Ever since Thompson Center Arms introduced the ICON rifle, I’ve been intrigued by their claims. After all, it’s not every year that a manufacturer introduces a completely new rifle design; typically, we just see minor variations of existing designs. However, with the ICON, the guys at TC claim they started with a clean sheet of paper, trying to incorporate everything we currently know about rifle reliability and accuracy, which could be squeezed into a price point available to the average gun owner. That’s quite a claim, and as much as I wanted to check it out, they never convinced me to take the plunge personally, until the day I decided I needed a new 243
The integral scope bases, matte stainless steel (including the bottom metal) and Hogue over-moulded stock all contribute to that appearance. Looking under the hood reinforces the no-nonsense exterior of this rifle. There I found an integral aluminum bedding block that is precision machined to accept the rifle’s three (yes, three) integral recoil lugs.
A fully adjustable trigger provides the interface between shooter and rifle and the barrel is graced with 5R rifling; a round-shouldered system of lands and grooves that is reported to provide better accuracy with less fouling. Also not visible is the Weather Shield treatment TC has given all the stainless steel to make it a claimed 50 times more corrosion resistant than raw stainless.
Certainly, all these features make the rifle sound like it should be a winner, but the only way to tell if they work is to take a rifle shooting. Therefore, load development became the next step. I usually start by first picking the bullet I want to use, and in this case Nosler’s 90 grain Ballistic Tip got the nod. I planned to use this rifle primarily for wolf and as a late season coyote harvester and felt this bullet should be able to handle both chores while taking advantage of the rifle’s accuracy capability. After bullets, comes powder and since this would be a cold weather rifle I went straight to Hogdon’s line of Extreme Powders to take advantage of their cold weather uniformity.
Before getting into serious load development, I dug out some left over Speer 70 grain hollow points and put together a few barrel break-in loads. I had enough to fire four three-shot groups and watched in amazement as the rifle delivered a 0.62” average. Moving on to 90 grain Nosler’s, Varget powder and Federal primers I crafted some serious loads and made another range trip.
After firing four three-shot groups at 100 yards I had an average group size of 0.53 inches. On the same trip, I fired three shots with some old Nosler 70 grain Solid Base bullets and was rewarded with a 0.20” group for my efforts. Wow! I was really starting to like this rifle. After firing nine different loads the rifle owned an average just over one-half inch. Sometimes load development is just too easy and that proved the case here. With a little more tinkering I settled on a load of Varget powder that punched five of the 90 grain Nosler’s into consistent three-quarter inch groups. Now it was just a matter of waiting until predator season rolled around.
In the Field
In the early part of the season I had other rifles that needed to be exercised, so the ICON didn’t get out until December. Early that month, a large mass of warm air met an equally large lump of cold air right over my part of the world. By the time they’d finished fighting it out, we had a foot of snow and the cold air won—scoring -27 for the day. I went hunting anyway and my best dying rabbit sounds enticed a young male coyote to step out onto a beaver pond where the ICON handled the situation nicely. The range was short (only 60 yards) but with the yotes getting smarter as the season progressed, I figured the short range stuff wouldn’t last.
And, as rarely happens, I was right. I shot some more close ones through December and January, but by the time those months were history, the dumb ones were dead and the coyotes left alive were hanging up out there where only an accurate rifle can ruin their day.
In January, the ICON and I had a little too much adventure, when I revisited the same beaver pond pictured above. This spot has been a good producer for me every year and I expected nothing but excitement when we arrived to try it again. After positioning my son-in-law at the edge of the pond, I moved across the ice to set up my calling spot. I was skirting around the edge of a beaver lodge when the ice suddenly collapsed, plunging me into the frigid waters beneath; rifle, day-pack and all. Fortunately, the ice at the edge of my new swimming hole was solid and I was able to catch it and keep from going completely under. I rolled the ICON off my shoulder and onto the ice as my son-in-law arrived to pull me out.
I came out of the water, as a dripping mess, but turned into a frozen icicle in short order. Fortunately, the truck wasn’t far and I made it there with no problems. We drove home for clean, dry clothes and a finger-wagging tongue-lashing from my wife. Then we immediately went back out to find more coyotes. The ICON-Sightron combination dried out without any problems and never even lost zero, prompting me to certify it as officially “beaver-proof.”
When the calendar flipped to February, a 254 yard successful shot across a bison pasture started to stretch things out a little. Then I called up four dogs that circled far downwind, caught my scent and headed for safer parts. However, one of them couldn’t resist that last look back, prompting the ICON to air-mail him a Nosler across 277 yards of open pasture and dropping him into the snow. A makeshift photo through the Sightron scope, shows where he fell.
The long shot of the year came shortly after, when I spotted two coyotes sleeping on a row of large round bales. Bushnell’s laser told me they were 599 yards, so I tried to call them closer. They wouldn’t budge, and with insufficient confidence to try a shot that long, I elected to move myself. I managed to get within 435 yards before running out of cover, and took the shot from there. My target pitched off the hay bale just like a villain in an old western and the ICON claimed its first quarter-mile kill.
By now I’ve spent a lot of time with this rifle and considering what we’ve been through am even a little sentimental about it. However, the scientist in me requires objectivity and there is one negative that comes to mind. It’s the rifle’s refusal to smoothly chamber a cartridge if you just “toss” it into the open action and close the bolt. Even the sharp-pointed Nosler Ballistic Tips will catch on the edge of the chamber and refuse to budge. Pointing the muzzle down and carefully inserting the cartridge so the tip is at least starting into the chamber is the only way to load a single round. Feeding from the magazine is completely smooth and hesitation free, it’s just manual loading of a single round that has a catch to it. But once you learn it, it’s not a big deal.
I love the rifle’s accuracy, durability and have actually become fond of the Hogue stock; even though I’m getting really, really tired of black stocks. When I first got the rifle, I actually started looking for a wooden stock to replace the synthetic one and not long ago someone did offer me a trade. However, I turned him down. At -30 this stock still feels warm, has good traction to the hands, is quiet when bumped and holds its accuracy. It may not be pretty, but sometimes you have to go with what works.
This Weather Shield model is my first ICON and checking the TC website you’ll see the family is growing quickly. I’m already eyeing up the line to see which will be my next one. But whichever one I pick, I have no intention of trying to find out if it’s beaver-proof too.
Edit 2011-12-26: Check out this later post for more long range shooting with the ICON: