A Modern Day "Big 50"

The Ultimate Utilitarian Single-Shot!
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Groups were shot at 50 yards due to the Weaver fixed 2.5X scope. As you can see, the combination is very accurate.

Always fascinated by the buffalo hunters of the 19th century, I read as much about them as possible as a kid. Their rifles of choice were big bore, single-shot rifles. Capable of making long shots of 600 or 700 yards, these cast paper-patched slugs did their job. Skilled shooters could shoot twice the mentioned distances. They’d hunt hard all day and sit around the campfire at night, re-melt their recovered bullets, cast new ones, patch them then load for the next day’s hunt.

For a kid with an active imagination, this sounded like a pretty good lifestyle. I’d practice their methods, melting lead wheel weights over an open fire and small frying pan I “borrowed” from the kitchen cabinet. (Mom wasn’t really happy about my reenactment shenanigans but let me keep the skillet for some reason.) I’d pour the melted lead into holes I dug in the ground roughly the shape of a big buffalo slug. Then I’d dig them out and re-melt them. What else could I do? I had no rifle.

Buffalo Buster — The TC Encore with 20" Katahdin barrel makes for a
compact package with plenty of power. Shown here with a Simply Rugged Alaskan sling.

Rifles

The buffalo hunters had rifles, including the Springfield Trapdoor, Sharps and Remington rolling blocks. The .50-70 Government was the service round of the day and was a popular choice for the hunters. Introduced in 1866, the 0.515″ diameter bullet weighing 550 grains could be driven 1,375 fps. A 400-grain slug could be pushed to 1,849 fps.

Buffalo Bill Cody used a Springfield model 1866 in .50-70 while hunting buffalo for the railroad. General George Custer was known to have used a sporterized rolling block .50-70. These originals are pricey now but there’s a more economical way to experience the joys of owning and shooting a “Big Fifty” single-shot rifle.

Handloads were assembled using Hornady dies on Tank’s Lee Classic Turret press.

A Utilitarian Dynamo

The Thompson/Center Encore frame allows for some interesting and useful barrel attachments. I’ve longed for the Katahdin series of barrels for years and eventually purchased them before T/C was bought by S&W. These handy carbine length barrels are 20″ but seem shorter since these break-action, single-shot barrels have no magazine. This accomplishes the slickest, handiest carbine packing plenty of punch for the .500 S&W, or .460 S&W Katahdin barrels.

The .500 S&W is an accurate round, packing enormous energy for any dangerous game walking the earth. This includes Cape Buffalo, Grizzly Bear or elephant. It also handles whitetail deer handily. With today’s “straight walled” cartridge zones, the .500 S&W makes for a fun day afield. Deer I’ve shot react as if hit by a brick — and with no wonder! Same goes for pigs. The 20″ barrel length provides 200–300 more fps due to its longer length than handguns, giving it “free” energy.

Lee’s $25 mold makes some of the best bullets Tank has ever shot. It’s loaded
over a stiff dose of H110 powder inside Starline brass and sparked by a Winchester large rifle primer.

Shooting

My personal TC Pro Encore is outfitted with an old Weaver fixed 2.5X scope. It also has a Simply Rugged Alaskan sling of minimalist design and a TC hammer spur to make cocking the hammer easier. Shooting was done at 50 yards due to the scope’s low magnification and I wanted to show just how accurate the TC Encore can be. Shooting was done with the rifle resting on a carpeted block of wood with a sandbag on top of it.

Handloads included a Lee cast bullet weighing 440 grains of WFNGC (wide flat-nose gas check) design loaded over 38 grains of H110 powder and sparked by a Winchester large rifle primer. Velocity averages 1,962 fps. This is a favorite load proving top-grade, accurate ammo can be constructed using an economical $25 Lee mold for projectiles. Ammunition was assembled with Hornady dies on my Lee Classic Turret press.

Factory ammo consisted of Big Horn Armory Hornady 350-grain XTP bullets running 2,181 fps. Last was Buffalo Bore 400-grain jacketed flat-nose bullets going 2,024 fps. Most groups were under 1″ with the largest group just under 2″.

This packable carbine is indeed accurate and has all the power one would need. The TC Encore can also shoot .500 Auto Max ammo, which is 500 S&W brass with the rim turned down. Greg Buchel of Big Horn Armory and Tim Sundles of Buffalo Bore Ammo came up with this cartridge for the Big Horn Armory AR500. The TC Encore extractor fits perfectly in the rim groove, extracting fired brass from the chamber like it was made for it. The factory loads were in fact .500 Auto Max loads for this test.

Test ammo included .500 Auto Max loads from (top - bottom) Big Bore Armory, Buffalo Bore and Tank’s handload.

Testimonial

If you’re looking for a light, powerful, compact big-bore .50-caliber rifle capable of knocking down the largest of carnivores, look around for a TC Encore Katahdin barrel in .500 S&W. You won’t be sorry, but the game you are hunting will be. Or, if you simply like punching big holes in paper, crushing rocks, or making geysers of dirt, the TC Katahdin .500 S&W barrel is just for you.

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