Gun Review: Thompson/Center Icon

I grew up shooting Weatherby Mark V’s and a Steyr SSG. And there I was, a full-grown adult with a credit score and everything, browsing the gun rack at Sportsman’s Warehouse. I noticed a Thompson/Center chambered in .243 Winchester. The rifle’s beautiful walnut stock and unique stealth-like receiver design set it apart, like the beautiful girl in a line-up of potential partners at a high school dance. I struck up a conversation. Big mistake—as far as my credit card balance was concerned. After checking the temperature of my increasingly warm plastic, I got wood . . .

While the Thompson/Center Icon’s stock isn’t an exhibition grade piece, it’s far more elegant than standard production rifles in this price range. The T/C’s semi-matt lustre stock boasts even grain and some curling, with sharp, precise, lightly decorated 20 LPI checkering. The stock’s classic sporter contour offers a low, straight comb and no cheekpiece. The contoured barrel’s blued with a deep high-lustre finish; the receiver and trigger guard are blued with a semi-matte black finish.

Overall, the T/C Icon’s design provides moods for moderns. with styling cues borrowed from the Browning Cynergy shotgun. It’s simple, elegant, refined and deadly.

The T/C Icon sports a European Mannlicher-style butter knife bolt handle, detachable box magazine, and integral weaver rail.  For this hunter, the Icon’s 60º-angle bolt throw makes the Remington 700’s and Winchester Model 70’s 90º throw seem like an anachronism–especially when shooting with gloves.

A rifle bolt that rattles too much when unlocked is hardly confidence inspiring (animals seem to notice it too). At the same time, if a rifle’s action is too tight the bolt can get hung up on snow, ice or dirt. The Icon’s bolt-action is slippery smooth, with just enough play to make it appropriate for field use.

At some point, the salesman proffered the test target that came with the rifle. It documented a three-shot, .59 MOA group. I needed the Icon. Not really. But I could make a hell of a good rationalization . . .

The .243 Win is a versatile cartridge. It shoots flat enough with 55-70 grain bullets to take out coyote and other varmints. The 85-100 grain bullets are big enough to handle white-tailed deer, antelope, hogs / boar, and similar sized beasts. Unless elk or bear are on your menu, the .243 Win is a time-tested “can do” cartridge. While there may be newer, better performing rounds on the market, the .243 Win is not a bank breaker.  And unlike your super sexy 6.5 Creedmoor, .243 WSSM, or 6.5 x 284 Norma, you will likely find a box of .243 Win at Wal-Mart or the general store out in the toolies.

But wait! There’s more! I told myself. In fact, I jotted down the Icon’s advantages over the competition. (I’m like that.)

1. The T/C Icon has an ergonomic, aluminum pillar bedded, free-floating stock.

Modern stocks are obviating the need to have hunting rifles custom bedded, which saves on gun-smithing costs. The Icon’s stock has an Interlok™ bedding block. As the name implies, it’s an aluminum block embedded into the wood stock.  The receiver bolts to the bedding block in three locations. According to T/C, Interlok “provides a stable and rigid platform for securing the barreled action into the stock.” This system does not appear to be revolutionary, as my Remington PSS comes equipped with an H-S Precision® stock that has a similar set up.   Nonetheless, it’s a “state-of-the art” feature in a sensible priced firearm.

2. The T/C Icon has integrated Weaver rails.

Back in the old days, most rifles needed to be drilled and tapped by a gunsmith. These days, most, if not all, of the major manufacturers offer pre-drilled/tapped rifles or proprietary rail designs. However, many of those rifles still need bases, which translates into extra green-backs.

The Icon offers integral Weaver rails integrally CNC machined as part of the receiver, obviating the need to buy and install scope bases. As shown below, the rings mount directly to the receiver’s Weaver rail, which results in one less set of screws that can loosen up or otherwise introduce an error into the equation.  In the photo below, you can see the rails, the Leopold® scope rings, and a Leopold® LPS™ 2.5 x 10 x 45 scope (now discontinued).

[Wonk Note:  A Weaver rail looks and feels pretty much the same as a picatinny rail, but there are some subtle but potentially important differences. It is doubtful that it makes much practical difference in the case of a hunting rifle, since I can’t imagine anybody wanting to put mil-spec tact-toys on a rifle of this design.]

