I was able to find and purchase a used Thompson Center (TC) Encore with a muzzleloader barrel (209 X 50) and a 7 mm Remington Magnum Barrel. These were not new guns, but the Encore Pro Hunter interchange barrel system and the muzzleloader was new to me. For those not familiar with the TC Encore Pro Hunter system, all it takes to change barrels is to remove two screws from the forearm, pull out the hinge pin and switch out the barrels, replace the hinge pin, replace the forearm and attach the two screws. In addition to the 209X50 muzzleloader barrel, TC makes a barrel for almost every center fire, rim fire and shotgun you can think of in blue, Stainless Steel or Camo and they all fit on the same frame.
My TC Encore came with the following features:
Encore 209 X .50 Caliber Magnum Muzzleloader (#5886)
- 26 inch stainless barrel
- black composite forearm (#7710)
- universal breech plug (removed with socket; 11 rotations)
- fixed primer extractor
- adjustable fiber optic sights
- solid aluminum ram-rod
- Weight 9.5 lbs with scope, mounts, sling and bipod
Encore Frame Assembly
- black composite stock (Pro Hunter version has Flex Tech stock)
- fixed hammer (Pro Hunter version has an adjustable swing hammer)
- fixed primer ejector (Pro Hunter version has a moveable ejector)
- sling swivel studs
Encore 7 mm Remington Magnum Barrel (#4921)
- 26 inch stainless barrel (Pro Hunter version have fluted) barrel
- black composite forearm (#7701)
- Nikon Buckmasters 3-9 X40 scope
My take on the Thompson Center Encore and Upgrades and Accessories
When picking up the TC Encore the first time, You can tell there is a lot of metal here. It is a stout, well built, well machined gun. I immediately like the like the fit, the feel and the balance. The pistol grip stock fits my hand perfectly. The trigger is firm, but crisp, no play, no slop just firm, smooth and very little travel before the hammer snaps. My gun with scope, bipod and sling weighs 9.5 lbs according to the bathroom scale.
Pro Hunter Flex Tech Stock
As soon as I bought the guns, I bought a new Pro Hunter Flex Tech stock to replace the composite stock. Stocks were also available in the Real Tree hardwood camo. I really like the camo pattern, but stayed with the black composite stock because I didn’t think it was worth $50 more. The forearm is also available in the camo pattern for about $60.
It was simple to change stocks; Remove the decal plate (two screws) on the stock, then loosen a nut and slide it off. Replace the new stock, tighten the nut and replace the decal plate. So now, I have a hybrid Encore/Pro Hunter. If you shoot a lot of 120 – 150 grain loads at the range, you will appreciate the 43% reduction in recoil. It helps save your shoulder and your scopes. I don’t shoot many 150 grain loads anymore, but I could shoot them all day with the new stock if I wanted.
Nikon Buckmasters 1x Scope
I added a 1x Nikon Buckmasters Scope (only 1x scopes are legal to hunt with muzzleloader in my state). I had to, I have become sufficiently experienced that my eyes will not adequately focus on the target, front and back sights at the same time. (Read post about shooting with corrective vision and muzzleloader scope).
I also tried a “Red Dot” scope, but since I am red-green color blind, I could only see the dot on the snow. For me, the green dot option was not much better.
Once I added the scope, it was obvious why the Thompson Center Pro Hunter now comes with an adjustable hammer. I can barely fit my thick thumb under the scope to pull back the hammer. I can do it, but it’s even harder to let the hammer down with any control. I bought the hammer expander at Amazon. It is a simple little thing to cost $12, but having a good grip on the hammer is also a safety issue. It simply slides over your hammer and tightens with an Allen wrench. The Carlson’s Hammer Expander extends in both directions instead of a single direction like a hammer spur.
I have read that some people believe adding weight to the hammer causes misfires, but I have not had any misfires with the black powder or with the 7 mm Remington magnum center fire barrel.
Originally, I tried using a hammer spur made by Rightnour, but it continued to come loose and I had to carry an Allen wrench with me in the field. I eventually lost it, so I do not recommend the Rightnour hammer spur.
The first time I cleaned the gun at the range, I realized why the E-Z Tip primer extractor was needed. To remove the breech, I had to remove the fixed extractor. But first, I had to remove two screws on the forearm and a screw on the extractor. Then after cleaning, everything has to be re-assembled. This was a bad design, obviously not thought out.
