For most of my life I’ve been fascinated by single-shot rifles and though I no longer want to own them all, I do like to look for them. At a Penrith gun show I was doing the rounds of the tables when I came across a break-action rifle I hadn’t seen before. It was obviously of fairly recent manufacture and my initial thoughts were it was some sort of rook rifle, possibly European-made. The stock was showing signs of wear and the blueing was thin in places but apart from that it looked in reasonable shape.
Closer inspection identified it as having been made by Thompson Centre at Rochester, New Hampshire. The calibre was .222 Remington. Though I owned a Thompson Centre .36 calibre muzzleloading rifle at one stage I’ve never had anything to do with their pistols or breech-loading rifles. That made the rifle on the table all the more intriguing and I decided if I wanted to know any more about it, I’d probably have to buy it. On that basis it came home with me.
Initially I had trouble identifying what model it was, simply because it didn’t have a number anywhere. A phone call to Frontier Arms in Adelaide solved that problem with a helpful sales person identifying it as either a TCR 83 or a TCR 87 - and that was all I needed to start my research ball rolling.
It turns out my rifle is a TCR 87 (Thompson Centre Rifle) Hunter model. As the number 87 would imply it was introduced in 1987 and remained in production until 1993 or 1995 depending on who’s telling the story. Like the TCR 83 it replaced, the TCR 87 was designed to offer hunters and shooters a platform that provided the versatility of interchangeable barrels to cover a wide range of hunting and shooting needs. It was offered in 11 different rifle calibres including two magnums as well as 12-gauge (see panel).
The magnum barrels required a magnum receiver as both were different to the rifles chambered for standard rounds. Magnum barrels had an extra pin in the face of the breech that fitted into a groove in the locking bolt for additional strength. Magnum receivers were stamped T/C MAG on the bottom of the receiver behind the barrel pivot pin. Standard barrels for both the M83 and M87 would fit the magnum receivers but not vice versa.
With an overall length of 99cm the TCR 87 is a relatively compact firearm, due in no small part to its break action. That said, it’s also quite a hefty unit with a bare weight of 3.1kg. Appearance-wise it looks like any number of other break-action rifles which have been around at different times, the main difference being it’s obviously solidly built with a comfortable feel and good balance, much like you’d expect in a shotgun.
The cast steel receiver is beautifully polished and blued with a thicker reinforce on either side along the top edge where the barrel sits when it’s locked into place. The blued barrel is 58.5cm long with a diameter of 23.3mm at the knox form and 15.3mm at the muzzle, which has a radius crown.
The barrel locks into the receiver via a block at the breech end that’s close fitted and appears to be pinned for security. The front underside of the block has a semi-circular cut-out to match the diameter of the receiver’s pivot pin and the rear has an angular cut-out that engages the breech bolt when the receiver is closed. Top of the barrel block is drilled and tapped to accept a cantilevered scope base and rings which fortunately was still attached. Although they were mismatched, the rings held an old 6x Tasco scope.
According to an owners’ manual I found on the internet, the barrel is a lightweight version, identifiable as such by the fact it’s drilled and tapped to allow the fitting of open sights which were originally offered as an extra, an option unavailable on the heavier medium-weight barrel.
To open the rifle the top lever is pushed to one side or the other, the latter part of the manipulation requiring considerable effort to completely disengage the breech bolt from the barrel locking lug. When the bolt is fully withdrawn the barrel tips down to reveal the breech, an extractor sliding back from the breech face to allow a cartridge to be inserted into the chamber. At the same time a striker moves back into the cocked position inside the receiver where it’s held by a sear to prepare the rifle for firing.
At this point in the process the manual recommends the cross bolt safety be engaged to guard against accidental discharge of the rifle. The safety is located in the top front section of the trigger bow and to engage it the cross bolt must be pushed to the right until a locking plunger snaps into place. Only then should a cartridge be placed in the chamber and the action closed.
To disengage the cross bolt safety requires the locking plunger - effectively a safety catch for the cross bolt - be pushed down with a finger while the cross bolt itself must be pushed to the left with the thumb, only then can the rifle be fired. The cross bolt safety must also be disengaged to allow the rifle to be opened.
My TCR 87 has a single, adjustable trigger, originally factory pre-set to what Thompson considered a safe and manageable pull weight. It’s adjustable via a small hexagonal grub drive at the rear of the triggerguard with adjustment instructions provided in the owners’ manual.
The stock is shaped from dense, straight-grained walnut with a nice semi-gloss finish. The buttstock is attached to the receiver by a through bolt from the butt end which is fitted with a black spacer and red rubber buttpad emblazoned with the T/C initials. The pistol grip has a chequered panel on either side, stock to receiver fit being quite tight with the front edge of the buttstock raised slightly above the surface of the receiver on either side.
The forearm is also made from a decent piece of walnut. More or less square in cross-section it has a rounded nose and grooves along either side for grip and clips on to a lug under the barrel where it’s secured by an internal spring-loaded plunger. To ensure the forearm stays in place under recoil, a screw through the underside of the forearm locks the plunger once the forearm is in place. Both buttstock and forearm are fitted with QD swivel bases.
To take the rifle down the forearm is first removed, the top lever pushed to one side or the other until the barrel tilts down and at that point it can be removed from the receiver for replacement, transport or cleaning.
There doesn’t appear to be a lot of these rifles around any more and I suspect there weren’t a lot to start with. The one I have is the only one I’ve ever seen but that could mean nothing more than I wasn’t looking in the right places.
Having bought the rifle I had to find out how it shot and accordingly removed the old Tasco scope and replaced it with a 6x42 Meopta Meopro which I consider ideal for a walkabout hunting rifle like this. Off the bench I shot it with Winchester, Federal and Sellier & Bellot 50gr factory loads and found that at 100m all of them performed pretty much the same in terms of accuracy, even if their points of impact varied a little.
Light barrels don’t like to become warm and the TCR 87 was no exception. With all three ammunition types the first and second shots lobbed inside the 20mm 10 ring on a standard SSAA 25/50m target at 100m, the third shot invariably blowing group sizes out to between 30 and 45mm thanks to flyers.
While that would probably drive some folks to distraction it’s not that surprising given the rifle was designed for hunting, not target shooting. None of the small game like rabbits, hares, foxes or feral cats the .222 does its best work on should ever require more than one shot anyway. The trigger pull was crisp and light, the rifle itself well balanced, easy to carry and a pleasure to use. Overall I’m rather impressed with the TCR 87, a welcome addition to my growing collection of single-shot rifles.