Slickguns Review: Thompson/Center Compass 6.5 Creedmoor
Photos by Michael Anschuetz
“Best Bang for the buck” was the phrase most often tossed around Guns & Ammo’s office when editors were trying to best describe the 2016 Rifle of the Year award winner. And the Thompson/Center Compass still stands as one of the best values and lowest barriers to entry if you’ve been considering the hot 6.5 Creedmoor. Even after two years on the market, the Compass retails for only a dollar less than $400, which means most dealers have them tagged between $350 and $375 new.
Of course, being affordable doesn’t always mean that something has value. We all know that there’s a difference between a rifle that’s affordable and another rifle that’s cheap. But T/C didn’t skimp when designing the Compass.
Everything You Need Above all other details, the Compass has earned a reputation for being quite accurate among consumers during these last two years in the field. T/C has enough confidence in the Compass to back it up with a minute-of-angle (MOA) guarantee. Best-selling of the 11 calibers offered? The 6.5 Creedmoor! What I’ve found with it chambered in 6.5 is that it can deliver sub-minute, three-shot groups with any premium load. T/C can credit its 5R rifling and the fact that their barrels are button rifled for this accuracy. Inside the bore, the lands are opposed to the grooves, and the lands are gently sloped rather than a normal barrel’s squared edges that scrape and claw on a bullet’s jacket as it passes through. The 5R rifling translates to less bullet deformation, consistent results downrange and less fouling. And when it’s time to clean the bore, you’re going to notice that you have to use fewer patches, too.
A guarantee for such accuracy wouldn’t be possible if the trigger was rough. The Compass’ single-stage curved trigger allows its firing pin to spring forward after 31/2 pounds according to our trigger pull gauge. Want it lighter? Prefer a heavier trigger for peace of mind? It’s easy to remove the stock and adjust the trigger’s pull weight. Given that most decisions on whether or not to buy a gun take place across the counter after the trigger is pulled, I think that T/C made a great choice in offering the Compass with such a great, adjustable trigger out of the box.
Time Tested Certain features are not unique to the Compass, but they are generally favored. Let’s start by considering the Compass’ 60-degree bolt lift, for example. The two most common bolt lifts measure roughly 60 and 90 degrees. A 60-degree bolt typically has three lugs while a 90-degree often has two large lugs. A shorter bolt lift (60 degrees) can mean that it is easier to cycle the action quicker because you are not lifting it as high, and it offers more clearance for a scope that’s mounted low. (Ever scrape your index finger on a scope’s power ring when working a bolt quick?) Some will argue, however, that a 90-degree bolt lift requires less force per degree of rotation to cock due to the spring rate and compression distance that has to be overcome. They’re right, too. And many of those rifles have severely downturned bolts to prevent them from hitting a scope’s ocular housing. Me? I prefer 60.
Some economy guns that compete with the Compass cheat the feel of lifting a 60-degree bolt by reducing spring rate, which can lead to light primer strikes. The T/C didn’t compromise reliability, so the Compass’ bolt may feel a bit heavier to lift. But, when the threshold of cocking has been met, the process is still quicker than lifting a bolt in the same action size with a 90-degree lift.
The Compass’ safety lever is a derivative of the legendary Winchester Model 70 three-position, so-called “winged” safety lever. The forward position allows the rifle to fire, while the middle position allows the user to work the bolt action without firing and the rearward position locks the bolt action and trigger system. This horizontal-style safety lever has been providing a visible and tactile status of the action’s condition for more than a century.
The stock looks like other economy-rifle stocks in that it’s black, has some molded lines for tactile grip and is made of some plastic that manufacturers often advertise as a proprietary blend of modern polymers. As with other economy rifles, it’s not wood, wood laminate, kevlar, carbon fiber or fiberglass, which means that this was a big cost savings. There are two sling swivel attachment points and ribs to tell the hands where to grip. The stock is straightforward and doesn’t mess with the accuracy of the rifle because it’s molded with such generous proportions that it can’t touch the barrel — even when hot.
Not so ho-hum is the Compass’ detachable rotary magazine. Yes, it’s made of plastic, ahem polymer, but it feels robust enough that you could throw it against a brick wall and chip a piece of brick with it. It’s flush fit, too. Though it holds five rounds of 6.5 Creedmoor (four rounds of magnum cartridges), its rotary design makes efficient use of space so that the magazine doesn’t protrude from the base of the stock. It’s brilliant and spares cost $32 each.
