T/C’s New “Value-Price” Rifle Is Short
On Price, Amazingly Long On Value
By Dave Anderson
Over the last few years there’s been a minor revolution in the design and manufacture of hunting rifles. I’m thinking of the so-called “value priced” or “entry level” rifles currently available. Now, logic would tell us if we get a less-expensive rifle, we should expect some lesser level of performance.
But this isn’t what’s happening. We are getting features and performance from value-priced rifles comparable with rifles costing two or three times as much. In fact—dare I say it?—sometimes the value rifles perform better.
Recently I had the opportunity to put several hundred rounds through one of the newest value-priced rifles, the Thompson/Center Compass. Along with several other outdoor writers, I spent two days shooting targets on the range and prairie dogs in the field. We stayed at Firesteel Creek Lodge in northwest South Dakota. Everything about the lodge—accommodation, meals, organization, guides, and shooting opportunities—was splendid.
The T/C Compass balances and handles beautifully, operates smoothly and reliably, has a clean, crisp, consistent trigger, maintains point of impact whether hot or cold, clean or dirty, and is guaranteed to provide minute-of-angle accuracy.
After over 300 rounds without cleaning it was still delivering 5-shot MOA groups. Everything a rifle is supposed to do it does, and does well, all for a price of $399 (and actual “street prices” will almost certainly be less). So just exactly what are we giving up with the Compass? Darned if I know.
The receiver is a steel tube, very strong and rigid. The rifle comes with scope bases attached. The loading port is large enough to permit single cartridge loading but leaves plenty of steel to maintain rigidity.
Instead of an integral recoil lug as part of the receiver, the Compass uses the system I first saw used on the Tikka T3. There’s a slot cut into the bottom of the receiver ring which engages a recoil plate embedded in the stock.
When I first saw this design on the T3 I was convinced it wouldn’t work. A rifle receiver is supposed to have a big flat bedding surface and a big integral recoil lug. This I knew with absolute certainty.
In the world of rifles, reality trumps theory. I can provide theories why it shouldn’t work, why it won’t be as accurate, why it won’t be as durable. And the theories would all be wrong because it does work.
The bolt body is another steel tube sized to fit the round opening in the receiver. A separate section with three locking lugs fits into the front of the body and is secured with a heavy cross-bolt, and the bolt handle is a third component dovetailed into the bolt body. The safety is a 3-position wing-type on the bolt, similar to the Winchester Model 70.
Bolt lift is 60 degrees so there is plenty of clearance when operating the bolt. The extractor is a hook-type, which gets a good bite on the case, and the ejector a spring-loaded pin in the bolt face.
One look at the trigger design and veteran rifle enthusiasts will be saying “original Winchester Model 70!” In appearance and operation it is very similar to that classic setup.
The design has many virtues. It is safe and reliable. Properly made and adjusted it provides a crisp and consistent trigger break. It is a very “tough” design, safe and consistent even in rapid fire when the bolt is cycled hard and fast, or in extreme conditions of cold and hot. And being an open design it is easy to keep clean.
I’ve used this design on dozens of Winchesters and like it very much. The only negative I see is it’s not easily set for a really light pull. The lightest (after adjustment) of any of my M70’s is about 2-1/2 pounds. Most are in the 3-pound+ range.
Thompson/Center says the Compass trigger can be owner-adjusted over a range of 3-1/2 to 5 pounds. I can live with a 3-1/2 pound pull on a big-game rifle, but really prefer a lighter one on a varmint or target rifle.
Weight of pull is just one aspect of a good trigger, and not the most vital one. Consistency is most important. Here is where the Compass trigger excels. The break was crisp, clean, with no perceptible creep or significant overtravel. And it felt the same for every shot.
While billed as an entry-level rifle, the Compass boasts featureonce
considered custom options not so long ago. Dave liked the classic,
straight-comb stock and cheekpiece. The scope is a Leupold VX-2 4-12×50.
The Compass is available in calibers from .204 Ruger to .300 Win Mag,
and Dave’s was in 5.56/.223. This 5-shot 100-yard group measures 1.03
inches, using Hornady 55-grain V-Max ammo. It was fired after Dave had
put at least 300 rounds through the rifle without cleaning it.
The Compass barrels are button-rifled, free floated all the way back to the receiver, and have a threaded muzzle for accessories such as suppressors and compensators. Rifling is the “5R” style with five lands and grooves. The sides of the lands are at a gentler angle to the bore than conventional rifling.
I’d take a lot of convincing to believe 5R rifling is inherently more accurate. I’ve had splendid barrels with 3-, 4-, 5- and 6-groove conventional rifling. I think when you’re talking custom barrels, the level of workmanship and materials used is what is important. Custom barrels are typically very smooth, making them slow to foul and easy to clean.
But we aren’t talking custom barrels here. A fairer comparison is with conventionally rifled barrels used on other value-priced rifles. Many are very good, but I’ve tested several which copper-fouled quickly, requiring rigorous cleaning after as few as 15 or 20 shots. Sometimes it took 300 to 500 rounds before the bores smoothed up.
Some speculate the sharp angle of lands to bore with conventional rifling tends to trap and hold fouling so it builds up more quickly and is harder to clean. By comparison the gentler angle of “R” rifling has no sharp corners, making the bore slower to foul and easier to clean.
Again, this is theory. What matters is what the rifle tells us. What I can say as fact is this: Over two days I saw three Compass rifles fire between 300 to 400 rounds each with no cleaning and with no loss of accuracy. So while 5R rifling may be no advantage with custom barrels, it may be an effective way to provide accurate, slow-to-foul barrels at moderate cost.
Even with one shot out of the group, this one measures 0.65-inch, and yes, there are
4 in one ragged hole. Dave thinks there was a lot of good luck involved and wouldn’t
bet he could do it again on demand.
The trigger is similar in design to that of the classic Winchester Model 70. It’s tough,
reliable and consistent. At 3-1/2 pounds the pull was a bit heavier than Dave likes,
but it was nonetheless crisp with virtually no creep or overtravel.
The Compass feeds from a synthetic, detachable rotary magazine. The two I used were both completely reliable. How durable they will prove I can’t say. Like many an old-timer I tend to regard plastic with suspicion, even though I understand modern synthetics can be amazingly strong.
I found the magazines easy to load except for the last cartridge, which seemed a bit “fiddly” (to use a technical term). The only other operating issue was the safety. When new it took quite a bit of pressure to engage. After cycling it back and forth 30 or 40 times it smoothed up considerably.
Any other criticisms tend to reflect my personal tastes. I’d like to see the trigger pull user-adjustable to around 2-1/2 pounds. Since I like longer bullets with high ballistic coefficients for longer range shooting, I think barrel twists for some cartridges could be faster. For example, the .223 has a 1:9-inch twist, the .243 a 1:10. Given my druthers I’d have a 1:8 twist on both.
But all nitpicking aside, the Compass is a fine rifle and an amazing value. It’s accurate, reliable, high-performing and moderately priced.
Firesteel Creek Lodge
Isabel, SD 57633
Hornady Manufacturing Co.
3625 West Old Potash Hwy.
Grand Island, NE 68803
Leupold & Stevens
14400 NW Greenbrier Pkwy.
Beaverton, OR 97006-5790
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