Custom Lengths, Weights And Chamberings Expand
The Horizons For The Versatile T/C Encore.
By Mark Hampton
Thompson/Center’s Encore has been a constant companion to hunters and shooters alike. Today T/C lists the popular calibers, but if you want a cartridge not listed, a heavy or lighter barrel profile, shorter or longer barrel than offered, or any other modifications, you must turn to custom barrel manufacturers. Enter Bullberry Barrel Works out of Hurricane, Utah.
Fred Smith started his company in 1980 out of the family garage. Bullberry is a small, family-owned business with a primary focus on providing custom barrels and woodwork for T/C break-action firearms. My first introduction to Bullberry custom barrels came during a long-range handgun competition in Wyoming. Good friend Pat Surline won the 1,000-yard event with an Encore fitted with a Bullberry .260 Remington barrel. What was a bit surprising, Pat won this event against competitors shooting highly customized bolt-actions pistols. It is extremely challenging for break-action guns like an Encore to stay in the race with hugely modified XP-100’s and similar guns.
After this event, Pat’s success prompted me to order a .260 Remington from Bullberry. I chose a 1:9-inch twist for 120- to 130-grain bullets and requested a full-bull, 1-inch diameter barrel for added weight. Bullberry installed one of their muzzlebrakes which helped tame recoil and muzzle rise. A Leupold VX-3i, 4.5-14X was fitted in Warne rings. After experimenting with several premium bullets from Hornady, Nosler, Barnes and Sierra, I settled on Sierra’s 123-grain HPBT. Other components included Lapua brass, Federal 210 Match primers and Varget powder. The .260 Remington consistently shot sub-MOA groups when I held up my end of the deal.
Well, it was quite shocking when I finished 2nd Place in the 1,000-yard competition last year with the Bullberry .260 Remington. Without doubt, the gun shoots a lot better than I do. So now I started considering other offerings in calibers I would use for hunting big game.
For pursuing medium-sized game, I have always liked the garden variety .308 Win. So I had Bullberry make up a 15-inch, full-bull, with muzzlebrake. They installed one of their custom fore-ends and do they ever have some nice looking stocks! A Burris 3-12X handgun scope was fitted in another set of Warne rings. This particular barrel seemed to prefer Hornady’s 150-grain GMX offering. The Encore fitted with a Bullberry barrel saw its first round of action in Kyrgyzstan for Tien Shan argali. These magnificent rams are most challenging and several folks thought I had lost my mind by taking a handgun for such an adventure.
This Tien Shan argali (above) was taken with a Bullberry .308 Win barrel shooting
Hornady’s 150-grain GMX. One well-placed 251-yard shot did the trick. Shooting
accurately with the Encore with Bullberry .338 Federal barrel and Leupold 2.5-8X
scope (below) is a snap from the portable Bog-Pod rest.
After belly-crawling in the snow for over 200 yards, my local guide and I found ourselves behind a group of boulders. I placed a pair of gloves on top of a rock and rested the Encore. According to the Leica rangefinder, the ram was exactly 251 yards away. When the crosshairs finally settled, I slowly tugged the trigger. The big ram dropped and never moved. The local guide was in a state of disbelief and I was the happiest country boy in Asia!
After two good experiences with Bullberry barrels I had to try one more. This time a .338 Federal was made with the same 15-inch tube, full-bull, with muzzle-brake. A Leupold 2.5-8X was mounted in Warne base and rings. Bullberry had modified a T/C fore-end to accept their hanger bar system. It was a bit more utilitarian than a piece of eye-popping fancy wood, but this gun was going to see some abuse. While the .338 Federal is not the most popular round in hunting circles, it is a great medium-range cartridge for big game. This handgun got its debut in a remote area of Mozambique.
After several tough days of hunting we finally took a nice bushpig and a monster Livingstone eland. I was shooting Federal factory ammo with Nosler’s 180-grain Accubond. The results were more than satisfactory. A big eland bull will weigh approximately 1,500 pounds and the .338 Federal handled this task perfectly. On the way home we stopped in South Africa for a few days and the .338 Federal continued to perform. In total, 7 shots for 7 head of game.
Well, by now I’m beginning to really like Bullberry barrels, and for good reason. They are available in a plethora of calibers. Barrel profiles also come in a variety of configurations from light sporter tapers, 0.600-inch muzzle diameter, all the way to full-bull target versions—straight 1-inch diameter to the muzzle. Bullberry’s match-grade barrels come from Douglas, Wilson Arms, and Pac-Nor depending on caliber, twist, or customer request. Precision chambers are cut and polished to minimum dimensions with an 11-degree benchrest crown. Both high-polished blue and stainless barrels are available.
This 500-yard target was shot with the .260 Rem Bullberry barrel fitted with
Leupold’s VX3i, 4.5-14X scope. Three, 5-shot groups measured 4.75, 5.50, and
6.50 inches. Colored markers indicate 5-shot groups, and the last 5 rounds
were not marked. Sierra’s 123-grain HPBT under 39.3 grains of Varget in
Lapua brass with Federal 210 Match primers worked well.
The Bullberry .338 Federal Encore barrel was topped with a Leupold
2.5-8X scope in Warne rings.
Bullberry also offers custom woodwork with some mighty impressive exhibition grade stocks. Their fore-ends are made to fit Bullberry’s hangar bar system, which they claim is the key to their accuracy guarantee of sub-MOA. They make their own hangar bars plus Weaver-style bases. Want some engraving on your frame or barrel? No problem. Bullberry provides this as well as other gunsmithing services. This company thrives on accuracy and the proof is in the meat on the table, or competition trophy on the mantelpiece.
Regardless of whether you’re a dedicated handgun hunter, competition shooter, steel banger, small game hunter, or just enjoy recreational shooting, Bullberry has a T/C barrel for any application. They offer a tremendous amount of options and are made right here in the USA. I have shot these products enough now to have a lot of confidence in their capability. As a matter of fact, I’ll be following pygmy trackers in the rainforest of Cameroon in a few months and the Bullberry .338 Federal will be in my hands. I know there is a dwarf forest buffalo out there somewhere that will not be happy when he meets the Bullberry.
Bullberry Barrel Works
2430 West 350 North
Hurricane, Utah 84737
Bog-Pod, Battenfeld Technologies
2501 Lemone Industrial Blvd.
Columbia, MO 65201
331 E. 8th St.
Greenley, CO 80631
Leupold & Stevens
14400 NW Greenbrier Parkway
Beaverton, OR 97006
2100 Roosevelt Ave.
Springfield, MA 01104
9500 SW Tualatin Rd.
Tualatin, OR 97062