Gun Test: Thompson/Center Arms Compass Rifle
By Mark Hampton, GUNS Magazine
Perhaps I’m showing my age, but I can remember when a rifle with a good trigger, capable of shooting sub-MOA groups cost a pretty penny. But even then you’d have had to tailor a specific load to produce bragging-type, bug-hole groups.
It seems all this has changed as several of today’s long guns are capable of decent accuracy right out of the box, thanks to modern machining technology and innovation. It’s a welcome change indeed. After reading Dave Anderson’s column in the December issue regarding the T/C Compass, I wanted to see for myself what a $400 rifle could deliver.
In case you want to put a suppressor or brake on your Compass, the muzzle is threaded and comes with a thread protector cap.
Both Hornady Superformance and Black Hills factory ammo performed well at 100 yards.
Built To Hunt
The Compass is not a target or competitive rifle by any stretch. It is without a doubt made for hunting. With an upcoming caribou hunt in the far north country of Quebec and a voracious appetite for adventure, I wanted to see firsthand if the Compass was a step in the right direction.
When my test gun arrived it struck me as a rugged, no-nonsense, budget-friendly hunting rig. Mine was in .270 Win, an excellent choice for caribou. A utilitarian-looking long gun perhaps, but perfect for serious endeavors. I know what you’re thinking—another cheap bolt-action rifle. Not hardly.
Naturally, it has features hunters will appreciate. The black synthetic stock doesn’t reflect glare and features a molded textured grip and fore-end. This raised surface provides ideal handling and gripping characteristics for rain, snow or damp conditions. The ergonomic, lightweight stock also incorporates a raised cheekpiece and swivel studs ready for your sling. And you’d appreciate the soft rubber recoil pad during lengthy range sessions. Although the finish is blued, both the safety and the bolt release are matte stainless.
Mounting a Bushnell Legend 3-9X scope was simple and painless thanks to the 2-piece Weaver-style base mount supplied and mounted with the gun. I grabbed a set of Leupold PRW rings and fitted the scope quickly. The scope was a perfect fit and matched the rifle nicely.
The 22-inch, 5R button-rifled barrel is free-floating in its aluminum pillar-bedded action. The lands have fewer sharp edges and lessen bullet deformation. T/C claims this enhances accuracy.
The barrel comes with a threaded muzzle protected by a thread cap for suppressor or muzzlebrake if desired. No doubt suppressors are probably the most popular add-on trending today.
At the range I found the single-stage trigger broke at 3.45 pounds without creep (it’s adjustable from 3.5 to 5 pounds). To be perfectly honest, I prefer a trigger pull a tad bit lighter even for hunting, but that’s just a personal preference. The trigger broke clean and consistent which definitely helps shooting groups and in the field. This is a big plus for budget-friendly rifles.
The Compass features a 3-position wing-style safety. Shooters and hunters alike appreciate the ability to load and unload a rifle with the safety on. The 60-degree bolt provides maximum scope clearance when cycling. You don’t have to worry about banging your knuckles on the scope during bolt manipulation. The three-lug bolt, incidentally, is a push-feed design with one lug housing the extractor. Two of my deer hunting friends, John and Cale, accompanied me to the range for testing. Manipulating the bolt seemed a tad rough at first, but after 200 rounds it smoothed up considerably. Hopefully, more rounds will slick the cycling up even more.
The detachable plastic 5-round rotary magazine fits perfectly flush with the stock. The two magnum offerings in the Compass—the 7mm Rem Mag and .300 Win Mag—have 4+1 magazines. Loading 5 rounds was a lot easier than I have experienced with similar units. The magazine also snapped into place without hassle—another pleasant surprise. The magazine could be removed from the gun quickly without fumbling. The release is located in front of the magazine and I could quickly remove it even wearing light gloves. There were no issues with feeding during my range session.
