July 09, 2020
By J. Scott Rupp
Thompson/Center has long been known as an innovative firearms company. After all, it’s responsible for the famous Encore and Contender single-shot lines—the Transformers of the firearms world that can become rifles, handguns, muzzleloaders or shotguns with just a few parts swaps.
The company’s track record with its bolt-action rifles has not been as stellar, however. I liked its first effort, the Icon, that was introduced in 2007. It was a handsome and accurate rifle, and I killed my biggest whitetail buck with one. But the Icon was relatively expensive—or at least it struggled against other rifles in its price range—and it languished, exiting the catalog in 2012.
There followed a series of less-expensive bolt guns: the Venture (2009), the novel switch-barrel Dimension (2012, since discontinued) and the Compass (2016). It certainly didn’t help that all three have been the subject of recalls, but the bottom line is the Compass and Venture didn’t offer enough features to compete well in a crowded marketplace.
Thompson/Center intends to change that with the new II-series rifles, the Compass II and the Venture II. The Venture II is the higher priced of the two—$525 versus $405, suggested retail—and is being positioned as the company’s flagship bolt-action rifle.
As such, the Venture II is chambered to all the usual suspects from .223/5.56 through .300 Win. Mag., plus the relatively new .350 Legend. I realize some of you reading this are tired of seeing coverage of the 6.5 Creedmoor, but it’s the only chambering that was ready to roll when I had to get the review written for this issue. The 6.5 Creedmoor and the .308 Win. models were in the pipeline at press time, and the rest should be coming on line in short order if they haven’t already.
At the heart of the rifle is a three-lug “fat” bolt with sliding extractor that provides a short 60-degree throw. The bolt rides in a round receiver with a partially enclosed ejection port. A cut in the left side of the bolt’s body matches up with the bolt release projection, and it rides smoothly in its tube with no wobble. The silver bolt release on the left side of the receiver actually looks nice—many don’t—and operates easily.
The bolt handle is on the small side, both in terms of length and knob, and it’s slightly angled. I had no trouble mounting a Leupold VX-3i 4.5-14x40mm, and even with today’s trend toward larger ocular lenses, you should find plenty of bolt clearance with this setup.
Round-end cuts on both sides and top of the receiver reduce weight and also give the rifle a racy look. The rifle comes with two single-slot Weaver-style scope bases secured to the receiver with Torx screws.
One of the big improvements to the Venture II over the original is the new Generation II trigger, and T/C really did a nice job with it. It’s a non-adjustable bladed style, and judging by my sample, it doesn’t need to be adjustable—depending on your expectations. Specs call for a pull between three and four pounds. The pull on mine was two pounds, 12 ounces and nicely consistent, with zero creep or overtravel.
The safety is a two-position lever on the right side. It doesn’t lock the bolt on Safe, which I like. The lever features a relatively broad, serrated square at the top, and the throw is fairly short. This makes it quick and easy to move to the Fire position, but as there’s not a ton of tension on the lever, you’d be wise to ensure it doesn’t get moved accidentally through contact with clothing, packs or vegetation when carrying it in the field.
Short-action cartridges get a 22-inch barrel, and long actions get a 24-inch barrel. All are threaded 5/8x24 except for the .223 version, which sports 1/2x28 threads. A plastic thread cap is provided.
All Venture II barrels feature 5R rifling, long a hallmark of Thompson/Center rifles. 5R rifling uses five lands and five grooves, and the lands are opposite the grooves. With an even-numbered lands-and-grooves design, lands are opposite lands and can squeeze the bullet into the grooves, causing deformation. With 5R you don’t get that pressure, and bullets exit the muzzle in a more pristine condition, which contributes to accuracy.
Further, 5R lands are slanted, not at 90 degrees to the bore as in conventional rifling. This makes the bore easier to keep free of copper or other deposits. When I received the rifle, I examined the barrel with a Hawkeye borescope. I found one of the smoothest bores I’ve seen on a production rifle, with just one small chatter mark near the chamber. There was a tiny bit of copper fouling ahead of the chamber, likely from test firing.
During zeroing and testing, I fired 60 rounds, with a bare-bones cleaning between test loads. This was followed by another 60 rounds of position firing, with only a hasty cleaning once I was finished for the day. I reexamined the bore when I got home, and while there was noticeable copper fouling (I didn’t use a dedicated copper cleaner at the range), it was easily removed with a proper application of Bore Tech copper cleaner.
I mentioned earlier that Thompson/Center has named the Venture II its flagship bolt action, and in addition to the Generation II trigger, which is also found on the new Compass II, the Venture II is treated to the company’s Weather Shield metal finish. It looks like matte stainless, but it’s actually much more corrosion resistant than straight stainless—50 times more, according to the company’s testing.
The barreled action is free-floated in an injection-molded polymer stock with aluminum bedding pillars, and the recoil lug is washer style. The fore-end features a series of molded-in X-shaped cross braces that provide the stiffness often lacking in synthetic stocks while keeping weight down.
