Thompson/Center page last updated: 12/20/06



Model Description Status Rating
T/C Contender Single-shot, break-top handgun. 10" and 14" barrels available. Discontinued
Additional Notes: The Contender is primarly a hunting or competition firearm. While the 10mm chambering is a plus for 10mm collectors, there are better chamberings available for either hunting or competition.

Thompson/Center Contender with 10mm bull barrel.


For those unfamilar with the gun, the Thompson/Center Contender is a single-shot, break-top firearm with the ability to change calibers with a simple barrel switch. The gun can be used as a handgun, or as a rifle with 16"+ barrels and a full-length stock. A special switch on the hammer allows the user to fire either centerfire or rimfire ammuntion.

This all adds up to make the T/C Contender an extremely versatile firearm, but at the same time the practical application of a single-shot handgun/rifle (regardless of caliber) is rather limited. In short, the Contender is first and foremost a hunting, or competitive shooting gun.



As already mentioned, the T/C Contender is a "switch-barrel" firearm. Thompson/Center, as well as other custom shops, have made barrels for the Contender in a myriad of calibers and barrel lengths. Back in the heyday of the 10mm Auto they added barrels in this caliber to their lineup.

T/C Contender 10mm w/ 10" Bull Barrel - I can't speak to the practicality or usefulness of such a gun in this chambering as the whole purpose of the 10mm was to allow for magnum power in a high-capacity semiauto platform, but it is an easy shooting gun, even when using full-powered loads. The 10mm offering was available in a standard 10" bull barrel, as well as a 14" barrel. I have heard rumors of a 16" carbine barrel as well, but so far have never seen one. The Contender comes with excellent, high visibility fixed sights, but an EER scope, or electronic sight, can also be added. As the Contender is designed for use with such calibers as the .44 Magnum, .223 Remington and even the .30-30 Winchester, the 10mm Auto doesn't even come close to maxing out the strength of the Contender system. Because of this, truly powerful 10mm handloads can be used. Also, due to it's single-shot design, cartridge OAL is not an issue. (In fact, if you're going to load ultra-hot 10mm Contender ammo it might be a good idea to load your bullets long so they can't be inadvertently loaded in the magazine of a 10mm autoloader.)


If you've never handled a T/C Contender it has a very unique feel to it. It is a large and heavy firearm, but points naturally. Personally, I have only used mine for informal target practice, but should it be used as a hunting arm a good holster would be a must! Also, with regards to hunting, the longer barrel and inherent accuracy of the Contender may tempt one to take longer shots at game, but there are certain limits to consider first. To begin with, the Contender is a single-shot, making follow up shots slower than in other firearms. Secondly, the 10mm Auto is a handgun cartridge, not a rifle cartridge, and is most effective at shorter ranges. I am not saying that the 10mm Contender cannot, or should not, be used to hunt at extended ranges, but it must be understood that the margin of error is less than it would be with other "hunting" cartridges.

Two "hunter" 10mm Auto handguns: Smith & Wesson 610 and T/C Contender.

Shooting Characteristics

The 10mm Auto chambering of the Thompson/Center Contender is an easy gun to shoot well. A long sight radius (if you're using the factory sights) and good trigger help with accuracy, but even in the shorter 10" version it is a long and heavy handgun and so a good rest is important. Setting off even the heaviest of 10mm loads can't be considered uncomfortable. I've shot both a .223 Remington and a .30-30 Winchester barreled Contender (both with 10" tubes) and while these aren't exactly punishing they do exhibit a considerable amount of muzzle blast. The 10mm Contender, on the other hand, is a gun you could shoot all day without any trouble.




Obtaining a 10mm Contender

Even though Thompson/Center no longer produces 10mm barrels, a 10mm T/C Contender isn't that difficult to acquire. Used Contenders are easy to find, sometimes with multiple barrels included. After purchasing a gun you then need the 10mm barrel. As the barrel is not the registered part of the Contender you can buy a barrel without restrictions, and it can also be shipped directly to you through the mail. Though I hate to say it, one of the best places to look for a 10mm Auto T/C Contender barrel is eBay. The most common barrel length encountered is the 10" bull barrel, but the longer 14" version isn't impossible to find. If you don't intend to keep whatever barrel(s) came with your Contender you can sell them easily to pay for your 10mm barrel. Another route is to have a custom barrel made. Though probably more expensive, by going "custom" you can also specify barrel length and go for a 16", 18" or even longer barrel if you want a Contender carbine in 10mm Auto.