Just In For Hunting Season, Thompson Center Compass Rifle – Review

Just In For Hunting Season: The Thompson Center Compass Rifle
Just In For Hunting Season: The Thompson Center Compass Rifle

U.S.A.-(Ammoland.com)- The temperatures are cooling, the days are getting shorter, and a reclusive Bambi is getting more visible. Deer season will soon be upon us if it hasn't started in your locale yet. While fewer hunters are hitting the woods year by year, hunting rifle options continue to increase at lower and lower prices. In the past, it was not uncommon for a hunting gun to be only one gun used for decades on end without much change but now you can get a decent hunting rifle for a few hundred dollars. This price tag used to be the realm of the single-shot rifle but over the last ten years, budget bolt actions have flooded gun store shelves. The Savage Axis,  Ruger American, Remington 770 and 783, the list goes on. Another more recent addition is the Thompson Center Compass.

Thompson Center Compass Rifle

Chambered in a popular variety of cartridges from the zippy 204 Ruger to the 300 Win. Mag, the TC Compass is ordinary in some ways and extraordinary in others especially at its $300 price tag. The price, threading from the factory, and the rate I saw this rifle leave the shelves inspired me to get one, despite my abrasive attitude toward “hunting” rifles.

Today, the company is owned by Smith & Wesson. In fact, when you look at your TC rifle, it will say that it is indeed made by Smith & Wesson.
Today, the company is owned by Smith & Wesson. In fact, when you look at your TC rifle, it will say that it is indeed made by Smith & Wesson.

The name Thompson Center may not ring a bell to you if you are used to popular names like Marlin, Winchester, Remington, Savage, ect. ect. But that name has been around for a while and has an undercurrent of popularity. I first knew them when I made my initial forays into muzzleloading rifles. In the past, they created some of the best traditional muzzleloaders. It was only later that I figured out they made cartridge guns too. No morning hunting program on TV would be complete without some guy with a laptop and a break-action TC rifle or pistol like the Contender. Today, the company is owned by Smith & Wesson. In fact, when you look at your TC rifle, it will say that it is indeed made by Smith & Wesson.

Basic Features

From afar on the gun rack the TC Compass can be hard to spot amongst other comparable rifles. It sports a composite stock with a trim rubber butt pad. The stock's smooth contours are broken up by a series of unique triangular grooves on the fore-stock and pistol grip to give you something to hold onto in leu of conventional checkering. The stock is mounted to a 22 inch tapered matte-black barrel that terminates in a knurled knob at the muzzle. This is the thread protector. Yes, the Compass comes with 1/2×28 threads right from the factory should you desire to add a suppressor or flash hider. The Compass, like most modern hunting rifles, does not sport iron sights but instead we get a removable weaver base mounted above the receiver.

The rifle is bolt action--of course-- and features an odd flag safety that reminds me of the Mauser rifle, except the flag pushes forward for fire and is retracted back to make the gun safe.
The rifle is bolt action–of course– and features an odd flag safety that reminds me of the Mauser rifle, except the flag pushes forward for fire and is retracted back to make the gun safe.
The Compass feeds from a detachable box magazine and the capacity is going to vary on the chambering of your choice. Nominally, the magazine will hold four rounds but my rifle in 5.56 NATO holds five rounds.
The Compass feeds from a detachable box magazine and the capacity is going to vary on the chambering of your choice. Nominally, the magazine will hold four rounds but my rifle in 5.56 NATO holds five rounds.
Removing the bolt is done by pressing the takedown lever on the left side of the receiver and retracting the bolt.
Removing the bolt is done by pressing the takedown lever on the left side of the receiver and retracting the bolt.
A prominent selling point of the Compass is the advertisement of Smith & Wesson incorporating 5R rifling.
A prominent selling point of the Compass is the advertisement of Smith & Wesson incorporating 5R rifling.

A prominent selling point of the Compass is the advertisement of Smith & Wesson incorporating 5R rifling. While I cannot attest to anything special relating to this, this 5.56 NATO chambered Compass is utilizing a 1 in 9 twist rate. I ended up going with a budget Tru-Glo 3-9×32 scope for my test–basic and budget like the Compass and optic brand elitist be damned.

On The Range

The TC Compass was the first hunting rifle I sat behind for the better part of eight years and testing went on for just as many months at distances ranging from 50 to 200 yards with a variety of ammunition and bullet weights. That ammunition included:

I first sat down with the Compass to zero the optic using some el Cheapo Frontier 55 grain ammunition at fifty yards. On paper, I was in the bullseye within five rounds– and no, I did not boresight the rifle. I mounted the optic tightly and then took it out. Never rely on a factory or store boresight to be true with your given load. After that, I ejected the magazine, pressing on the wide recessed paddle at the front of the magazine well. Reloading was fast to do. The mostly-polymer magazine was buttery smooth and easy to load detached from the rifle but after prolonged sessions I often found myself loading the rifle by dropping a round into the ejection port or thumbing rounds down into the attached magazine through the port. In any case, I ended my day at two hundred yards with both Frontier and Hornady Black 62 grainers.

