We have long been on the lookout for budget sniper rifles, but more recently we have specifically been looking for a budget predator or varmint style rifle that could be used as a sniper rifle. This search lead us to recently do a review of the Ruger American Predator rifle which instilled some mixed feelings to its suitability to this role. This time around we thought we would try out the fairly new Thompson Center (T/C) Venture Predator rifle to see if we liked it any better. The cost of this rifle is a bit more than the Ruger, but it has some additional features and improvements over the Ruger American Predator. In order to find out if these features are indeed better and worth the little bit of extra money, we brought in a 308 version of the Venture to perform a full evaluation of its capabilities.
The first thing that you will likely notice is that the rifle is completely camouflaged using a hydro-dipping wrap that has become popular recently on some rifles. But for us, the first thing we really noticed as we pulled the rifle from the box was that once again, what was advertised as a “predator weight” barrel, was again not as heavy as we hoped and expected, and not nearly as heavy as we would like. This was the same complaint we had about the Ruger rifle as well and we will talk more about barrel later in the review. We probably should have recognized that this would be the case due to the advertised weight of the rifle, but from the pictures it was hard to tell fore sure what contour the barrel was.
The buttstock on the rifle has a rubber recoil pad to help tame the recoil and one of the selling features from T/C is that this rifle is a “lightweight” predator rifle, so the recoil pad is welcomed as the expected recoil would be stronger than a normal long range rifle. The synthetic stock has a straight comb without an elevated cheekpiece and it is not a tall comb which means the shooters head is held fairly low compared to the top of the action which causes some difficulty getting the shooters eye aligned with the scope. When setting up the scope, it will be even more important to get that scope as low as possible on the rifle to help in these regards. An add-on cheekpiece can help here as well, either a strapon style like those offered from Tactical Operations, or perhaps a more permanent add-on from Karsten can offer a solution if this is a problem.
The pistol grip is swept back in the traditional hunter stock configuration and it makes for a longer stretch to reach the trigger than is normally found on a tactical style stock with a more vertical pistol grip. It certainly is not a problem or anything wildly different than the millions of hunting stocks out there, but it makes getting that perfect trigger squeeze just that much more of an effort. There is also only a minor grove along the top for which to rest your thumb, again, it is very much like a hunting stock for which this rifle is more catered.
These synthetic stocks do have Hogue rubberized inserts on both the pistol grip and the front forearm area of the stock. These inserts help a lot with gripping the stock in all conditions, but will especially be useful in adverse weather conditions, which can be a problem with the slick surface the hydro-dipped finish offers. The color of the inserts is black and it looks nice, but more importantly feels nice as well. There are some ribs in the hard rubber inserts that additionally help with gripping it.
At the rear of the action is a fairly short tang area that has a curve to it that the rear of the bolt matches nicely. The finger operated safety is on the right hand of the tang up near the actual bolt handle. It is a two position safety with some colored indicator dots to illustrate when the rifle is on safe or not. It is a fairly large switch and can easily be operated with the thumb. The bolt does cycle with the safety on which allows for unloading the rifle safely if there is still a loaded round in the chamber.
The bolt release lever is located on the left hand side of the action and is oversized for easy operation. This lever has to be pressed in as well as the trigger held to the rear as the bolt is slid to the back of the action. The bolt can only then be removed from the action. Here is where the low comb of the stock makes it very easy to remove the bolt without any interference with the stock of the rifle, though adding a strap on cheekpiece does provide some difficulty. It is straightforward to replace the bolt back into the action, just align the lugs it and push it in.
Disappointingly, the trigger guard is molded into the stock, just like on the Ruger Predator rifle. This is obviously a cost savings decision as it eliminates a separate trigger guard and while it does work, it also makes after market stocks more difficult for manufactures to design and build and therefore less of them will likely be available. The trigger guard itself is a bit oversized which will help when using gloved hands.
In front of the molded trigger guard is the polymer detachable box magazine that is released by pulling the stiff release lever at the front of the magazine toward the rear of the rifle. This releases the magazine so it can then be pulled from the rifle. This setup has been used on other rifles we have tested, but it is difficult to operate on the predator and if the magazine is pulled down from the front where the mag release is found, it binds the magazine in the well making it even more difficult to remove. We struggled with this throughout the tests, though if the operator pulls the release lever without pulling down on the magazine and then uses some of the other fingers to pull the rear of the magazine down first, then it works a bit better. The magazine holds three rounds of 308 Winchester in a single stack arrangement and the mag extends just slightly below the bottom of the stock. Obviously the magazines are a proprietary T/C design and while extras are available to purchase separately (MSRP $39), there are no larger capacity versions at this time.
