Do You Carry A Compass? T/C thinks you should. Its newest bargain-priced rifle makes a compelling argument!
If you said the Compass is just another entry-level hunting rifle, you’d be right. Sort of. At a list price of $399, it costs less than 40 percent of what I paid for one big game license this year! And, up until December 31st, T/C has sweetened the deal even further with a $75 mail-in rebate. For hunters just dipping their toe in the sport, or for whom November has many other distractions, the Compass packs all the power, accuracy and reliability they’ll need during annual sits in the deer woods.
But “entry-level” doesn’t cover either the rifle or its applications. The Compass has features you might expect only on more costly rifles. And if your gun safe is already crowded, your pickup rack may not be. How many of your centerfires are compact, durable and so inexpensive you don’t mind if they get a few handling dings or collect a little road dust?
Opening the T/C box, I didn’t salivate. The Compass is a blued bolt-action with a molded black polymer stock, one of a growing cohort promising, solid service at a bargain. But this rifle has roots that reach back to the Icon, a ground-breaking rifle at its inception a decade ago. My early hunts with the Icon took me to Africa, where it—and the then-new 6.5 Creedmoor cartridge—felled animals as elusive as vaal rhebok and as big as eland. The rifle’s stiff receiver and excellent T/C barrel promised and delivered MOA accuracy in range trials at 200 yards.
But the Icon was heavier than its competition, and priced on the high side of mid-range. In 2009 T/C announced the Venture, at $499 about half the price of an Icon. Fashioning receivers from bar stock and replacing the Icon’s figured walnut with polymer dramatically reduced production cost.
Like its forebears, the Compass runs a full-diameter bolt relieved behind three equidistant locking lugs that afford you a shallow 60-degree bolt lift. Gobs of scope clearance. Fast cycling. The lug-mounted extractor works with a plunger ejector in the recessed bolt face. The left-side bolt release appears identical to that on the Icon. But instead of a two-position thumb safety peeking from the stock below and right of the bridge, the Compass has a 3-position, Model 70-style wing safety on the bolt shroud. Brilliant!
The trigger on this rifle resembles the Winchester 70s too, albeit there’s additional hardware. As my sample Compass came with a 5.5-pound let-off, I removed the stock to drain ounces from this “user-adjustable” trigger. Neither the requisite wrench nor an appropriate screw-driver was provided. Quarter-inch wrenches proved too small, 5/16 too big. Also, I found the lower nut secured with hard glue. So yes, this trigger is user-adjustable—for the equipped and persistent. Mustering a smile, I’ll say the pull is clean and consistent, with almost no perceptible take-up.
Sliding smoothly in its race, courtesy a guide-groove that engages a tooth in the bolt release, the Compass bolt has a conical/cylindrical knob that seems to be replacing the traditional spherical knob on many new rifles. It tucks tight to the stock but is easy to reach.
The tubular chrome-moly receiver is held to the stock with two identical hex-head guard screws inserted through alloy pillars. The steel recoil lug is imbedded in the stock, engaging a cross-groove in the belly of the receiver ring. This arrangement, a cost savings, seems as functional as the traditional receiver lug forged with the ring. On top, the Compass is drilled and tapped for Weaver scope bases, which T/C provides with each rifle.
Rotary magazines appeared over a century ago. They’re at last getting the attention they deserve, mainly because they can now be fashioned as detachable polymer boxes—a much less expensive effort than machining a cavity in a steel receiver blank! The Compass magazine fits snugly, secured in front by a flimsy-looking but functional polymer latch attached to the magazine. Easy to insert and to extract, the box is lightweight and feeds cartridges smoothly. T/C lists it as a 5-shot magazine for the nine standard Compass chamberings, a 4-shot in 7mm Remington and .300 Winchester Magnums. I found resistance pretty stiff after loading four 6.5 Creedmoor rounds in my rifle.
The slender 22-inch Compass barrel (24 inches for magnums) floats, and boasts the popular “5R” rifling that appeared some years ago at T/C. Naturally, twist rate depends on the chambering; it’s 1-in-8 for the 6.5 Creedmoor. The selling point to this rifling form: minimal bullet distortion. T/C button-rifles its Compass barrels and guarantees minute-of-angle groups with factory loads. In a nod to current trends, it also threads the muzzles for suppressors and brakes – 1/2-28 for .204, .223 and .22-250; 5/8-24 for .243 to .300 Win. Mag. All come with knurled caps.
Equipped with a pliable 3/4-inch recoil pad, an integral trigger guard and standard sling swivel studs, the molded Compass stock has sleek lines, a straight comb and open wrist. I like all that, am less inspired by its reverse-angle nose. Hands cold and wet? The functional texturing at wrist and forend (also helpfully troughed) keeps you in control. This stock feels agile. Not as stiff as some shooters might want for hard bipod use, it’s solid enough from traditional hunting positions, and its light weight holds overall rifle heft to 7.4 pounds. The comb positions my eye just right for a low-mounted scope but offers plenty of support for quick aim through the Nightforce 4-14×50 I installed in medium rings.