With the Bushnell optic aboard, my test gun tipped the scales around 8 pounds. Not too heavy for carrying on long hikes, yet it’s heavy enough to settle down for offhand shooting. It handled and balanced well. I could mount it to my shoulder and find the crosshairs effortlessly.
The T/C Compass endured heavy rain and harsh conditions in Quebec’s north country (above). It stayed in zero throughout. With just modest field care, it didn’t rust, either. Floatplanes are taxis of the north country (below). Here hunters are loading up, ready to head to camp.
After my two deer hunting comrades shot the Compass with four factory offerings, my wife and I gave it a thorough evaluation a few days later. Like John and Cale, we found Hornady’s Superformance 130-grain SST showed a slight edge in accuracy. Both Black Hills and Winchester were so close either would have performed as well in the field.
I was pleased (actually surprised) with the 100-yard groups from a rifle with a street price under four Ben Franklins. Thanks to the holdover hashmarks in the Legend scope, I was able to consistently center steel plates out to 350 yards. I was not expecting to shoot from this distance but wanted to be prepared just in case. I had more than enough confidence in this T/C and Hornady ammo. The Hornady Superformance was chosen for the trip to Canada.
When I arrived in our remote caribou camp in northern Quebec, I immediately checked the zero on the Compass to make sure everything was still sighted-in properly. Another hunter looked through his binoculars as I fired two rounds from 100 yards. He turned to me and said, “You’re the type of guy I hate.” I looked through the scope and could see both bullet holes touching one another—about an inch high from center. The Compass had survived all the travel logistics and was ready for the field.
I’m sure you have seen pictures or videos of migrating caribou. You know, caribou streaming by in droves where hunters wait and watch for the really big ones. Well, have you ever seen photos or videos of a barren landscape where migrating caribou are nowhere to be found? I was hunting with a well-known outfitter and friend with a proven track record. He has hunted this area exclusively since 1993 and knows the country well.
Unfortunately nobody can control changing migration patterns or game movement. And we were faced with crappy weather conditions to boot. Long boat rides were an everyday routine. The Compass was soaked by rain daily. Could it hold up to the harsh environment and conditions? I wiped the moisture off every evening upon returning to camp and applied a light coat of oil. Luckily no rust appeared.
But unluckily the Compass never got a chance at a caribou. I guess that’s why it’s called hunting and not shooting. After 5 tough days of hunting and no action, we had to catch a floatplane and start the journey homeward. Before our air taxi arrived I took the Compass behind the lodge and fired two rounds just to see if it was still shooting after the abuse it endured. Sure enough, two shots proved the rifle was still performing well and could have easily tagged a caribou if one had only cooperated.
For a rifle at this price level, the Compass offers tremendous value. Unfortunately, there were no caribou harmed during the evaluation of this rifle. Hopefully this will change next year.
Mark found the textured synthetic fore-end easy to hang on to in slippery conditions.
The flush-fitting rotary box magazine holds 5 rounds in standard chamberings like Mark’s .270 Win.
The Compass features a 3-position matte stainless safety (above) and a stainless bolt release (below).
Maker: Thompson/Center Arms
2100 Roosevelt Ave.
Springfield, MA 01104
Action type: Bolt-action repeater
Caliber: .270 Win (tested), .204 Ruger, .223/.5.56, .22-250, .243, 7mm Rem Mag, 7mm-08, .308 Win, .30-06, .300 Win Mag
Barrel length: 22 inches
Overall length: 41.5 inches
Weight: 7.25 pounds
Finish: Blued (safety and bolt release matte stainless)
Sights: None, Weaver-style bases included
Stock: Black synthetic
Legend Ultra HD
Overland Park, KS 66214-1734
Objective diameter: 40mm
Eye Relief: 3.5 inches, Internal Adj.
Range: 30 inches elevation & windage at 100 yards
Click Value: 0.25 inches
Tube Diameter: 1 inch
Weight: 16.6 ounces
Overall Length: 12.8 inches
Reticle: DOA 600