On paper the 55-grain ammo did better, even though Hornady's ammunition has been very close to handloads in previous tests. I was busting stationary clays and perforating water bottles out to two hundred yards. There was no discernable drop between the fifty-yard zero and two hundred yards–something to say about modern rifle cartridges in general. The rifle itself handled very well. Ejection was brisk, throwing the cases several feet to my right. There were no failures to feed but sometimes I did find that the bolt dragged some when bolting forward. It sometimes felt as if there was excess movement once the bolt was fully rearward and it caused some hesitation when pushing forward again. It was enough to notice but not enough to affect performance or affect speed to make any appreciable difference. Further, there was no appreciable difference in terms of accuracy or recoil of the 55 or 62-grain ammunition.

The report was very loud–and thank goodness for earplugs. But there was no recoil at all. My view inside the scope was not disturbed at all. I could clearly see the impacts as I made them, though this may not be true in other Compass calibers–in which case that thick rubber butt pad would be a great aid. I could achieve, at best 1.8 inches at one hundred yards with either ammunition from a bench rest. This isn't stellar but it isn't bad considering the rest and the not-so-good-shooter.

55 grain and 62-grain ammunition are by far the most common in the 5.56 NATO/.223 Remington offerings that the Compass can digest but the time would soon come that I would try more extreme ends of the spectrum. These rounds are at home in the varmint taking world with light, fast 35-50 grain loads and longer, range deer-worthy loads above 62 grains. It was clear at one hundred yards, the 50-grain loadings I tested did not fare well at all and even lighter loads might be pointless. Both the Fiocchi and Winchester ammunition casted a low, four to eight inch group with the Winchester taking the cake in the department of terrible. I loaded up the 75 grain Hornady match rounds thinking the rifling would be too slow to stabilize them. The 1 in 9 twist is more at home with lighter grain bullets and 1-8 or even 1-7 as optimal for heavy 75-80 grain bullets. This is a great subject of debate but it was settled when I sent those pills downrange. Over several strings, I held five round groups at 1.2 inches at worst with my best turning in .87 inch with three rounds through the same hole. Given my shaky love of coffee and inexpensive glass, I imagine some of that accuracy had to do with the rifle paired with this excellent ammunition.

A group posted with Hornady Black 75 grain match hollow-points. This .87 inch group is excellent and the others are not far behind.
A group posted with Hornady Black 75 grain match hollow-points. This .87 inch group is excellent and the others are not far behind.

Final Thoughts

The TC Compass represents perhaps the best of the budget bolt action rifles available today. The rifle's weight and size is not uncomfortable for a smaller statured shooter yet not too small for a larger framed guy like me. The stock felt solid and the “checkering” was not obnoxiously uncomfortable to grab onto but permitted plenty of purchase. I liked the money-saving inclusion of the pre-installed scope bases and inverted flag safety. Although I have no use for a flash hider or suppressor, I can see the benefit of having a hunting gun threaded for those options right from the factory. Accuracy was excellent for the price point and the rifle never failed to fire.

The only downside for me is the not-so-smooth bolt work and the mostly polymer magazine. I would have preferred a stamped steel magazine–or at least a stamped steel magazine catch that would give more trust to the end user. Even so, the magazine was never a problem in the three hundred plus rounds. The only true point of annoyance lay in the trigger. The flat faced trigger offers no play or take-up. This is something few people would want but I do like this as a felt response to how much pressure is left before the final break, letting off a shot. Here, there is no trigger feedback and I pull against an unmoving wall of steel until the final, clean break. Your mileage and opinions may vary, like mine do. But even with my nitpicking, the Compass gets an A.

The TC Compass is a rifle loaded with features and accurate to boot. Whether you are a new sportsperson looking for your first rifle or an old hand looking for a loaner or beater gun, the TC Compass should be on your radar.


About Terril Hebert:Terril Hebert

Terril Hebert is a firearm writer native to south Louisiana. Under his motto-Guns, Never Politics-he tackles firearm and reloading topics both in print and on his Mark3smle YouTube channel, where he got his start. Terril has a soft spot for ballistics testing, pocket pistols, and French rifles. When he is not burning ammo, he is indulging his unhealthy wildlife photography obsession or working on his latest novel. Scourge of God, published in 2017. See more from Terril on youtube under Mark3smle

  • 6 thoughts on “Just In For Hunting Season, Thompson Center Compass Rifle – Review

    1. I purchased one in 5.56/.223. As a relatively new shooter, I was looking for something at a great price that I could shoot off the bench at up to 300 yards, the limit of my local range. I bought one with a scope combo for about $245 after rebate.

      First things first, I will never but another rifle with a scope. Mine came with a Sun Optics 3-9 x 40 which is junk. The glass is not very good and the parallax is off considerably. You have to adjust the “non-adjustable” front objective if you want to see anything resembling focus at 100 yards. So that didn’t last long. I replaced it. Now they offer the rifle with vortex, so those scopes may be a bit better.

