The newest chambering for Thompson/Center’s affordable compass rifle is the popular 6.5 Creedmoor. We put it to the test against big wyoming mule deer.
The big, 10-point whitetail was a creature of habit. He returned to the same spot morning and evening. We had seen him several times and had worked up a solid plan to kill him on the second afternoon of a hunt in northeast Wyoming.
But it was the whitetail’s lucky day. I was primarily focused on mule deer, hunting with guide TJ McCulloch of Table Mountain Outfitters. We found a wide-racked 4×3 buck early that morning bedded in broken cover on a high flat.
I had to make an instant decision to shoot or not to shoot, because the buck had seen all he wanted to see of us and stood up to flee. One glimpse at his rack was all I needed. I took a hasty rest and executed a quartering-away shot at slightly fewer than 100 yards. The big buck, weighing an estimated 240 pounds, kicked and ran 20 yards, backed up and dropped.
You might be surprised to learn that I shot that buck with a rifle that you can, at the time of this writing, buy brand new for little more than $200 after a factory rebate.
I was hunting with the Thompson/Center Compass bolt-action rifle, newly chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor and topped with a Trijicon AccuPoint 4-16X50 scope. The combo performed perfectly using Hornady’s Precision Hunter 143-grain ELD-X load. In fact, our hunting party went four for four with one-shot kills on big mule deer using the Compass, which performed far above its price point.
Here’s a look at what you’ll get for your money with the Compass.
FEATURE-RICH, BLUE-COLLAR PRICED
Thompson/Center engineered the Compass to incorporate a lot of features hunters desire these days, such as barrels with threaded muzzles and detachable magazines.
Currently chambered in 11 popular calibers ranging from .204 Ruger to .300 Win. Mag., the Compass is equipped with a chrome-moly barrel with 5R rifling. I don’t buy into the hype that 5R-rifled barrels are more accurate, but I’m convinced that they accumulate copper fouling at a much slower rate and are easier to clean.
That proved to be the case with the Compass. The barrel length is 22 inches in all rifles—except those in .300 Win. Mag. and 7mm Rem. Mag. chamberings, which have 24-inch barrels. The rate of twist varies and is appropriate to each caliber. Guns chambered for the popular 6.5 Creedmoor have a 1:8 rate of twist.
Up top, you’ll find Weaver-style bases already installed, and the action is aluminum pillar bedded to the black synthetic stock. The bolt uses three substantial locking lugs and has a 60-degree lift, providing lots of clearance to mount a scope. The bolt cycled much more smoothly than those on some other entry-level rifles I’ve tested.
At the rear of the rifle receiver, you’ll find a three-position safety within easy reach of your thumb. You push the safety lever all the way forward to fire. In the middle position, the safety is engaged, but you can cycle rounds through the action. The bolt is locked with the lever in the rear position.
The rifle uses a detachable polymer rotary magazine that holds five rounds in standard calibers and four rounds in the two magnum offerings. I found it a little tricky getting that fifth round into the magazine, but I got the hang of it with a little practice. The magazine fits flush and snug with the bottom of the stock, and I was greatly pleased to find the release lever protected within a recess. Few things annoy me more than a magazine that decides to abandon ship at an inopportune moment.
You won’t have that problem with the Compass. The rifle fed, extracted and ejected rounds as it should, and I was able to chamber a second round instantly after I downed my Wyoming buck without even thinking about it. That’s the way a rifle is supposed to work—cleanly, instinctively and without issue.
The stock is of the ubiquitous black synthetic variety, but it has clean, classic lines and a molded-in cheek piece. The grip is sized just right, and the forend bucks the trend of some rifle makers that go to exceedingly narrow designs. On the Compass, the forend fills the hand, and it has scalloped-out sides with textured ribs for solid purchase in inclement weather.
A soft rubber recoil pad completes the package, which tips the scales at 7¼ pounds in standard calibers and slightly more in rifles of magnum persuasion. The rifle has a bit of a weightforward balance, but with a scope installed, it levels out with one hand positioned just beneath the front of the action.
The rifle comes with a three-shot, 1 MOA (1 inch at 100 yards) accuracy guarantee; and it would have easily delivered on that promise with most tested loads if I had limited testing to three-shot groups. But I shot five-shot groups, in wind varying between 8 and 12 mph, to give the rifle a real test.
Even so, two tested loads met the accuracy guarantee, producing average groups just slightly under and over an inch. These top performers were the Federal Non-Typical 140-grain load, which turned in a best group of just 0.44 inch, and the Hornady Precision Hunter 143-grain ELD-X load I hunted with (of course, deer aren’t likely to stand still while you shoot at them five times, and if it takes that many shots to down a buck, there’s a strong possibility you’re doing something wrong). The worst performance was with the lightest bullet tested, which weighed 129 grains—because the gun showed a clear preference for bullets in the 140-grain range.
Two of three other tested loads turned in average groups of 1.5 inch or under—which will most convincingly accomplish the mission in hunting deer-sized game. But these group sizes tell only part of the story: I didn’t always give the slender barrel a chance to completely cool down between groups, and all testing was done with the trigger left as it arrived from the factory. It broke at a somewhat hefty pull weight of 5 pounds, 13 ounces. It did so, however, with no creep and minimal overtravel. I suppose it was just the luck of the draw, because my companions on the hunt all had rifles that shipped with triggers set at a lighter pull weight.
Happily, the trigger is adjustable down to a setting that should come in south of 4 pounds. Nevertheless, I didn’t adjust it for testing or for the hunt, because I like to test rifles the way a consumer might receive one. In this case, the results, both in the field and on the range, speak for themselves. As impressive as the test groups were, I’m convinced that the rifle would shoot even tighter groups with the trigger adjusted to its minimum setting.
SCOPED FOR SUCCESS
I’m not normally a big fan of illuminated reticle rifle scopes, but the new Trijicon AccuPoint model used on this hunt won me over.
The scope has a variable-brightness, green-dot aiming point sized the same thickness as the thin part of the duplex-reticle crosshair. It is very accommodating when you need to get on target and shoot very quickly, as I did. It is, in a word, fast.
Hunting with the scope dialed back to 6x magnification, the dot magically appeared right where I wanted it in completing a tough angle shot. Equally important, it doesn’t rely on batteries, which have failed me in the past.
For those who are unfamiliar with the Trijicon design, the scopes use a combination of tritium and fiber optics to provide an illuminated aiming point under any lighting conditions. In low light, the tritium works to illuminate the dot. In bright light, a round dial on top of the scope can be used to adjust the amount of light transmitted via fiber optics to the illuminated aiming point. It worked as advertised in the field. The model I used had clear, multi-coated, anti-reflective glass, a 30mm tube, precise parallax adjustment and an 80 MOA adjustment range. It is a second focal plane design, which means reticle size remains the same, regardless of the magnification setting.
As for the rifle, perhaps its most impressive attribute is the performance you’ll get for the money. Its MSRP is $399. However, at the time of this writing, Thompson/Center was offering a $75 rebate on the Compass. In addition, I had no difficulty finding new rifles listed online for less than $300.
Think about that for a moment. For just a little more than $200, you can buy a quality centerfire rifle, and, as my Wyoming hunt demonstrated, enjoy great success in the field.
Moreover, the rifle is backed by the T/C lifetime warranty. For the bargain-minded hunter, it’s a safe bet that the Compass won’t steer you wrong.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the February 2018 print issue of Gun World magazine.