by Larry S. Sterett
Anyone wanting a handy single-shot .50-caliber rifle can’t do much better than the Thompson/Center Katahdin Pro Hunter model. Featuring a 20-inch barrel and measuring 34∫ inches in overall length, the Pro Hunter 500, unloaded, tips the scales at 6 pounds, 2 ounces.
Constructed of stainless steel, the 500 Katahdin has a matte finish on the barrel and receiver assembly. The trigger, hammer assembly, including spur and front and rear sights, are blue-black. The front sight is a ramp-mounted 0.070-inch diameter green fiber optic, with the rear being a Williams Guide Sight mounted on the forward two scope mount holes of the barrel. The sight radius on the test gun measured 17˚ inches. The Williams sight features a 0.090-inch aperture, and is adjustable for both windage and elevation, via the aid of a small screwdriver; the aperture must be removed prior to making adjustments, as it blocks access to the screw heads.
The 500 barrel weighed in at 2 pounds, 10 ounces, when placed on the scales separately. It has a recessed muzzle, and five flutes located at approximately the 7, 10, 12, 2, and 5 o’clock positions, respectively, when viewed from the muzzle. Markings included Katahdin Pro Hunter atop the barrel, and Encore on the left side followed by Thompson/Center Arms, Rochester, New Hampshire and 500 S&W Mag.
The sculptured enforcement ribs on the Encore receiver are etched on the left side with Encore and the T/C logo, and Pro Hunter on the right side, along with the T/C logo. The T/C logo is also etched on the underside of the receiver, forward of the trigger guard assembly. The serial number is stamped on the upper tang, to the rear on the hammer.
4 Pound Trigger
The trigger on the Katahdin Pro Hunter is the standard T/C type, fairly straight with a smooth, slightly convex face, and a forward sweep at the tip. The let-off on the test gun measured a crisp 4 pounds, and there’s an adjustable trigger stop in the rear of the guard to prevent over-travel.
The hammer spur on the T/C Encore Pro Hunter is the new three-position design. Loosening a hex screw atop the spur shank permits the spur to be positions to the left, dead center, or to the right, depending on the desire of the shooter. With the spur positioned, the screw is tightened and you’re set to go. This design permits easier cocking of the hammer, particularly when using a scope.
Fit and finish on the Encore metal parts were up to Thompson/Center’s excellent standards. The stainless steel barrel and receiver contrasted well with the black synthetic thumbhole stock and forearm. The thumbhole stock had a length of pull of 14-13/16 inches, including a 15/16-inch thick, soft Limb Saver recoil pad. A checkered cap with the T/C logo graced the base of the smooth pistol grip, and a stud for a detachable sling swivel was located on the belly of the stock near the toe. The forearm, which is retained by two screws, measured 11-3/16 inches in length, was slightly pear-shaped in cross section and featured borderless checkering on both sides. A swivel stud was located slightly to the rear of the forearm.
Overall, this stock combination felt ideal to this shooter.
Operation of the Encore Pro Hunter is basically the same as with the original trigger guard spur will cause the barrel to pivot downward around the hinge pin, raising the extractor and exposing the barrel breech so a cartridge can be loaded into the chamber. (The hammer cannot be cocked when the barrel is open.) With a cartridge in the chamber the barrel is pivoted closed with a “snap.”
When ready to fire and a suitable target has been located, the hammer spur is thumbed back and downward. (The barrel cannot be opened while the hammer is cocked.) After firing, the barrel can be opened, the empty case removed and a fresh cartridge chambered. If the shot is not taken, the hammer can be lowered carefully. With the barrel muzzle pointed in a safe direction, place the thumb on the hammer spur with enough pressure to make sure it does not slipthe spur pad is checkered to reduce slippageand pulling on the trigger while lowering the hammer. With the hammer down, the barrel can be opened and the cartridge removed, if desired.
Since this is basically a short-range brush rifle test firing of the T/C 500 Pro Hunter was done from 50 and 75 yards, with the forearm resting over a sandbag. Three-shot groups were fired, using various Cor-Bon and Hornady loads, and only the open sights were used. The targets consisted of two sizes of Birchwood-Casey designs, the eight-inch with four-inch center, and the six-inch with three-inch center. All the groups were less than target size, satisfactory enough for taking out any whitetail or even a black bear, although the impact did change according to the load being fired. The smallest group fired measured 1∫ inches center-to-center, and was obtained using the Cor-Bon 400-grain softpoint at 75 yards. (This load moves out the muzzle at 1,675 feet-per-second (fps) to produce 2,500 foot-pounds of energy.)
Out of curiosity, the Cor-Bon 400-grain softpoint load was tried on a 5/16-inch thick cold-rolled steel boiler plate at 50 yards. The plate barely moved when the shot was fired, but a clean 0.650-inch hole appeared at the point of impact, along with a nice dimple. Impressive!
Cor-Bon also loads a .500 S&W Special cartridge featuring a 350-grain FMJ bullet to a muzzle velocity of 1,200 fps. In the Katahdin Pro Hunter, this load produced satisfactory three-shot groups from 50 yards, but when tried on the boiler plate it only dimpled it. (The .500 S&W Special Cor-Bon cases measured 1.270 inches in length, compared to the 1.612 inches of the regular .500 S&W Magnum cases.)
The extractor on the test gun had some play, and care must to be taken to insure the rim of the case catches the extractor and doesn’t slip behind it. If the rim slips behind the extractor unnoticed, the barrel will not close. (The extractor raises the case, fired or live, 0.180-inch for manual removal.)
Recoil Not Excessive
Recoil with the Katahdin 500 is not excessive when firing from the bench, although the lightweight rifle does raise off the sandbag with each shot. (The Limb Saver recoil pad does work, and having the barrel Mag-Na-Ported might be worth considering.) Some muzzle flash occurs, depending on the load, but the flash is not excessive.
The T/C Katahdin Pro Hunter 500 may only be a single shot rifle, but it’s handy and in it the .500 S&W Magnum can achieve its full potential. A variety of loads are available to handle any game on the North American continent. It should even take care of a number of African game species. With a second cartridge held, base inward, between the fingers of the left hand, it’s possible to chamber a second round in less than five seconds. As soon as the first shot is fired, open the barrel with the right hand, flip out the empty case with the nail of the left forefinger, drop in the second cartridge and snap the barrel closed. (This works, provided the extractor catches the rim of the case.)
The .500 S&W Magnum cartridge should be ideal for close-in hunting of whitetails and black bear less than 100 yards, but with some loads a bit further. It’s even better when coupled with the T/C Katahdin Pro Hunter. As tested the thumbhole stock required right hand use. If walking, and not on a stand, the Pro Hunter can be carried slung muzzle down over the left shoulder, with a condom over the muzzle to prevent snow, weeds, etc., from entering. It can quickly be brought to the right shoulder and cocked as the butt settles into position. With the short barrel, and offset hammer spur, the process is accomplished almost as fast as with a two-hand carry.
The Katahdin Pro Hunter retails in the $500 to $600 range. For more information, see your nearest Thompson/Center dealer or contact the manufacturer by mail: PO Box 5002, Dept. GWK, Rochester, NH 03866; phone: 603-332-2394; or on-line: www.tcarms.com.