Over the decades we’ve come to expect innovative products from Thompson/Center, a tradition that began with the Contender interchangeable-barrel handgun. T/C introduced their Icon bolt-action rifle a few years ago, and it proved to also be thoughtfully cutting edge. The latest version of the Icon is the Precision Hunter, specifically designed for varmint shooting.
The range test was done on a normal November morning in Montana.
The Precision Hunter is “certified to deliver sub-minute accuracy right out of the box.” This is theoretically proven by a target included with each new Precision Hunter, though unlike the targets included with some other factory rifles this one is a print-out from the “Thompson/Center Computer-Aided Acoustic Targeting System.” Apparently the certification is claimed for a three-shot group, because the target that came with the .223 Remington test rifle showed a three-shot group made with Federal 50-grain flat-base hollow-point ammo, measuring 0.63". This is quite good, but of course “test” means shooting the rifle.
Before shooting, a scope had to be mounted. Here the tester encountered one of the many handy Icon innovations: integral Weaver-style scope-mount bases. Quite a few bolt-action rifles have featured integral bases over the last century or so, but all I can recall require scope mounts specifically designed for that rifle. Instead, Thompson/Center decided the Icon should allow us to choose among the dozens of scope rings that fit Weaver bases.
The scope mounted for any test is normally limited to whatever is hanging around looking for a rifle, in this instance a lonely Burris Black Diamond 4-16x. It’s a really good idea to put a proven scope on a new rifle; otherwise it’s hard to tell whether the rifle or the scope is the source of any problem. This particular Black Diamond had been proven during thousands of rounds fired at prairie dogs over the past several years.
The only rings in my Weaver drawer high enough to work with the Burris scope were steel tactical rings made by Badger Ordnance. This was all right also, because Badger makes some of the stoutest rings available. Combined with the integral bases on the action and the Burris scope, they would guarantee getting the most out of my range testing of the Precision Hunter.
The test ammo was handloads featuring the 50-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip and 26.0 grains of Ramshot TAC, a combination that tends to shoot in just about any .223s. (After using this combination for years, I recently found out that it’s also now Nosler’s standard test load for 50-grain Ballistic Tips, their most popular 0.224 bullet.) After three preliminary sight-in shots at 25 yards, the first five-shot group at 100 yards measured 1.19". This wasn’t discouraging, because many barrels shoot better with some fouling, and some rifle testers (including me) shoot better after getting the feel of a new rifle’s trigger.