Review: Thompson/Center T/CR22
February 19, 2019
If you looked at Thompson/Center’s new T/CR22 and thought, “Hey, they’ve knocked off the Ruger 10/22,” you wouldn’t be alone. It’s certainly what I thought when I first saw it. But if you were introducing a new semiauto .22, wouldn’t you look to one of the most popular, if not the most popular, .22s of all time for inspiration?
Yes, the T/CR22 is derivative, but there’s more to T/C’s new rimfire than meets the eye, and I’ll start with the stock. It’s not a plain Jane black synthetic but rather a good-looking olive-drab composite stock, one that’s co-branded T/C and Magpul. It’s got a distinctive look for sure, and it’s vaguely reminiscent of other stocks Magpul makes for Ruger 10/22s. The relieved portion at the bottom of the stock isn’t as dramatic as, say, Magpul’s X-22 Backpacker, but it’s certainly noticeable and surely contributes to the stock’s light one-pound, three-ounce weight.
It’s got a comfortable wrist that’s lightly stippled on the sides and horizontally serrated on the front. The stock flares slightly at the top to produce a comfortable comb. While the stock is relieved at the bottom, the butt itself is full size and capped off with a serrated, plastic buttplate. A swivel hole is molded into the toe.
The fore-end is hand-filling and flat at the bottom for resting on sandbags or fenceposts, and there are two M-Lok slots in the bottom front for mounting accessories such as a light, laser or light/laser combo unit.
Laugh if you will, but back when I used to shoot rats at night, I would’ve killed to have one of today’s light/laser units and an easy way to mount one. Sure beats taping flashlights to our .22s with electrical tape like we used to do. And, of course, you could also use the M-Lok slots to affix a bipod for a young shooter. A sling swivel mounting hole is molded into the fore-end tip.
The 17-inch barrel is button-rifled, and it sports a 1/2x28 threaded muzzle for a compensator or suppressor. The rifle ships with a knurled thread protector.
The barrel is affixed to the receiver via a screw-in block à la the 10/22. And at this point I should mention that the T/CR22 will accept 10/22 accessories—at least stocks and barrels. Smith & Wesson’s Tony Miele (Smith & Wesson owns Thompson/Center, in case you didn’t know) said it might also take aftermarket 10/22 triggers, but he left me with the impression this would be case by case. Some may fit, some may not.
The receiver is machined from 6061 aluminum, and there’s an integral Picatinny rail at the top. The stainless steel bolt is treated to an oversize, cylindrical, grooved charging handle.
At the back is a peep sight that’s adjustable for elevation by loosening a clamping screw on the side of the sight and sliding the entire unit forward or back on its dovetail. Windage adjustments are made by loosening a setscrew forward of the aperture and moving the aperture left or right. The rear peep mates up to a green fiber-optic front, a nice setup for plinking or hunting.
The trigger is standard 10/22-like, which means it’s nothing special but certainly fine. The sample on the T/CR22 broke at four pounds, seven ounces on average, and it was quite consistent from pull to pull. There’s a bit of take-up and some creep.
The T/CR22 is relatively easy to disassemble. The barreled action is held in place by a single action screw. Turn that out (note it’s kinda captured but can be turned all the way out, although I don’t know why you’d want to) and move the crossbolt safety halfway between Safe and Fire. Lift the barreled action out of the stock.
Drift out the slip-fit pins that hold the trigger in place and remove the trigger. No further disassembly of the trigger group is recommended. Drift out the bolt stop pin and pull the bolt handle all the way to the rear. Lift up on the bolt to remove it.
With the bolt removed, you’ll find T/C designers thoughtfully bored a hole in the rear of the receiver through which you can run a cleaning rod. While I do use pull-through cleaners at the range, when it’s time to really clean a bore I break out the rod, so I really appreciate being able to clean it this way without having to remove the barrel.
However, I found the action difficult to reassemble. The directions tell you to use a screwdriver to compress the action spring and then hold it back with one hand while you slide the bolt onto bolt handle bar with the other—matching the notch in the bolt with the notch in the bar. The manual also tells you to be careful not to scratch the finish inside the receiver with the screwdriver.
I’m sorry, but asking me to use a screwdriver, retain parts that are under spring tension with one hand while trying to manipulate another part with my other hand is a recipe for disaster. It took me a while to get it done the first time, and, yes, I scratched the crap out of the inside of the receiver with the screwdriver. I’m sure most of you aren’t as mechanically challenged as I am, but I don’t like this setup.
Let’s move on to one of the biggest differences between the T/CR22 and the 10/22. If you own or have shot the latter, you know the bolt doesn’t hold back on the last shot. The bolt on the T/CR22 does, thanks to a newly designed 10-shot rotary magazine.
Thompson/Center engineers added a small tab on the left side of the mag that protrudes when the last shot has been fired and locks the bolt to the rear. Cool, right? Well, I had a love/hate relationship with this magazine, and it was mostly hate—at least at first.
To load the magazine, you need to push down the tab to load the first round. Seems simple enough, but there’s a trick to getting the first round in there without bollixing things up. Here’s what worked for me. When loading the first round, push down the tab but don’t press the first round into the magazine as you normally would. Instead, place the first round with the rim in the cut in the feed lips, then slide it to the rear. Let up on the tab and load the rest normally.
There’s definitely a learning curve, and I watched a number of people at a media event struggle with it. I did eventually master it, but if you want to cut out all the hassle, there’s a simple solution: Use 10/22 magazines. They’ll feed fine; they just won’t lock back the bolt.
On the plus side of the ledger, manually locking back the bolt on the T/CR22 is a heck of a lot easier than it is with the 10/22. Just push the lever in the front of the trigger guard while holding back the bolt. No messing around trying to place the lever in the correct position like you do with an unmodified Ruger.
For testing, I mounted an Aimpoint Micro H2 on the T/CR22’s Pic rail and shot it at 50 yards with a number of different types of ammo. Results are shown in the accompanying chart.
Yes, groups would’ve been smaller had I used a scope, but I figure most people are going to use either a reflex or a red dot sight on this gun—if they’re not shooting the excellent open sights—and my results are indicative of what kind of practical accuracy you can expect.
I did run into a few functioning issues. With the Aguila Super Extra standard velocity load, I had three consecutive rounds fail to fire, and there were no primer strikes evident on the cases. I put them back in the magazine and tried again, and all three fired. I also had one failure to extract with this load.
There were three failures to chamber with the Eley High Velocity Hollow load. It’s either a dimensional problem or possibly the black oxide coating Eley uses on the cases for this round. It was the only load that had chambering issues.
You never like to see a gun malfunction, but semiautos can be fussy about loads they will cycle faithfully. If I were going to use the T/CR22 for action competition, I’d be sure to test any preferred brands/loads to be sure they’ll function properly.
So by now you’re asking why someone would choose the T/CR22 over a Ruger 10/22. The T/C rifle carries a suggested retail of $399. The basic 10/22 (Sporter, with wood stock) has a suggested retail of $420. With the T/CR22 you’re paying less than what you’d pay for the Ruger, but you get a better stock, better sights, a machined-in Picatinny rail, oversize charging handle, threaded barrel and a magazine that will lock back the bolt. Many of these features are ones you’d opt to upgrade—as in, pay extra for—with a stock Ruger.