Field Tested It seems to me that more hunters are adding a trip to New Zealand as part of their bucket list. Once you bargain shop for a ticket that delivers you to either Auckland on the north island or Queenstown on the south, you’ll find a country in love with the outdoors and shooting sports. To hunt in this isolated paradise, visitors traveling with guns have to be sponsored, which is easy if you’ve booked with an outfitter. I went last spring with Glen Dene Hunting (glendenehunting.com) and saw more of the islands’ culture than I could have possibly experienced on my own. The outfit’s third-generation owners, Richard and Sarah Burdon, offer epic landscapes and access to 15,000 acres of free-range red stag hunting as well as chamois, Arapawa rams, South Pacific goats, tahr and fallow deer. I went working with a small budget that afforded me the opportunity to hunt red stag and tahr.
On arrival to one of Burdon’s lodges above Lake Hawea, you can’t help but be impressed with the view and contrasting colors on the waters at the bottom of the Southern Alps. My guide was Stacey Shuker, and though I don’t typically call attention to gender, she is one of only two certified female guides in New Zealand. Her strength, stamina, determination and knowledge of the animals and environment were cause for a successful hunt.
Shuker, T/C representative Danielle Sanville and I were sent to hunt a remote camp set near a sheep farm. To get there, we drove 3 hours north in a flatbed Toyota to the Dobson Valley. Then we glassed the island’s glaciers and rock slides.
Tahr is a wild goat introduced to the island (like all game animals on New Zealand). They are native to the Himalayas, which means they thrive near the peaks of the mountains, so be prepared to climb. They wear a beautiful coat of long, straight, dark-brown fur with short horns on their head that can be difficult to age. Their sparring rituals proved fascinating to witness.
Each day we hiked miles of steep, grassy and rocky terrain using boulders for cover while glassing. Though I arrived to New Zealand expecting the most out of the stag hunt, the tahr was the most arduous and rewarding. After arriving at the top of a mountain on the morning of the second hunt day, we were washed out by a rainforest-like storm that forced us back down the mountain. It was demoralizing to know that we’d have to hike back up the same difficult path once the storm had passed. And we did just that five hours later under a blanket of fog.
That afternoon, on our ascent, Shuker spotted a herd of tahr unaware of our presence, which allowed us to crawl and set up for a 140-yard try. Hornady’s 143-grain ELD-X bullet planted one of the herd’s mature, six-year-old bulls with a single shot.
Two days later, Shuker and I hunted the mountains near Lake Hawea for the legendary red stag. I found it interesting that the value of a stag is determined by the guide as you observe it through binoculars. Once you’ve shot and it’s recovered, the antlers’ dimensions are scored, which place the animal in one of several categories that include the largest: gold medal, silver and bronze. Most local Kiwis consider a bronze to be a grand-enough animal to spot on free-range property, while wealthy hunters tend to upgrade to silver- and gold-medal stags that can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
After another morning mountain climb, Shuker identified a bronze stag through her spotting scope. We hiked and crawled along at a brisk pace with the sound of a running creek masking our movement until we ran out of cover just 100 yards from the stag. To our surprise, we discovered the bull among two other giants, a silver and a gold. Setting up to shoot, I realized that this was the first time I had ever intentionally aimed to shoot the smallest animal of a group. How ironic.
That beautiful bronze stag was the most regal animal I had ever hunted, and I remain very proud of it. Back at camp, I realized that I still had enough in my budget to hunt one other animal. The affordability of the T/C Compass and new Leupold VX-Freedom scope that I had mounted atop the rifle’s Weaver bases meant that I had saved the difference to enjoy an extra hunting experience by not purchasing a more expensive rifle and optic.
That savings took Shuker and me to an entirely different landscape to hunt for New Zealand’s South Pacific goat. The challenge required more climbing, but a different approach to shooting. Goats don’t mind narrow ledges against flat-faced, loose-rock cliffs. To position ourselves for a shot, we had to walk out on a narrow ledge a few feet wide that was surrounded on three sides by a canyon drop to a creek a few hundred feet below. I didn’t know I was fearful of heights, but I had to fight back the urge to turn back and quit. Ultimately, we were only 10 feet above a herd of pale goats with wide horns. My opportunity came at the largest goat, which was grazing on the opposite cliff at a negative-20-degree angle. Though only 75 yards away, the shot was one of the steepest I’ve attempted. And so was the recovery. This trip certified the Compass’ award-winning value — especially when chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor.
Type: Bolt action
Cartridge: 6.5 Creedmoor (tested)
Capacity: 5+1 rds.
Barrel: 22 in.; 5R riflfling; threaded
Overall Length: 41.5 in.
Weight: 7 lbs., 4 oz.
Stock: Black synthetic
Length of Pull: 13.39 in.
Trigger: 3 lbs., 8 oz. (tested)
Sights: None; Weaver bases (incl.)
Safety: Lever, three position
Manufacturer: Thompson/Center Firearms
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