Thompson Center Arms was among the initial combatants in the current budget rifle war. The company used a lot of the blueprint from its now-defunct Icon — the brand's first bolt gun, superb but relatively expensive — to design a great budget rifle: the Thompson Center Venture. It borrowed the same enclosed receiver, same safety design, same steeply angled bolt shroud and large bolt release on the left side of the receiver and fat bolt design.
The Thompson Center Venture even got the Icon's 5R rifled barrel, which has non-symmetrical rifling to reduce fouling, improve bullet stability and help maintain even pressures.
The rifles shared many features, but to reduce costs, instead of the Icon's wooden stock with an aluminum bedding block, the Thompson Center Venture has an injection-molded stock with raised Hogue rubber grip panels and a free-floated barrel.
With the departure of the Icon from the line a few years ago, the Thompson Center Venture had to stand in as the company's flagship bolt rifle. And in a world where rifle companies are judged by their least expensive guns and not their most expensive, the Venture has helped increase T/C's share of the market. The rifle promises one m.o.a. accuracy, which means that at 100 yards you can expect groups under an inch. In addition to the standard blued version, T/C also offers an All Weather version with Weather Shield exterior coating and a camo version with Realtree's MAX-1 or AP Snow dips.
Recently, T/C also announced the Compact, a downsized version of the Venture. It's similar to the standard blued Venture in every way except that it comes with a shortened stock (12.5-inch length of pull) and a 20-inch barrel.
In addition, the Thompson Center Venture comes with a one-inch spacer and an additional recoil pad so the rifle can be adjusted to a longer length of pull. This is a great option when buying a rifle for a youngster. Kids often learn to hunt and shoot when they are still young enough to require a gun with reduced length of pull, but within a few years these shooters have outgrown their compact guns and are ready for something larger. The Venture Compact allows for an additional inch of length and reduces the need to upgrade to a longer gun.
Increasing length of pull requires removal of the recoil pad and the addition of the extra stock segment. The process is simple, and anyone with basic mechanical skills can accomplish the switch quickly. There is a visible seam between the stock and the addition, but it looks much better than the stackable recoil pad additions seen on offerings from other companies that resemble a lumpy pile of badly burned flapjacks.
Like other Thompson Center Venture rifles, the Compact has a two-position rocker-type safety that allows the bolt to be operated in the Safe position. The large safety lever is comfortable and easy to find, and it's quiet enough that you won't alert game when you're ready to fire. The bolt has a 60-degree lift, and on my sample it worked smoothly. There were no issues with feeding, chambering, extraction or ejection.
I'd count the Thompson Center Venture among the slickest of all budget rifles, and the plastic box magazine is lightweight, easy to load and unload, and it latches firmly in place without extra effort. One of the Venture's best accuracy-enhancing features is a light, creep-free adjustable trigger that breaks at just over four pounds.
The .223 Rem. Thompson Center Venture I tested performed extremely well, although only one brand of factory ammunition produced groups that averaged under an inch. Nosler's 55-grain Varmageddon tipped ammo performed best, averaging 0.76-inch groups, and none of the three groups measured more than an inch with it. Full results are shown in the accompanying chart.
Of course, the 20-inch barrel reduces velocities a bit. If you compare the velocities I recorded during accuracy testing to published factory figures, you'll find they're all lower.
But this is not necessarily a bad thing for the vast majority of hunting, especially where youngsters are concerned, and with this short barrel and short stock you're talking about a rifle weighing a mere 6.75 pounds unloaded and unscoped. Young people and smaller (or weaker) adults will find a rifle in this weight range easier to shoot, handle and carry.
There's an intense battle for the best budget rifle title, and I think the Thompson Center Venture deserves a shot at the crown. It includes price-reducing options like an injection-molded stock, yet the gun feels smooth and well put together.
If you're buying a gun your child will continue to use as he or she grows, it's nice to know the gun is built to a high standard like the Thompson Center Venture. And with the Compact version, your arsenal won't need to grow just because your kids do.