Author: Frank Ross
When Clint Eastwood uttered his now immortalized praise of the .44 magnum, neither he, nor anyone in the gun industry had any idea of what loomed on the horizon for heavy hitting handgun enthusiasts. Today, the .44 magnum is an "also ran" in the arena of high-powered handguns, falling far behind other more powerful pedigrees.
Today, if you want to shoot "the most powerful handgun in the world," depending upon the load, you would have several to choose from. The current king is the .445 Super Mag with 2239 foot pounds of muzzle energy and a muzzle velocity of 2050 feet per second, with a 240 grain bullet. Others in the "nearly" class would be custom barrels for the T/C in .454 and .480 Remington calibers, also on the Encore frame. The .500 Jurras Howdah , with its 500 grain bullet is a slower load, but it packs quite a wallop. Your selection would be impacted by your ultimate purpose. Question is, do you feel lucky?.
When addressing the issues of versatility and power in a handgun, there is really only one contender for the title of "Top Dog," and that would be "the" Contender, made by Thompson-Center Arms. In a photo finish, but falling to second place, would be the Contender's flashy cousin, the recently introduced Encore.
David Sanders, Cabela's Firearms Specialist, dispenses wisdom garnered from his many years of gunsmithing experience and nine years behind Cabela's Sidney gun counter. As a devoted handgun enthusiast, wanting to know more about these offerings, I sought out Dave to pick his brain.
"The Contender has been around since the 60's, in a wide range of popular calibers for both rimfire and centerfire cartridges. And the Encore was introduced a little over a year ago. It's the heavier version of the two, designed for the higher chamber pressures of loads like 7mm-08, .30-06, and .22-250. Thompson-Center has the most versatile shooting systems on the market," he noted.
Basically, you have two different frames. The Contender is handgun flexibility personified, while the Encore has fewer handgun options, all of them have a tremendous punch, and the Encore takes a different route to flexibility. Of course, if you want to shoot the higher caliber loads, you can always take the trail blazed by the Encore, and have custom barrels tooled up for own specific needs; but at the current pace, it won't be long before the list of barrels is expanded.
"When Thompson-Center came out with the Contender, it served as an inspiration for gunsmiths, and Lee Juris has grabbed the spotlight with a series of designs adapted to his SuperVeldt cartridge. Juris used the Contender as a platform for custom barrels, tied to his proprietary cartridges, with loads scaling up to the .500 Juris Howdah. He was somewhat ahead of his time, but now other manufacturers are getting on board," he explained.
Not to be left out of the "big bang theory," Taurus has rolled out their Raging Bull .480, .454 Casull caliber handgun, which has received the prestigious "Handgun of the Year" award from the Shooting Industry Academy of Excellence. Ruger has thrown their hat into the heavy weight ring with the addition of their Super Redhawk .480 Ruger and .454 Casull to their extensive array of handguns that already included several versions of Clint's beloved .44 Magnum.
While these latest offerings are excellent firearms, they still lack the versatility of the Contender that started it all. With the Contender, you can simply remove the forearm, and tap out the barrel/frame hinge pin; select the barrel of choice, reverse the process and you're firing a different load. Barrels range from 10" match grade .22 LR all the way up to the 14" .45/70 Gov't./with Muzzle Tamer. One of the more interesting offerings is the .45 Long Colt/.410 barrel, available with either adjustable sights or a vent rib. With this barrel, you can be banging away with the .45 Long Colt one minute, and change to .410 shot shells using a special choke insert. For more detail on barrels, see the chart listed below.
Both frames come with standard frames and walnut handles, but a wide variety of grips are available from aftermarket manufacturers. Special holsters and slings are also available to make it easier to carry when going on extended hunts. While they are classified as handguns, with barrels up to 14", they are more like compact rifles. If you like the idea of hunting with a handgun, but for some game, would like to switch back to the comfort of a rifle profile, Encore is the model you're looking for.
