December 23, 2019
By Mark Kee
I discovered the Thompson Center (T/C) Encore four years ago. I wanted to get back into whitetail hunting and needed a suitable firearm. My home state of Illinois doesn’t allow hunting with a centerfire rifle, which narrows the options to shotgun, revolver or single-shot pistol. I gravitated to the single-shot pistol for one reason: it allows me to legally hunt with low-powered cartridges such as .300 Blackout (BLK). This gives me all the power and accuracy needed without the punishing recoil of a shotgun.
The Encore is a single-shot, break-action firearm known for the ease of switching its barrels. They are also known for accuracy. Getting ready for that first deer season, I found the Encore to be addicting. The deliberate pace of a single-shot firearm appeals to my chess-player mind. Slowing down, making every shot count and being rewarded with a great shot puts me in my happy place. It wasn’t long before my new hunting pistol became my favorite firearm for an afternoon at the range.
My hunting configuration is a 16-inch .300 BLK barrel topped with a red dot. In the wooded area I hunt, where most shots are less than 60 yards, this setup is ideal. However, at the range, I quickly found the limitations. Soon I was looking at new barrels and optics with the intent of turning my modestly-powered hunting pistol to legitimate long-range monster.
For a barrel, I reached out to Match Grade Machine (MGM) in Hurricane, Utah. MGM has a reputation as the premium source of custom T/C Encore barrels. Ordering a barrel from their website is simple. After clicking “Build A Custom Barrel,” you are asked a few basics, such as overall length, caliber, chamber and twist. From there things really open up, with options for muzzlebrakes, scope mounts and a host of cosmetic additions.
For this build, I went with a 15-inch, factory heavy contoured barrel in 6.5 Creedmoor. Not wanting to go bare-bones, I added a thread-on muzzlebrake and a scope mount. For a little style, the matte-stainless finish is complemented with MGM’s spiral barbed wire fluting. Out of the box, the barrel looked amazing. It looked even better once the pistol was assembled.
In the precision rifle shooting world, the 6.5 Creedmoor is all the rage. My hope was that its relatively light recoil and impressive ballistics would translate well into a pistol-length firearm. While I would certainly lose some velocity in a 15-inch barrel, I figured I could still get distance out of the cartridge.
The go-to optic for long-range handguns is the Burris Handgun Scope 3-12x32mm. For a handgun scope, it is at the high end of the magnification spectrum. With parallax adjustment and 1⁄8-MOA clicks, this scope is built for precision pistol shooting.
The scope uses Burris’s Ballistic Plex reticle. It is a simple plex-style reticle with the addition of four hash marks under the main crosshair. Without target-style turrets, I would be relying on these hash marks to get on target past my zero.
A Pachmayr Decelerator grip to help recoil adsorption and a Choate forend completed the build. With my pistol assembled, it was time to head to the range.
Shooting from the bench with a bipod and rear bag, I was able to achieve a solid position. Recoil was tamed by the MGM muzzlebrake. While loud, the pistol was not uncomfortable to shoot. The Burris glass was clear and bright, and I had no issue seeing my target.
Trying a few factory loads, the MGM barrel seemed to favor Federal Premium’s 140-grain Gold Medal Sierra MatchKing. Out of the 15-inch barrel, velocity loss was less the 300 feet per second (fps) from the published velocity of 2,675. This meant I could shoot out to about 800 yards before the 140-grain bullet would go transonic.
The True Test
For long-range testing, I headed to Elmore Stock Farm in Laura, Illinois. Ranges longer than a few hundred yards are rare in Illinois, so I was excited to see what this place had to offer. I was met by my host and range officer, Ron Milby. After explaining the range rules, he pointed out the targets and their distance. The farthest target, a life-size buffalo silhouette, was just short of a mile. The closet target, at 465 yards, would be a good first test for my diminutive Encore.
I would be shooting from prone while Milby spotted. Setting up behind the pistol, I felt a bit intimidated. Had all my preparations been enough? Maybe I should have had the trigger lightened? Any doubts were put to rest as Milby shouted, “Hit,” after my first shot. After two more rounds were on target, I was ready to move on.
With the scope at 12X, I was already at the bottom of the ballistic reticle with the first target. For the reticle to work farther out, I needed to lower the magnification. I knew the MOA equivalents of each elevation mark on the reticle at 12X, so with a little math I could calculate the MOAs at each power setting. While not as precise as dial turrets, using this method enabled me to hit the 509- and 611-yard targets with little difficulty and even bullseye the 789-yard target with my first shot.
At 953 yards, my last target of the day was a silhouette about 2 MOA wide and maybe 3 MOA tall. According to the ballistic calculator, the bullet would now be well into the transonic range. The previous targets had been sheltered from the wind by a line of trees. However, this target was out in the open, resulting in a greater windage hold.
My first few shots were in the dirt. With the scope now at its lowest power, the target was tiny. After a couple more shots, I found my hold, hitting the dirt directly in front of the target. Not satisfied with that, the next shot struck the orange center. To prove it wasn’t a fluke, I put two more shots below that one.
Not counting the steel buffalo, there was only the 1,285-yard target left. I was out of reticle and my bullets were dropping like rocks in the transonic zone, so I thought it best to save that one for another time. As it was, the Encore, MGM barrel and Burris 3-12X handgun scope had exceeded my expectations. It had blasted its way to 789 yards with ease. Even at almost 1,000-yards, I was able to consistently find the mark.
There’s a lot to like when it comes to the Encore. It can be a pistol or a rifle, a short-range hunting gun and a long-range blaster. The package had proven what it was capable of, and I’m already brainstorming ideas on how to improve things for the next range session. Best of all, when deer season comes back around, all I have to do is swap barrels and I am back in hunting mode.
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