September 23, 2010
The latest extension of T/C's bolt gun line offers tack-driving accuracy just in time for varmint season.
By Greg Rodriguez
I'm a sucker for accurate rifles. I can't seem to own enough, and I never pass up an opportunity to shoot one until I run out of ammo or wear out my welcome. A few months ago, a prototype of Thompson/Center's new Icon Precision Hunter made me do just that.
I was on a deer hunt in Kentucky with the folks from T/C. They had brought along several new rifles, including a slick-looking prototype of the still-top-secret Icon Precision Hunter. They turned me and half a dozen colleagues loose on a range that had paper targets at 100 yards and steel targets out to 500 yards. After I fired the first 100-yard, one-hole group with the rifle, I switched to banging distant steel.
I passed it off reluctantly a few times that afternoon, but when we finally ran out of ammunition, my friends' scowling faces left no doubt as to who had fired the lion's share of our ammo.
|SPECIFICATIONS| T/C Icon Precision Hunter|
|Type:|| bolt-action centerfire|
|Magazine:||3-round, polymer detachable box magazine|
|Calibers:||.204 Ruger, .223, .22-250 (tested), .243, .308 |
|Barrel:||22-in. fluted with 5R rifling, 1:12 RH twist|
|Overall Length:||42 in.|
|Weight:|| 8 lb|
|Finish:|| Matte blue|
|Stock:||laminate with cheekpiece, beavertail fore-end, elevated comb; Convection Enhancement System|
|Trigger || single-stage, user adjustable. 3.3 lb.|
|Sights:|| none; integral Picatinny rail|
I came away from my introduction to the Icon Precision Hunter impressed. But I tried to temper my optimism a bit because those prototype rifles are typically built by hand. Still, I was impressed enough that I jumped at the chance to be the first writer to test the new rifle a few months later.
The Precision Hunter is built on the solid Icon action. For those who are not familiar with it, the Icon's action is machined from solid bar stock in the T/C factory. It is unique among production rifles in that it has a flat bottom with three integral recoil lugs and a solid top with an integral Weaver-style scope mounting rail.
Theoretically, the solid top makes the action stiffer and, therefore, more accurate. The integral scope mounting base eliminates one variable from the scope mounting equation, which also elevates its accuracy potential.
The flat action bottom is harder to make but, when done right, it's more stable than less expensive round-action designs. Finally, those three integral recoil lugs interlock with the stock's integral aluminum bedding block to further bolster the Icon's accuracy. In my experience, that rock-solid melding of the stock and action yields amazing accuracy.
The Icon's solid, three-lug bolt is also machined from bar stock. The three-lug design permits a short, 60-degree bolt lift that allows greater clearance for the shooter's hand between the bolt handle and the scope's ocular lens.
A small "T-slot" extractor fits into one of the lugs, which leaves a solid ring of steel that supports the case head uniformly. A plunger-style ejector in the bolt face sends empties sailing out of the minimally sized ejection port.
Other features include a sleek, skeletonized bolt shroud; a nifty bolt release on the left side of the receiver; and a unique, two-position safety. You can work the bolt with the gun on "safe," but an independent bolt lock allows you to lock the safety and the bolt if you so desire.
All Icons have button-rifled, match-grade barrels. Each Icon barrel features a recessed, 60-degree target crown to protect the crown from dings and to allow gases to exit uniformly to the sides of the bullet, rather than behind it. Each and every chamber is cut with high-grade chamber reamers to ensure the utmost consistency. 5R rifling, which has five grooves and lands with angular sides to reduce jacket deformation and fouling, further contributes to the Icon's exceptional accuracy.
The Icon's flat-base receiver incorporates three recoil lugs and fits into an aluminum bedding block, an incredibly stable combination that contributes to its accuracy. The muzzle of the Icon sports a 60-degree target crown to protect the crown from dings and to provide for a more uniform exit of propellant gases.
A user-adjustable trigger is also standard. It comes from the factory set at three to 3.5 pounds but can be set at up to five pounds. It is designed to come right out of the box with minimal creep and overtravel.
The Icon Precision Hunter is the first varmint-specific rifle in the Icon family. It has all the Icon's bells and whistles, but it is purpose-built for long-range accuracy. Available calibers include the .204 Ruger, .223, .22-250, .243 and .308.
In a departure from the standard Icon, the Precision Hunter has an oversized, tactical style bolt knob, which I found I much preferred over other knob types offered in the Icon. It also comes with a red single-shot adapter that turns the three-round detachable magazine into a solid floorplate for those hunters who prefer to single-load their varmint guns.
The Precision Hunter's Convection Enhancement System uses a series of holes and horizontal slots cut into the stock to provide increased airflow around the barrel to keep it cooler.
The barrel differs from other Icons in that it is a heavy, straight taper design with six deep flutes. The 22-inch tube still has a recessed target crown and 5R rifling, but the heavier profile measures .780 inch at the muzzle.
"We went with the heavy 22-inch version because it's popular among the tactical competition set. It tends to be more accurate in mid-length actions," Thompson/Center gun designer Mark Laney told Rifle Shooter. "And the 22-incher makes for a more mobile varminter."
For the fluting, Laney says they knew the ratio they wanted--six flutes--and experimented with fluting styles from there. They shot barrels before and after fluting, eventually finding a design that gave the best all-around accuracy while still providing weight savings and the additional surface area to aid in cooling the barrel.
Speaking of barrel cooling, another new feature is T/C's Convection Enhancement System. It consists of seven evenly spaced holes drilled through the bottom of the fore-end, as well as horizontal slots cut perpendicular to the barrel channel.
