The Warlord: Thompson/Center’s first-ever bolt action has now reached a peak of accuracy and tactical sophistication.
Only four years have passed since the unveiling of Thompson/Center’s first bolt action, the Icon. After a century and a quarter of development, there is very little genuinely new about a turnbolt action. Certainly, this applies to the Icon, but T/C was able to utilize its expertise in close-tolerance machining to create a rigid, accuracy-enhancing action, and T/C was able to tap into, if not 125 years of development, at least recent developments in determining the features shooters were looking for..
Only four years have passed since the unveiling of Thompson/Centerís first bolt action, the Icon. After a century and a quarter of development, there is very little genuinely new about a turnbolt action. Certainly, this applies to the Icon, but T/C was able to utilize its expertise in close-tolerance machining to create a rigid, accuracy-enhancing action, and T/C was able to tap into, if not 125 years of development, at least recent developments in determining the features shooters were looking for...
In October 2005, amid considerable secrecy, Jim Bequette and I descended on T/Cís New Hampshire facility for a first look at the Icon. At that time the rifle was very much in its prototype phase, but it was instantly clear that T/C had something special. The CNC machined receiver had a solid top for extreme rigidity, with integral Weaver-style bases. The bottom of the receiver was flat, mated with an aluminum bedding block, and it had three integral recoil lugs. Once assembled, it wasnít going anywhere, and with a good barrel it was gonna shoot.
The bolt was a three-lug design with 60-degree lift; the extractor was a bit different, a ďT-slotĒ extractor incorporated into one of the locking lugs. The original version that we saw had a flat butterknife bolt handle, but the bolt is easily disassembled with a supplied tool, and the bolt handle is interchangeable with other styles. Pretty clever.
The Icon uses a three-round detachable magazine in most sporting versions. The thumb safety is on the right side, behind the bolt handle root, which brings up another unique feature. The safety itself is two-position, and the On Safe setting does not lock the bolt. Instead, in front of the safety thereís a separate bolt lock so the rifle can be On Safe with the bolt locked in the field. Pushing the safety to fire automatically disengages the bolt lock. The trigger is set at the factory at about three pounds, but it is adjustable.
The initial Icons were in wooden stocks and blued metal, in what is now the medium action version. The first time we had a chance to use them was just a month later, on a whitetail hunt in Kentucky in November 2005. These initial rifles were in .308 Winchester, and on the range they did themselves proud, producing the kinds of groups that we expected this rifle to be capable of. We had some turf battles over who would get to hunt with the first Icons.
In such situations the editor always wins, so it was that J. Scott Rupp took the first whitetail buck to fall to an Icon, and it was a dandy.
Also brand new that fall was the .30 T/C, so my consolation prize was to take the first deer with the new Hornady-designed cartridge, but in an Encore single-shot rather than an Icon. Later we traded off, and I used an Icon .308 to help reduce the overpopulation of does. At the time, I wasnít certain how badly the world needed another bolt-action rifle, but the Icon handled well, shot straight, and the action was smooth and positive. So I was forced to concede that thereís always room for another good rifle.
In just a few seasons the Icon family has grown considerably, and the rifle is now offered in several configurations. The basics of the action remain the same, as does their unique Interlok bedding system. T/C has enough confidence in its action, barrels and assembly that every Icon carries a minute-of-angle guarantee: one-inch groups or less at 100 yards.
As the family grew, the original rifle that we first used in 2005 became the Original Medium Action Rifle, now available in .22-250, .243, .308 and .30 T/C. Metal is blue, barrel length is 24 inches, and the stock looks like walnut. Except it isnít altogether walnut. Instead itís S&K Ultra Wood, a very attractive laminate using three slabs of good walnut bonded to two sheets of carbon fiber. The obvious advantages are the good looks of fine wood with the strength and warp-resistance of laminate. Honestly, I didnít know these stocks were laminate until somebody told me.
Despite the advantages of laminate, there is a group out there (and Iím generally among them) that prefers genuine walnut to anything else and also prefers a hinged floorplate to a detachable magazine. Yep, thereís an Icon for us! This is the Icon Classic, a long-action rifle offered in .270 Winchester, .30-06, 7mm Remington Magnum and .300 Winchester Magnum. The stock is decent walnut, 20-lines-perinch cut checkering, with a good recoil pad, 24-inch barrel and nicely blued metal.
