Gun reviews: Thompson Centre G2 Contender rifle.
Versatility seems to be the norm these days. Rifles that use a single chassis or receiver to mount an array of different calibre barrels for vermin, deer or large game are becoming ever more popular.
As well as offering flexibility, this is a much cheaper option than buying one rifle for each purpose. In addition, the owner does not have to get used to handling various different rifles.
For years, Thompson Center Arms from the US has dominated the mid-price range market for single-shot exchange-barrel rifles.
Its enormously popular single-shot breakaction Contender pistols soon evolved into the Contender carbine, which offered the hunter a slim, light, highly practical woods rifle.
Then came the Encore model, which was a Contender upgraded to withstand higher pressure rounds.
The rifle was also given a face lift and a few improved operating features.
The option of synthetic stocks and stainless steel in addition to the blued steel and walnut stock models gave even more choice.
Thompson Center will produce rifles in-house to the individual’s specification. You can request special finishes, wildcat calibres and thumbhole stocks.
A solid receiver
The receiver frame on which the barrels and stocks can be freely interchanged is tiny in comparison to that of a bolt-action design, measuring only 4.25in long and 1.25in across on this latest Contender model.
This receiver unit can be ordered in blued steel or stainless steel.
You can order a beautiful colour case-hardened action from the custom shop, and engraving is an option.
I tested the traditional blued steel, but the integral strength of the receiver is the same throughout the range.
The stainless steel version, however, is more weather-resistant and therefore more practical as a stalking arm.
The strength of the action is manifest in the precise lock up, which is aided by the large, hardened, sprung-locating lug.
This classic break-open design allows the G2 barrels to pivot around a single hinge-pin transversing the front of the bottom section of the receiver.
The barrel can be removed from the receiver recess to exchange it for another calibre by removing the fore-end and tapping out the hinge-pin.
This simple and effective system, which is the same as on the Encore model, keeps the mechanical parts to a minimum and means there is less to go wrong.
The styling is different from the old models, in that there is the addition of a curved spur of metal on each side of the receiver.
I have to admit, however, that I prefer the older engraved action myself.
The action opens more freely than it did on older Contenders.
It only requires a single gentle pull on the spur that protrudes from the bottom of the trigger-guard grip.
This moves the guard and bottom section of the receiver downwards, releasing the hardened locking pin from its firm grip.
The barrel’s weight drops it down, thus the action is almost self-opening. There is no ejector, as with many single-shot rifles.
Instead, an extractor presents the spent case, which avoids tossing a valuable wildcat case into the grass to be lost for ever.
Once loaded, the G2 relies on an external hammer mechanism which is fully drawn back with a long, grooved spur.
An extended toggle can be ordered if you have problems gaining access to the hammer when a scope is fitted.
The G2 has a really good feature that allows you to shoot both rimfire and centrefire ammunition from one receiver.
The hammer has a swivelling switch on top, on to which two strikers are positioned, one above the other at 90 degrees.
These hit the two vertical firing pins sited in the rear wall of the receiver.
As the trigger is released, the hammer hits the sprung firing pin in its recess and activates the primer in the case.
With the hammer switch in the central position, neither pin is selected and it is safe. A turn to the left selects the centrefire option and a turn to the right allows the rimfire firing pin to operate.
This really is a foolproof and safe system.
One really good improvement on the original Contender is that the action can be decocked and cocked without having to open it fully.
Trigger and safety catch
The trigger is non-adjustable, but there is a small screw that allows you to take up any overtravel on the trigger-blade.
A competent gunsmith can hone the bearing surfaces to smooth the overall feel of the trigger and eliminate some of the creep.
As far as weight is concerned, only replacement springs or careful clipping will help here, again the gunsmith is the only option.
Still, after a 5lb to 6lb pull, it breaks cleanly enough and is certainly safe as it will not go off in a hurry.
Another important thing to remember is that with an external hammer, the lock time is relatively slow compared with a conventional bolt-action rifle.
Therefore, it is imperative, after the triggerpull, to follow through with the shot for accuracy’s sake.
Safety relies on an automatic hammer block with built-in bolt interlock.
This ensures the G2 cannot be made ready to fire until the barrel is firmly closed against the receiver face and the hammer is cocked.
The basic G2 stock design is what you would expect on a handy carbine-sized rifle. It is practical in design and not hugely attractive.
However, the walnut stock version has a straight-grained nicely coloured piece of walnut on the butt section that matches the fore-end and it was comfortable to use.
It is a little short in the length of pull for me at 13.5in but the raised cheek-piece, ventilated recoil pad and nicely rounded fore-end without checkering, all contributed the sense that you could take it anywhere without worrying about scratching it.
Other options include black moulded plastic, higher-grade walnuts, laminates and thumbhole models.
The G2 is available in a choice of calibres ranging from .22LR and .17 HMR for vermin to .204 Ruger and .223 for foxes.
Also available are 6.8 Rem, 7-30 Waters, .30-30 and .45-70 for larger game.
On test I had a blued steel .204 Ruger with a 23in semi-varmint profiled barrel threaded for a moderator.
Twenty calibres are becoming more popular now, but the only factory round for them is the .204 Ruger.
However there are plenty of really good wildcat rounds, such as the .20 Vartarg, .20 Tactical, .20 PPC, .20 BR and .20 Satan.
Despite its 23in barrel the G2 has a carbine-like feel due to the lack of a conventional receiver and the overall length, which is just shy of 37in.
Even with a sound moderator fitted it is not unduly ungainly.
I tried some Remington and Hornady factory ammunition and some reloads and found the G2 performed as expected requiring consistent hold and trigger release to maintain good groups.
The Remington 40-grain factory loads shot across the chronograph at 3,688fps and produced 1,208ft/lb.
A similar Hornady 40-grain V-Max bullet averaged a velocity of 3,659fps and produced 1,189ft/lb.
If you prefer a lighter, faster bullet then the Hornady 32-grain V-Max sped along at 3,868fps and generated 1,063ft/lb energy – a great vermin load.
If a heavier bullet is necessary, such as the 50-grain Bergers, you may find that the 1-in-12 twist rifling in the barrel doesn’t stabilise it.
I stuck to the 45-grain soft-point from Hornady, which has a more controlled expansion than the V-Max and is, therefore, ideal as a fox bullet.
I placed this in front of a load of 26 grains of Varget powder to achieve 3,517fps and 1,236ft/lb and shot five shot groups just below the 1in mark at 100 yards.
This was indicative of the accuracy potential from all the loads tested, not jaw-dropping but more than sufficient for a lightweight rifle.
The G2 may not be as well made as some European single-shot rifles, but I like the workman-like way it copes with a wide variety of ammunition.
Moreover, you can use it in the field without worrying about denting a lovely piece of walnut.
Its compact, trim lines make it ideal for vermin, fox or deer with the correct calibre choice and the option to switch barrels and stock designs gives a good degree of flexibility.
At practical shooting ranges the G2 Contender is a nice tool for woodland shooting and though the trigger is heavy and you have to learn to control it, the rifle is one of those that you really warm to when you take it out and use it.
Accuracy: 3.5 / 5
Reliability: 4.5 / 5
Handling: 4 / 5
Trigger: 2 / 5
Stock: 3 / 5
Price: 3 / 5
Contact: Viking Arms on 01423 780810
Gun reviews: Thompson Centre G2 Contender rifle