This is the area in which the Encore offers options that the Contender doesn't. With the Encore, you can opt for the rifle system with a stylish Monte Carlo buttstock. Naturally it wouldn't be a Thompson-Center without a number of caliber options, including the .22 Hornet, .223, .22-250, .243, .25-06, .270 Winchester, 7mm-08 Remington, .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, .45/70 Gov't, .300 Win Mag and .50 cal BP .
Yes, you can also take the black-powder route. It only makes sense with a manufacturer that has long been noted for premier black powder firearms. "The black powder Encore has an inline ignition that uses a 209 primer. "It is a superior system because it fires hotter and quicker. It's classified as a modern gun, and laws covering black powder-hunting vary dramtically throughout the country. For example, Pennsylvania only allows flintlocks for their primitive weapon's season, but most states allow inline rifles, but scopes may vary as well," Sanders noted. For anyone interested in the black powder option, it would be advisable to check with local regulations before making a purchase," he cautioned.
The Encore® 209x50 Magnum, with a 26" barrel of 4140 rifle grade steel is designed to handle Magnum charges of up to 150 grains of black powder or Pyrodex® equivalent (or 3 Pyrodex® Pellets). Using T/C's Mag Express™ Sabots and a 240 grain XTP™ bullet with 3 Pyrodex® Pellets, it produces a muzzle velocity of 2203 ft/second, and is lethal out much further than traditional weapons! Not to be left out of the flexibility loop, you can change barrels for various calibers from .22-250 Remington for varmints, up to .300 Win Mag. for larger game. There's also a 20-gauge barrel available with a vent rib for upland game.
If you're looking for a handgun, and demand versatility from light to heavy loads, Thompson-Center Arms has all the bases covered. The only challenge will be which system and barrel, or barrels to buy, so why not get them all.
|Thompson-Center Contender |
|10" Blued Barrel || 10" SST Barrel|
| .22 LR Match Grade/Adj. sights ||.22 LR Match Grade/Adj. sights |
|.22 Hornet/Adj. sights ||.45 Colt/.410 gauge/Vent Rib |
|.357 Magnum/Adj. sights |
|.44 Magnum/Adj. sights |
|.45 Colt/.410 gauge/Adj. sights |
| .45 Colt/.410 gauge/ Vent Rib|
|14" Blued Barrel || 14" SST Barrel |
| .22 LR Match Grade ||.22 LR Match Grade |
|.22 Hornet ||.223 Remington|
| .223 Remington || .45 Colt/.410 gauge/ Vent Rib|
| 7-30 Waters |
|.44 Magnum |
|.45/70 Gov't./with Muzzle Tamer|
|.45/.410 gauge/ Vent Rib|
|16 1/4" Blued Barrel|
| .223 Remington |
| .45-70 Gov't. -Bull Barrel/Muzzle Tamer|
| Thompson-Center Encore|
| 12" Blued/Walnut|
| .223 Remington/Adj. sights|
| 7mm-08 Remington|
| .44 Remington Mag|
| .454 Casull|
|.45 Colt/.410 gauge/Vent Rib|
| 15" Blued/Walnut||15" SST/Composite|
|.22 Hornet||.223 Remington|
|.223 Remington||.22-250 Remington|
|.22-250 Remington|| 7mm-08 Remington|
|.243 Winchester||.308 Winchester|
| 7mm-08 Remington|
|Encore 209X50 Cal Mag.|
Frank Ross grew up on a lake in Florida, where fishing and hunting were second nature. He has pursued his passion from the jungles of South America to the northern reaches of the Arctic Circle and most points in between. With a background in newspapers, the wire services and magazines that began in 1970, Frank brings a unique perspective to his work with Cabela's. He is an award-winning photographer with a flair for getting to the bottom line of every story.
When he's not out hunting down another interesting story, Frank can be found near his home in western Nebraska where he now spends most of his time guiding his two sons and teaching them how to be successful in the field. "It's part of the responsibility we all have as outdoorsmen, to share what we have learned and pass on the passion. I take the same tact when approaching a story┐. how can I help someone be better at what they love to do?"
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