The middle section of the stock where the action and magazine well are located is fairly tall and when you look at the side profile of the rifle it has an upright and tall appearance and when combined with the thin stock there is a top heavy feeling to the rifle. The thinness of the stock is most apparent in the forearm area of the stock where it really narrows down. There is a single sling swivel stud up front which can be used for a bipod. The forearm of the stock does have a decent amount of flex to it, but the barrel channel is wide enough to allow for a free floated barrel even when using a sandbag or bipod that applies pressure to that forearm. The overall shape and feel of the stock is certainly that of a hunting rifle and not a tactical rifle, which is what this rifle was designed for, so that is no real surprise.
The bolt handle has a curious shape to it and it is a bit stubby with an interesting bend, but also thick and robust. The bolt knob is not a large tactical knob, though it is larger than a typical bolt knob and it has a smooth shape. The bolt itself incorporates three lugs which allows for a shorter bolt rotation than that of a traditional two lug design like the Remington 700. Straight out of the box the bolt operation is not too bad in terms of smoothness, though there is some notchiness when turning the bolt down. The extractor is a small claw style that appears to offer good reliability with engagement on the case head and it looks to be durable, though only time will tell. The bolt body diameter is larger than most and the rear shroud is uniquely shaped to match the rear of the action.
The trigger is a factory adjustable trigger with a thin profile trigger shoe that has some vertical ribs and finished in black. The factory indicates that it is adjustable from 3.5 – 5 lbs and this one came from the factory set at 4.0 lbs. It being a factory trigger on a budget rifle, we did not expect a great trigger, and that is what we found. There is a good amount of takeup in the trigger and break is somewhat mushy and not as sharp as a good trigger should be. It feels appropriate for what you would find on a budget rifle.
The action itself is the standard T/C Venture action which starts out as a rounded action like a Remington or others, and has a separate recoil lug. There are some deep flute style grooves on the left and right hand side which thins up the profile some. The top of the action is not open like on a Remington but it has a closed port style and the top also has been cut flat between the two scope bases that come mounted on the action. With the smaller ejection port style and with the magazine style of this rifle, it is very difficult to single feed and it is recommended to only feed the rifle from the magazine. This makes it a challenge to load rapidly in a pinch.
We have already mentioned that we were disappointed in the light profile barrel on a predator rifle and how we were hoping for a heavier contour. The diameter of the barrel at the muzzle is .659″ which is considerably thinner than even the Ruger Predator rifle at .725″, though this one is 22″ versus the Ruger 18″. Interestingly enough, T/C thought it worth while to also put flutes on the barrel to lighten it even more, unfortunately that also removes some rigidity. You will hear claims about how properly fluted barrels are just as rigid as a non fluted barrels of the same weight, and that is true. But the key term is “same weight” barrel, not the same contoured barrel. For a rifle intended for predator use where accuracy for medium range shots is important, we would rather the flutes not be there, take the slight weight penalty, and have a slightly more rigid barrel. Then again, our mission is different than that of the intended target customer and we have to respect that.
The flutes only extend about 10″ of the length of the barrel and because the contour is a sporter contour, the flutes could not be cut very deep. As a result, the weight savings is not a lot, maybe only a few ounces. The other claimed advantage of flutes is that it increases the surface area of the barrel to help with cooling, but with a sporter contour, the barrel is going to heat up very quickly and the flutes will not help much there either. To summerize, the flutes on this rifle are likely more cosmetic than functional. Speaking of cosmetics, the barrel and action have the same hydro-dipping application applied them as the stock does. This is the Realtree Max-1 pattern and it is likely a fairly good pattern for most conditions. It is not too dark and it does a good job of breaking up the outlines of the rifle.
We do need to comment though, that Hydro-dipping does a good job of applying a “wrap” style finish to a rifle, but it does not offer any corrosion protection (at least very little) and its durability is not that good. It is amazing what patterns can be applied to a rifle, but do not expect it to match a good cerakote or other professional firearms finish in terms of durability and corrosion resistance.
Because of the camouflage wrap, the rifle does have a good tactical appearance and because of the 22″ long thin sporter contoured barrel and lightweight synthetic stock, the rifle is very light. It weighs less than 7 lbs without optics. This rifle is certainly a hunting rifle and beyond the camouflaged finish, we are not sure what categorizes it as a predator rifle. We have always associated varmint style rifles with predator hunting, but perhaps that trend is changing? The fit and finish of the rifle are not very good as we found a few rough edges, marred finish spots, and inconsistent gaps on a brand new out of the box rifle. Again, we have to be fair in recognizing it is a $600 off the shelf, mass produced rifle and we cannot expect too much from it. But because of the light weight and fairly short length, it does handle very easily in the field.