      The gun itself is actually quite good, but it depends what you are shooting. I could not get anything near 1 MOA with federal bulk ammo. I didn’t know much at the time. A fellow shooter recommended hand loading. I first tried a variety of factory ammo from inexpensive to quite expensive. Hornady 55g vmax shot very well, producing nearly 1 MOA 5 shot groups pretty consistently. I still haven’t been able to get any decent groups with anything over 69g in this rifle. Long story short, I started reloading and have been able to achieve as good as .3 groups at 100 yards.

      Back to the gun, the bolt is not bad, but it can be a tad rough from time to time. Not really a big deal, though. My trigger was very heavy, and I also changed the spring. The “adjustability” of the factory trigger essentially achieves nothing. Mine is improved, but I’m still not 100% happy with it. I think I can improve it further.

      I am a left-handed shooter who doesn’t mind a right-hand action, but if you are like me, you won’t be in love with the stock. It is a dedicated right-hand stock with the cheek riser molded on the left side and the thumb contour prominent for a right-hander. In other words, definitely not anywhere approaching ambidextrous. So even though it’s not a deal-breaker, the stock will have to go. Unfortunately, the only stock option available is from Boyds, and the pro varmint in particular, has gotten mixed reviews for fit and finish.

      Overall though, I’m happy with the Compass. The price is hard to beat, and generally speaking it will shoot very well with the right ammo.

    2. I’m just guessing as my only .223/5.56 is a semi auto MSR. But I’d imagine shooting that bolt gun with the hand between the gun and that block being used for a rest is going to leave a mark. I ‘spose since they’re just posing a scene it doesn’t really matter. But then every time you see some non gun person like Nancy Pelosi with her finger on an “AR” trigger she gets called out. Oh well, just a photo op so what difference does it matter? Where have I heard that before?

      1. Actually, because the block is wood/hard material, you NEED to have your hand or other padding between the rifle stock and a hard object (no, it will not hurt your hand, even with a hard-kicking rifle). If you place the forearm of the stock – or worse yet the barrel – on any firm, non-padded object, you will throw all of your shots quite high as the rifle bounces off of the object. (A bullet taking the rifling and spinning at up to 300,000 rpm or more will produce twisting oscillation in the barrel, transmitting it into the stock through the barrel and receiver, without exception.)

    3. The article is about his test rifle in 5.56/.223. SO . . . . What’s up with all of the .357 Magnum empties scattered all over the shooting bench in his “range session” photos?!!?

    4. The trigger of the Compass is both good and bad. The good part is that it is a copy of the original Winchester Model 70 and is simple and effective. The bad part is that it comes from the factory set at 5-6 lbs pull weight, which is way too high for effective use.

      The good news is that the trigger is adjustable-well, mostly adjustable. After the rifle was on the market for a few months, Compass learned that owners were adjusting the trigger to a point that it would discharge when dropped on its butt from a height of 6″ when the 3-position safety was in the “forward” or “fire” position. If the safety was in the “middle” or “rear” position, it would not discharge.

      Out of fear of liability issues, Compass recalled the rifles and modified their trigger springs and changed the trigger spring on new rifles to increase the trigger pull weight to 5-6 lbs. This change also made it impossible to adjust the trigger pull without modifying or changing the spring or removing one of the two adjusting nuts on the trigger screw. These modifications are not difficult; however, they do involve a bit of careful work. There are several videos on UTube which show how to do the modifications and several vendors have replacement trigger springs available at low prices which make the job even easier. I modified my trigger using a spring which was originally made for the Winchester Model 70. Although not necessary, as I had the trigger apart, I also went to the trouble to hone and polish the surface of the sear of the trigger

      The end result was that my Compass has a great trigger with a pull weight of 2.8 lbs, is very smooth and has no creep or overtravel. However, the trigger will not hold if the butt of the rifle is dropped from 6″ onto a hard surface if, and only if, the safety is in the “forward” or “fire” position. Of course, it will hold if the safety is in either the middle or rear positions.

      It is a cardinal rule of gun safety that you are to never carry any rifle with a round in the chamber and the safety in the “fire” position. This is true whether the rifle is a Compass or any other brand.

      I ended up with a nice rifle which shoots “minute of angle” i.e less than 1″ groups at 100 yards distance for less than $300. Compared to days past, this combination of price and performance is unbelievable.

    5. Good review! With current rebates, these can be had for $200. That’s pretty nuts! I have one in 308 and have been very pleased with it. Hard to beat for a hunting gun…. many far more expensive guns don’t have a 1″ guarantee like these do. Mine shot true to this claim with the first hand loads I tried. I prepped and sprayed my stock with some krylon and webbing spray and you’d have a hard time telling it apart from a high-end gun now. Mine has a pretty nice trigger to boot. Anyway, nice to see this gun get some much deserved praise. I highly recommend it to new and old hunters alike. I’m seriously considering getting a 300wm just in case I get to go on an elk hunt some day or need to do some longer range deer hunting. One distributor has a killer deal for $300 paired with a vortex scope. Nice review and take care!

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