The E-Z Tip Extractor simply rotates out of the way when you want to remove the breech plug. I recently saw a guy at the range that still had the old style extractor. No wonder he waited so long between cleanings. If I had a spare, he would have paid $50 for it.
Easier to clean = clean more often = better shot groups. Click for more info on EZ Tip Primer Extractor for your Thompson Center Encore.
Additional Gear for the Range
Here are some additional gear that I picked up that makes my life easier when shooting at the range and when cleaning the muzzleloader.
I picked up a 9-13 inch Caldwell bipod. It is easily attached to and removed from the front sling swivel stud by hand tightening. It makes an excellent bench rest at the range and always provides a good, safe place to rest the gun. I also have the 13-23 inch bipod I use when hunting. It also fits on the forearms of all the Thompson Center Centerfire barrels and I also use it on my 7mm Rem. mag barrel.
The ram rod that comes with the Thompson Center Encore is acceptable for reloading a few shots in the field, but if you are going to be loading for dozens of shots and then cleaning between shots at the range, you will want a longer range rod, or you had better get a “hand saver”. I actually use two range rods when at the range, one for holding patches and one for holding the proper bullet starter, because it saves time not having to thread and un-thread jags and bullet starters.
I was cleaning the barrel by running patches up and down the barrel, when a guy in the next shooting lane said “Try this” and pulled out a Hoppe’s BoreSnake and handed it too me. His 12 gauge sized snake was a little tight for the .50 barrel, but with a little help, we pulled it through the barrel a few times. Now this is the way to clean a barrel. I bought one (.50 caliber) for my self before I went home that night. I swear, it is the fastest, easiest way to clean a barrel and with the correct size, you can easily pull it through the barrel by yourself. Two passes, and the barrel is spotless. Best thing since sliced bread, all thumbs up.
Chiefs Pro Clean Retriever Groove Cleaner
At first, I was not convinced that a groove cleaner was necessary, but bought one anyway; the Chiefs Pro Clean Retriever (#102). My logic is if the rifling is important, then it makes sense that the rifling be cleaned too. It is very simple to use, start by threading the groove cleaner onto your cleaning rod. Then drop it into the barrel and turn it slowly until the grove cleaner finds the grooves in your barrel. Gently push or pull the groove cleaner down the barrel. It is surprising how much “stuff” (burnt powder, plastic from sabots?) comes out of those grooves after the barrel has been cleaned and looks spotless. It must be doing something, so I use it for a good cleaning before putting the gun away.
How To Clean A Muzzleloader – My Cleaning Routine
I clean the muzzleloader barrel using a BoreSnake (Hoope’s, .50 cal) with a little bore cleaner soaked into the first part of the BoreSnake, two passes, breech to mouth. Next, I lube the barrel with a lubed patch (two passes), then remove the excess with a dry patch (two passes). While I am cleaning the barrel, the breech plug is soaking in bore cleaner or dishwashing soap and water in an old film canister. Then I use an old toothbrush to clean the breech plug. I also use a DenTek Slim Brush to clean the hole in the plug (I also use these to floss my teeth). I dry the breech plug, make sure the hole is not blocked, then lube the threads and insert back into the breech.
Muzzleloader Accuracy – Getting There
Randy Wakeman and others may be able to shoot 1 MOA groups “right out of the box” with the Thompson Center Encore Pro Hunter, but I was not able to shoot my Encore accurately at first. I started off using 150 grains of powder as recommended by the gun’s previous owner and some guys I met at the range the first day I shot it. Go big or go home right? It’s exhilarating to say the least, and I loved it, but I couldn’t keep the shots inside a 4 inch circle at 100 yards.
I had read online about guys that claimed to shoot dozens of rounds before cleaning. So I figured that if I shot 8 or 10 times, then cleaned everything, I would be going the extra mile. I had intended to hunt with the Barnes TMZ bullet, but loading them was very hard in a dirty barrel. I actually had a bullet stick halfway down and was done shooting for the day. When I got home, I had to remove the breech, break up and remove the pellets and tap the bullet out.
The “all knowing” guys at the range had suggested I get Power Belts because they were easy to load. Two days later I was back at the range to give them a try. Yes, they were easy to load, but the best I could shoot was still 4 inch groups. I was starting to question if it was my lack of ability or claims of 1 MOA accuracy for the TC Encore was a myth.
I hunted with the muzzleloader that first fall using Power Belt (Copper Series Aerotips; 245 grain for mule deer, 295 grain for elk). I didn’t get a shot at a mule deer, but I missed a spike elk at 163 yards (no wind). He didn’t flinch, he didn’t even run until I almost finished reloading. Now I was questioning my ability and whether I would hunt the muzzleloader seasons the next year or not.
Since I didn’t know any experienced muzzleloader shooters, all I had was forums and the internet. There is a lot of good information out there and also a lot of baloney. I was put on the right track at several web sites that questioned the need for 150 grains of powder for a deer when the old buffalo guns knocked down a two ton bison with 70 grains of powder. Several sites also stated the importance of cleaning after every shot for a consistent barrel, which leads to consistent shooting.
Seems as if everything is important for shooting a muzzleloader accurately. Makes sense, since everything is important when reloading center fire ammunition and muzzleloading is reloading, every single shot.
If you use the same bullet and sabot, the same powder or pellets and the same primer, then for the most part those things will stay the same. Though powder changes as it absorbs moister from the air, so old powder is not the same as new powder, it should be consistent while you are shooting your groups. Some say there is too much variation in pellet weight and that only powder offers consistency for accurate shooting. Bullets have to fit well, a bullet that is too easy to load will flop around too much in the barrel. My remaining Power Belt bullets have become fishing sinkers.
So if all the parts are the same, what changes? The barrel changes and the compression of the powder and bullet changes. A clean barrel may differ with the amount of lube and a dirty barrel will differ between 1st, 2nd … 10th shots. A warm barrel is different from a cold barrel and cleaning between shots helps to cool the barrel.
For accuracy, clean between shots and be consistent with the cleaning. I actually clean between every two shots. I use one target for clean bore 1st shots and another target for dirty bore 2nd shots. We might as well practice those second shots too and it’s good practice to put a little pressure on yourself to reload quickly. In the field, any 2nd shot will be from a warm, dirty barrel. First shots are with powder, 2nd shots are with pellets. Not that pellet are that much faster than powder to pour from a speed loader into the barrel, but imagine trying to reload with powder while lying down.
Shooting 2 Inch Groups
Since I started cleaning the barrel after every shot, switched from pellets to powder and reduced the amount of powder, accuracy has improved. I can count on 2 inch groups (100 yards) with the Barnes TMZ bullets. My gun seems to shoot the best groups with 95 grains of powder for the 250 grain bullet and 100 grains of powder for the 290 grain bullet.
This past week, I tried shooting the Barnes T-EZ bullet after reading Randy Wakeman’s Barnes Bullet review. The T-EZ is a new bullet made for tight-bore muzzleloaders like Thompson Center’s. The bullet is similar to the TMZ, but has a flat bottom instead of the semi-spitzer shaped TMZ. The ballistics coefficient is slightly lower than the TMZ, but the main difference is the thinner Sabot. I will also try the thinner sabots with the TMZ bullets.
I shot 2 inch groups (all 10 shots) at 100 yards with 120 grains Pyrodex powder and 250 grain T-EZ bullets and sabots with clean bore. I also shot 2 inch groups (9 shots) with 120 grains Pyrodex pellets with each 2nd shot with dirty barrel. If I include a shot where I know I flinched (guy beside me at the range bounced a .223 case off of me), the 10 shot group (dirty barrel) was 3 inches. The TMZ is easier to load and especially when the barrel is dirty, but the bullets fit firmly.
Note: Since I originally wrote this, I occasionally shoot 1 MOA groups using my 1x scope. At 100 yards, the 1x reticle covers a 2.88 MOA area on the target. On the few occasions that I have taken the time to switch to and zero my 3-9x scope, I have shot 1 MOA groups.
I was also able to shoot through a chronograph for the first time this week. I was surprised at the slow muzzle velocities (mv) I got with 120 grains of powder (1681 – 1892 fps – Barnes Bullets reports 120 grains should average 1986 fps). With 120 grains of pellets, mv ranged from 1721-1922 fps (Barnes reports 1925 avg. fps).
One inch accuracy at the range is one thing and hunting is another. I have shot enough rounds now with loads between 95 and 120 grains that I know I can count on 2-3 MOA groups at a variety of distances and angles. If I don’t try to reach out too far, 3 inch groups on a deer’s 5 inch kill zone should put meat in the freezer.
I will keep working on improving my accuracy and as soon as I replace this old powder, I’m going back to the range to find the absolute best load for that 250 grain bullet. I also have more scouting to do. I have a Muzzleloader Buck tag and the season starts in less than three weeks.
Loading, Shooting & Cleaning for Accuracy
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