Varmint hunting requires specialized tools for all of its various forms. Stand hunters use ponderous rigs with long, heavy barrels, monster scopes with rangefinding reticles and cartridges that are capable of flipping a prairie dog in the air at obscene ranges. Predator callers may employ a midweight rifle that can be toted about (just not very far). Then there are the folks who slip through coulees, perhaps occasionally stopping to call, look and listen, before moving on. Rifles for this purpose are usually lighter in weight and feature camo finishes.
A prime example of such a “walking varminter” is the new Venture Predator from Thompson/Center. The Venture has been available for some time, but it has recently metamorphosed into a sleek, lightweight camo version that can be had in .204 Ruger, .223 and .22-250, and .308.
The Predator comes in Realtree Max-1 finish on the metal and stock. The action features what T/C calls a “fat” (.850 inch) bolt with three lugs that requires only a 60-degree lift to open. Aluminum pillar bedding anchors the barreled action in the stock, and the 22-inch free-floated barrel is fluted to enhance cooling and save weight. The Predator comes with a one-MOA accuracy guarantee.
Standard rifling twist for the .22-250 is 1:14, but the Predator’s barrel has a 1:12 twist. This theoretically makes it a little better suited to bullets heavier than 55 grains, which certainly doesn’t hurt accuracy with lighter bullets.
The Predator has T/C’s proprietary “5R” rifling with five grooves, so a groove opposes a land. The edges of the lands are also gently sloped on their edges. T/C claims that this decreases jacket deformation as the bullet screams down the bore, so there’s less jacket fouling and greater bullet stability from shot to shot. By contrast, most barrels have an even number of grooves with the lands opposite them, and the edges of the lands are usually at 90 degrees. T/C says that this creates a “sharp tension” between land and groove that can cause more jacket damage and hurt accuracy.
The Predator’s slim barrel mikes .651 inch at the muzzle and has a target crown to protect the rifling. The rifle has a user-adjustable trigger that’s advertised with a range of 3½ to five pounds (the trigger on mine broke at four pounds, one ounce at its lightest setting, but was crisp and creep free). The detachable box magazine holds three rounds in all calibers.
The bolt has a slippery black-nitride coating that makes for smooth operation with no break-in period. When the trigger is cocked, the striker protrudes slightly from the back of the bolt as a cocking indicator. A horseshoe-shaped extractor sits in the bolt face, and a plunger-type extractor flips empties out with vigor. A silver-colored bolt release sits at the left rear of the action.
The Predator features a Hogue Overmolded stock with “Traction” panels built in to provide a nonslip gripping surface should the weather turn foul. The rifle comes with camo-finished Weaver-style bases factory installed. T/C (and Nikon) offers scopes and rings with the Max-1 finish that perfectly match the Predator.
Last July I accompanied several other writers to the Spur Ranch near Encampment, Wyoming, for a go at white-tailed prairie dogs. This species doesn’t congregate in huge towns like its black-tailed cousin, but instead has individual dens scattered over vast areas. Setting up a bench and waiting would be inefficient, so we still-hunted, stopping to glass and occasionally pot an unwary dog.
Our test rifles were chambered to .204 Ruger and .22-250 Remington, and all were equipped with Trijicon scopes. My rifle was a .22-250 and wore a 3-9×40 Accupoint, which suited the lightweight Predator perfectly. We traded off between calibers, and both the .204s and .22-250s were quite accurate and totally dependable. I didn’t keep track of how many critters we got, but I did whack a couple at what was later ranged to be nearly 470 yards.
Back home, I ordered a duplicate model for range work and also fitted it with a new Trijicon 3-9X Accupoint. I fired a representative selection of factory loads.
The Predator came through on T/C’s one-MOA guarantee with every load tested. Best of the lot (by a smidgen) was Nosler’s new lead-free 35-grain Ballistic Tip. At a sizzling 3,942 fps, it grouped into .57 inch. Close behind were the two Winchester loads (50- and 55-grain) and the Hornady Superformance 50 grain, which, at 3,725 fps, vaporizes prairie dogs. While the (relatively) heavy Hornady Custom 60-grain load shot very well, it was bested by a slight margin by the other loads tested.
All in all, the T/C Venture Predator turned in an excellent performance and functioned flawlessly. Most important, it was deadly in the field, and that’s the bottom line on any varmint rifle.
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