Most companies treat “youth model" guns as an afterthought. Gun manufacturing is a business, much like any other, and a basic tenet of business is to produce a product as easily and cheaply as possible. To that end, many simply cut down the barrel and buttstock of a standard model and—voila!—they have a youth model.
While that practice is not necessarily a bad thing and has produced a lot of practical, useful models, it does have its limitations. Very young shooters require a gun that is not just shorter, but dimensionally smaller in almost every way.
Well, there are a couple of other tenets of business that come in pretty handy from time to time. One is to give the public what it wants. Another is to “build a better mousetrap," i.e., make a better product and consumers will gravitate to your company. It was these latter principles that guided Thompson/Center to create its new HotShot, a diminutive single-shot .22 LR-cal. rifle styled after the company's popular Encore Pro Hunter.
The Rochester, N.H.-based company had long fielded requests for such a gun. “Thompson/Center has been asked for years for smaller-stocked rifles for youth and small shooters, particularly in our Encore and Pro Hunter lines," says Craig Cushman, Director of Marketing for Thompson/Center.
It's important to make a distinction here. With the HotShot, we're not talking about a slightly reduced-size rifle for teens who are not quite ready for a full-size gun. No, we're talking about a tiny gun intended for the very youngest shooters—the ultimate first gun.
“We're targeting the six- to 12-year-old range and feel that with the inclusion of the one-inch spacer in the box, there will be a longer period that the child can use the rifle, potentially out to 15 years old," explains Cushman.
That's important. With the number of hunters declining, it's crucial to get kids introduced to the sport as early as possible.
The initial reactions from adults when seeing the HotShot for the first time vary from a smirk to a smile to a raised eyebrow. It's that small. However, the distinct styling and visible quality quickly establish that it is not a toy nor a promotional mini-replica, as some observers first think. The HotShot doesn't look “kinda, sorta" like the Encore-derived Pro Hunter. It looks exactly like a miniature, scale model of that popular rifle; not a bad gun to emulate. In addition to being stylish and handsome, the Encore design is ideal for a first gun.
“Mark Laney and his R&D crew felt that the Encore design lends itself very well to beginning shooters because of its simplicity of design and inherent safety. They set about to make a kid's first gun that looks, operates and shoots just like Dad's," says Cushman.
The HotShot is only 30 inches in overall length, but turning it in your hands reveals a lot of features included in the small package. The rifle has a black composite stock (Realtree AP HD Camo and Realtree APHD Pink are also available), 19-inch precision-rifled barrel and fully adjustable peep sight, and is drilled and tapped for a scope.
Its operation is simplicity itself. Pull back on the front of the triggerguard. That causes the action to break open. Manually insert a cartridge into the chamber and snap the gun closed. Once you are ready to shoot, manually cock the hammer with your thumb, then squeeze the trigger. Safe, simple, reliable.
At the range the gun was more fun than anticipated. Yes, an adult frame and hands overwhelm it, but grown-ups can shoot it easily and well; just not as easily and well as the young shooters for whom it was created. Note that cocking the gun retracts the trigger considerably, so there is adequate room in the triggerguard for an adult finger once the hammer is locked back.
The peep sight is a great way to go, whether you are six or 60. It unobtrusively allows you to focus on your front sight, teaching—or reaffirming—that shooting fundamental.The trigger was very good, breaking at 3 lbs., 12 ounches. of pressure according to our Lyman trigger pull gauge. That's light enough for best accuracy, but heavy enough to offer a margin of safety.
We tested the HotShot with .22 LR-cal. ammunition, though it will handle .22 Short and .22 Long as well. There were no mechanical failures of any kind and firing pin strikes were deep and sure.
The gun achieved satisfactory groups with the small selection of ammunition we tried. While it was sufficient for small game hunting and casual target shooting, because of the gun's size, we don't feel we were able to wring out its full accuracy potential. That was the fault of the shooter. The intended smaller-statured user, for whom the gun would be far more ergonomic, should find it a tack-driver with the right ammunition.
Other Shooters, Other Uses
Despite its size and, in fact, because of it, there has already been interest in this rifle from adult shooters envisioning the HotShot as a backpacking gun.
“Yes, in fact we have heard that quite a bit and it does open the possibility of a survival gun or trapper's gun," acknowledges Cushman. “We'll assess the potential market opportunity of such products in the coming year and proceed based on our findings."
But that is down the road. Right now, the focus—as intended—is on kids. And that means convincing parents. The HotShot, according to Cushman, is proving pretty persuasive.
“‘That's too cool!' and ‘We've got to have one' are the first and second things we hear at shows since introduction in January."
And when parents learn of the stock color options, “[T]hey often then say, ‘I guess we'll need two (or three) so that they each have their own,'“ says Cushman. “We're pleased with the enthusiasm of both parents and Hunter's Ed instructors."
And why shouldn't they be enthused? The HotShot means that even the youngest shooters now have a gun sized just for them. And it doesn't just get them started; it gets them started on the right foot, with a gun that is safe, simple and effective. And parents get the added assurance that they've invested in quality. The American-made HotShot may be little, but it carries Thompson/Center's big lifetime warranty.
As Cushman says, “The HotShot is not a disposable gun. It's built and backed to last a lifetime and be handed down."
And sometimes handed up. Mom and Dad may like a turn, too.
Thompson/Center HotShot Rifle
Manufacturer: Thompson/Center Arms, P.O. Box 5002, Rochester, NH 03866; (866)730-1614
Type: Single-shot, break-open rimfire rifle
Material: Blued carbon steel
Sights: Rear fully-adjustable peep, front post; drilled and tapped for scope
Trigger: Single stage; 3 pounds, 12 ounces
Barrel: 19 inches
Overall length: 30 inches
Stock: Composite (black, Realtree AP HD Camo or Realtree APHD Pink)
Length of pull: 11½ inches
Drop at heel: 1½ inches
Drop at comb: 1¼ inches
Weight: 3 pounds
MSRP: $204 (black); $234 (Realtree)
The average of five, five-shot groups fired at 25 yards from a rest.
CCI Green Tag: 1.25 inches
RWS Dynamit Nobel Target Rifle: .88 inches
Federal Lightning Solid: 1.25 inches