Thompson Center Compass Rifle Review
When we first saw the TC Compass rifle at the 2016 NRA show (video) we had high expectations. However, as a brand new hunting rifle model trying to straddle the line between “budget hunting rifle” and a “professional grade rifle” TC has written a rather tall order for the Compass hunting rifle. Did the Thompson Center Compass rifle deliver on the one MOA at 100 yards three shot group guarantee?
Not your grandpa’s hunting rifle
TC outfitted the new Compass rifle in with a variety of key features aimed specifically at hunting. After a couple of months and a couple hundred rounds, here are my thoughts on each…
T/C hit a home run with the decision to thread the Compass hunting rifle’s muzzle.
I openly admit that I am a “can head”. If a silencer won’t mount on a rifle, then I have trouble getting too excited about that rifle. Naturally, the first thing I noticed when I picked up the new TC Compass was that the muzzle is threaded. In the field I have had great results shooting the TC Compass with the SD Tactical Arms Form 1 silencer (review). It doesn’t make the big .30-06 round “silent”, but it sure takes the edge off and makes it MUCH easier on the ears. The silencer also reduces recoil impulse quite a bit.
When not shooting with a silencer I often install a threaded muzzle brake on my rifles. The Witt Machine Muzzle Rise Eliminator – “MRE” is my current favorite (review coming soon). I used to be rather recoil sensitive. Not so much now, but I still REALLY appreciate the difference in shooting a rifle with a good brake that allows me to watch the bullet impact through the scope vs shooting a rifle with no brake which jumps too much to keep my eye on the target. As to be expected, without a brake I can not keep my eye on target when shooting the T/C Compass rifle. On the last range testing session I followed the Compass hunting rifle with the 2016 Ruger Precision Rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor. The realization that the RPR’s muzzle brake helped keep it on target through the shot was disappointing. The Compass jumped too much on each shot, so I had to re-acquire the target after each shot. This is to be expected with the stout .30-06 cartridge and reaffirmed why I prefer shooting rifles with muzzle brakes.
It is hard to overstate how important a smooth, crisp, predicable trigger is for accurate, repeatable shots. For bench and seated shooting from a deer stand I like triggers in the 3-3.5 Lb range with very short travel and a crisp break. If hunting on foot, then I like a bit heavier trigger. The TC Compass has a user adjustable trigger with a range of 3.5 – 5 Lb. From the factory the trigger was set at 3.9 Lb (average of 4 measurements with my trigger scale).
Generally, the T/C Compass’ trigger is better than many that I have shot with, but is not a “competition trigger”. From the factory the travel is a bit long for my bench shooting tastes, but about right for a hunting rifle.
Adjusting the trigger is not difficult. After removing the barreled action from the stock there are three screws to adjust. However, to do it correctly requires attention to detail… and a pair of 1/4″ open end wrenches. Two and a half pages of the manual are dedicated to detailing the process of adjusting the trigger settings and snugging down the lock nuts. TC recommends NOT using threadlocker, but instead putting a drop of fingernail polish to keep the nuts from moving.
TC’s literature claims that the 5R rifling causes less bullet surface area deformation and less cutting of the bullet jacket. While the shape of the rifling lands reminds me of Glocks polygonal rifling, the bigger impact may be from the fact that lands are not straight across from one another. Two lands directly across from each other in a traditional 4 or 6 groove rifling would compress the bullet more than the offset 5 grooves of the 5R rifling. Theory suggests that these factors result in less barrel fouling, which should provide greater consistency and easier cleaning. I will check bullet speeds with the chronometer and update whether the rifling appears to have impact on bullet speed as it exits the barrel.
Yeah. It all sounds good. The proof will be in how well it shoots.
Rotary box magazine
The past few years I have tended to gravitate towards a Savage 114C in .270 Winchester as my favorite bolt action whitetail deer rifle for locations with shooting lanes between 150 and about 500 yards (my self imposed upper limit). While I like how it shoots, I have never liked the top feed magazine in in the Savage. Loading is a manual affair through the open bolt. Unloading is messy as the rounds tend not to come out in a neat stack when the magazine trap door is opened.
With this in mind it is pretty easy to see why I very much prefer the box magazine of the T/C Compass. First, I can store the loaded magazine separately from the rifle and NOT have to unload the magazine after each hunt. I don’t see me needing spare loaded magazines for the type of hunting I do, but one might argue that there is a reloading speed advantage to a removable magazine rifle.
Designed for a scoped shooting
With no front sight post or rear sight aperture the T/C Compass can only be used with a scope. The T/C Compass bolt also has a short 60 degree throw to keep the bolt handle from smacking low mounted scopes. If hunting at close range, I might rather carry a handy .30-30 lever-action rifle with iron sights instead of a .30-06 anyway. So, to me, this is not a bad thing. However, if you are looking for ONE rifle to fill all of your hunting needs, then you will likely find yourself swapping optics as your hunting needs change. For example:
- Un-magnified: For close range hunting where getting on target quickly is most important. Most likely a red dot or reflex sight.
