Contender Concepts


Roy’s early G1 ThompsonCenter Contender can handle dozens of barrel/caliber options. Here’s just a
few he’s collected over the years — and all shoot like rifles! He keeps rifle scopes on most, but that very early
.22 LR barrel (wood forend) carries an original Bushnell 1.3x Phantom!

I’ve become enamored with the .32-20 cartridge of late and after some scrounging found a barrel in that caliber on eBay for my early first generation Contender. After sorting things out and getting it dialed in, I found it a delight to shoot. Which got me to digging out other barrels I have. Which got me to thinking what fun this gun “system” really is and I figured I’d remind you about it too. If you’re not familiar with the Thompson Center Contenders and Encore models they are essentially an action and “frame” handling a wide variety of barrel designs and calibers. The ejector, sights and such are all on the barrels so the same frame assembly can be used to shoot anything from .22 LR to .45-70 — including cartridges like the .308, .30-30 and more exotic ones developed by J.D. Jones.

I clearly recall reading articles about those first generation Contenders in the late 1960s. Warren Center invented the design and partnered with the K.W. Thompson Tool Company to actually build it. The name was later changed to Thompson/Center Arms Company when they started selling guns. The design and the “look” was pretty radical for the time. But, since it was accurate and simple, allowing shooters to buy one “gun” and simply add different calibers by buying barrels, it caught on fast. That one frame could handle rimfire and centerfire due to a clever firing pin set-up easily changed by the shooter.

I’ve had my original one for decades and have collected about 10 barrel/caliber sets. I tend to shoot the .22 Magnum, .221 Fireball, .32-20 and .30-30 the most, but my .44 Mag., .45 Colt, .223 and .357 get to see light now and again too. The .357 usually gets .38 Wadcutters run through it much to its surprise, I think. I have a few other calibers but can’t remember them at the moment! Barrel overload? All the calibers are tack-drivers, which is the main reason these guns are so fun.

Today’s TC Encore “Pro-Hunter” carries the design into today’s market. It’s stronger,
has a better trigger and offers more powerful chamberings than earlier models.

Today’s TC Encore “Pro-Hunter” carries the design into today’s market. It’s stronger, has a better trigger and offers more powerful chamberings than earlier models.


The first generation (G1) was followed in about 1983 by the Encore, a bigger, brawnier design working essentially the same way, but it had a much better trigger. The design also allowed the action to be opened more easily. It can also handle cartridges like the .416 Rigby too! The G1 was made along with the Encore and shooters could have their choice. In 1998 the G2 came out using the “Encore” trigger. The majority of barrels for the G1 can fit the G2, but I think the muzzle loading barrels for the G2 won’t work on the G1. Use caution if you have a G1 action as they can stretch if you push them too hard. I keep my .30-30 shooting to a minimum and only use standard loads.

I’ve tended to get barrels fitting either model and it does take some shifting of forends and stocks to get a set-up to work at times. No big deal as I don’t care about the looks, just if I can get a stock set-up to work. Consequently for some barrels I might have a wood grip with a rubber forend. It doesn’t seem to affect accuracy one way or another.

TC also used this action (and still does) to make rifles, shotguns and muzzle loaders. Interestingly enough, according to our friends at the BATFE, you can take a “pistol” and install a rifle buttstock and a rifle barrel (over 16") to “create” a rifle out of your pistol. You can then change it back to a pistol if you like. However, you can’t “convert” a rifle manufactured as a rifle to a pistol since you are then “converting” a rifle to an “illegal” pistol. Even if you bought the TC rifle legally and have the various factory made parts to “convert” it to a pistol, you can’t. So, from a pistol to a rifle is fine — but from a rifle to a pistol is a big no-no. Silly, I know

The Bullseye Camera System allows you to see the target on your iPad using a camera at the target (red arrow).
At 100 yards, the .221 Fireball barrel shot a neat 1" centered group (Nosler Armageddon ammo) while
the .22 Mag. barrel averaged well under 2" with most loads.

Roy couldn’t resist snapping this pic of wife Suzi’s hand as she took a few practice “aims” with his Contender —
.223 barrel installed — while on a doe hunt from a blind. The red nails prove this is a civilized way to hunt!

Versatile Is Right

From TC a new Encore is about $775 with a barrel, and you can go from there. Or, buy a used TC Contender or Encore frame — I see them from around $250 to about $500 depending on model and condition, and at times you can even get a barrel for the deal — then build your collection. Just pay attention to ensure the barrel you’re buying fits the frame you have. Barrels on eBay and other on-line sites tend to run from a low of $150 — say, a well-used 10" .357 — with most in the $250 to $400 range. Some rare calibers will be more. There are also after-market companies specializing in the TC guns so you can customize your gun as far as your heart desires. SSK Industries is the star there, and companies like Bullberry Barrel Works can help too.

