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A Ton Of Rifle For Your Money: Thompson/Center .308 Compass – Full Review

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Thompson Center's new Compass rifle is a bargain considering its performance.

Thompson Center’s new Compass rifle is a bargain considering its performance.

To learn more, visit https://www.tcarms.com/firearms/bolt-action-rifles/t-c-compass-rifles/t-c-compass.

To purchase a Thompson/Center Compass on GunsAmerica.com, click this link: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?T=Thompson%20Compass.

I first fired one of the new Thompson/Center Compass rifles at a pre-release event and was immediately hooked, so I talked to the editors here at GunsAmerica about publishing a full review. Why? It’s a very affordable rifle that shoots and handles like a very unaffordable rifle. What’s not to love about that? They agreed.

Towards the end of my 780-round shooting binge, I might have slipped off the rifle rest...

Towards the end of my 780-round shooting binge, I might have slipped off the rifle rest…

My first impression of the Compass was very favorable. It’s not like I fired a few shots and made some snap judgment. Rather, I came to that conclusion after firing over 780 rounds from the same rifle in just two days. For a bolt-action rifle, that might qualify as cruel and inhumane punishment, especially considering that the barrel got so hot, I completely melted a rifle rest. Still no word on whether the gunsmiths back at Smith & Wesson have removed all the melted goo from that barrel… Anyway, I shot the heck out of one of these rifles, chambered in .204 Ruger, and it performed. As a result, I wanted to get my hands on a more versatile caliber model and give it a more in-depth trial.

Specs

  • Chambering: .308 Winchester
  • Barrel: 22 inches
  • OA Length: 41 inches
  • Weight: 7.25 pounds
  • Stock: Synthetic
  • Sights: None
  • Action: Bolt-action
  • Finish: Blued
  • Capacity: 5+1
  • MSRP: $399

The sample for this review was a Compass chambered in .308 Winchester. As of this writing, Thompson/Center also offers the Compass in the following calibers: .204 Ruger, .223 Remington, .22-250, .243 Winchester, .270 Winchester, .300 Winchester Magnum, .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, 7mm Remington Magnum, and 7mm-08. During SHOT Show 2017, the company announced yet another caliber option – 6.5 Creedmoor.

The Compass barrel is comfortably free-floated. You can easily slide a business card all the way to the receiver.

The Compass barrel is comfortably free-floated. You can easily slide a business card all the way to the receiver.

The Quick Tour

Let’s start with the barrel as that’s the really important part, at least for accuracy and longevity. This model features a 1:12 twist rate, but that’s caliber specific, so yours may vary depending on which model you choose. The unique thing is the 5R rifling pattern. The pattern sports more rounded lands and grooves so there’s no “cutting” into the bullet jacket as it’s forced down the barrel. The idea is that less bullet deformation leads to better accuracy. The other benefit of the 5R rifling is that fewer hard edges in the bore result in less fouling and therefore easier cleaning. One day, I’ll work up the nerve to ask the person who had to clean my very abused Prairie Dog Compass how the fouling was after 780 rounds of .204 Ruger.

The Compass comes with scope ring bases installed, so adding an optic requires only the right size rings.

The Compass comes with scope ring bases installed, so adding an optic requires only the right size rings.

The three-position safety is easy to reach from a normal firing grip.

The three-position safety is easy to reach from a normal firing grip.

So the marketing benefits claim accuracy, but so does everyone. What makes this $399 MSRP rifle stand out is that it comes with something far more rare in its price range, a minute of angle accuracy guarantee. Simply put, Thompson Center puts in writing that your rifle will shoot three shots into a one-inch group at 100 yards. Of course, you have to use quality ammunition that’s capable of the same accuracy, not junk. I put that to the test, and we’ll cover the results later in this article. Or you can ask relatives (if there are any left) of the disintegrated Prairie Dogs if this rifle is capable of hitting them from 300 to 600 yards away. The answer is a resounding yes.

There’s one more big thing to mention about the barrel. It comes factory threaded. I love this feature because once you shoot suppressed, you’ll never go back. It’s so easy for a manufacturer to add this at the factory and such a pain to do on your own. The threading pattern varies by caliber. For example, .204 Ruger, .223 Remington, and .22-250 feature a 1/2×28 TPI pattern while .243 and larger caliber rifles have a 5/8×24 TPI pattern. The Compass comes with a thread protector cap with a knurled surface so you can easily remove it by hand.

For a while, I mounted a Burris Eliminator III laser range finding scope. That made prairie dog hits at 500 - 600 yards somewhat easy.

For a while, I mounted a Burris Eliminator III laser range finding scope. That made prairie dog hits at 500 – 600 yards with the .204 Ruger-chambered rifle somewhat easy.

