The bolt has another literally handy feature. The handle can be removed! This is done as part of bolt disassembly (tool provided), but also means that the handle can be changed. Thompson/Center offers different bolt handles, from the flat “butterknife” version introduced on the original rifle, to the tactical handle that came on the Precision Hunter. This bypasses a trip to the gunsmith if we decide the bolt handle that came on the rifle doesn’t suit our hand or tastes.
The detachable magazine is made mostly of plastic, including the follower and feed lips. The first prevents scratching valuable brass, and the second centers the cartridge behind the chamber.
The Icon has a detachable three-round magazine that’s mostly plastic, including the follower. This probably offends some purists but generally I’ve found plastic cartridge followers allow really slick feeding, and don’t scratch valuable brass like genuine steel followers. This one works even slicker than most, because molded lips center the top cartridge, allowing it to slide forward slickly into the chamber.
The Icon stock features an aluminum bedding block.
The laminated stock on the Precision Hunter has a wide, flat fore-end, designed for stability on shooting rests, a Monte Carlo butt stock, and a full pistol grip that even has a little Wundhammer swell on the right side. Instead of checkering, the grip is roughened on either side, allowing the grain of the wood itself to become a sure-gripping surface. (No, you won’t get splinters, as the wood is varnished afterward.) An aluminum bedding block (called “Interlock” bedding) forms a precise, stable union between stock and the action. The stock also comes with the obligatory sling-swivel studs, and has a soft rubber butt-pad, essential for leaning the rifle in a corner of the loading room.
Over the decades I’ve also found that a rubber butt-pad, even on a light recoiling rifle, prevents stock chipping in the unfortunate instances when a rifle somehow falls on its rear end. Rifles aren’t supposed to do this, but then many things happen that aren’t supposed to. Such incidents are called accidents, one reason I appreciate any factory rifle that comes with a rubber butt-pad, even when chambered in a mild-kicking cartridge like the .223 Remington.
The 22" barrel is, of course, fluted, and with a recessed 90-degree crown. How did we ever shoot prairie dogs with unfluted barrels and round crowns? It measures a stout 0.80" at the muzzle, and oddly enough has a 1-12" rifling twist. Or at least the barrel on this Icon did. This was rather startling in a time when many shooters seem determined to shoot bullets as long as new No. 2 pencils out of their .22 centerfires. In theory the 1-12" twist should be slightly more accurate with the 40- to 55-grain bullets most varmint hunters shoot out of .223s, and these work fine out to the ranges where most of us can consistently hit small rodents. After the range session, my Hawkeye bore scope also revealed a very smooth bore, with almost no trace of copper fouling.
The stout barrel and hefty laminated stock resulted in a pretty heavy rifle. The Thompson/Center specifications claim eight pounds, but the test rifle weighed 9 pounds 3 ounces bare, and 10 pounds 13 ounces with the Burris scope and Badger rings. This isn’t a bad thing. I’ve owned my share of “walking varminters” in .223 and while they’re nice to tote around the prairie, I really like to be able to spot my own shots. A light .223 recoils just a little too much to do this, so these days I prefer my .223s in the 10-pound range, not so heavy that they wear down my aging body but not so light that I can’t see dust (or prairie dogs) fly.
All in all, the Icon Precision Hunter is an accurate, innovative and shooter-friendly rifle. It won’t be so friendly to varmints.