Regular reviewer Tim Pilbeam tests an American favourite that is fast finding support this side of the Atlantic pond, chambered in .204 Ruger and married to a Minox optic
Thompson Center (TC) is not a well known brand in this country, so I was looking forward to receiving one in .204 Ruger from UK importer Viking Arms. The Thompson Center ‘Venture’ has been aimed at the value end of the market (its standard retail price is £778) to compete against the Browning, CZ, Remington and cheaper Tikkas. This is a very competitive market, so I was looking forward to finding out what makes it stand out from its competitors.
The Venture model comes with a lightweight grey synthetic stock with lighter grey rubber inlays around the pistol grip and forend – making it a very easy stock to handle, especially in wet and muddy conditions. The butt end has a soft recoil pad – no doubt very useful for the larger calibres. For this review a bipod was fitted, giving it a fair degree of flex on the forend although not quite enough to touch the barrel.
The robust-looking action comes complete with integrated Weaver-style scope mounts and a two-stage safety catch positioned to the right of the bolt, which will still allow the bolt to cycle when engaged. As for the chunky bolt, it has a throw short of 60 degrees, can be easily disassembled by hand and seems rather smooth for a new rifle in this price range. Three lugs are used to lock it into the front of the receiver. To release this tight, well-fitting assembly, press a lever to the left of the action – it will come out easily. The tough-looking magazine is made of hardened plastic that holds three rounds and is released by an easily found metal clip, located to the front.
The trigger was set to about 3.5lb but, as with most TC rifles, a hex-headed key is supplied, allowing you to quickly adjust it to your needs. To do this, simply remove the bolt, locate a set screw that sits above the trigger assembly, and turn it to increase or decrease the trigger pressure. Refit the bolt and test it – it is that straightforward. Other trigger adjustments can easily be made by removing the stock. For this review, I reset the pressure to 2.5lb. While there was a little trigger creep, it felt reasonably crisp – no problems there.
As for the barrel, it is a typical lightweight hunting grade with a standard length of 22in, screw-cut to accept a moderator. With a 1-in-10in twist, it should suit the heavier bullets. Another unique feature of most TC barrels is that they use ‘5R’ rifling that uses five lands and five grooves, which apparently means the lands are directly opposite from the grooves. The manufacturer says this reduces damage from the bullet travelling down the barrel and maintains a more consistent chamber pressure. Furthermore, this increases accuracy – all rifles come with a guaranteed 1MOA accuracy at 100 yards.
Bearing in mind this was a brand new rifle in the tiny, fragile .204 Ruger calibre, I anticipated problems trying to achieve ‘out of the box’ accuracy from the first shot. Mind you, other accuracy issues arose due to time constraints. On top of that, I had to put up with winds of a constant 7-15mph, sometimes gusting up to 20mph. As with all my rifle tests, I only used the bipod as a support – I didn’t use a rear support. This exactly replicates the position I would be in when out foxing or varminting in the field.
I used Remington 32- and 40-grain Premier Accutip ammo to push the little projectiles out at a blistering 4,200 and 3,900fps respectively. Once zeroed 0.5in high at 100 yards (200-yard zero), the 32-grain achieved a 1.5in group and the 40-grain 1.7in. After shooting 20 rounds, the groups tightened to 1.25in. Bearing in mind that the wind was moving the rifle, this was not too shabby. I would expect to see 0.5in accuracy for this round in still conditions. Recoil was, as anticipated, very light. When I popped on my large T8 moderator, it was hardly noticeable, with little or no effect on retaining full sight picture while taking the shot.
When ejecting, be warned – these tiny cases will be thrown at least three feet due to an exceptionally efficient ejector. The bolt was very precise, fairly smooth and felt quite tight throughout its travel, telling that the whole action is of a superior standard and finish. You can see if the bolt is cocked by looking at its back end. As for the safety catch, however, on many occasions it would not return to the safety position after cocking. Maybe an adjustment was required, but the safety is something that needs to work every time.
A farming colleague of mine called to tell me he had lost three lambs the previous night. This was a great opportunity to test the rifle, as it was a bitterly cold night with a strong, icy, easterly wind.
Despite not seeing any foxes prowling around the sheep, I tested the .204 on a couple of rabbits from 100-175 yards using the Lightforce Striker lamp. Even though I was wearing gloves, the trigger was very pleasant and the bolt was easy to cycle. The magazine was simple to remove with one hand, but not the easiest to fill as it was very tight in the cold weather. The Minox scope’s BDC reticle performed well for varminting, and the crosshairs were just the right thickness for night shooting.
Overall, this is a well put together rifle for the price. I would welcome the opportunity to test other Thompson Center rifles – particularly the TC Icon Precision Hunter, which by all accounts is an accurate and superb-to-use rifle. If the Venture was up against a low-end Tikka, CZ or Remington, would a perspective buyer take a gamble and move away from the well established brands? Pick one up, check out the action, tweak that adjustable trigger and you will be hooked. With a lifetime warranty and a guaranteed accuracy of 1MOA (1in at 100 yards), it is definitely a lot of rifle for the money. Thanks to Viking Arms for supplying the rifle and Minox scope.