Thompson/Center Venture Predator
In .204 Ruger.
When we turned off the highway onto the driveway leading into the ranch, my pulse began to quicken. It wasn’t my first time varmint hunting in Wyoming, which is probably why I was so excited. I knew what to expect of the country. It was stunningly beautiful and abounded with a seemingly unending amount of wildlife, especially varmints. The unknown factor on this trip was how well my rifle would hold up to the challenge of this country.
T/C recognized the desire of many varmint hunters to have a gun purpose-built from the ground up. The Venture Predator was created with this in mind. The gun is built on the basic Venture action, which has a solid steel receiver featuring some nice scalloping on the sides that shave some weight, while giving it an attractive look. The bell-style bolt handle is finished in T/C’s Weather Shield finish for enhanced durability. The bolt is Nitrite coated and precisely fitted, providing a fast and smooth-cycling action usually found on much more expensive rifles. The bolt also has a short 60-degree throw, which also makes for fast follow-up shots and easy clearance of optics.
Mated to this action is a 22″, light, fluted barrel that has T/C’s 5R rifling. 5R rifling provides for less bullet deformation, better gas seal, greater bullet stability and makes for easier cleaning. These barrels have a reputation for superb accuracy and longevity. On the muzzle end it has a recessed target-style crown. I am a big fan of crowns like this on hunting guns, to help protect them from the rigors of the field. The action is mated to a dual-pillar bedded synthetic stock. This stock is very lightweight, incorporating the triggerguard and magazine housing, which also helps lower the retail price. The removable magazine is polymer, holds three rounds and extends just slightly below the stock when fully seated. I would like to have seen it hold one more round, which is more common for magazines this size. However, it functions flawlessly and is inexpensive enough to have several magazines on hand. The stock has Hogue rubber inlays in the grip areas that greatly aid in the handling and comfort of this rifle. At the back end is a soft-rubber recoil pad, which is a welcome feature for long days of high volumes of fire in the prairie dog fields. The entire barrel, action and stock are finished in Realtree Max-1 camo, giving this gun a great look and making it superbly functional in the varmint arena.
The Venture Predator doesn’t have iron sights, indicating T/C expects shooters to put an optic on this gun, and rightly so. The Predator is available in .308, .22-250, .223 and the relatively new .204 Ruger, all calibers that are best suited with a long-range optic. The gun I tested was in .204 Ruger, making this my first experience with both this gun and caliber.
To really get the most out of this gun, it needed a great optic to put on it. Burris makes some of the best optics on the planet and has been overshadowed in the past by more popular or flashier companies. For this gun, I went with their Black Diamond 4-16X50mm scope with the Ballistic Plex reticle. The Black Diamond series of scopes is designed specifically for super long-range shooting. I really like the Ballistic Plex reticle because it gives you three elevation marks without cluttering up your viewing area with a bunch of unnecessary marks. These scopes are truly built to last you a lifetime. They feature a larger 30mm tube for a greater viewing area and more light transmission. Their Posi-Lock turrets provide repeatable accuracy year after year, while holding their zero with the heaviest recoiling calibers. Burris uses special quad-seal O-rings to ensure their ultra pure nitrogen stays put, keeping the scope waterproof and fog proof under the harshest conditions.
The Perfect Partner
The .204 Ruger came out in 2004 as a partnership between Hornady and Ruger. Hornady based the .204 on the .222 Remington Magnum cartridge, which they necked down to .204. Using their .32-gr. V-Max bullet and their proprietary SMP746 Primex powder, they are claiming to get velocities of 4,225 fps out of a 24″ barrel. I can believe it since I was getting an average of 4,130 fps out of the Venture Predator’s 22″ barrel. Hornady offers this round in .32-, .40- and .45-gr. loads making it great for most small- to medium-sized varmint hunting.
Most rifle tests entail taking the gun to the range and maybe, if you’re lucky, getting it into the field. Often times, even if you get it into the field, there is no guarantee you will find any animals to shoot at. I took it to the range and did the usual group testing. It shot sub-MOA groups with some of them closer to 1/2″. The combination of a fast, accurate cartridge, great rifle and high-quality, super-clear optic make it almost boring to shoot groups on paper. So the real fun came when I had the opportunity to spend three days shooting this gun in the prairie dog infested country of southern Wyoming on the Spur Ranch. This proved to be a great test for a great rifle. For those who haven’t had the opportunity to go on a prairie dog shoot, it is quite an experience. Prairie dogs are naturally prolific creatures and if left unchecked, will wipe themselves out through over population and disease. They are also a menace to the farmers and cattle ranchers due to the thousands of holes they dig and the crops they eat. Studies have shown by controlling the population, ranchers actually maintain their prairie dog numbers year to year.
Based on its design and features, the Venture Predator isn’t your ideal rifle for any high-volume shooting. This typically requires a rifle with a much heavier barrel to maintain accuracy after getting super heated. The Predator is designed as a varmint rifle for hunting such animals as coyotes, where the hunter may need to shoot fast after hiking into the hills. This rifle easily lives up to this expectation. I took several coyotes with it at ranges varying from 50 to 200 yards and the gun carries easily on the shoulder. It did just fine on the flat prairies as well. The rifle’s light weight made it easy to shoot from various less-than-stable positions, such as kneeling or leaning against an object. It was extremely stable when proned out on the grass using a Harris bipod. This is also where the Burris Black Diamond scope shined. Its wide and clear field of view made it easy to spot the next dog, while the Ballistic Plex reticle made for fast aiming. This scope also comes with a sunshade, which is handy on long shots at mini bears on a sunny day.
The work T/C put into the bolt really paid off. I was able to stay on the gun while quickly cycling the bolt for follow up shots. The short throw not only helped with speed, but kept my knuckles from banging into the scope. Though the gun has a lightweight barrel, it held its accuracy even through long strings of rapid fire. What do I mean by this? Well, I had four magazines and a pocket full of ammo. On at least a dozen occasions, I found myself prone overlooking a field full of prairie dogs at distances ranging from 25 to 500 yards. Many times I would go through all four magazines as quick as I could aim and shoot. Then reload each one, then go through them all again and do this several times before the action slowed down. I finally noticed the accuracy fading when we found the mother of all prairie dog towns. I fired shot after shot as fast as I could reload. After I had a pile of brass next to me of over 60 spent cartridges, I noticed the gun start to throw some fliers. The barrel was smoking hot! This is far more shooting than most shooters will be doing and way beyond what this gun was intended for, but it sure was fun! I expect most guns to start throwing rounds after they heat up but I was very impressed with how long it took for the Predator to get to that point.
T/C continues to impress me with each new rifle they produce. They are maintaining great quality, while designing guns the average shooter can afford. The Venture Predator is an example of what can be accomplished when a company pays attention to the American consumer but still maintains their attention to innovation and craftsmanship.
Story By: John Russo
Photos By: Joseph R. Novelozo
Looking For More? Get It From The GUNS Magazine 2012 Special Edition