Buy a Thompson GunsAmerica: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?T=thompson%201927a1
Read more at Auto-Ordnance: http://www.auto-ordnance.com/Thompson_100ANN.asp
Auto-Ordnance is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Thompson. As part of this celebration, A-O is making 1,500 matched pairs–a 1927A1 Thompson and an A-O 1911A1. They’ve sent us a pair to review and, when we wrap up this project, we’ll be giving the set away to one lucky winner. Be sure to enter.
Is there a gun that’s more rewarding and easy to shoot than the Thompson? That isn’t a rhetorical question. I’m actually asking. I’ve shot several of these, and it just feels so damn good. Why? It is all about history. But the Thompson’s inherent accuracy and the low recoil don’t hurt. It is a really easy choice for me. This is, far and above, my favorite historical rifle.
The originals are prohibitively expensive. And unless it is already shagged out, shooting an original Thompson doesn’t do much for the relative value. I’ve had the good fortune to run more than 1,000 rounds through a full-auto. What they say about the handling is true. The short barreled Thompsons, especially those without the pistol grip forend, tend to walk up in full auto–but it is nothing like what you see in Hollywood. The cyclic rate, which is modest compared to more modern machine guns, gives the iconic typewriter bop-bop-bop.
There have been many variations on the Thompson over the years. This one is a 1927A1.
This Thompson is a semi-auto, and the barrel isn’t short. This is a big gun, and long–41 inches. Because the breech is so far forward on the receiver, the 16.5 inch barrel seems even longer than the barrels on most rifles. And with the addition of the vertical grip, the Thompson is easy to control.
Let’s start with the accuracy. The 16.5″ barrel spits out these 230 grain pills with stunning effect. At distances out to 50 yards, we got consistent one hole groups. Beyond that, the groups opened up a bit–but there are a lot of things affecting this that have little to do with the gun.
This is a gun meant for a creative use of iron sights. And the front blade, built to be durable in every conceivable situation, is not meant for surgical work. This compounds human error. The rear sight folds down to reveal a somewhat crude rear notch, for close work. If you are shooting longer distances, you can stand the sight up and use the peep sight.
When we benched the gun and shot steady, braced strings, we saw group sizes come back to the 2″ range at 100 yards. That’s nothing to sneeze at (especially when you consider that the bullets are almost half an inch wide). The group on the yellowish board above was aimed at a spot that’s not in frame. The first three shots were touching, and then the fourth drifted high. The fifth came back down. We had the Thompson braced in a Caldwell sled on a portable shooting bench.
We did shoot standing at a steel plate at 200 yards. At this distance, the Thompson works more like an artillery piece than a rifle, and you walk it in. But it is possible. Practical? Not so much. But a lot of fun. You fire, and wait a second to see the visual impact, or hear the steel ring. We were shooting for distance under less than optimal conditions (wind and sporadic rain), but could hit a 10″ plate from 200 yards once or twice a magazine–with the rest coming amazingly close.
All of this is to say that the Thompson is an accurate gun. I think the reason I’m dwelling on this is because I don’t think about the Thompson as accurate. This is a gun meant to put lead down range–fast. And that doesn’t require surgical precision. This is the trench broom. And trenches never afforded long sight distances. They turned and forked frequently to prevent anyone from sweeping more than just a few feet at any one time.
So what else makes this so enjoyable? The weight. This massive gun eats the recoil of the .45 ACP. Repeat shots are as easy as they are on a Ruger 10/22. Shoot from the hip, shoot from the shoulder, walk shots in, dump a mag… every shooting scenario runs with a fluidity that makes even the most experienced shooter grin.
And then there are smaller details, like the noise reduction. Some rifles are stupid loud, even with hearing protection. This long barrel, and the thickness of the steel mitigates noise levels. I often leave the range with a headache (even when wearing plugs and muffs), but not with the Thompson. This guns is a dream. There’s no punch from the recoil and no concussive punch from the report.
The weight I mentioned a moment ago can be difficult to manage at times. When shooting photos for this piece, I had Sam hold the rifle. He’d shoulder it, and I’d start messing with the camera, and after a minute or two, he’d need a break. This model comes in at 13 pounds, empty. That’s what makes it stable, but it can be fatiguing too.
And critics may point out that the design is noticeably dated. In a world of split second mag changes, fans of the Thompson will sheepishly look the other way. The mag catch has to be actuated to get the mag in and out. It helps, too, if the bolt is locked back when you insert a new mag.
You have to grab the charging nob and muscle it back to get the bolt to drop. All told, it requires practice. Not that this is an indictment of the design, or the build. It is what it is, and you accept it when working with a historical gun.
Both of these details–the weight and the mag issues–should be kept in perspective. If you are serious about buying a Thompson, it isn’t for its practical defensive potential. I know there are some guys out there who (for whatever reason) only own one gun. They’re drawn to the historical or cinematic nature of a gun, but the gun needs to do double duty as a defensive firearm, too. The A-O 1911A1 is the perfect example of a gun that can be both at the same time. While it isn’t as ergonomic as some tricked out 1911s, much less any of the polymer pistols, it has the appeal of history and defensive potential. But the Thompson seems like it is on a higher plane.
Thompson’s next 100 years
This is an anniversary, so let’s celebrate a bit. The Thompson is one of the most iconic guns of all time. If we were to build a short list–maybe 5 guns–that can be identified instantly, even by non-gun-nuts, the Thompson would be on that list. The pre-war government overreach we refer to as Prohibition relied on the Thompson as its tool for heavy-handed law enforcement. Why? Because the Thompson was equally adored by the rum runners and gangsters who squared off with the feds and with each other.
Historical Hollywood, for the reasons mentioned above, still has an ongoing fascination with the piece. and it is even more common in video games (where first person shooters don’t have to load magazines or actually carry a 13 pound gun).
And now, at the centennial, the icon belongs to Auto-Ordnance. And it is exceptionally well executed. While it may not be a truck gun, and it certainly isn’t going into the nightstand, the Thompson will be a conversation starter. It is the type of legacy gun you break out of the safe, and carry with you to the range. You’ll run a couple of boxes through it and then carry it back home. My bet is that you’ll spend more time taking it apart, cleaning it, oiling it and babying it.
So what will the next century bring for the design? I don’t anticipate radical redesigns that attempt to prove the gun’s relevance. If you look at some of the M1 Carbines and M14s, companies are effectively updating the designs. But this is a classic. And A-O has some shocking finishes on the newest models, but they’re still Tommy Guns at heart.
Buy one on GunsAmerica: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?T=thompson%201927a1
Read more at Auto-Ordnance: http://www.auto-ordnance.com/Thompson_100ANN.asp