- Moderate magnification: For mid range hunting, like a 4x Lucid P7, perhaps (I know, not traditionally thought of as a hunting optic). I am looking forward to trying a couple of mid-range scopes soon: the Vortex Optics Diamondback 4-16×42 and Styrka S7 3-12×42.
- Higher magnification: For longer distances or bench shooting. I agreed to test a new Sightmark offering, the Pinnacle 5-30×50 TDM on the T/C Compass and have been pleased with it’s performance.
I prefer well designed composite stocks on my hunting rifles. However, I know a variety of hunters who scoff at ANY rifle that is in a composite stock. If it aint wood, it’s no good! It can be a lights-out tack driver, but if it is housed in a plastic stock, they won’t even look at it. That is a shame since modern composite stocks tend to be more dimensionally stable over a wider range of temperature and humidity levels.
The T/C Compass stock feels good in my hands, with ample grip and a shape that feels fairly natural. My only real complaint with the Compass hunting rifle is that the stock is too short for me. At 6’4″ I’m not obscenely tall, but I do have long arms and prefer rifles with a Length of Pull (LOP) around 14.5″ for hunting, and 15-15.5″ for bench shooting. The diminutive Compass stock measures only 13.25″ LOP. I’ve spoken with T/C and been told that there are no immediate plans to offer any sort of LOP adjustment, but it has been added to the list of things to discuss.
The stock also comes with 2 sling attachment points. I attached a very nice Vero Vellini Air Cushion neoprene rifle sling with no issues. The attachment points have held strong with no wiggle.
Free float barrel
Free floated barrels are all the rage with the AR types since it can improve accuracy. Most hunting rifles have eliminated contact between the barrel and foregrip for years. With a composite stock being more dimensionally stable than most wood stocks, the Compass has a rather generous amount of space around the barrel to be sure that it remains free floated.
Three position safety
Most of my hunting rifles have a little thumb slider that can be hard to move and even harder to quickly visually determine the Safe status of the rifle, especially without breaking cheek weld. The T/C Compass safety lever is very easy to see even while positioned to shoot. It has three positions:
- BL = Bolt Locked – Safe In this position the bolt is locked in the closed position and will not fire.
- S = Safe – Load/Unload In this position the bolt is unlocked so you can cycle the bolt to load or unload a round, but it will not fire.
- F = Fire In this position the rifle will fire.
So, how does it shoot?!
Very well! It takes guts to guarantee a sub-$1,000 rifle for 1 M.O.A. or better accuracy (with premium ammunition, of course). I anticipate very few folks will feel compelled to try to cash in on that guarantee. Even if the TC Compass rifle that I was sent to review was somehow more accurate than it’s siblings, there is over 1/2 MOA to spare to stay within the guaranteed accuracy.
Speed bumps… scope, scope rails, action screws
However, it wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows with this TC Compass rifle. Sadly, the blame for much of the issues I had lies with me.
The first 100+ rounds through the rifle yielded wildly variable results. I was baffled, stumped… maybe even stupefied. The optic on the rifle had given me fits on the prior rifle it was mounted on and I assumed it was a defective optic. Sightmark was surprised to hear that I felt the scope was defective, but they quickly sent a return shipping label and a new Pinnacle 5-30×50 TDM scope. While that was being resolved I tried the Lucid L5 scope, but quickly found it was not up to the task of a .30-06. It rattles now when shaken.
While installing the new scope I noticed that both of the short scope mount rail sections on the Compass hunting rifle were loose. I had verified the screws were snug on those rails before installing the first scope, so they had worked themselves loose. I removed the screws and put some blue threadlocker on them so they should not work themselves loose again.
Similarly, while cussing at the TC Compass for a bafflingly large and random 5 shot grouping I noticed a bit of wiggle. It was quickly apparent that the front action screw was loose. No worries. I retrieved the allen wrench from my shooting bag and tightened it. Figured I should check the rear action screw while I was at it… and nearly soiled myself right there at the shooting bench. The screw was GONE! A brief, but frantic search ensued and the screw was located in the gun case. Apparently it fell out when carrying the rifle from the 35 yard sighting range to the 200 yard range. I reinstalled and now remember to check the action screws every time I get out the rifle to shoot.
The Thompson-Center 1 MOA guarantee specifies that “premium” ammunition be used to get the guaranteed accuracy. That one word, “premium”, is more important than you might think.
Greek Surplus Ammo
Being the cheap bastard that I am, I opted to do initial function testing and sighting with old surplus Greek HXP M1 Garand ammo from the CMP. In retrospect, this was a BIG mistake. I expended way too many rounds and way too much time chasing a reliable sub 5 inch group at 100 yards. As noted above, I kept finding other things to explain the poor groups I was shooting. So, it took me longer than it should have to realize “It’s the AMMO, stupid!”