There is no bottom metal. Instead, the trigger guard is molded into the stock as one piece, and the three-round single-stack magazine simply snaps into the magazine well cutout in the belly of the stock.
The Venture II’s stock also features Hogue OverMolded “traction panels” at the wrist and the fore-end. These address one of my complaints with many of today’s injection-molded stocks—namely that they don’t always provide a good grip. The panels on the Venture II provide excellent gripping surfaces, and it’s something anyone who hunts in the rain or in cold weather will really appreciate.
The stock has a straight comb, which I found to be on the narrow side. Typically when I accuracy-test rifles with straight stocks, I add a strap-on cheekpiece to get my head position right, and I feared once I took off the cheekpiece to shoot the gun from field positions—which I did because I expect few buyers would use a strap-on cheek pad—the stock would be uncomfortable against my cheekbone. I didn’t find that at all, at least in the 6.5 Creedmoor chambering, and I liked how the slightly curved recoil pad fit my shoulder.
As you can see from the accompanying accuracy chart, the Venture II is capable of excellent accuracy. Frankly, with its great trigger, 5R rifling and relatively rigid stock, I expected it to be. Of the five loads, the only ammunition the rifle didn’t care for was Federal Fusion. No offense to Federal, but I’ve found few rifles that shoot Fusion to any great degree of accuracy.
The rest of the averages were terrific, and I was particularly pleased to see that a “good ol’ bullet”—as Craig Boddington calls pointed softpoints like the InterLock in Hornady’s American Whitetail—outperformed more technically advanced bullets. I think an economical rifle should shoot economical ammo well.
All is not roses, though. I’ve never liked the three-shot single-stack magazine Thompson/Center has incorporated into some of its rifles. I don’t like the limited capacity, and I don’t like that it can’t be top-loaded.
First, if you hunt with the chamber empty, once you do chamber a round in anticipation of a shot you’ve got only two backup rounds. Second, you can’t top off without removing the magazine—which can be inconvenient at best if things aren’t going well. Complicating this, I found the small magazine latch difficult to operate with gloves on. However, there’s no faulting the magazine’s reliability. It functioned like a champ.
The partially enclosed ejection port is on the small side, and it’s nearly impossible to single-load the rifle. I gripe about this because it’s how I like to load when I’m shooting from the bench, and it may or may not matter to you.
As our reviewer of the original Venture pointed out, the bolt is difficult on initial lift and upon closing. The same goes for the Venture II. The stiffness is exacerbated by a bolt handle that doesn’t provide a whole lot of leverage. However, I experienced this almost entirely while firing deliberately from the bench. From field positions, working the bolt hard, I barely noticed it, and other than that the bolt cycles very smoothly.
Overall, the rifle proved to be a solid performer, both from the bench and from field positions. The slim fore-end and wrist with their traction panels felt good in my hands, and the balance was great with the Leupold aboard. From sitting and kneeling I was able to keep relatively rapidly fired rounds in a six-inch circle at 100 yards.
Shouldering the rifle quickly and firing offhand showed me I could hit the vitals of a big game animal out to that distance if I did my part, which speaks to its good handling.
The rifle’s base weight is 7.3 pounds, and with the Leupold aboard, it weighed eight pounds, six ounces. Throw in a couple ounces for ammo, and you’re looking at 8.5 pounds. So it’s a standard-weight rifle that won’t weigh you down too much while hiking or climbing, yet it has the gun weight to make it easy to shoot well.
Thompson/Center has its work cut out for it with the Venture II, to be sure. The term “flooded” doesn’t even begin to describe the state of the budget-rifle market, and many of these inexpensive rifles shoot accurately and have good-to-great triggers.
However, while the Venture II isn’t expensive, it actually sits a price category above true budget rifles. Its competitors are “upgraded” versions of budget rifles from Remington, Mossberg, Ruger, Savage and others—rifles with camo stocks, better metal finishes, etc.
Other firms have simply extended specific budget lines to include upgraded versions, but Thompson/Center has taken a “good/better” approach with two different models in the Compass II and Venture II. That might be a good tack. While the firm hasn’t been in the bolt-action rifle arena as long as many of its competitors, the Thompson/Center name does have cachet. Between its accuracy, Weather Shield metal treatment and great trigger, there’s plenty to recommend the new Venture II.
Thompson/Center Venture II Specs
- Type: 3-lug bolt action
- Caliber: .223, .243, 6.5 Creedmoor (tested), .270 Win., 7mm Rem. Mag., .308 Win., .30-06, .300 Win. Mag., .350 Legend.
- Capacity: 3+1, detachable magazine
- Barrel: 22 in. (as tested), 5R rifling, threaded 5/8x24, 1:8 twist
- Overall Length: 42 in.
- Weight: 7.3 lb.
- Finish: Weather Shield
- Stock: Black polymer w/aluminum bedding pillars, Hogue Over Molded panels
- Trigger: Generation II non-adjustable single-stage; 2 lb., 12 oz. pull (measured)
- Safety: Two-position non-blocking lever
- Price: $525
- Manufacturer: Thompson/Center, TCarms.com
Thompson/Center Venture II Accuracy Results