Thompson Center Arms Contender

Simple, robust and versatile, this pistol shoots more like a rifle!

by Wendell Dwight Deaner

It was a beautiful afternoon, not much wind and mild temperature. I was sitting in the shade under a little copse of trees on a small rise. Sandstone rocks jutted up from the pastureland and gave me perfect concealment and a place to use the Harris bipod attached to my gun for a rock-solid rest. I sighted carefully through my scope at an unsuspecting groundhog about 100 yards away, putting the crosshairs right on his nose. When I touched the trigger the whistle pig flipped backwards off the old stone fence he was surveying his domain from and I knew it was a solid hit. When I checked, the 110 grain .30 caliber “plinker”bullet had taken him just below his chin for an instant kill. My farmer host and friend approved.

Big deal, you say? Back in the 70s this wouldn’t have been much of a shot for a dedicated varmint rifle but it opened my eyes to what a Contender pistol could do. I used that gun with its 14-inch barrel chambered in .30 Herrett to take many more groundhogs. Unfortunately, I didn’t have an opportunity to try it on bigger game before I sold it.

What’s a .30 Herrett? It is a .30-30 Winchester shortened and shaped to what its inventor—wildcatter, and grip designer, Steve Herrett—thought was ideal for efficiency in a short barrel. He also created the .35 Herrett. Being a gun enthusiast not content with a standard caliber when I could use something exotic, I bought into it and laboriously formed and shortened .30-30 cases until my loading arm was about to fall off. I later realized these “innovations” on the parent case couldn’t do anything the original wouldn’t. That still didn’t stop me from obtaining a 7mm BR when the only cases available were small-rifle-primered .308 “match” cases that had to be formed and worked over in very expensive forming dies to make it work, but that’s another story.

As far as I’m concerned the Contender doesn’t need anything special or exotic to work its best. Standard cartridges work just fine or better in the longer Contender barrels and are often more accurate than when used in revolvers or auto loaders, especially at long range. What set the Contender apart from all the rest was the availability of interchangeable barrels in different calibers that could be swapped in minutes. As long as the pressure was kept under 48,000 PSI almost any cartridge could be used, even up to the .45-70. The scope mounting capability of this gun made it a true long-range possibility, yet barrels for .410 shot shells can be had—what a hoot when slinging clay pigeons.

The Contender is what I call a lovely pistol. It is accurate, inexpensive, and versatile. What could be better? By the way, that bucolic pistol perch where I spent many hours in the cool shade happily plinking at whistle pigs is now asphalted and concreted over, occupied by a giant Wal-Mart. I think I got that last one at the end of aisle four, women’s undergarments. You don’t know what you have until you lose it, I guess.

Read more in our September 2014 issue. Back issues are available.

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