It is designed to draw air up and around the barrel and work in concert with the barrel's fluting to reduce barrel heating. Laney says the barrel is also floated a little bit more than the standard Icon to provide more space for airflow.
The varmint-specific stock is a rich, warm laminate, a good choice because it provides a good stable platform for the barreled action. It has a beavertail fore-end; a cheekpiece; a raised comb; and a slight palm swell that is stippled for a sure grip with gloved or sweaty hands.
Of course, the stock retains the Icon's CNC-machined aluminum bedding block into which the action's three recoil lugs lock up solidly to ensure the Precision Hunter shoots tight and doesn't lose its zero.
Unique to my test gun was a pair of steel, T/C-built scope rings. The new rings are machined from a solid chunk of bar stock. They are solid yet thinner than some competing tactical designs. They also have a more rounded, low-profile nut than most tactical rings.
The new rings secured one of Nikon's newest Monarch scopes to the test rifle. The 3-12x40 has a matte finish, a standard plex-type reticle and a side-mounted parallax adjustment knob.
I started my testing with Hornady's 55-grain V-Max load, which clocked a speedy 3,602 fps out of the Precision Hunter. My first group was a respectable 0.9-inch, but mirage was tough and the trigger had a bit more creep than I've come to expect from the Icon.
The author's best 100-yard group with the Precision Hunter was a .37-inch, five-shot group with Hornady's 55-grain V-Max load.
Next, I tried Hornady's 40-grain load. It clocked a blistering 4,097 fps and turned in a respectable accuracy average of 0.91 inch for five five-shot groups. Federal's 55-grain BlitzKing load left the muzzle at 3,572 fps and averaged .97 inch.
The final load in my 100-yard accuracy testing was Winchester's 55-grain Ballistic Silvertip at a muzzle velocity of 3,594 fps. The Winchester load has shot very well out of the majority of my .22-250s and it's downright deadly on coyotes. But sometimes it takes a few groups before the coated offering reaches its accuracy potential.
That seemed to be the case with the Precision Hunter, which produced a first group of 1.62 inches and a fifth group of .68 inch, for an average of 1.14 inches. I have no doubt that my average would come way down were I to fire another five-group set, but I wanted to make sure my test was a true apples-to-apples comparison.
|Accuracy Results | T/C Icon Precision Hunter|
|.22-250 Rem.||Bullet Weight (gr.)|| Avg. Velocity (fps)||Best Group (in.)||Worst Group (in.)||Avg. Group (in.)|
|Federal BlitzKing ||55 ||3,572 ||0.75 ||1.29 ||0.97|
|Hornady V-Max||40 ||4,097 ||0.66 ||1.12 ||0.91|
|Hornady V-Max||55 ||3,602 ||0.37 ||0.90 ||0.64|
|Winchester BST ||55 ||3,594 ||0.68 ||1.62 ||1.14 |
|Average accuracy is the ave|
rage of five five-shot groups fired from a Caldwell front rest and rear bag at 100 yards. Velocity was the average of 10 rounds fired over a Shooting Chrony placed 15 feet from the muzzle. Abbreviation: BST, Ballictic Silvertip
As I mentioned, I didn't get to do any long-range work with the Precision Hunter, but I did get to fire a few groups with it from the 200-yard line.
I shot the 55-grain Hornady load since it was the most accurate at 100 yards. Despite the fact that it was hot and windy, I managed an average of 1.32 inches and a best group of 0.96 inch--not bad for 200-yards with a dirty barrel and a gusting wind. Still, I think some more load experimentation and a more powerful scope would yield some even more impressive results.
Overall, I was pretty darn impressed with the new Icon Precision Hunter. The cheekpiece was just the right height for me to get a perfect cheek weld, and the stock was very comfortable from the prone position and off the bench.
I didn't have a scientific way to test the Convection Enhancement System, but the Precision Hunter didn't seem to get near as hot as my own .22-250 with a similar-size barrel would get after the same number of shots.
I also liked the handling qualities of the new rifle. It is heavy enough to make calling your own shots a snap, but it's not so heavy you can't carry it around as a walking-and-calling piece. It's not ideal for that, but it's not so heavy as to preclude me from using it in that role.
The fit and finish of the rifle were first rate, though the bolt had a bit of a hitch. It seemed to require an extra push forward before I could push the bolt back down. I've noticed this on every Icon I've tested, so it isn't a problem specific to this gun. But it's not a big issue, and it does seem to diminish with time.
My only real complaint has to do with the trigger, which broke at just 3.3 pounds. But unlike most Icons I've shot, it had an inordinate amount of gritty creep. In fact, it had so much creep it almost felt like a two-stage trigger. That is very much unlike the triggers on my two Icons (a .308 and a .22-250 Weather Shield), which are crisp and creep-free.
I have a feeling my test gun's trigger is unique and expect that current production guns will share the same clean trigger pull as the rest of the Icon line.
Those small criticisms aside, the Precision Hunter is a damn fine rifle. It is more than accurate enough for long-distance work on the range or in the field, and it's a comfortable and user-friendly piece. It's also perfectly configured for its intended role and reasonably priced, with an MSRP of just $1,149--well below that of a custom rifle--you'd be hard-pressed to outshoot the T/C.
The test rifle left impression on me. In fact, I've already decided to order a new Icon Precision Hunter when my current .22-250's barrel reaches the end of its useful life. Based on my experience with the test rifle, the new Precision Hunter will do everything a replacement custom rig would do at half the price. What's not to like about that?