3. The Icon’s bolt is a massive hunk of steel

It’s much thicker than most modern bolt designs and nicely jeweled along its length. I’m guessing that it weighs in at right at a pound. Assuming one were so inclined, the Icon’s bolt could probably serve double duty as a kubaton.

Compared to a Mauser-designed bolt (e.g., the Ruger M77 or Winchester Model 70), the Icon’s bolt does not have large long extractor running down its length, or any other protruding parts for that matter. Rather, all of the guts are contained inside of the bolt itself, similar to the Remington 700 bolt. This explains the Icon’s smooth and effortlessly cycling. That said, I’m puzzled by the bolt’s immense girth; I suspect business efficiencies are responsible.

In the photo below, I have placed three bolts side by side to make a size comparison (from left to right: Ruger M77 Mark II Safari in .375 H&H Mag, T/C Icon in .243 Win, and Remington 700 PSS in .308 Win.). As you can see, the Icon’s bolt is more or less the same size as the bolt for the Ruger .375 H&H Magnum, and the Remington 700’s .308 bolt is considerably smaller.

One really unusual but welcome feature on the T/C Icon: you can quickly change out the bolt handle between the standard “butter knife” handle design or a more traditional round bolt handle. The Icon comes with a bolt disassembly tool, which is required to remove the firing pin assembly from the bolt.

The bolt also features three large locking lugs on the front of the bolt face. The extractor is cleverly integrated into one of the three lugs; it appears to be similar in design to the Remington 700. The Icon’s bolt also features a cocking indicator so you can tell if the rifle is armed. Note that this feature is NOT a loaded chamber indicator; it simply tells you if the action is cocked.

4. Detachable magazine

The Mauser internal magazine / floorplate design sucks, especially if the rifle is scoped and you’re not loading the gun via stripper clips. A detachable magazine loaded from the bottom of the rifle is ten times more efficient and convenient. In most cases, it makes the rifle a tad lighter, too. All medium action Icons come equipped with a 3-round detachable magazine (the long action models are equipped with the traditional hinged floorplate). Purists may recoil (so to speak) from a polymer instead of steel magazine. Meanwhile, modern polymer magazines are stronger, quieter, and less prone to getting dinged or dented than steel. The $4000(+) Blaser LRS-2 sniper rifle is equipped with steel-reinforced polymer magazines.

5. User friendly safety

Opinions vary on the best location / design of the safety mechanism. I prefer a labelled tang safety, similar to the one on my Beretta Silver Pigeon III shotgun. But none of the designs are a deal breaker. The Icon’s modern two-position safety allows the bolt to be manipulated while the gun is in “safe” mode. An independent bolt lock secures the bolt from opening during field use. The bolt lock is automatically disengaged when the safety is moved to its forward (firing) position. If you are used to the Remington 700, the Icon’s system is a snap.

6. Trigger

Trigger technology has come a long way in the past 30 years, and most of the major manufacturers are producing triggers that are user-adjustable.  Long gone are the years where the gun buyer had to make the obligatory trip to the gunsmith to get a trigger job.  The Icon’s trigger does not disappoint:  it is creep-free and exhibits only slight over-travel.  The Icon comes equipped with a small allen wrench that allows the user to set the trigger between 3.5 and 5.0 lbs. I keep mine set at 3.5 lbs unless I’m shooting coyotes in the winter, in which case I set the trigger closer to 5 lbs for use with large gloves (and, invariably, cold fingers).

7. 5R™ Rifling

The Icon has a 24 inch, medium contour barrel with 1:10 twist. I’m not sure if “5R rifling” is a marketing gimmick or some genuine advance in technology, and so I mention it only for sake of completeness. According to T/C: “5R rifling is a rifling developed in Russia which uses 5 lands and 5 grooves instead of the traditional 6 lands and grooves. In addition, the sides of each land are cut at a 65 degree angle versus a harsh 90 degree angle on standard rifling.”