The timing on an affordable factory rifle with a threaded barrel couldn’t be better. I’m very encouraged by the possibility of the Hearing Protection Act passing and being signed into law something this year. That means that buying a suppressor will be no harder than buying the rifle itself. No special paperwork, no $200 check to Uncle Spendy, and no waiting period of six to 12 months to get your suppressor. Pester your Congress Critters on this issue now, we’ve never had a better opportunity to get this done.

Moving on, the Thompson/Center Compass employs a detachable magazine. The magazines in all calibers are flush fit with the bottom of the stock, so you don’t have to worry about the rifle getting hung on on gear, rests, or your support hand. Capacity depends on caliber. Most calibers have a five-round magazine capacity, and Magnum calibers have a four-round capacity. The .308 Winchester model shown here holds five rounds in the magazine plus an extra in the chamber if you like. The magazine drops out the bottom of the stock with the press of an inset lever. It’s an easy system, and I found the magazine simple to load. Of course, you can leave an empty magazine in place and single feed into the chamber as well. The magazine itself is mostly polymer, so it’s almost entirely rust-proof.

The detachable box magazine holds five rounds of most calibers, four for magnum sizes.

The detachable box magazine holds five rounds of most calibers, four for magnum sizes.

The polymer magazine is ready for field conditions and designed to resist rust and gunk.

The polymer magazine is ready for field conditions and designed to resist rust and gunk.

The bolt operation is smooth and positive. it uses a three-lug design that offers plenty of strength and a solid lockup. The bolt lift angle is 60 degrees. In plain English, that means that the bolt operates without the operator having to live the handle too high. If you have a scope mounted, that leaves clearance for your hand with less chance of interference from the scope body. 

One of the hidden gems in this rifle is an adjustable trigger. Using a series of three nuts, you can make easy adjustments to both pull weight and over-travel. Just remove the action from the stock, and you’ll see those three nuts behind the trigger assembly. The two on the top adjust the pull weight while the single one on the bottom sets the over travel distance. It goes without saying to exercise extreme care while tinkering with the trigger. Too light a weight can be dangerous, and the wrong over travel setting can prevent your rifle from firing at all. When finished, apply a couple of drops of nail polish to keep everything locked in place.

From the factory, the trigger weight on this particular rifle measured a consistent five pounds. A little on the heavy side for my preference, but since it’s fully adjustable, I see why the Thompson/Center folks send it out on the weightier side. The single-stage trigger is grit-free and has a nice crisp break. If I keep this rifle, I might consider adjusting the trigger down to 3 1/2 pounds, but other than that, it’s good to go.

The safety is mounted on the rear right side of the bolt and easily accessible by the firing hand thumb. It’s a three position safety that performs the following functions:

– Locks the trigger and bolt operation. If you’re trekking through the woods, you might use this safety position to ensure no accidental discharges or unplanned bolt openings.

– Load and unload. The center safety position allows the bolt to operate so you can load a shell into the chamber or remove one. This position prevents trigger operation.

– Fire. As the name implies, this one unlocks everything so you can operate the bolt and fire a shot.

One of my favorite features is the factory threaded barrel.

One of my favorite features is the factory threaded barrel.

Shooting the Compass

I mounted a Burris Fullfield E1 3-9x40mm scope to the compass as it seemed an appropriate price point match. The compass includes Weaver-style sight bases, so all I needed was a set of one-inch rings to finish the process.

I fired some shots “as is” to feel the relative recoil of the Compass .308 with nothing done to the muzzle. Recoil was mellow, and the substantial recoil pad was easy on the shoulder. 

The bolt throw is 60 degrees so optics won't get in the way.

The bolt throw is 60 degrees so optics won’t get in the way.

The bolt locks with three large lugs.

The bolt locks with three large lugs.

With that out of the way, I decided to put the threaded muzzle to good use. I mounted a SilencerCo ASR muzzle brake so I could attach a SilencerCo Specwar 762. That made shooting the Compass a whole new bundle of fun, so I kept it on for the rest of the shooting. While physics is still physics, the addition of the big heavy silencer mellowed out perceived recoil even more and brought the noise down to a much more neighbor-friendly level.

For ammo, I used four different factory loads:

Sig Sauer Elite Performance .308 Winchester Match 168-grain. These cartridges are loaded to exacting tolerances and use the world-class Sierra Matchking projectile.

Federal Premium Gold Medal 168-grain. Also using the Sierra Matchking projectile, this one is an accuracy demon.

Federal Premium Gold Medal 175-grain. For longer range applications, this load uses a slightly heavier Sierra Matchking bullet.

Federal Premium Fusion 165-grain. This load is, for lack of a better word, a bonded type of expanding hunting round where the jacket is fused to the lead core inside. It’s designed for expansion and consistent penetration, not match grade accuracy.

First up I shot for velocity, using a Shooting Chrony Beta Master Chronograph placed 15 feet down range from the now relatively quiet muzzle. I didn’t record velocities without the suppressor attached, but you might assume that the numbers below have a slight velocity boost from the suppressor, perhaps 20-30 feet per second. 

Velocity (feet per second)

Federal Gold Medal Match .308 Winchester 168 grain

2,621.7

Federal Gold Medal Match .308 Winchester 175 grain

2,620.3

Sig Sauer Match Grade OTM .308 Winchester 168 grain

2,638.0

Federal Fusion .308 Winchester 165 grain

2,643.7

For accuracy, I set up targets and 100 yards and fired three shot groups. With a “hunting” rifle like this, I prefer not to heat up the barrel with higher shot volume, and the three-shot approach is more of a realistic indicator of what it needs to do in the field. I fired from a concrete bench using a Blackhawk! Titan III adjustable rest with rear bag. I weighed down the Titan with a 25-pound bag of lead shot to firm things up. I also kept the suppressor attached for all the accuracy shooting. Because fun. Also, while suppressors usually cause a constant shift in point of impact, I’ve not yet seen one that had a negative impact on accuracy, so I didn’t feel like keeping quiet would skew the accuracy measurements of the Compass rifle. 

Here’s what I measured.

Distance

Group Size (3 shots)

Federal Gold Medal Match .308 Winchester 168 grain

100

.58”

Federal Gold Medal Match .308 Winchester 175 grain

100

.92”

Sig Sauer Match Grade OTM .308 Winchester 168 grain

100

.67”

Sig Sauer Match Grade OTM .308 Winchester 168 grain

200

2.16”

Federal Fusion .308 Winchester 165 grain

100

2.01”

So, using match grade ammo, the Compass absolutely lived up to its one minute of angle factory guarantee. As for the Fusion results, that’s consistent with most every other Fusion caliber and load combination I’ve tried from different rifles. It’s designed for penetration and expansion performance, not match accuracy, so the larger group didn’t surprise me.

The Compass had no trouble living up to its one minute of angle accuracy guarantee.

The Compass had no trouble living up to its one minute of angle accuracy guarantee.

The Federal Premium 168-grain match grade load turned in the best 100-yard groups.

The Federal Premium 168-grain match grade load turned in the best 100-yard groups.

Closing Arguments

There’s a lot to like about this rifle. With an MSRP of $399, you’re going to find it for somewhat less than that if you shop for it here on GunsAmerica.com. The accuracy and associated minute of angle guarantee is a rare thing for a rifle at this price point. Then you factor in things like the threaded barrel and adjustable trigger, and you’re quickly getting a lot of value for that four hundred bucks. I’m getting one. Perhaps a 6.5 Creedmoor … .

To learn more, visit https://www.tcarms.com/firearms/bolt-action-rifles/t-c-compass-rifles/t-c-compass.

To purchase a Thompson/Center Compass on GunsAmerica.com, click this link: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?T=Thompson%20Compass.

{ 22 comments… add one }
  • Archangel March 14, 2017, 10:10 pm

    What?
    I don’t believe it!
    An “affordable” gun review under $2000?
    Did someone other than me complain about the range of what could be considered “affordable”?
    I would have never even considered any T/C rifle affordable until I saw this.

    • Tom McHale March 16, 2017, 7:50 pm

      And even better, a rifle that shoots AND is affordable 🙂

  • Ken March 14, 2017, 11:51 am

    great article and review I can attest to the 5R riffeling I have a t/c Icon in 22-250 and it is a real shooter 1/4 to3/8 groups with hand loads you have convinced me to buy a compass probably a 6.5 creedmoor when i can find one current retail have the prices at and around 350 dollars what more could you ask for in a rifle at that price point

  • Big D March 13, 2017, 8:53 pm

    Was surprised to see no mention of previous recalls of T/Cs firearms. They have corrected the issue but saying so would have been appropriate, me thinks.
    Nice T/Cs sister company S&W cleaned gun for him.

  • Ronald Rubenack March 13, 2017, 2:01 pm

    I enjoy articles on fine shooting rifles and it appears this new line is just that. To top it all off, they appear to be rifles that working people can afford to buy. That is all good and I don’t think I can add much to what other reviewers have already stated. I do have a comment but not about the rifle but about the author. Mr. Mchale should be ashamed to admit that he took a rifle from a manufacturer that supplied it at no cost to him and then send it back to them covered with melted plastic. He admitted that he tested the devil out of a .204 caliber and then seemed proud that he sent it back to Thompson UNCLEANED. What a crud! The absolute least he could do is sent the rifle back in the same condition in which he received it. I think all manufactures should think about weather it makes sense to send this bozo another rifle. There are lots of other gun writers that can give a good test to a rifle without treating it as junk. I would ask readers one question. Would you be willing to loan one of your rifles to Mr. Mchale. I sure would not loan him one of mine.
    NICE RIFLE; NOT SO NICE GUN WRITER.

