioning for optimum eye relief.
The left side of the action is heavily faceted, with the Icon name proudly showing with the bolt release lever, which is large and sited just behind it.
The ejection port is generous despite the receiver strap covering the top of the action. This adds to the strength, while not impeding cartridge manipulation thanks to the Icon's detachable magazine facility.
This one-piece CNC-machined solid receiver has one more interesting feature: the integral recoil lugs that are dispersed along the bottom of the flat action face. One is sited at the front receiver ring, one in the mid-section behind the magazine well and the third on the rear tang.
Changeable bolt system
The Icon bolt is large and heavy, and perfectly suits the action design. The three locking lugs are arranged in the T-format, with the bottom lug scooping up the cartridge from the magazine follower and the remaining two arranged at the 10 and two o'clock positions.
These ride smoothly in the action rails and give a good degree of bolt-face lock-up in the action recesses for strength and cartridge support. Extraction is via a T-slotted extractor in the right side bolt-lug, which grips the case's rim securely.
Ejection is accomplished by a more typical plunger ejector, which is sprung into the face of the bolt itself. A low bolt lift of only 60 degrees avoids any contact with the scope during operation, as well as allowing the bolt handles to be changed with the supplied bolt dismantling tool, which offers a versatile bolt.
The bolt body is beautifully jewelled along its entire length and the rear section has a shallow scalloped cocking piece with twin side flutes and a protruding cocking indicator.
All in all, it is a well thought-out bolt, though the spoon handle design supplied may not be to everyone's taste and was a bit uncomfortable as you closed the bolt.
Trigger and safety
The safety is a two-position one, allowing the stalker to load and unload the rifle with the safety on. The safety lever is a rocker type, with the forward position indicating a red dot, while the rear position puts the rifle in safe mode.
There is the addition of a catch - the Bolt Lok - and when pushed, this locks the bolt in case of unwanted movement while out in the field and crawling around.
As the safety is switched off, the Bolt Lok automatically disengages. Use of this feature is, however, entirely up to the individual.
The trigger is more conventional, but it has a good degree of adjustments on offer. Trigger pressure is set at just more than 3lb, which is fine and safe on a stalking rifle. It broke cleanly with only a small creep on take-up.
There are adjustments that can be made to eliminate this, as well as to regulate over-travel of the trigger. A tool is supplied to vary the weight of pull if desired. In all, this is not a bad trigger for an American rifle.
Magazine and calibre choice
At present the calibre choice is not that varied, with the only available calibres being .22-250, .243 and .308. There is one more new calibre, a collaboration with Hornady named the 30 TC, which is a small, efficient case design that emulates the performance of a .30-06 cartridge.
However, for this test, I chose the more conventional .308. The barrel has a slim-weight sporter profile and its muzzle is unthreaded, which is a shame, but understandable at present.
The muzzle is finished in a brighter blue than the receiver.
Construction is of Match-grade chrome moly, with a button-rifled interior and is 24in long. The attached factory test target attests to the certificated below 1in groups at 100 yards.
Cartridge delivery is via a nice detachable magazine that is sited in an integral aluminium floorplate and trigger-guard. The rifle has a capacity of three rounds in all the calibres listed and the magazine has a metal base with plastic sides. A small catch easily releases the magazine.
Chequering and stock
T/C has always had access to a good supply of quality walnut, and the Icon continues in this tradition. The stock exhibits well-figured walnut with good colour and is finished in a semi-matt lustre.
The contours are classic sporter with a low, straight comb and no cheekpiece topped off with a black, solid rubber recoil pad and sling-swivel studs.
Chequering is good and not dissimilar to the pattern used on a Sako rifle the panels are bisected by a solid, thin unchequered line. The actual chequering is fine, with 20 lines per inch, which really sets off the good-looking stock.
Beauty is not just skin deep - the Icon has a clever system to maximise accuracy and consistency by using a one-piece aluminium bedding-block. It is into this that the action's three integral recoil lugs sit.
This maintains a consistent and strong block for uniform bedding. In the design of this rifle, T/C has taken a considered approach and not skimped on the costs.
I fitted a Leupold variable scope for testing and, when set up, the Icon was well-balanced, though the stock comb could do with being a little higher.
The bolt operation was smooth and though the bolt handle could be more comfortable and a bit longer, it all functioned without fault.
I started the accuracy testing using some factory fodder, chiefly Norma, Federal, Winchester and RWS. The Icon in .308 calibre definitely suited the 150-grain bullet weights best, with all the loads printing just under the magical inch mark at 100 yards for three shots.
The Federal Premium loads shot some consistent 0.8in groups centre to centre, with a mean velocity of 2,792fps that generated 2,597ft/lb energy. This would be my factory choice for this rifle. However, with the stiff action, proper bedding and free-floating barrel, a good handload might shrink those group sizes somewhat.
Venturing above 170-grain Nosler Partition weight showed that the Icon preferred lighter bullets, so I avoided the 180- to 220-grain class.
I tried various powders from RL15 to Vit N140 and even some IMR4895, but settled on Varget as the preferred propellant. Using 150-grain Nosler ballistic tips with a load of 46 grains of Varget and a Federal Match primer, the Icon could print 0.65in groups, but reducing the powder weight by one grain hit a great velocity of 2,757fps and an energy figure of 2,532ft/lb.
Groups then consistently shot just over the 0.5in mark, which, for a factory sporter out of the box, is excellent.
For a first effort into the repeater rifle market T/C must be commended. There might have been a blending of ideas, but as a whole package, what a difference that makes.
Great wood quality and handling, more than good enough accuracy with the right loads, a respectable trigger and a great bedding system.
Perhaps the only sub-standard element is the bolt handle.
The price of just less than £1,000 might put people off when compared with a Sako or a cheaper Tikka T3, but the T/C will be one of those rifles that has a select band of followers and it will be very interesting to see what variants will spring up in time.
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