By Ralph M. Lermayer
Like the Contender, the new G2 handgun can be fitted with a rifle buttstock and a 16 1/4-inch barrel. That combination creates a compact, accurate rifle well-suited for hunting big game in tight cover.
In the late ‘60s, Thompson Center Arms, most noted for building quality muzzleloaders, released a unique single-shot pistol. Early critics thought the move a foolish one. Why, they asked, in this heyday of double- and single-action revolvers, would anyone want to buy a single-shot handgun?
The answer lay in a then-popular and fast-growing form of competition. Silhouette shooting was gaining ground, and, at the time, the winner’s circle was dominated by Remington’s XP100, a bolt-action single-shot handgun. The original T/C Contender was released to capture a share of that market - it was to be a contender.
From the beginning, it was made to be used with a variety of barrels. Using the same grip and frame, a shooter could compete in both the rimfire and centerfire classes. A clever stud on the revolver-style hammer could select either a rimfire or centerfire firing pin. The Contender was an instant success, soon bumping the XP100 for a share of the medals. Besides being a well-balanced and inherently accurate gun, part of its success came from foresight of its designers. In a break with convention, the Contender trigger could be adjusted by the shooter, down to just ounces if he chose. T/C even included the adjustment tool with each frame.
It wasn’t long before another group of shooters, handgun hunting enthusiasts, took notice of the accurate little gun, and to fill that demand, longer barrels, bigger calibers, scope mounts and more hunter-friendly grips were offered. The rest is history. T/C’s Contender is today the most popular handgun in the hunting world.
This handy lever allows the shooter to switch from centerfire to rimfire to match the barrel. In the center is the safety mode.
In spite of its success, there were two design elements that hunters objected to. The first, if you slowly lowered the hammer on a loaded round, you would have to open the action and reset the hammer before you could fire the round. A hunter who cocked the hammer and then changed his mind or lost the opportunity had to go through the potentially noisy recocking procedure. And two, early grips were designed for a competitor’s hold with milder cartridges. The grip and trigger guard were close together. With the heavier hunting loads, the trigger guard could bite the shooter’s hand if he wasn’t careful.
While cruising the aisles at the 2000 SHOT Show, I made my usual stop at T/C’s booth. Marketing Director Eric Brooker reached under the counter and handed me a prototype Contender frame - the G2 (Generation Two). This one had the great feel of the original Contender, but could be recocked without having to open the action. Plus, there was substantially more room between the grip and trigger guard. Problems solved. But I have to admit my glee was somewhat diminished when I learned the fully adjustable trigger was gone, as was the laser engraving that adorned the sides of the Contender receiver. Small loss - the factory trigger is set at 2 1/2 pounds, and the redesigned trigger guard is much more hunter friendly. But most importantly, you can now recock without opening the action. All old-style Contender barrels and fore-ends will fit the G2, but because of the redesign, older grips and carbine stocks are not interchangeable.
Barrel change is as easy as removing a single screw and pushing out the pivot pin.
The next time I saw the G2 was on an Alabama deer hunt. It was fitted with a 12-inch barrel chambered in .30-30. With a 2-6x Bushnell scope, that combination fired 150-grain factory loads into 2 inches at 100 yards. I didn’t get lucky on that trip, but since then, it has taken one mule deer and several coyotes as well as one spectacular shot as a .45-caliber muzzleloader on a recent caribou hunt. With a .45-70 barrel, it’s sure to see a lot of bear action over bait. My Contenders hunt!
There are few firearms as versatile as the Contender. As a hunting handgun, it has no peer, but perhaps a well-kept secret among serious hunters is that the Contender, including the new G2, can be fitted with a rifle buttstock and a 16 1/4-inch barrel. That combination creates a compact, deadly accurate rifle uniquely suited for those who choose to hunt big game in tight cover or bring wary predators to the call.
Carbine stocks are available in walnut, black composite or a camo composite, all with fore-ends to match. The uniqueness of the carbine stock is that it is designed to simply screw onto the handgun-style grip frame. That creates a deep pistol grip that has all the virtues of a thumbhole stock without the restrictions. It’s a design unique to T/C, and I know of nothing remotely like it in any other firearm, which I find surprising since it works so well. That grip allows full one-hand control of the rifle from a wide variety of awkward and unconventional shooting positions. Sitting, standing, squatted or scrunched up, the carbine feels right and gets on target, rock steady and fast. I may choose full-size rifles for long-distance shooting, but when hunting from a stand or calling to close cover, the short-barreled Contender is my first choice. Scoped, the composite stocked carbine weighs less than 6 pounds.
The heart of a G2 Contender system is the frame. Once you own one, you open a world of options that range from a 10-inch-barreled .22 LR handgun up to a 16 1/4-inch .45-70 with a host of options in between, including a .45-caliber muzzleloader and vent-rib .410.
Barrels are available in 10, 14, 16 1/4 and 21 inches. There is a reason for the odd 16 1/4-inch option. According to regulations established by the 1968 gun laws, a rifle barrel must be a minimum of 16 inches to be legal. In the carbine configuration, no barrel shorter than 16 1/4 inches should ever be installed. With the handgun grip installed, there is no lower or upper limit.
T/C offers a variety of factory barrels, but there is a second source that further expands the potential. Fox Ridge Outfitters (www.foxridgeoutfitters.com, 800-243-4570) is a mail-order division of T/C. Besides offering a pile of neat stuff, they are also the source for the special barrels available from the T/C Custom Shop for the Contender. Any reasonable barrel length up to 28 inches is offered for a huge number of special calibers. Here, you’ll find the likes of .17K Hornet, .221 Fireball, .223 Ackley Improved (40-degree shoulder), .300 Whisper or a combination .45/.410. There are an additional 46 chamberings, including a host of popular wildcats and some obsolete chamberings like the .25-20 that you simply can’t get anywhere else. The chamberings are limited to moderate-pressure cartridges. For the truly big stuff, you’ll need to step up to the Contender’s big brother - the Encore.
At the Bench
Over the years, I’ve bought or swapped dozens of Contender barrels. Most shot extremely well. One .45/.410 barrel was limited to 5 inches at 50 yards, but most standard barrels delivered the elusive 1- to 1 1/2-inch groups at 100 yards with factory ammo if I did my part. Handloads have always improved performance regardless of caliber. Two that I tried simply didn’t shoot to my expectations. One was a 21-inch .223, and the other, a 6mm TCU. They were returned to the factory and promptly replaced at no charge. The replacements shot well. T/C stands behind its stuff.
There are some cautions. When sighting in the G2, as a rifle or handgun, put the forward rest under the receiver, not under the fore-end. For some reason, groups open up when you put a hard rest under the fore-end. Secondly, be careful where your fore-end hand is while shooting, especially with the 16 1/4-inch barrel. With a barrel that short, you can get your hand a lot closer to the muzzle than is prudent.
Any rifle will work on varmints, and we all have our big game favorites. For sheer convenience, whether it’s sitting in the pickup next to me, riding on the four-wheeler, or slung over my shoulder for a calling session, one of my all-time favorites is a short-barreled Contender carbine. With the new G2 frame, it’s better yet.
Reprinted from the April 2004 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine