The new TC Explorer should be your muzzleloader of choice!
by Steve Alderman
Thompson Center Arms comes to the Northwest with its newest line of muzzleloaders, The Northwest Explorer.
The Northwest Explorer fresh out of the box!
In recent years, the northwest has put some heavy restrictions on muzzleloader hunters. Until recently, muzzleloader hunters in Idaho, Washington and Oregon were limited to only a hand full of sub-par muzzleloading rifles. TC Arms has added what I think is one of the better muzzleloaders on the market. With its open ignition, open sights and number 11 percussion cap as the ignition, it meets the Northwest’s unwarranted demands for muzzleloaders and muzzleloader hunters.
You got to love a job like this! Testing all the latest gear has to be done by someone I guess!
Thompson Center Arms took some of their already popular guns and molded them into the Northwest Explorer. A drop away breech, similar to the Omega, allows the hunter easy access to the breech plug for priming. With a weather shield Barrel and the camo synthetic stock this gun is built for the harsh conditions the northwest can dish out. What is TC’s weather shield barrel? It’s a coating that is very similar to a teflon coated barrel. It repels moister and cleans very easily. TC also added QLA muzzle system for fast accurate loading of the gun. With a full size, 14 inch, monte carlo stock and ventilated rubber recoil pad, this gun feels great on the cheek.
I received this gun to do a review I was commissioned to write for a national publication. After one day at the range, I knew I had to add this gun to my collection. Granted it wasn’t the most accurate gun in the review of muzzleloaders, as it actually came in second in accuracy. However, it came in first in every other category. When I say it came in second it still had a 1/2″ MOA at 50 yards with open sights. Yes, I did say 1/2 inch groups. Try and get that with your muzzleloader and open sights. It came in first place with fit and feel, ease of loading, ease of priming, and ease of cleaning. It also came in first at the bench, with speeds reaching a 200 feet per second faster than the competition. Granted, the barrel is 28 inches long which is up to 4 inches longer than some of the other guns tested.
At the bench the gun handled very well. After a few hours of shooting, I found my gun preformed the best with 105 grains (by volume) of Triple Seven FFg powder and a Thompson 370 grain maxi-ball. The lead conical by Power Belt in a 425 grain weight came in second with just over 3/4 inch groups at 50 yards. I currently have the Explorer at a gun smiths to get it drilled and tapped for a scope. I will hit the bench a couple more times to try and figure out the best load for the gun. A scope definitely helps take human error out of the equation when compared to using open sights. I can always sweeten up my loads when I use a scope. It helps me find the perfect load for each gun that I shoot.
1/2 Group at 50 yards with open sights
Before actually hunting with this gun, I’m going to change a couple of things There will be a new Simms recoil pad and some better sights added to the gun. Not that either one of them are all that bad, they just could be better. I personally like a small front bead on my guns. Aim small , hit small is one of my favorite sayings. The gun definitely needs a smaller front sight for precision shooting.
Some of the essentials used in testing this gun!
After shooting this gun I can see why Thompson Center Arms is the leader in muzzleloading. From their fine line of Omegas and Pro Hunters, to this new line of semi-traditional guns made for the northwest, Thompson Center Arms can take care of all of your muzzleloader needs. I will be hunting with the Northwest Explorer this year. How big of a buck will it bring home on its maiden mission? Only time will tell.
- PROS: By far the best shooting muzzy right out of the box, at least with the TC Maxi Balls. Other bullets like powerbelts and sabots don’t fly well through this gun. It’s a gun made specifically for me and the rest of northwest.
- CONS: Front sight is too large to be precise with your shots past 75 yards. The barrel doesn’t come in stainless steal.
- PRODUCT: High Rating…Very good product….All the components of this gun are as solid as any TC gun. Shot the TC maxi balls like no other gun. It must be that 1/48 twist barrel.
- COMPANY: High Rating….I like to talk to somebody when I call a company, not a machine. When you call TC, you could be on hold for a while or you can leave a message and they usually get back with you within one business day. Their gunsmith is as good and knowledgeable as anybody in the business. All of the staff is very helpful and friendly.
Thompson Center Arms
When I started this web site, it was for the easy money. Why not be techie? How hard could it be to make millions on-line? Well, after several months my focus has changed from the millions of dollars, which never showed up, to just plain old enjoying writing about what we experience in the great outdoors. Pretty cool job, huh? I think so! However, I am still waiting for the Wells Fargo truck to show up at the front door with a pile of money, but I’m not holding my breath.
When Thompson Center Arms sent me their new Endeavor to put through the ringer, I was shocked. So I won’t make millions, but I get to try out some pretty neat gear! I’m all for that. Who wouldn’t be?
Right out of the box this gun has all the bells and whistles with a Flex tech Stock, Speed Breach XT, Energy Burners, Power Rod, and the QLA Quick Load Accurizor. But can it shoot? It sure looks pretty but I had my doubts. I’m a simple guy who likes simple things. The more simple the better when it comes to muzzleloaders has always been my motto. However, the older I get it seems that easier just might be better. Easier, like the Speed Breech XT. It doesn’t get any easier than this. No need for tools, just a 90 degree turn with your fingers and your breech plug is out. The QLA eliminates the need for a ball starter because the bullet starts with ease. The new ergonomic power rod provides a more comfortable and less painful grip when seating the bullet. No more sore palms at the range. The Flex Tech Stock with Energy Burners is a shoulder saver. It takes over 50 percent of the felt recoil away from your shoulder and dampens the sound by up to 20 percent. We all know muzzleloaders kick harder then modern rifles and the new technology in this stock keeps us at the range longer and helps dramatically with shooters pull (flinch). But, can it shoot?
AT THE RANGE
Right off the UPS truck I headed to Cabelas to purchase the recommended shooting supplies. TC recommends a sabot through their fast twist barrel. So I went with the TC Shock Waves in the 300 grain weight and triple seven FFG loose powder. I drove out to the property and began to shoot. Initially I set the target at 100 yards for the first three shots to gauge the guns accuracy. To my amazement the first shot hit 2 1/2 inches high of the bulls eye. Beginners luck, I mean right out of the box and the gun is sighted in? Second shot 1 inch high of bulls eye and the third shot touched the first shot. Ok maybe this gun with all this fancy new stuff can shoot and right out of the box. Needless to say, I stuck around till dark shooting my new Endeavor just enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells that come with hunting and shooting a front stuffer. This gun is a shooter!!!!
So there might not be millions of dollars in the web-site business, but the fringe benefits are worth a million dollars to me. Now, if only I could turn this into a full time gig!
Making the TC Endeavor Legal in Idaho’s muzzleloader hunts
What a challenge this turned out to be. In Idaho you can only use a muzzleloader in a muzzleloader hunt that meets the following requirements;
- Loaded with loose powder. The Endeavor can be loaded with loose powder.
- Loaded with a projectile that is within .010 inch of bore diameter. The Endeavor will accept this projectile.
- Must use round ball or lead conical. 100% lead, non-jacketed. Can the Endeavor handle shooting a conical?
- Equipped only with a musket or percussion cap! The Endeavor does not use either.
- The cap must be exposed or visible to the elements when cocked. The Endeavors breech is not exposed.
- Open or Peep sights only. The Endeavor has open sights.
Off to the gun smith
“ The Thompson Center Arms alteration I am posting is purely experimental with INSUFFICIENT TESTING data to determine “no risk of injury” to the end user. Therefore in the interest of SAFETY and liability, please be informed that if you construct and use any altered guns or parts, you do so at your own risk and responsibility, and I assume no liability or responsibility should injury or death occur in their use.”
To get the Endeavor to shoot a number 11 percussion caps, the Endeavors breech plug will have to be drilled, tapped and re-milled. Drilled and tapped to accept the number 11 nipple, then re-milled so the cap is exposed to the elements. In the picture below, the left breech plug is an original and the right breech plug is after the gun smith worked it. (NOTE…. Thompson Center Arms does not recommend altering their breech plugs or firing pins.) I just wish that Thompson Center Arms would offer this breech and firing pin as an option to the Endeavor. The gun would then be legal to use in Idaho, Oregon and Washington right out of the box.
After drilling, tapping, and re-milling it was time to focus on the firing pin. It need to be altered so that it would fire number 11 percussion caps. The firing pin needed to have a 1/4 inch flat striking surface instead of a normal firing pin that comes with the Endeavor. Again the gun smith got to work on the Endeavor. A couple of days and a number of firing pins (strikers) later and the gun smith had my new and now legal in Idaho Endeavor firing 100% of the time. The cost for this procedure is around $200.00 to $250.00 dollars. After all of this time and money would my new gun even shoot a lead conical consistently?
Back to the Range!
The big question now was is this gun going to shoot lead through it? For me patch and round ball is out of the question. I want a muzzleloader that will preform out to 100 yards and beyond. Round balls lose way to much kinetic energy and their foot pounds of impact down range and are not, in my opinion, sufficient enough to ethically harvest an animal out to 100 yards. Most patch and round balls should never be shot at large game animals any farther than 50 – 70 yards, so my choice was going to be a conical. Power belt lead conical to be exact. Powerbelt Bullets are a local company here in Idaho that I have had great luck with in the past. Before I new it, I was off to the range with some 348 grain all lead power belt conicals, my triple seven FFG, and some CCI number 11 percussion caps.
The excitement was in the air and I was eager to see if my new gun would perform. All the muzzleloader forums on the net said that it was very unlikely that the Thompson would shoot a conical with consistency. This time I set the target out at 75 yards to see if I could punch the target with the Power Belt. For the load, I dropped the powder charge from 120 grains down to 90 grains. I knew I was going to have to slow the bullet down to get consistent flight out of a fast twist barrel.
The first time I pulled the trigger it was a misfire. I guess when I last cleaned the gun I didn’t clean the breech plug very thoroughly. Thank goodness it’s the Speed Breech XT and with one quick turn the breech plug was out to be picked and cleaned. The gun fired on the next shot. Now was the moment of truth. Where did my conical hit? It was 3 inches high of center which is not too bad, but I wasn’t out off the woods yet. I’m looking for consistency out of my new gun. My second shot went off without a hitch, but were did I hit? As I looked through the spotting scope my heart sank. I couldn’t have missed but the paper showed no sign of being punched. I was now coming to the realization that I had just spent a ton of money making a gun legal in Idaho that wasn’t going to work for me. I should have listened to the naysayers. Reluctantly, I reloaded the gun for what could have been my last shot with a conical through the bore of the TC. I sat at the bench, squeezed the trigger and the smoke flew. Looking through the spotting scope I could see the hit was 1 inch low of the first shot. Ok, now where did that second shot hit? I walked down to the target for a further inspection. To my amazement, my second bullet punched the paper right through the same hole as the first conical. It looked like I was back in the saddle. I fired four more shots though the TC and walked away with a pretty good group. See, the Thompson Endeavor can shoot lead conicals just fine! Try it and see for yourself. For all you naysayers out there, with a little tweak of the powder and the right bullet combination it is possible. The proof is on the paper.
With a new front site on this gun I should be able to make this group twice a tight as it is here. Currently, the front site is the stock fiber optic one that comes on the TC and at 75 yards it covers up the whole target. Come on admit it, thats a pretty good group for not even seeing the target while shooting at it. I believe that the only thing wrong with this gun is the sites because they are very beginner. I can’t wait for the day when I bust out my scope to really fine tune the load. I don’t think I am too far off with the load I am using now! Only time will tell and of course a couple more trips to the range.So if I never get rich, monetarily, at least I’m having fun trying. Until next time, shoot straight and just remember your in Mule Deer Country!
This is an experiment and is for you’re reading entertainment only…..Do not try this at home. We accept no liability when altering any gun!
Founder, Mule Deer Country