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The Most Versatile Pistol Ever Made: The Thompson Contender

Updated on March 18, 2015
G2 Contender w/ Pachmayr grip
G2 Contender w/ Pachmayr grip | Source

Why the Thompson Contender is Such a Great Handgun

Many states have special seasons for alternative methods like handguns to hunt game. In states like Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana, the firearms that are legal to use for hunting are restricted-sometimes to completely omit rifles. I grew up hunting in Illinois with a 12 gauge shotgun and rifled slugs, but I always wanted something with more....range.

For those who may be restricted in their hunting firearms choices, or who either enjoy handgun hunting or the idea of getting into it, the Thompson Contender is arguably the best firearm for the job. The Contender is a single shot pistol with interchangeable barrels, giving it the utility of multiple different handguns at any time. Barrels are changed in minutes by:

  1. Removing the forehand
  2. Tapping the hinge pin out
  3. Swapping the barrel.

Simply follow these same steps in reverse order to mount the barrel and you're ready to go! Calibers available for the Contender range from the 22 Long Rifle (LR) to the monstrous .45-70 Government. For many Contender owners like myself, having a collection of barrels for different tasks is common. From plinking, to hunting, to competitive shooting, having a few different barrels serve different purposes. For silhouette shooters, the 357 Maximum (Yes, maximum, not magnum) is a very common caliber to own. For those who also want a fun day of shooting at the range but don't want to break the bank-a 22 caliber rimfire barrel is very common. Hunters can find a plethora of calibers capable of taking medium game like deer at ranges up to 200 yards! For the big game hunter looking for a thrilling hunt, the .45-70 Government or .444 Marlin may be calibers to have in your collection. The range of calibers lending themselves for various purposes is part of what makes the Contender such a great handgun to have.

Another thing to note about the Contender's design is that it can be easily converted into a single-shot rifle. With a change of the grip to a buttstock, and a rifle or carbine length barrel, the Contender maintains it's versatility-now as a rifle!

Barrels for the Contender come from Thompson in 10", 12", 14", 16", and 21" typically, with other sizes available from their custom shop. Aftermarket companies like Bullberry Barrel Works make custom barrels in calibers, lengths, and contours not otherwise available. You can find contender barrels (and frames for that matter) with a blued or stainless finish.

Calibers Available in the Contender

This is not a comprehensive list of calibers available, and some may be more rare than others.

  • 17 Hornet
  • 17 Remington
  • 22 Long Rifle
  • 22 Magnum
  • 22 Hornet
  • 222 Remington
  • 223 Remington
  • 6mm TCU
  • .256 Winchester Magnum
  • 7mm TCU
  • 7-30 Waters
  • .30-30 Winchester
  • .30 Herrett
  • .38 Special
  • .357 Magnum
  • .357 Maximum
  • .35 Remington
  • 10mm Auto
  • .41 Magnum
  • .44 Magnum
  • .444 Marlin
  • .45 ACP
  • .45 Long Colt
  • .45-70 Government

What You Should Know About the Contender

The Contender is an amazingly versatile handgun, suited well for a range of tasks like those mentioned above. Over the years, the Contender has been built in two general configurations. These differences are primarily in the frame of the gun. These are known as Generation 1 (G1) and Generation 2 (G2) Contenders. Barrels are able to fit to either frame, however. The primary difference between the two is how you go between rimfire and centerfire calibers (something no other handgun does), and the contour of the grip. This means that grips made for the G1 will not fit the G2, and vice versa.

Thompson also makes another handgun similar to the Contender, the Encore. However, barrels are not interchangeable between the two. The Encore is also a very versatile handgun, however caliber selection is not quite as vast as the Contender.

Thompson G2 Contender w/10mm auto 10" Barrel. Barrels (from top to bottom) 14" .35 Remington, 14" .44 Magnum, .357 Maximum
Thompson G2 Contender w/10mm auto 10" Barrel. Barrels (from top to bottom) 14" .35 Remington, 14" .44 Magnum, .357 Maximum | Source
Contender, view from behind the receiver
Contender, view from behind the receiver | Source

The versatility of the Thompson Contender between rifle and handgun, as well as the huge array of calibers available in a variety of different barrels makes the Contender a truly all-purpose firearm. It is well suited for plinking, hunting, and competitive shooting. Barrels are widely available in a variety of lengths to suite your purpose. The Contender is, in my humble opinion, the handgun to have in your collection.

What are looking to buy a Thompson Contender for?

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Helpful Links

Why You Should Consider Loading Your Own Ammunition

  • Some calibers available in the Contender are not commercially available. This is one reason to look into reloading ammunition, if you don't already

Hunting Rifle or War Rifle? Hunting with the K-31

  • Many people overlook the advantages built into World War era firearms, the K-31 makes a great hunting rifle!

The Best Handgun Caliber Few Know About: the .357 Maximum

  • Get an in-depth look into what makes the .357 Remington Maximum a great cartridge for hunting and competition shooting alike.


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    • Edward J. Palumbo profile image

      Ed Palumbo 23 months ago from Tualatin, OR

      I agree, the Thompson-Center "Contender" served me well. One barrel led to another, but all proved accurate. My favorites were the 14-inch .41 Magnum and the heavy 10-inch .357 Magnum, both of which proved fine choices for targets and game. The .22 Hornet barrel was superb for small game. The "Contender" propelled me as a handgun hunter, and I enjoyed shooting it (with any of its barrels)!

    • marcJ profile image

      marcJ 2 years ago from Mid-MO

      Right now I have barrels in 10mm auto, 40 S&W, 7-30 Waters, 35 Remington, 357 Remington Maximum, and 44 Magnum. There are some very interesting wildcat calibers that were made specifically for the Thompson Contender. It is a little expensive, but then again hunting and shooting is never cheap, haha. Thanks for taking the time to read up!

    • AlienGear profile image

      Alien Gear Holsters 2 years ago from Hayden

      Hey this is very cool, what a unique gun. How many barrels do you have for yours? Has it been expensive collecting them?

    • marcJ profile image

      marcJ 3 years ago from Mid-MO

      It's been tricky in the last few years to find components, especially for folks like us who like those metric calibers. Sometimes when you see it you have to get it or you may not have another chance for a long time. Thank you for your comment and happy loading!

    • profile image

      Massamba 3 years ago

      I've been thinking of doing dolalr cost averaging (i.e. whatever I can get for $50 each payday) on my ammo purchases to stock up, but I probably should have started a year ago. About the only thing I feel like I have "enough" of is 7.62x54R and .40 S&W reloads. I need to focus on .22LR, 9x19mm, .380, and .223. I've got enough .45-70 components for a while, I just need the time to assemble them.