Thompson/Center Contender

The Thompson/Center Contender is a break-action single-shot pistol or rifle that was introduced in 1967 by Thompson/Center Arms. It can be chambered in cartridges from .17 Bumble Bee to .45-70 Government.

Thompson/Center Contender
Thompson/Center Contender pistol
Place of originUnited States
Production history
Feed systemSingle-shot

History edit

Warren Center, working in his basement shop in the 1960s, developed a unique, break-action, single-shot pistol. In 1965, Center joined the K.W. Thompson Tool Company and they introduced this design as the Thompson-Center Contender in 1967. Although they cost more than some hunting revolvers, the flexibility of being able to shoot multiple calibers by simply changing the barrel and sights and its higher accuracy made it popular with handgun hunters.[1] As K.W. Thompson Tool began marketing Center's Contender pistol, the company name was changed to Thompson/Center Arms Company.[2]

Originally the chamberings were on the low end of the recoil spectrum such as .22 LR, .22 WMR, .22 Hornet, .38 Special, and .22 Remington Jet, but as Magnum calibers took off in the 1970s, the Contender quickly became very popular with shooting enthusiasts.[2]

Design edit

The most unusual feature of the Contender is how the barrel is attached to the frame. By removing the fore-end, a large hinge pin is exposed; by pushing this hinge pin out, the barrel can be removed. Since the sights and extractor remain attached to the barrel in the Contender design, the frame itself contains no cartridge-specific features. A barrel of another caliber or length can be installed and pinned in place, the fore-end replaced, and the pistol is ready to shoot with a different barrel and pre-aligned sights. This allowed easy changes of calibers, sights, and barrel lengths, with only a flat screwdriver being required for this change.[2]

The Contender frame has two firing pins, and a selector on the exposed hammer, to allow the shooter to choose between rimfire or centerfire firing pins, or to select a safety position from which neither firing pin can strike a primer. The initial baseline design of the Contender had no central safe position on the hammer, having only centerfire and rimfire firing pin positions, each being selectable through using a screwdriver.

Three variants of the original Contender design were later developed, distinguished easily by the hammer design. The first variant has a push button selector on the hammer for choosing rimfire vs. centerfire, the second variant has a left-center-right toggle switch for selecting center fire-safe-rimfire firing pins, and the third variant has a horizontal bolt selection for choosing center fire-safe-rimfire firing pin positions. All three of these Contender variants have a cougar etched on the sides of the receiver, thereby easily distinguishing them from the later G2 Contender which has a smooth-sided receiver without an etched cougar. Some of the very earliest Contenders, those requiring a screwdriver to switch the firing pin between rimfire and centerfire, had smooth sides, without the cougar etched on the sides.[3]

The original Contender designs have an adjustable trigger, allowing the shooter to change both take-up and overtravel, permitting user selection of a range of trigger pulls ranging from a fairly heavy trigger pull suitable for carrying the pistol while hunting to a "hair trigger" suitable for long range target shooting (see accurize).[4]

Unlike the later G2 Contender, the original Contender may be safely dry-fired (provided the hammer is not drawn back from the second notch) to allow a shooter to become familiar with the trigger pull. The break-action only has to be cycled, while leaving the hammer in the second notch position, to practice dry-firing. G2's with switchable firing pins (centerfire or rimfire) can be safely dry-fired with the hammer only in the safety (center) position.[5]

Barrels edit

Barrels have been made in lengths of 6, 8+34, 10, 12, 14, 16, 21 and 24 inches (150, 220, 250, 300, 360, 410, 530 and 610 mm).[6] Heavier recoiling cartridge barrels have been made with integral muzzle brakes. Barrels for the original Contender may be used on the later-released G2 Contender and G2 barrels may be used on original Contender frames with a serial number greater than 195000.[5]

The earliest barrels, from early 1967 to late 1967, were all octagonal with a flat bottom lug, and were available in only 10 and 8+34 inches (250 and 220 mm) lengths. The next group of barrels, from late 1967 to 1972, were available in 6, 8+34 and 10 inches (150, 220 and 250 mm) lengths. Later, round barrels were added in a wider variety of lengths, including 10, 12 and 14 inches (250, 300 and 360 mm). Likewise, round barrels in heavier (bull) barrel configurations, known as Super 14 pistol and Super 16 pistol barrels, respectively, were added. Carbine barrels in 16 and 21 in (410 and 530 mm) were added for the Contenders.[7]

Sights on all the pistol barrels have varied, ranging from low iron sights, only, in the earlier years to a choice of either low or high iron sights, as well as no sights, for those pistol barrels intended for use with a scope. Various barrels have sometimes included ejectors as well as extractors, or extractors only, as well as containing either a flat bottom lug, a stepped bottom lug, or split bottom lugs. On barrels with an extractor only, about a quarter of the empty cartridge is extracted when the mechanism is opened.[8] Barrels have been made available in either blued or stainless configurations, to match the finish available on Contender receivers.[9]

Unlike most other firearm actions, the break-action design does not require the barrels to be specially fitted to an individual action. Any barrel, with the exception of a Herrett barrel, that is made for a Contender will fit onto any frame, allowing the shooter to purchase additional barrels in different calibers for a fraction of the cost of a complete firearm. Since the sights are mounted on the barrel, they remain sighted-in and zeroed between barrel changes.[10]

Stocks edit

Pistol grips, butt stocks and fore-ends have been made available in stained walnut, or in recoil reducing composite materials. Different pistol fore-ends are required for the octagonal versus the round versus the bull barrels. The fore-ends have had an assortment of either one or two screw attachment points, used for attaching the fore-ends to the barrel with its matching one or two attachment points. Universally, the fore-ends, in addition to attaching to the barrel, cover the single hinge pin that connects the barrel to the receiver.

The wood stocks and forend are made specifically for Thompson Center by a sawmill in Kansas.[2]

Calibers edit

Calibers available for the Contender were initially limited, stopping just short of the .308 Winchester-class rifle cartridges. However, almost any cartridge from .22 Long Rifle through .30-30 Winchester is acceptable, as long as a peak pressure of 48,000 CUP is not exceeded. This flexibility prompted a boom in the development of wildcat cartridges suitable for the Contender, such as the 7-30 Waters and .357 Herrett and the various TCU cartridges, most of which were commonly based on either the widely available .30-30 Winchester or .223 Remington cases. The largest factory caliber offered for the Contender was the .45-70, which, although a much larger case than the .308, is still feasible because of the relatively low cartridge pressures of the original black-powder round relative to the limits of the bolt face of the Contender receiver. Custom gunmakers have added to the selection, such as the J. D. Jones line of JDJ cartridges based on the .225 Winchester and .444 Marlin. Other barrel makers pushed beyond the limits the factory set, and chambered Contender barrels in lighter .308-class cartridges like the .243 Winchester. The Contender can fire .410 bore shotgun shells, either through the .45 Colt/.410 barrel or through a special 21-inch (530 mm) smoothbore shotgun barrel. A ported, rifled, .44 Magnum barrel was made available for use with shotshell cartridges in a removable-choke .44 Magnum barrel, with the choke being used to unspin the shot from the barrel rifling, or, by removing the choke, for use with standard .44 Magnum cartridges. The degree of flexibility provided by the Contender design is unique for experimenting with new cartridges, handloads, barrel lengths, and shotshells.[2]

G2 edit

The original Contender is now known as the generation one (G1) Contender and was replaced by the G2 Contender in 1998. The new design is dimensionally the same as the original Contender, but uses an Encore-style trigger group. Due to the changes in the trigger mechanism, and to differences in the angle of the grip relative to the boreline of the gun, the buttstocks and pistol grips are different between the G1 and G2 Contenders and will not interchange. The G2 uses essentially the same barrels and fore-ends as the original Contender and barrels will interchange, with the only two exceptions being the G2 muzzleloading barrels, which will only fit the G2 frame, and the Herrett barrels/fore-ends, which are specific for use only on a G1 frame.[11]