The most obvious addition to the Icon family would have to be a synthetic stock, right? So it is, but the Weather Shield models are a bit different. They take their name from T/Cís trademarked Weather Shield metal finish, a durable finish proven to be many times more corrosion resistant than stainless steel alone. The Weather Shield Icons are available in both medium (.308 Winchester) and long (.30-06-length) actions, all stocked in Hogue OverMolded synthetic with gray Weather Shield metal finish. The long action is offered in .270 Winchester, .30-06 and .300 Winchester Magnum, each offered in black or Realtree AP camo. The medium action is chambered to .22-250, .243, .308 and .30 T/C with black Hogue stock; the .308 and .30 T/C are also offered in camouflage. Barrel lengths are all 24 inches. Just this morning I had a .308 Weather Shield Icon with black Hogue stock on the range. Like every Icon Iíve used, itís a solid rifle that shot extremely well. Now, this is no lightweight. Weight runs about 7Ĺ pounds without scope, which gives it a good, solid feel both on the bench and in the field. To me, the weight is about right for a hunting rifle, and that is surely what this Icon was intended to be.
Missing from the lineup, at least until recently, was a heavy-barreled varmint/target rifle, which was kind of a shame, because that wonderfully rigid action really is about accuracy. The Precision Hunter closes this gap. It has a heavy-contour fluted barrel thatís a bit shorter at 22 inches (short and stiff, right?). The action is the same, but the metalwork is blued and the (previously) signature butterknife bolt handle is replaced with an extended ďtacticalĒ bolt handle, a pretty good feature in a hot prairie dog town.
The stock is blonde laminate in classic varminter style. This means a Monte Carlo comb for use with larger scopes that must be mounted a bit higher and a broad beavertail foreend for use on sandbags and other rests. Available chamberings are .204 Ruger, .223, .22-250, .243 and .308. The same integral Picatinny rail scope base is used, and the Precision Hunter carries the same sub-MOA guarantee. This one has the standard three-round detachable magazine and, yes, for you serious varmint shooters, additional magazines are readily available.
I first saw the Warlord at our spring editorial round table at PASA Park in Barry, Illinois. I had to wait my turn to shoot it, but with Black Hills match ammo it was no problem dialing in the big Night Force scope and busting melons out to 600 yards. This is a full-on tactical rifle, a long step removed from the extended family of sporter Icons. Yet it shares the exact same rigid, accuracyenhancing Icon action and the interlocking bedding system, so by rights it truly is part of the family. Chambered initially in .308 Winchester only with a match chamber, the Warlord goes its brethren a step better, carrying a lifetime warranty and a half-MOA guarantee. The metalwork has T/Cís Weather Shield finish on black metal, with an olive Manners composite stock.
The fluted barrel is stainless steel, 22 inches and extremely heavy; the 5R rifling is hand-lapped, and the muzzle carries a 60-degree target crown. Rifling is a choice of 1:10, 1:11Ĺ or 1:12, depending on the weight of bullet you prefer. The action is essentially standard Icon, but with some enhancements.
The 1913 railóbroken into two scope bases on sporter Iconsóruns the full length of the Warlordís receiver. As you might expect, the bolt handle is the extended tactical style. The bolt on this model is fluted and nitride-coated, and thereís an extended magazine-release catch ahead of the triggerguard. Detachable magazines are five- or 10-round capacity. The stock is heavy, with a broad foreend and T2A adjustable cheekpiece with Terry Cross hardware. The Warlord is a big rifle, weighing 12ĺ pounds, though it is just 42 inches in overall length. With plenty of gun weight and all the accuracy you want, itís a joy to shoot.
We put it through its paces at PASA Park, both off the bench and prone, and I was able to get one of the few samples on my range a bit later. I am always a bit skeptical of accuracy guarantees. It isnít that I doubt them; I believe that all rifles carrying such a guarantee will meet the specification with some load on some days, but sometimes you have to work awfully hard to get there.
This was not true with the Warlord. I am not telling you that every group with every load would go inside a half-inch. Even if the rifle is capable of such shooting on a consistent basis, I am not. But I had no trouble producing five-shot groups down to about .40 inch with factory ammo. The particular rifle I had on my own range produced its best groups with Federal Gold Medal 175-grain match loads, while the one at PASA Park seemed to prefer 168-grain Black Hills Match ammo. So even a rifle of this level of accuracy will have its idiosyncrasies, and thatís part of the fun. For now, the Warlord is the ultimate extension of Thompson/Centerís Icon. But Iím pretty sure the family isnít done growing.
Guns&Ammo - November 2009