For our range tests we decided to use a Bushnell Elite Tactical 5-15x40mm scope with the normal mildot reticle. The T/C Predator rifle actually comes from the factory with a set of two piece weaver style scope bases installed, which are covered with the same hydro-dipped finish as the rest of the rifle. Unfortunately there is only a single cross slot on these bases so your mounting locations are limited on the scope. Replacing the factory bases with a tactical rail may be recommended here to help with mounting options. We used a set of Warne Mountain Tech 1″ low rings with this scope which worked well enough. As we had feared, even with a 40mm scope mounted using low rings, it was still too high for proper eye alignment and we decided to use a Tactical Operations strap on stock pack with a little bit of padding underneath it to get a proper cheekweld with the shooting eye aligned with the scope.
It is early spring in Montana so the weather for our tests was a typical 40 degrees (F) with some moisture in the air, though it was not raining. We brought along four types of ammunition for our tests including our benchmark standard Federal Gold Medal Match 168gr as well as Hornady TAP 168gr, HSM M118LR 175gr and some surplus quality M80 from Fiocchi. We have been using some M80 ammo recently to give an idea of performance with some not very good ammo. If you are not familiar with how we test our rifles, please take a moment to read about it here. As we fired our 100 yard accuracy tests we noticed that the barrel did indeed heat up quickly so we did our best to space out the time intervals for the groups to help the barrel cool a bit. Our results are listed below:
|Ammo||Average Group||Best Group|
|Federal GMM 168gr||1.138″ (1.087 MOA)||0.979″ (.935 MOA)|
|Hornady TAP 168gr||2.191″ (2.093 MOA)||1.743″ (1.665 MOA)|
|HSM M118LR 175gr||1.269″ (1.212 MOA)||0.995″ (.950 MOA)|
|Fiocchi M80 147gr||N/A||N/A|
From the factory, these rifles come with a 1 MOA guarantee, which is not bad for a cheaper factory produced rifle and that is what we generally consider acceptable for a duty sniper rifle. But we want to see consistently sub MOA groups and when you look at our results, yes, we were able to shoot sub 1 MOA, but just barely. We would only consider the Federal GMM load as being an average 1 MOA load, and even then it didn’t actually average 1 MOA, just really close. The HSM M118LR load was a bit behind that, but the Hornady TAP was over 2 MOA on average which essentially is about the level of accuracy from a hunting rifle. This was the second rifle in a row that failed to produce groups that would consistently print on the paper and under 5 MOA with the Fiocchi M80 147gr ammo and we will be changing to Federal XM80C for our next rifle test.
The recoil on the rifle is indeed stiff for a 308 rifle due to the light weight and it also jumps around a lot during recoil which is due to the lightweight as well as the centerline of the bore being a good amount above the center-line of the buttstock. This is a consequence of the “tall” profile of the rifle and with that higher bore centerline it causes the rifle to rotate up during recoil. Because of this, and the rough trigger with long trigger pull, the time on the rapid fire 300 yard head shot test was a moderate 28 seconds. Though the shorter bolt rotation did help somewhat and the rifle itself functioned with no problems. We used the Federal Gold Medal Match 168gr ammo for this test and we came up 3.75 MOA on the elevation dial from our 100 yard zero, which was just a bit shy of where we probably should have been as the group was centered slightly low. The group was actually pretty good and measured 3.036″, or 0.967 MOA which is just right below the 1 MOA mark.
|300y Head Target Test|
|Time Score (28 secs)||25.7|
|Accuracy Score (.967 moa)||46.5|
|Energy Score (1635 ft-lbs)||25|
When the firing tests first started, the bolt was difficult to close on a live round which we believed was due to the stiffness of the new extractor. Through the tests it became easier as the extractor clip appeared to work in a bit. This less than smooth bolt closure also slowed us down some on the 300 yard rapid fire test, though it was much better by that time of testing.
Thompson Center used to make an Icon Precision Hunter rifle with a legitimate heavy barrel that we were hoping this Venture Predator rifle was an improved version of. We thought that older Icon rifle would have made a good budget long range tactical rifle if it had had a synthetic stock and was chambered in 308, unfortunately this Venture predator rifle is not a direct replacement. The Venture Predator could likely serve in the budget long range sniper rifle capacity if it had to and if the limitations were worked around, but it would be something that it would struggle to do. There are just too many short comings such as the difficulty getting the magazines out of the rifle, the only average accuracy, the thinner and rapidly heating barrel, rough trigger, and a hunting style stock. For this rifle, we are just likely asking too much of it to fill this role. Though we also have to admit that it is a compact lightweight rifle that “could” fill the role if it had to. Just don’t expect too much from it.
Sniper Central 2017