Thompson Center (T/C) is very popular with sport hunters throughout the United States. Indeed, the Contender Carbines made by T/C have become an industry standard across the pond. It was still a surprise to many in the industry, though, when T/C launched a bolt-action rifle named the Icon into an already-crowded marketplace. No doubt the closing of Winchester’s New Haven plant encouraged the company.
Paul Mauser developed his 1898 action 110 years ago, and hosts of talented people and arms companies have reworked, refined and augmented that design. That said, T/C has produced a truly new design of centrefire rifle with detachable magazine, combining the best elements of several rifles to make an excellent contemporary stalking rifle.
The handsome walnut stock has clean, classic lines, a relatively open grip and 20-lpi borderless chequering. For a rifle in this price bracket the walnut is surprisingly high quality. Apparently T/C has 600 walnut blanks in stock from its old days in the wood trade, which would suggest that if this rifle takes your fancy, you shouldn’t hesitate to buy one – there may be a price hike when this walnut is exhausted.
At present the calibre choice is not that varied: .22-250, .243, .308. and the new .30 T/C are currently available. However, the Icon Classic long action version offers .270 Win, .30-06 Sprg, .300 Win Mag and 7mm Rem Mag. What other calibres are needed for foxing or stalking?
The rifle’s well-figured and red hued walnut stock had a smooth oiled finish. Generous panels on grip and forend feature neatly cut chequering. Equally, the Icon Weather Shield medium action comes with composite stock and stainless barrel, with a choice of black or Realtree camo finish.
A black rubber pad caps the butt. There is no forend tip, grip cap or palm-swell. The comb is straight, with a pull length of 14in. Overall the stock has clean, classic lines, giving it an agreeable conservative look. A relatively open grip and forend welcomed my hands; it shouldered well and pointed effortlessly.
A one-piece, CNC-machined receiver action sits in a single-piece aluminium bedding block via three integral recoil lugs, giving strong solid bedding. T/C’s own 24in, medium-contour barrel is button-rifled and came screw-cut for a moderator in ½in UNF.
The Icon comes with integral Weaver-style bases built into the bridge of the receiver. There are, of course, many rings on the UK market that fit this type of mounting system.
The full-diameter bolt has three front-locking lugs and a sleek, sloping rear shroud – reminds me of a Sauer – which slides smoothly in the action rails. With each Icon, T/C supplies a polymer ‘donut’ for disassembling the bolt. It sounds awkward but it’s actually a quick process. The spoon-style bolt handle, part of the bolt assembly’s primary parts, is easily removed – as it is not integral and can be exchanged for an optional round-knob, knurled or butter knife version.
The Icon’s bolt stop is a slender lever at the traditional spot on the left receiver wall. It pivots from the front so you can hold the rifle and operate it conveniently with one hand. It is designed so the rearward flung bolt force bears on the rear of the stop in the receiver wall, and not on the pivot pin.
Like the bolt, the forged receiver shows some muscle and the long tang is a deliberate feature: it minimises bolt wiggle at full extension. The jewelled bolt (not on all models) has a low lift of 60°, further enhancing its effortless simplicity in use. The stock is secured to the action by three stout guard screws, one into each lug.
A removable box magazine holds three short action rounds and tapers at the top to feed cartridges in a straight stack system. This straight-up feed is smooth and reliable and is obviously influenced by Tikka.
The trigger, designed by T/C expressly for this rifle, is easily adjustable from 2½-6lb by reaching through the tang with the supplied hex-head wrench, without having to disassemble the rifle. Dry firing, I found the trigger wonderfully manageable at a crisp and consistent 3lb. A two-position thumb safety works smoothly and quietly, disengaging sear from trigger.
I added a Zeiss 2.5-10×50 Victory scope and a T8 moderator to the rifle. After zeroing the rifle without a problem, I achieved a ½in group off the bench. I was going to use the Icon for stag stalking on the hill and checked zero at 200 yards on arrival at the keeper’s house. In windy conditions I still achieved an acceptable 2in grouping.
Out on the hill, however, I pulled my first shot. I was hanging over a 200ft precipice, on the Glen Doll beat of Balmoral estate no less. The stag filled the Zeiss scope. I held my breath, aimed, and winged a bullet on its way but completely missed. Realising it wasn’t such a great place to be, the beast changed ends and dashed down hill. I instantly changed position and followed the stag in the Zeiss scope. He paused mid-flight, looking back, unsure. I took a careful bead up the beast’s front leg to the heart and lung region and squeezed off another round. This time the bullet ran true and the stag tumbled spectacularly, head over heels, down the hill.
“Aye, your second shot was better than your first one, laddie,” murmured the stalker, Stuart Donald. It must’ve been my precarious position, on the edge of a 200ft drop, which had contributed to my miss. The second shot was right on the button, confirming the first was down to pilot error.
Disturbed by the shooting, another beast trotted into view. I deployed the rifle once more on the Harris bipod. Holding true on the beast’s heart I held a half-breath and fired. My majestic monarch of the glen absorbed the bullet; clinically dead on his hooves, he stood stock still for a moment before tumbling forwards toward the first stag.
This rifle was a real pleasure to shoot. Fit and finish were first-class, as was the hand ability. The trigger was a joy and, fitted with the superb Zeiss Victory scope and T8 mod, it was as good a set-up as it gets. T/C has taken a considered approach and the Icon is brilliantly conceived. At £1,362 for a rifle of this quality, the Icon will surely prove to be a serious contender for a first choice stalking rifle. PC
Model tested: Icon standard action in .308
Price range: £1,200
Contact: Viking Arms 01423 780810 www.vikingarms.com