They’re easy to work on, fun to shoot and so far, every single one I’ve shot delivers amazing accuracy, more like a rifle. My 14" .30-30 barrel shoots 1" or better at 100 yards. Oh, you can also use rifle scopes — and I even recommend it most of the time. Resting your hand over the top when you shoot can hold down the recoil on all but the heavy stuff. Just ask our own Mark Hampton how fun these guns can be! For more info:



WWI 100th

While this isn’t anything official, it dawned on me these two guns would make a perfect way to honor the 100th Anniversary of the ending of WWI. Turnbull Restoration makes a virtually perfect clone of a WWI era military 1911 and the Cylinder and Slide Shop offers a military 1911 you’d have seen just pre-war.

Bill Laughridge of the C&S shop took years looking at period guns (among the first 500 produced) and documented specific design changes needed to match that era’s guns. Virtually every significant part is different, so this was a massive undertaking. Bill has a few left at $5,000 each. I’ve seen and shot one and it’s simply splendid!

Turnbull’s shop offers a stunner of a gun, built to your order, mirroring what a WWI-era military 1911 would have looked like brand new. It even has the iconic two-tone magazines of the era. Call them for specific pricing since they are custom guns. And, like all of their work, this would be an instant family heirloom.

If you have an ancestor who fought in “The Great War” — or simply like this idea — get these while you can. For more info: Ph: (800) 448-1713;, Ph: (585) 412-2939.

sight drifter

Wyoming Sight Drifter

Iwork on a lot of guns, and in testing, it’s often necessary to adjust rear or front sights in their dovetails. The old way of knocking a sight with a punch and hammer works, but it can also be an adventure resulting in bent sight blades, scarred sights, missed hammer blows and worse. The Wyoming Sight Drifter is a clever brass punch attached to a powerful spring and a sort of handle/plunger assembly. You put the brass punch against a sight base, pull the plunger back against the spring, then let it snap forward. The impact smacks the brass punch, moving the sight a tad. Sometimes it takes several blows, but it’s fast, easy, precise and simply darn clever if you ask me. Steve Anderson, the inventor, runs a one-man show and sells this dandy goodie online. Cost is $37 total and worth every penny. Find it at:, Ph: (307) 421-2127 and let Steve know you read about it here.


Russ Retires!

It’s with great pleasure I get to announce my dear, old friend and fellow publisher here, Russ Thurman, is officially pulling the work plug December 31, 2018 and retiring! I’m not happy to lose his strong right arm here, but am over-the-top happy to see him finally get to rest and enjoy life! Russ retired as a Marine Captain in 1985 having served since 1964. He saw combat in Vietnam and came up through the ranks from private — the hard way. Russ jumped into publishing in the civilian world, after being a combat correspondent and more in the Marines. He was involved with many Hollywood projects, finally landing at Gun World in the late 1980s. We were fortunate enough to tempt him to move to FMG in 1994 — and he’s been a driving force behind our Shooting Industry magazine ever since. Russ virtually single-handledly drove the magazine to the number one spot in the industry due to his work ethic and impossible-to-deter honesty, sincerity and sheer gumption to do it all right.

Over the past 25 years, Russ treated everyone — from clients and readers, to his peers — with the utmost respect and friendship. I’ve never — not once — heard anyone say a negative thing about Russ. Even his most ardent competitors in the industry over the years have always respected Russ for the true gentleman he is. Russ always came to bat for the underdog, supported as many start-up companies as he could, gave press to companies when they were struggling, and supported them as they regained their footing. Why? “Because it’s the right thing to do,” he’d say. And it was, and it still is.

Russ, go spend some time in your shop now! All of us will miss you a great deal!


Ruger Custom Shop

Ruger made a couple of big announcements not too long ago. One is the founding of their in-house Custom Shop. The other is the first two guns out of that shop. The SR1911 Competition Pistol is a true custom build from their shop, based on mods and design ideas fleshed out with Doug Koenig. It’s chock full of features like a flat-faced trigger, tuned sear spring, crisp trigger break, hand-fitted slide/frame fit, polished ramp, target crown and a whole lot more. Read a list of custom features on a high-end custom 1911 and you’ll pretty much find them on this gun. MSRP is about $2,499 or so.
The other Custom Shop gun is a billet-machined receiver 10/22 with target barrel, trigger and stock. It’s got a rear of the receiver cleaning port, solving an age-old problem with the 10-22 requiring you to clean from the muzzle. The 10/22 Competition rifle also comes with a muzzle break and can be fitted with a suppressor too. MSRP on this is $899 but that’s much less than you’d spend on a stock 10/22 with even simple upgrades. For more info: Ph: (336) 949-5200.

Purchase A PDF Download Of The American Handgunner March/April 2019 Issue Now!