Gun Review: Thompson/Center Prohunter XT

Full test and review of the T/C (Thompson/Center) Prohunter XT — Including range ballistics and accuracy testing!

Muzzleloaders have a very fond spot in this hunter’s heart as I have taken my best whitetail bucks with one form or another.

Over a span of at least three decades I have hunted with, or had fun on the range with a series of  muzzleloaders.  However, I have to admit that my earliest muzzleloaders were used strictly for a fun day at the range. With all their associated inconveniences, I never really considered them a viable hunting rifle, particularly when I was just getting into top of the line centrefire rifles at the time.

But with the advent of the modern inline and as more and more areas became dedicated to muzzleloader hunting, I started to rethink this point of view and now take them very seriously as a hunting rifle. In fact, a whole new aspect of hunting opened up to me with this epiphany. Being a rifle nut, I have consistently pushed the envelope on reaching out further and further with many of my rifles; which, in some ways, took away the challenge of getting nose to nose with your quarry.

Muzzleloaders gave that back to me in spades. In fact, I had some very hard lessons to learn including that when a monster buck walked out on a cut line some 250 yards away — it was “out of range!” Oh, that was a hard pill to swallow. But so much has changed for the better within the world of the muzzleloader hunter. Advancements have been nothing short of spectacular from the rifles to the scopes that are solely designed for muzzleloaders, to highly advanced powders and bullets.

A few years back I had the opportunity to field test the T/C Triumph (see the Jan/Feb 2009 issue of Sportsman) and was very impressed with its performance as a great bang-for-your buck rifle. So when the opportunity came along to test Thompson/ Center’s top of the line muzzleloader, the Pro Hunter XT, I jumped at it.

Pro Hunter XT .50 Calibre Muzzleloader

Before I get into delineating all the quality features that this rifle has to offer, I would like to expound on one of, if not its most, enduring feature. Its barrel can be interchanged for other Encore Pro Hunter barrels and these include shotgun rifled slug barrels, centrefire rifle barrels, carbine length centrefire and muzzleloader barrels and rimfire barrels. In fact, all Encore, Encore Pro Hunter, and Endeavor barrels will interchange.  What a plus — as T/C puts it “Two Minutes — Two Screws — New Gun!.” While I have never owned a multi-optional barrelled gun, this can truly be a one gun for all seasons purchase. (And one that I will expand with additional barrels down the road.) But for this review the test will solely revolve around the Pro Hunter XT with a .50 calibre muzzleloader barrel.

The first thing about this rifle that impressed me was the simplicity of design. There are so few moving parts that very little can go wrong. Second, was the design of the stock that incorporates Flex Tech Recoil Reducing features including a Sims Recoil Pad  that will jointly reduce felt recoil by 43 per cent. I also really liked the Hogue Overmolded  rubber grip panels in the forend, pistol grip and comb. They sure make for a fine gripping surface no matter what conditions the weather may throw at you. Which brings me to Weather Shield — a new-for-2011 addition to the Pro Hunter lineup. While my particular stainless steel model did not have this feature, T/C claims that when applied to carbon steel, such as the barrel and other critical metal parts, it is 50 times more corrosion resistant than stainless steel.  Something to be given serious thought if planning to hunt in extreme conditions such as along the coast, particularly since the introductory price of the Weather Shield model is a couple of hundred dollars less than the stainless steel version.

The next three features, from my perspective, make this rifle a breeze to shoot. First is its QLA (Quick Load Accurizor) where the rifling has been relieved at the muzzle to provide support and ease of bullet start. What a plus when starting a bullet or sabots! It made loading so much simpler, especially with the newer sabots that are designed for easy loading such as the Hornady SST-ML (.50 cal sabot with .45 cal 300-grain SST bullet).

Second, is the use of 209 Primers and the Pro Hunter’s primer extractor. Not only does a 209 primer provide more reliable ignition than percussion caps, but also they are also much easier to handle and with the Pro Hunter’s extractor no longer did I need to worry about a stuck primer. It never failed once during my entire test to pull the primer out of the breech for easy removal.

Last, is the simplicity and easy usability of the Speed Breech XT. Wow! A simple 90 degree turn and out it would come. Even after a full day on the range, all I had to do to remove the plug was make the quarter-turn and give it a gentle nudge with the ramrod and out it came, making clean up a snap. I should  point out that I encountered one minor question during this process — what to do with the extractor when removing the breech plug, which the manual quickly solved. All I had to do was pull the extractor fully rearward and turn it 90 degrees to the side, which then allowed access to and removal of the plug.  What a super combination of design features; kudos to the design engineer on this one.

I can’t leave the discussion of this rifle without briefly mentioning the barrel, the hammer, the trigger and the ramrod. Without going into barrel construction details, T/C makes high quality barrels and the test Pro Hunter XT with its 28-inch stainless steel fluted barrel is no exception, as the test results show. The Power Rod with its fold away handle was easy to use and gave me a solid grip; however, I still used a bullet starter to push the bullet the first few inches down the barrel as I found I still needed the hands on pressure a starter gave me. The trigger was factory set on this rifle at four pounds and eight ounces and despite this weight broke very constantly at that weight, making it more user friendly than I might have originally thought.

On closing out this section  I would like to mention the Swing Hammer. It is unique as the hammer grip is at an angle so that the shooter can more readily cock a scoped rifle. I should add that I had to place a firm thumb grip on the hammer when cocking it as I found it could slip off if not committed to the firmness of the grip.