Personally, I’m not sure if I would have mentioned the “developed in Russia” part, as that seems to invoke imagery of drunken Bolsheviks using utilitarian but somewhat obsolete com-block weapons, as opposed to anything high-tech or supremely accurate. In any event, T/C’s website calls the barrel “match grade.” As far as I can tell, that phrase does not have an objective standard in the context of barrels. I think it’s is just their way of saying “really kick ass” whilst sounding technical and professional.

8. Pachmayr® recoil pad and sling-swivel studs

The mid-century knob pattern and 1950’s-era font on the Pachmayr label embedded in the recoil pad doesn’t match the otherwise modern aesthetic of the Icon. But I’m sure that won’t bother by the vast majority of potential purchasers. (Note to Pachmayr:  I know a couple of good under-employed graphic designers – call me!)

Using high quality factory ammo (Hornady, Federal, Nosler, etc.) I’ve used the T/C Icon to shoot ½ to ¾ inch groups at 100 yards, and consistent 1 to 2 inch groups at 200 yards. For this article, I journeyed to Tri-County Gun Club and shot a series of groups at 100 yards using two different Federal factory loads: 58 grain Hornady V-Max and 70 grain V-Shok Nosler Ballistic tip. Deploying a bi-pod and a rear mono-pod,  three-shot, 100-yard groups from a bench ran as follows: .42, .54, .58, .62, .72, .76, .78, .78, .83, and .87. Both of the two largest groups started as two-shot .3 inch groups, with the third shot opening up the group considerably (I choked on the third shot.)

My main if not only criticism of the Thompson/Center Icon: weight. At 7.75 lbs. it’s up to a pound heavier than some of the competition. But unless you are going to be humping it up a mountain in pursuit of dall sheep or similar animals, a pound or so isn’t that big a deal. (I might change my mind as I get older.) Some folks may object to the use of the investment casting steel floorplate and trigger guard. I’m ambivalent. It’s not a part that is subjected to a great deal of stress, and if it saves a few bucks and yet maintains good strength and rigidity, then I’m Ok with it.

As I am with the T/C Icon generally. You could even say that she’s proven to be one of the best dance partners in my collection. Do I regret dropping a grand to secure her affections? I do not. And neither will you.

THOMPSON/CENTER ICON

Specifications

Caliber: .243 Win.  The ICON is also available in .22-250 REM, .243 WIN, .6.5 Creedmoor, .308 WIN & .30 T/C .  The Icon “Classic” is available in .270 WIN, .280 REM., .30-06 SPRG, .7MM REM MAG., .300 WIN MAG, and .338 WIN MAG.

Barrel: 24” 1:10 twist.
Size: 44 overall length
Weight: 7.75 lbs. empty
Operation: bolt
Finish: blued
Capacity: 3+1
MSRP: $933  (Street price, as usual, is around 20% less).

Ratings (Out of Five Stars)

 

Accuracy:  * * * * *

In terms of rifles with conventional barrel contours, I doubt that there is any other gun manufacturer out that consistently produces a more accurate rifle in this price category.  If there is, I have not shot one yet.

 

Ergonomics: * * * *

The butter knife bolt may not be to every person’s liking, so I will deduct a point. Even so, it is replaceable with a more conventional ball design, so it gets a half point back. I took another ½ point away because the rifle in slighter heavier than the competition.  Nonetheless, other features dictate a high score in this category: The safety is intuitive and located in a familiar location for many shooters. The stock has fairly a traditional comb and conventional contours, and therefore will not be objectionable to most shooters.

 

Reliability: * * * * *

It’s a bolt action rifle so there is not much that can go wrong. I have not torture-tested this rifle (because its mine!), but I have no reason to think that it is not reliable in adverse field conditions.

 

Customization: * * * *

Admittedly, other than custom ‘smith work, there is not much to “customize” on a typical bolt gun of this sort. However, I think this is the only rifle that offers interchangeable bolt handles. The option of buying a camouflage Hogue Overmolded stock will also be appealing for those folks wanting to keep their walnut stock looking nice and new(ish).  The Weaver rails make it easy to mount a wide variety of scope rings.

 

Overall Rating: * * * * 1/2

Top of the class. Took a ½ point away because of the slight weight issue, and also because of the fact that the gun requires a special tool to take the bolt apart.