At the range, the rifle fed three types of ammunition (Federal, Hornady and Creedmoor brands) without a hitch. The magazine wasn’t designed for single feed, and cartridges dropped into the smallish port fall well below line of bore so they won’t chamber readily. However, tipping the rifle to so the case rolls against the left receiver wall is a quick solution. The cartridge then noses readily into the chamber. Not that hunters will use the Compass as a single-shot; but I’ve fired in hunting-rifle matches that prohibited magazine loading, so this is always a check-box in range trials.
From the start, this rifle showed a preference for 140-grain bullets over lighter weights. It showed an eagerness to shoot them well and meet T/C’s 1-MOA guarantee. My first group with Federal Fusion ammo measured exactly an inch, and tighter knots ensued. Impressed by such intrinsic accuracy, I found it hard to tap. Tugging on that 5.4-pound trigger made this lightweight rifle tremble. The movement came clear at 14x, and my calls when shots broke off-center were usually correct. No doubt a lighter trigger will help deliver groups that better reflect Compass capabilities.
Overall, T/C’s Compass impresses me with its salient features: three-lug bolt with 60-degree lift, new 3-position safety, well-fitted rotary magazine of quiet polymer, excellent barrel. The trigger is of well-proven design and obviously will respond to adjustments. T/C could make such adjustment easier for those shooters who don’t have a tool-room.
Whether you’re considering a Compass for your first rifle, or as another of many, it seems to me a fine bargain—sturdy, reliable, smooth-cycling and accurate. What more could you ask for at $399?
For one New York toolmaker, the end of WW II marked the birth of his own company. From his Long Island garage, Kenneth Thompson produced molds and tooling for the investment casting industry. Ken had good business sense, and his enterprise grew fast. He was also “good to work for.” Twenty-five years ago, researching for my book, America’s Great Gunmakers, I spoke with men who had been with the company 40 years!
In 1963 Thompson and crew moved the operation to Rochester, New Hampshire. It proved a fine place to re-establish. Its woolen mills and shoe factories were struggling, so Thompson got excellent hires for reasonable wages. But seasonal swings in demand for investment casting tools throttled growth. One solution: design and sell a consumer product. Thompson’s operation was already making gun parts, so….
In 1965 Warren Center joined the firm. A skilled machinist and die maker, he had also built guns for Iver Johnson and Harrington & Richardson. In his basement shop, Center had designed a single-shot pistol. He’d applied for patents and was looking for a manufacturer. Thompson took on the project.
The first Contender pistol came off the line in 1967. It had a unique profile not all shooters liked. And it wasn’t cheap. But its barrel-switching feature allowed shooters to easily fit several barrels to one breech. Chamberings like the .30-30 Win. and .35 Rem. gave it the muscle for any North American game.
By 1970 Ken Thompson and Warren Center had formed Thompson/Center Arms and were hard at work on new designs. The Hawken muzzle-loading rifle appeared first, followed by other black-powder guns. For the second time in four years, the factory doubled in size. In 1982 the firm bought 15 acres for future expansion. The next year a centerfire rifle appeared: the TCR ’83 single-shot. It and the subsequent TCR ’87 had interchangeable barrels like the Contender.
During the next 20 years, Thompson/Center would distinguish itself as one of the most agile and innovative American firearms companies. In 2006, as Winchester’s historic New Haven plant closed its doors, T/C designer Mark Laney, with engineering manager Carl Ricker and design-shop craftsmen, used CAD drawings to develop a bolt-action repeater. The Icon arrived the following year. “Our target price was under $800,” said T/C chief Greg Ritz, “With checkered walnut.” He told me T/C had accumulated 600 stock blanks from its old days in the wood trade.
In designing the Icon, Laney and company had clearly put performance ahead of price. Like the full-diameter three-lug bolt, the forged receiver that is sturdier than it needs to be. It’s a single piece of 4140, machined to tight tolerances in one trip through a seven-axis CNC machine. The receiver top features an integral Picatinny rail on bridge and ring. The long tang minimizes bolt slop at full extension. Three lugs on the broad, flat receiver bottom mate with a quarter-inch alloy plate glassed into the stock and pinned between trigger and magazine to guard against stock splits in this vulnerable area. The trigger, designed by T/C for the Icon, adjusts down to 2-1/2 pounds—with no need to remove the stock.
Alas, the Icon could not be held to $800; the figured walnut supply dwindled; other gun-makers raced down the price ladder with synthetic-stocked bolt rifles. The Icon quietly left T/C’s catalog in 2012.
But by then the Venture had proven itself over three seasons afield, and T/C had added a switch-barrel bolt rifle called the Dimension. The Compass would follow. See it at your firearms retailer, or contact Thompson/Center Arms, Dept. OT; Tel.: (866) 730-1614; Web: www.tcarms.com
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