Leupold UltimateSlam 3-9x40mm SA.B.R

When I went looking for a match with T/C’s top of the line muzzleloader I had to look no further than the Leupold UltimateSlam with SA.B.R (Sabot Ballistic Reticle). In this instance I was looking for a scope built for muzzleloaders and not just a great scope that could be used on a muzzleloader. The UltimateSlam with SA.B.R is that scope.

I’m a big fan of Leupold scopes. Without question I own and use more Leupold scopes than all other manufacturers combined. They have never failed and have provided decades of excellent service.

So let’s take a look at what sets this scope apart as a perfect fit for this muzzleloader. In doing so I won’t occupy your time with all the details of the fine optics, lens coatings, rugged dependability, water and shock proof technology, or lifetime guarantee which are legendary in this or any Leupold scope.  I would rather go straight to what truly makes this scope a scope for all in-line muzzleloaders, which is its SA.B.R reticle and load selector ring that work in sync to provide a very simple and easy to use dead on hold reticle system for ranges from 50 yards right out to 300 yards with 50-yard increments.

In as simple a terms as possible, this is the way they work: The system is based on the use of polymer-tipped sabots and requires the shooter to zero their muzzleloader at 100 yards, which can be done at any magnification. Then, depending on your powder load, be it three pellets (150 grains) or two pellets (100 grains), you simply go to the load selector ring (power ring) and set it at the correct setting as marked on the ring (three dots for three pellets, two dots for two pellets) and leave it there. You are now ready to use all of the incremental points of aim on the reticle with that specific load combination. It takes but a few minutes but once in place you are good to go for the rest of the season. What a sense of confidence this system can provide when all you need to do in the field is to ascertain that the distance to that buck of a lifetime is 150 yards and then put the bottom of the Circle-Plex reticle precisely on your intended point of impact and pull the trigger — no more guess work on hold over and, yes, it is just that simple.

Field Test

In setting out to organize the test for this rifle, I made the decision early on to use only ultra modern (non-fouling) powder and bullets that were both convenient to use and easy to load. But they had to be more than that, they also had to be accurate and deadly. So for the powder I went with American Pioneer Jim Shockey‘s Gold Sticks, Jim Shockey‘s Yukon Gold Super Sticks and IMR White Hots pellets. For bullets I went  strictly with sabots from Hornady and Barnes.

In preparing for my range work with these non-fouling powders, I thoroughly cleaned all the oils, etcetera, from the barrel and breech with the use of alcohol. I then put a small amount of  breech pug grease on the threads of the plug and, after reinstallation, fired a single pellet with a 209 primer to season the barrel (no sabot was used). The results of my tests are below. I should point out that the rifle and scope functioned flawlessly, however I did notice that accuracy started to drop off after firing about a dozen shots. So despite the fact that these powders do burn so much cleaner than the powders of old, if I wanted the best out this rifle I needed to clean it every nine shots with T/C Cleaning Patches saturated with No. 13 bore cleaner. They work amazingly well with these new powders, as I only needed one or two at most followed by a dry patch or two and I was back on the firing line.

During this test I was looking for overall accuracy so I did not escalate powder charges beyond 100-grains. No doubt had I had more range time with this rifle and was planning a hunt, I would have upped the anti and had a hard look at performance with 150-grain loads. It was evident that this particular rifle was somewhat more partial to the heavier 300-grain sabots/bullets but shot all well. Just slightly better, in fact, than the performance of the T/C Triumph where groups ran between 1.25 inches and 3.1 inches.  Excellent accuracy and overall performance from this combo and one I will be using well into the future.

Range Test

Sabot/Bullet Powder Velocity (FPS) Group (Inches)
Barnes Spitfire TEZ 250-grain 100-grains Jim Shockey’s  Gold 1,864 1.75
Hornady SST 250-grain 100-grains Jim Shockey‘s Yukon Gold Super Sticks 1,696 1.35
Hornady XPT 240-grain 100-grains Jim Shockey’s Yukon Gold Super Sticks 1,785 2.5
Hornady SST 300-grain 100-grains Jim Shockey’s Yukon Gold Super Sticks 1,510 1.13
Hornady SST ML Lock-N-Load 250-grain 100- grains  IMR White Hots 1,613 1.5
Hornady SST ML Lock-N-Load 300-grain 100-grains IMR White Hots 1,380 1.0

Note: All groups and velocities were averages of three-shot, 100-yard groups. Velocities were measured with a Chrony Gama Master Chronograph. (Of interest: due to the smoke generated on a dead calm day, readings, at times, were unattainable and had to be repeated a number of times).

Specifications Pro Hunter XT

  • Test Model : #5722 Stainless Steel Black Synthetic Stock (Also available in AP Camo)
  • Calibre: .50
  • Ignition: 209 primer
  • Barrel Length: 28 inches (70 cm)
  • Length Of Pull: 14 inches (36 cm)
  • Overall Length: 42-1/2 inches (108 cm)
  • Weight: 8-1/4 lbs (3.7 kg)
  • Sights: Adjustable Fiber Optic
  • Rate Of Twist: 1:28
  • Breech: Speed Breech

UltimateSlam Specifications:

  • Magnification: 3-9×40 (also available in 2-7×33)
  • Length: 12-1/4 inches (31 cm)
  • Tube: 1 inch (2.5 cm)
  • Weight: 12 ounces (340 grams)
  • Reticle: SA.B.R.
  • Windage & Elevation Adjustments: finger adjustable 1/4 MOA
  • Eye Relief: 4.2 inches/10.6 cm (low) — 3.7 inches/9.4 cm (high)

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