Creedmoor Match Ammo
With all of the issues above corrected I couldn’t find anything wrong with the rifle, but was still shooting 4-5 inch groups at 100 yards. Frustrated, I was about to put the Compass hunting rifle away and move on to ammo testing in the Ruger Precision Rifle… but threw three Creedmoor 167gr Scenar BTHPs in to see what would happen.
Much to my surprise, that fairly casual group was about 1.5″. Three more with a bit more care were under 1″. The next three shots were 0.4″ center to center… and I’m not generally a great shot. This group was actually the best of the day, which included ammo testing on the new Enhanced Ruger Precision Rifle. It seems that the rifle wanted to shoot well all along, but the crappy Greek surplus ammo didn’t agree with it.
Hornady Precision Hunter 178gr ELD-X Ammo
Hornady sent their new Precision Hunter ELD-X ammo (Brownell’s link), as well as two other variants that we will add to this review once we have shot them. As a heavier bullet I expected a bit different impact point and the ELD-X ammo hit about 3/4 of an inch lower than the Creedmoor 167gr on the paper. Due to time constraints I only put three rounds of the Hornady ammo through the TC Compass, but still saw a respectable sub MOA group at 100 yards.
- CALIBER 30-06 Sprgfld
- ITEM # 10058
- UPC# 090161447103
- FINISH / STOCK BLUED / COMPOSITE
- BBL LENGTH 22˝ – 5R
- OAL 41 1/2˝
- CAPACITY 5+1 DET. MAG
- WEIGHT 7 ¼ LBS.
- DRILLED & TAPPED YES – Bases Inc.
- LOP 13 ¼˝
- TWIST 1:10
T/C COMPASS MODELS
|.204 RUG||Blued/Black Composite||22″||10070|
|.22-250 REM||Blued/Black Composite||22″||10071|
|.243 WIN||Blued/Black Composite||22″||10072|
|.270 WIN||Blued/Black Composite||22″||10075|
|.300 Win Mag||Blued/Black Composite||24″||10077|
|.308 WIN||Blued/Black Composite||22″||10074|
|30-06 SPRG||Blued/Black Composite||22″||10058|
|7MM REM Mag||Blued/Black Composite||24″||10076|
We equipped the T/C Strike with a very nice Vero Vellini neoprene sling, which I have to admit has surprised me. My first impression was that the Vero Vellini slings were a bit too pricey. However, after using them on both of the T/C rifles I’m finding a lot of little details that make their slings seem like a better value.
With an MSRP of only $399 the T/C Compass rifle has managed to squeeze a LOT performance into a relatively modestly priced package. Time will tell how the Compass hunting rifle fares in the unforgiving backwoods where we will use it for hunting deer and feral hogs. However, the first impressions of our pre-hunting season review and testing session give us a very good feeling about how the Compass will perform.
My favorite feature is the out of the box accuracy with premium ammo. With no tweaks at all, just a few drops of oil on the bolt and an optic slapped on it, the T/C Compass delivered far better results than even the bold 1 MOA guarantee led me to expect.
I seriously hope that T/C offers some sort of recoil pad extension to increase LOP for those of us that are longer than average. In the mean time I will look for something like a slip on recoil pad that will give me another inch or so of LOP.
*Update: As we moved into Rifle Deer season in NC and I went through the Gear Report gun room pondering which rifle to take deer hunting, I kept coming back to the Compass. I’ve got a range of rifles to choose from right now, ranging in price from the Compass at the low end ($369 at Brownells) to a custom 6.5 Creedmoor with a $4k price tag… before the $3k optics. Still, I opt to carry the bargain priced Compass with the Sightmark Pinnacle 5-30×50 TDM scope more often than not. Kind of hard to NOT like it when it shoots so well, is well balanced and is not too heavy.
Brands that made this review possible:
Since 1967, Thompson/Center Arms has been synonymous with firearms that stand up in the toughest situations and perform when it counts. With features like interchangeable barrels, 5R rifling and uncompromised quality and design, Thompson/Center is the brand that delivers value and reliability you won’t find anywhere else.
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Long hours, harsh weather, dangerous pursuits: it’s all in a day’s work. You’re devoted to protecting others, so your equipment needs to work as hard as you do. Whether you’re in the line of duty, defending your home or serving as a protector of peace, you can rest assured that accuracy and quality comes standard in every Sightmark® product, giving you the ability to Make Your Mark®.
Crafting the world’s finest slings and straps for guns and gear. Demanding nothing but the best materials and components. Vero Vellini slings and straps are still assembled today the same way we started almost 30 years ago, with pride, attention to detail and utmost dedication to those who uses the products tirelessly in the field.
Gallery of T/C Compass hunting rifle images: