Thompson/Center Arms Company is an American firearms company based in Rochester, New Hampshire. The company is best known for its line of interchangeable barrel single-shot pistols, and its muzzleloading rifles, though they have recently added a line of semiautomatic rimfire rifles.
Thompson/Center Arms when founded in 1965, by Warren Thompson and K.W. Thompson Tool Co. K.W. Thompson Tool had been searching for a product to market, and Warren Center was looking for someone to manufacture his Contender pistol. As K.W. Thompson Tool began marketing Center's Contender pistol, they changed the company name to Thompson/Center Arms Company. In 1970, Thompson/Center entered the black powder industry, which is what they are most known for these days. On January 4th, 2007, Thompson/Center was purchased by Smith & Wesson Holding Corporation.
Thompson/Center's success came with the emergence of long range handgun hunting and target shooting. Their break-open, single-shot design brought rifle-like accuracy and power in a handgun, which was a new concept at the time.
The Contender pistol was a break-open single-shot pistol with a number of unique features that helped it become a huge success. The first feature was the way the barrel was attached to the frame. By removing the forend stock, a large pin was exposed; by pushing this pin out, the barrel could be removed. Since the sights and extractor went with the barrel, the frame itself had no cartridge specific features to it. A barrel of another caliber could be dropped in and pinned in place, the forend replaced, and the pistol would be ready to shoot with a different barrel and sights. This allowed easy changes of calibers, sights, and barrel lengths. The Contender frames even had two firing pins, and a selector on the exposed hammer that allowed the shooter to choose between the rimfire and centerfire firing pins.
The Contender also had an adjustable trigger, which allowed the shooter to change both the take-up and overtravel, and go from a fairly heavy trigger pull, suitable for carrying the pistol while hunting, to a "hair trigger" for long range target shooting (see accurize). It was even possible to fit a shoulder stock on the frame, and when combined with a 16" or longer barrel (see Thompson Center Arms and the Supreme Court below) turn the contender from a pistol to a rifle. Barrels were avaialable in lengths of 8, 10, 14, 16, and 21 inches.
The true key to the Contender's success was that, unlike most other firearms actions, the break-open design did not require the barrels to be specially fitted to the individual action. Any barrel made for the Contender could fit onto any frame, allowing the shooter to purchase additional calibers for a fraction of the cost of a complete firearm. Since the sights were mounted on the barrel, they stayed sighted in and would remain zeroed from change to change.
The range of calibers available for the Contender were fairly limited, stopping short of the .308 Winchester class cartridges. However, just about anything from .22 Long Rifle up to the .30-30 Winchester was acceptable. That prompted a boom in wildcat cartridges suitable for the Contender, such as the .30 and .357 Herretts and the various TCU cartridges, mostly based on the widely available .30-30 and .223 Remington cases. The largest factory caliber offered for the Contender was the .45-70, which although a much larger case that the .308, was feasible because of the relatively low pressure to bolt face of the cartridge. Custom gunmakers also added to the selection, such as the J. D. Jones line of JDJ cartridges, based on the .444 Marlin. Other makers pushed beyond the limits the factory set out, and did chamber Contender barrels in lighter .308 class cartridges like .270 Winchester. The Contender would also fire .410 bore shotgun shells, either through the .45 Colt barrel or through a special 21 inch smoothbore shotgun barrel.
The Encore was released in the late 1990s. The Encore uses a different trigger mechanism, designed to be stronger than the original Contender's and to make the break-open action easier. The Encore uses a considerably larger and stronger frame than the Contender, and accordingly is found in over 86 cartridges - from .22 Hornet to .416 Rigby. The Encore barrel list also includes shotgun barrels in 28, 20 and 12 gauge, and muzzleloading barrels in .45 and .50 caliber and 12 gauge, using 209 shotgun primers. New for 2007, The Encore Rimfire Barrels feature a unique mono block design, which requires no alteration to the frame assembly. Available in 22 LR and 17 HMR.
The Contender G2Edit
The Contender was replaced by the Contender G2 soon after the Encore came out. The G2 is dimensionally the same as the Contender, but uses an Encore stye trigger group. Due to the change in trigger mechanism, the buttstocks and pistol grips are different and will not interchange between the original Contender and the G2. The G2 uses the same barrels and forends as the Contender and so barrels will interchange, with the one exception to this being the G2 muzzleloading barrels, which will only fit the G2 frame.
Thompson also is a big player in the muzzleloading field, both in Traditional and In-Line arenas. They sell a great number of percussion and flintlock rifles in a wide variety of bore diameters. Some of the better known models are the Renegade, the Hawken, the Big Boar, and the White Mountain.
The Thompson/Center Hawken is one of the most copied rifles in the history of firearms, and comes with solid brass hardware and an American Walnut stock.
The Encore 209x.50 Magnum Muzzleloader is a modern-design muzzleloader and can interchange with centerfire barrels. Based on a single-shot break-action, the 209x.50 is capable of “minute of angle” accuracy. The 209x.50 can handle charges of up to 150 grains of black powder or Pyrodex equivalent. Using a 26" barrel and a 250 grain bullet with 3 Pyrodex Pellets, it produces a muzzle velocity of 2203 ft./second.
The G2 Contender muzzleloader accepts magnum charges for long range shooting. Charges of up to 150 grains of FFG Black Powder or three (3) 50 grain Pyrodex® Pellets produce velocities of approximately 2400 ft/sec at the muzzle.
The Omega can handle 150 grains of Black Powder or Pyrodex equivalent, or three 50 grain Pyrodex® pellets. With its 28" barrel, it burns magnum charges very efficiently.
The Triumph Muzzleloader comes in .50 Cal. with a 28" Barrel and composite stock.
Thompson/Center Arms and the Supreme Court Edit
In the case of United States v. Thompson/Center Arms Co. (1992), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the company's favor by deciding that the rifle conversion kit that Thompson sold with their pistols did not constitute a short barreled rifle under the National Firearms Act of 1934.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms contended that the mere possession of a pistol, having a barrel less than sixteen inches long, with a shoulder stock and rifle-length (more than sixteen inches) barrel constituted constructive intent to "make" an illegal short-barreled rifle (by combining the pistol's frame, the pistol-length barrel, and the shoulder stock).
This decision clarified the meaning of the term "make" in the National Firearms Act by stating that the pistol actually had to be assembled with a barrel less than 16 inches long with a stock directly attached to it to constitute a short-barrelled rifle under the National Firearms Act, and that the mere possession of components that theoretically could be assembled in an illegal configuration was not in itself a violation, as long as the components could also be assembled into legal configurations.
- Thompson/Center Arms corporate website
- Bullberry Barrel Works, specializing in Contender, G2, and Encore barrels
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