Thursday, April 19, 2007

It's for uhhh... research; yeah, research... that's it

Lately, especially given that I've been thinking a lot about handloading I've been thinking about how much I want a Thompson Center Encore... and have for a while.

I never really wanted a Contender; though lord knows I've shot them enough. I liked how they shot, but they just weren't versatile enough for me; they were too specialized to the handgun hunter crowd.

The Encore is a different beast entirely.

For those of you who don't know; the Encore family of guns, is a modular single shot convertible firearm; that features the ability to put pistol, shotgun, rifle, and muzzle loader barrels and stocks on the same receiver.

Muzzle Loader
The core of the system is a very strong receiver and trigger mechanism, to which you attach various stocks, and barrel assemblies. There are literally thousands of different barrel assemblies available, both from T/C, and from dozens of third party makers, and custom manufacturers. Any Encore receiver can accept any encore stock, and any Encore barrel.

If you look at the pictures of the Encore, and the Contender above, you can see that the Encore is significanlty larger, and "beefier"; with a lot more metal in critical areas (and in fact, the Contender pictured is the much strengthened G2 version; the original had a fair bit less strength to it) . This is because the Contender, though strong, was originally designed as a very tough pistol; and only near the end of its life was a rifle conversion offered (though people were chambering the gun in medium intensity rifle rounds from the beginning).

The Encore, was from day one, designed to be a rifle, that could also be a pistol. Thus, the Contender has some fairly low limits as to just how much cartridge you can stuff into it; while the Encore will take almost anything short of the highest pressure magnum loads... up to the tolerance of your shoulder anyway (it's quite a light gun at under 7lbs with a 24" standard profile barrel).

This is where the story gets interesting.

A few years ago Thompson Center sued the ATF successfully. The ATF were trying to shut the company down for making illegal short barreled rifles; because the Contender (an earlier model similar to the Encore), could be assembled into a configuration with a shoulder stock, and a barrel shorter than 16"; which is illegal.

The ATF contended that any time TC sold a Contender, if it also sold a butt stock, and any barrels shorter than 16" they were making illegal short barreled rifles.

Note, I didn't say that they were selling guns configured in this way. The ATF was trying to shut them down, merely because it was possible to do so. Additionally the ATF contended that the mere possession of a receiver, a shoulder stock, and a short barrel, was "constructive possession" and therefore YOU (the owner) would also be guilty of manufacturing an illegal SBR; or would be required to pa a $200 making tax, and get special permission.

So, T/C took this ruling on administrative procedure, paid the making fee, and then asked for a refund saying that the making tax didn't apply to the weapon.

T/C argued that the modular design of the weapon wasn't in itself a violation of the NFA (National Firearms Act of 1934 - the primary regulation for machine guns, suppressors, short barreled rifles and shotguns, and "any other weapons" - which is as silly as it sounds), and that by all reasonable legal definitions and interpretations, putting a different barrel on a modular weapon didn't automatically make that weapon violate the NFA, nor did possession of the components.

See, prior to this, the ATF used a policy called by some "the rule of contagion" (and under some circumstances they still do); where, if a rifle was ever ever assembled on the receiver, and then a barrel shorter than 16" were ever attached to that same receiver, by contagion, the receiver was forever a rifle; and therefore the weapon in the new configuration would be an unregistered short barreled rifle, whether it had a shoulder stock attached or not.

T/C argued that this rule was arbitrary, capricious, ambiguous, and not supported under any reasonable interpretation of the law. Initially, the ATF got a summary judgment (without a ruling on the law) in district court saying that they didn't need to give a refund; but TC appealed.

T/C won in the circuit court and the ATF appealed. The ATF took the case all the way to the supreme court, and they lost completely (one of the very few times that has happened).

This means that it's perfectly legal to put whatever length or type of barrel you feel like on an Encore, so long as you do not assemble it into a configuration that would be illegal(like a shoulder stock, and an 8.5" pistol barrel).

Anyway, that's not why I want one; though I will say, way to go T/C (one should note, T/C was recently acquired by the holding company that also owns Smith and Wesson).

So why DO I want an Encore?


Oh, it's an excellent weapon. Beautiful, well made, incredibly strong, and very nice to shoot.

... but there are lots of guns that have all that.

No, the biggest reason to own an Encore, is because it can be had in ANY chambering you can imagine. The factory alone offers dozens, and the custom makes will chamber literally ANY cartridge that can fit into the physical limits of the weapon (which are very large); even new cartridges that you develop yourself.

When I say any chambering I really mean it. Factory offerings run from .17hmr or even .17M2 (a pair of tiny little rimfires, shown here with their parent cartridges for comparison):

...all the way up to the massive .416 Rigby (shown here in comparison to the familair .308 winchester, and the tiny .22lr as shown above):


Then, once you've got a barrel in a chambering, you can switch to a different barrel in a different chambering(with sights or optics already attached to the barrel, so there is no, or limited, re-zeroing)in a minute.

This makes the Encore the ideal tool for those who like to try out unusual chamberings, or do basic load development (or both).

The receiver of the Encore, with one of the several stocks available for it, but no barrel, runs between $300 and $45 depending on which stock and options you choose. The barrels run anywhere from $200 all the way up to "how much do you want to spend"; but in standard chambering most makers charge less than $500.

Here's one retailer, listing several hundred options on one page of their site alone:

So, if you want to try out a new cartridge, you don't have to buy an entire new rifle; you can just pick up a $300 barrel, and off you go.

If you're a wildcatter, or custom cartridge developer, I don't see how you could live without one.

Of course I don't wildcat; but I do love the options you get with the gun. I love the fact that I could take one large gun case with me on a hunting trip, and have a dozen different guns, in a dozen different chamberings... and spend less than $5,000 to do it.

I would love to try out the 6.5mm Grendel; but I don't have $1500 for a new AR in the chambering, or $1000 for an upper. But, I'm not out of luck; $375 to SSK, and off I go.

The new .338 federal? $300 from the factory.

The 6.8spc? Yup, another $300.

How about the .458 SOCOM? Yeah, that too, for $450 from SSK again.

.338? Yup, though again it's a bit more expensive.

There is no less expensive way to shoot the cartridges; and the Encore does so well enough to be used for competition, hunting, or whatever other purpse you may wish that doesnt require a repeating action.

Plus, it's just plain gorgeous (careful clicking there, it's a HUGE pic).