The vast majority of guns reviewed on these pages are intended for fairly serious purposes: top-level target competition; personal protection; law enforcement and military service; and hunting game of all kinds. Although we conscientiously report their accuracy, reliability and shootability, we rarely comment on the fun factor of the guns we evaluate. It is thus refreshing to have the opportunity to test a gun created primarily for the simple joy of shooting: the Auto-Ordnance TA5, the pistol version replica of the Thompson Model of 1927, which itself was the original semi-automatic version of the legendary Tommy Gun.
Introduced in 2008, the TA5 (made by Kahr Arms under the Auto-Ordnance marque) is not merely a fun gun. For Thompson fans, the Auto-Ordnance semi-automatic-only replicas provide a reasonable substitute for the earlier guns. All current Auto-Ordnances were designed using the original manufacturing drawings. There are significant internal differences, however. This is to be expected, as the Auto-Ordnance guns fire from a closed bolt, while the original Model 1927 semi-automatic fired from an open bolt. Also new is the use of 6061-T6 aluminum for receivers and frames in place of the traditional (and heavier) steel in Auto-Ordnance’s lightweight models including the TA5.
The TA5 pistol is chambered in .45 ACP only, and has a 10.5-inch barrel, no shoulder stock (or provision for mounting one), and a horizontal walnut fore-end and pistol grip. Its length is 23.3 inches and weight is just under 6 pounds. It is available in three versions: one with a 50-round drum, one with a 100-round drum, and one with a special 10-round drum made for sale in states having magazine restrictions. As an extra-cost option, both 20- and 30-round stick magazines are also available. All versions are supplied with a hard plastic case, a gun lock and an owner’s manual.
Rifled in a right-hand 1:16.38-inch twist, the finned barrel has the characteristic Thompson front sight with a 0.080-inch-wide front post. Atop the rear of the receiver is a flip-up ladder rear sight with a 0.125-inch aperture adjustable for elevation from 50 yards to a somewhat optimistic 600 yards. When the ladder is flipped down, a rather miniscule secondary rear sight blade, measuring 0.34-inch wide and 0.27-inch high with a small notch, is visible.
Internally, the TA5 is simple and straightforward. Twin recoil springs power the heavy bolt, and ignition is by way of a spring-powered firing pin that is retained, at full cock, by the sear of the trigger mechanism in the frame. Its parts are robust and simple, auguring long life for the gun. Magazine retention is by way of the distinctive Thompson-style left-side magazine catch, which is pushed upward to both release and insert the magazine.
Our sample TA5 came with a 50-round drum and two 30-round stick magazines. We opted to use the stick magazines, as loading the drum (as any Thompson shooter knows) is an involved and potentially finger-bruising procedure. We fired the TA5 at 25 yards with three types of ammunition: a Federal American Eagle load with a 230-gr. FMJ bullet, a Hornady TAP FPD load with a 200-gr. XTP bullet, and a PMC 185-gr. HP load. Aiming was by way of the gun’s supplied iron sights; there is no provision for mounting a scope or red-dot sight.
Firing the gun for accuracy off sandbags was challenging. Although the fore-end rested nicely in our Caldwell front bag, the absence of a shoulder stock required our test shooter to support and steady the heavy rear of the gun with a two-hand hold, resting his wrists on a small sandbag. Precise grouping was also inhibited somewhat by the gun’s heavy 9.5-pound trigger.
Nonetheless, the TA5 pistol achieved excellent accuracy. Mean five-shot accuracy with both the Hornady and PMC loads was less than 2 inches at 25 yards, and the American Eagle load posted a still-respectable 2.67-inch average. We have tested plenty of conventional high-grade .45 ACP pistols with much better sights that did not perform as well. All groups impacted about 1.5 to 2 inches to the right of the point of aim.
No jams were encountered with the 230-gr. FMJ bullets or the 185-gr. JHP PMC load, but the Hornady TAP ammunition caused the bolt to lock back every four to five rounds, rectified by retracting the bolt knob
The 50-round drum magazine also functioned well, but will be difficult for some to use, as the bolt must be locked back before the drum is either inserted or removed. A small device known as a “third hand” is supplied to assist in this. The stiffness of the recoil springs makes bolt lock-back difficult for many shooters, regardless of size. The trick is to pull the bolt knob back smartly and quickly, and not to struggle against it—resistance is futile.
On the plus side, the gun’s weight makes recoil negligible even with heavy +P loads.
When we took our TA5 at the range, almost everyone asked two questions: “What’s that?” and “Can I shoot it?” The public has been fascinated with the iconic Thompson, and the popularity of the current Auto-Ordnance line demonstrates that that fascination has not diminished.
The primary purpose of the Auto-Ordnance TA5, then, seems to be to simply bring a smile to the face and a twinkle to the eye of any shooter who fires the pistol. It is good to remember that almost all of us originally got into shooting for the pure, uncomplicated joy of pulling the trigger, making a loud bang, and hitting a target. Any gun that helps bring back such memories definitely has something going for it.