    • Tom McHale March 14, 2017, 9:56 am

      And here we go, ranting without knowing anything about the situation. This was at a Smith & Wesson event, not the rifle sent to me for later evaluation. So, in other words, I didn’t mistreat a rifle they sent me, I was with the Thompson Center folks when this happened. They thought it was pretty darn funny and a great testament to the durability of their rifle. Shooting the living heck out of the rifles at the event was the whole point, by their design. They wanted the rifles sent back AS IS for evaluation at the factory. Don’t judge without knowing what the heck you’re talking about.

  • Paul March 13, 2017, 1:45 pm

    Did you happen to notice what the receiver is constructed with? Al or Steel.

  • pat mitchell March 13, 2017, 12:35 pm

    Why only one set of results at 200 yards; had to look hard to see this anomaly.

    Great article….would be a great rifle to add to my bench rest collection.

    PM

    • Tom McHale March 14, 2017, 9:57 am

      It was a very windy day and I had a quick opportunity to sneak over to the 200 yard range for a minute. Wish I could have done more at 200 yards!

  • MORT March 13, 2017, 12:09 pm

    Great, where is it manufactured? China, Indonesia….?

    • Tom McHale March 14, 2017, 10:00 am

      These are all manufactured at the Smith & Wesson factory in Springfield, MA. It’s a pretty amazing facility and impressive to see thousands of barrels lined up as they go through the process.

  • Rick Gamelin March 13, 2017, 10:59 am

    No mention of Left handed ??

    • Tom McHale March 14, 2017, 10:02 am

      Not at this time… I don’t have any official word as to whether there will be a left-handed model. Given the popularity, I would hope that we see left-handed models soon.

  • Dewey Rodney Perkins March 13, 2017, 10:36 am

    Nice article on the rifle and the features of it. HOWEVER, I am a little confused. Twice in this article the author commented that 780 rounds of .204 Ruger out of this rifle. But then the accuracy results in the table are for the .308 Winchester. S-o-o-o
    which rifle did the author actually shoot .204 or .308? Or both? How many rounds were shoot in .308 or are the targets shot
    with ..204 Ruger with .308 cartridge boxes included in the photographs? Sorry, I just am an old confused senior citizen and
    not sure of what was shot, Otherwise the article is great. Nice explaination of all the features and the benefits of each of them.
    The threaded barrel is also nice. Especially if the safe hearing act does pass. Our chief law enforcement officer in the county that I reside will not sign off on any Class II firearms or suppressors. So you are left with setting up a gun trust with attorney
    fees, a long wait time, the $200 fee, plus buying a suppressor. Suppressors quieten the shot report but do not silence it. Probably would have saved me $6,000 for the hearing aids that I now wear.

    • Tom McHale March 14, 2017, 10:06 am

      Hi Dewey – Sorry for the confusion, let me clear it up. I shot both rifles at different times. I shot the .204 Ruger at a Thompson Center launch event where we got a couple days of hands on shooting before the launch. The idea was to shoot them – a lot – to test them out. Later, after the product release, they sent me a .308 Winchester Compass for testing at home. That’s the one talked about in the second half of the article. So I’ve actually used two different Compass rifles over time, one in .204 Ruger and the other in .308. Does that help clarify?

  • Noel P. March 13, 2017, 5:48 am

    Great article ! Apparently a great riffle although I’d prefer the stock not have the synthetic checkering. With the selection of calibers offered there is something tobplease just about everyone. The price is unbelievably good. Lacking imagination I’d stick with the .308 as there is always ammunition floating around in that caliber. It makes for enough money to spend on optics.

    • Calvin Schappell March 13, 2017, 10:50 am

      Sounds great and I’m looking for a 223. The only thing I hate about ALL the budget rifles is the trigger guard being molded in. I like my guns to have laminate wood and to switch to an aftermarket stock leaves you dead in the water

  • Tommy March 13, 2017, 5:43 am

    Great review, no BS, easy and informative read! Thanks.

  • Elmer Urbeso March 11, 2017, 7:58 am

    does the t/c compass come in left hand

  • Will Drider March 6, 2017, 6:15 pm

    Great Article/Review. Had meat not deversion, excuse or fluff. Well done. Other Writers take note!

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