Every hunter needs a .22 rifle. If you’re helping someone take up our sport, you might as well start there. A .22 is the most practical and economical rifle any hunter, newbie or veteran, can shoot on a regular basis to improve marksmanship skills. Plus, the very rifle that (hopefully) will be shot hundreds of times at the range can then be taken afield for small game.
With that in mind, the new Thompson/Center T/CR22 is one very useful rifle. Its design should appeal to millennials and baby boomers alike, and several of its features build on the strengths that attract hunters to rimfires. The T/CR22 isn’t a youth gun with scaled-down stock dimensions, and it will not set any international smallbore records. It will, however, do everything else hunters of all experience levels could ask of a .22, including being easy on the wallet.
It’s obvious that the T/CR22 bears strong resemblance to the Ruger 10/22. The semi-automatic action uses the same blowback operation as the 10/22 and its footprint closely follows the dimensions of the 10/22. Thompson/Center says most aftermarket stocks, magazines and accessories designed for the 10/22 will also fit the T/CR22. However, you should feel no pressing need to modify the rifle because Thompson/Center has already upgraded it in many areas.
Take the stock for example. Thompson/Center worked with Magpul to develop a polymer unit that is both modernly styled and ergonomic. While the stock has a full-size length of pull, young and old shooters alike will appreciate the sharply angled grip area because it eases reaching the trigger and promotes proper finger placement. Two M-Lok slots on the bottom of the fore-end provide a way to attach a bipod, and sling-attachment points are molded into the fore-end tip and near the buttstock toe.
Thompson/Center also put thought into designing the action. Its stainless steel bolt can be released to chamber a round from the magazine by simply pulling it to the rear and letting go, rather than having to hit a separate bolt-release lever as with the 10/22. When you want to lock the bolt to the rear, with or without a loaded magazine in place, press the lever built into the trigger guard until it’s flush. Pushing forward on the large plastic tab located in front of the trigger guard releases the magazine.
While the rotary design of the T/CR22’s 10-round magazine will be familiar to 10/22 owners, it’s different in one notable way: An empty magazine locks the bolt to the rear. When the last round from the magazine is fired, the bolt cycles rearward and catches on a stop actuated by the magazine, and the action remains open. The key to this convenient feature is a small, spring-loaded tab built into the rear left corner of the magazine. It must be pressed down to rotate the follower and load the magazine. A round in the magazine places tension on the follower to keep the tab down, where it does not activate the bolt stop. The tab pops up when the last round leaves the magazine to activate the bolt stop at the rear of the magazine well.
Some of my colleagues have complained that the T/CR22 magazine is difficult to load, but neither I nor the half-dozen shooters who tried the rifle during my test period had any problems. By the time I tested the T/CR22, the magazine had several hundred rounds run through it, so perhaps it benefited from the break-in period. Regardless, whether it was brand new or used, the magazine functioned perfectly.
The T/CR22’s 17-inch barrel makes for a compact rimfire that’s easy to carry through the understory growing beneath hardwoods. The barrel is threaded for a suppressor, and just behind the threads a fiber-optic front sight sits atop a robust base. Thompson/Center combines this with an adjustable rear aperture that rides on a dovetailed base milled into the rear of the receiver. A Picatinny rail is also integral to the receiver, so all you need to mount a scope are standard rings.
With a Leupold VX-Freedom 3X-9X-40mm scope aboard, the T/CR22 proved it is worthy of the upcoming squirrel season. Most .22 LR hunting loads accounted for five-shot groups from the bench at 50 yards that measured about an inch. I experienced two failures to eject with the Federal Premium Hunter Match load, but a quick cleaning remedied that situation.
Whether you’re an experienced hunter who needs a new .22 or a newcomer to the sport looking for that all-important first .22, the T/CR22 will serve handily. It will likely become the most-used rifle on your rack.