Years of Manufacture edit

Starting in 1967, the Contender was discontinued in 2000. The year of manufacture is determined by the serial numbers as follows:

Serial Number For Blue Contender
Year January Thru June July Thru December
1967 1001 2250
1968 2251 3060 3061 4330
1969 4331 7500 7501 11075
1970 11076 14501 14502 15360
1971 15361 16850 16851 17885
1972 17886 19800 19801 22400
1973 22401 24750 24751 27090
1974 27091 30100 30101 34500
1975 34501 38401 38402 47890
1976 47891 60670 60671 67875
1977 67876 74825 74826 80398
1978 80399 91872 91873 108344
1979 108345 133856 133857 153636
1980 153637 169090 169091 173516
1981 173517 181663 181664 196703
1982 196704 208412 208413 220806
1983 220807 227176 227177 234850
1984 234851 246791 246792 256525
1985 256526 265000 265001 273800
1986 273801 287000 287001 297200
1987 297201 310599 310600 317099
1988 317100 327999 328000 335200
1989 335201 351700 351701 357200
1990 357201 366900 366901 370677
1991 370678 382852 382853 386697
1992 386698 399679 399680 407884
1993 407885 411796 411797 418410
1994 418411 427890 427891 430597
1995 430598 435934 435935 438365
1996 438366 443306 443307 446201
1997 446202 446735 446736 450227
1998 450228 452512 452513 453321
1999 453322 455590 455591 456568
2000 456569
Serial Number For Stainless Contender
Year January Thru June July Thru December
1993 S1100 S11666 S11667 S14723
1994 S14724 S18041 S18042 S23103
1995 S23104 S28044 S28045 S29610
1996 S29611 S33187 S33188 S36551
1997 S36552 S36908 S36909 S38434
1998 S38435 S40173 S40518 S40895
1999 S40896 S41922 S41923 S42280
2000 S42281

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ Van Zwoll, Wayne (2006). Hunter's Guide to Long-Range Shooting. Stackpole Books. p. 332.
  2. ^ a b c d e Ayoob, Massad (29 May 2012). "Thompson Center Single Shots". Massad Ayoob's Greatest Handguns of the World. F+W Media. pp. 241–266. ISBN 978-1-4402-2877-3.
  3. ^ Stephens, Charles (1 July 1996). The Thompson/Center Contender Pistol: How to Tune, Time, Load, and Shoot for Accuracy. Boulder, Colorado: Paladin Press. pp. 14–18. ISBN 978-0-87364-885-1.
  4. ^ Rees, Clair (2003). The Ultimate Guide to Handgun Hunting: Tips and Tactics for Hunting Small and Big Game. Globe Pequot Press. p. 70. ISBN 978-1-58574-820-4.
  5. ^ a b Ramage, Ken; Sigler, Derrek (19 November 2008). Guns Illustrated 2009. Iola, Wisconsin: F+W Media, Inc. pp. 178–179. ISBN 978-0-89689-673-4.
  6. ^ Thompson Center Arms product pages created by EABCO Web Design Team. (n.d.). Thompson Center barrels and accessories. Thompson Center Arms at EABCO - TC Encore, Contender, G2, Barrels, Stocks, and Accessories. Retrieved February 25, 2023, from
  7. ^ Taffin, John (13 November 2006). The Gun Digest Book of the .44. Iola, Wisconsin: Gun Digest Books. p. 221. ISBN 0-89689-416-9.
  8. ^ Savage Striker Our Pick Over Remington, T/C .22-250s - Gun Tests
  9. ^ Ramage, Ken (2 November 2006). Handguns 2007 - 19th Edition. Iola, Wisconsin: Gun Digest Books. p. 201. ISBN 1-4402-2676-8.
  10. ^ Sweeney, Patrick (28 February 2011). Gunsmithing: Shotguns: Shotguns. Iola, Wisconsin: Gun Digest Books. p. 463. ISBN 978-1-4402-2448-5.
  11. ^ Potts, Bruce (1 October 2008). "Thompson Center G2 Contender Rifle Review". Shooting Times. 2008 (10).