When you think “Wilson Combat,” you think Bill Wilson and his love affair with the 1911 platform. The man is so ga-ga over Browning’s masterwork that he built an entire competition shooting sport around the gun, and now produces what are arguably some of the finest hand-crafted 1911 handguns the world has ever seen. But Wilson Combat does more than 1911s and the odd 92FS — they’ve been in the custom AR-15 business since time immemorial. One place they have yet to firmly plant their foot is in the .308 AR-10 market, which is something their latest creation attempts to fix.
I own a Wilson Combat Bill Wilson Carry handgun, and use it as my every day carry piece. I’ve owned that gun for about four years now, and I’ve gotten to know it very well. From the exquisite fit and finish on the moving parts down to the single ragged hole it puts in a paper target, the gun is a masterwork. So when Wilson Combat shipped out their AR-10 for review, the bar had already been set pretty high in my mind and I was expecting more of the same quality craftsmanship.
My first impressions of the gun were that this was exactly what I was expecting. The rifle is a sleek black beauty (not at all like a 1965 AMC Ambassador) with a satin smooth finish. Wilson Combat has their own proprietary finish called “Armor-Tuff” that they use on their guns, and it boasts the same general look and feel as things like Cerakote, but with some additional claims about lubrication. On the rifle, the Armor-Tuff finish made it feel like I was holding velvet instead of aluminum.
The attention to detail is what gets me, though.
Wilson Combat is known for doing things the more expensive way because, quite simply, its the right way. For example, they CNC machine the entire lower receiver on these rifles rather than simply using a forging. They go a step further, machining out the magazine well instead of broaching it because that stresses the metal less. It also takes way more time, so you can understand if the gunsmiths take a little pride in their work.
I bring this up because one of the very first things I noticed was a little piece of paper. On an AR rifle, the dust cover is spring loaded and designed to rest on the housing for the forward takedown pin detent spring. This — over many many years — leads to some wear on the dust cover and some corresponding wear on the lower receiver. With the Wilson Combat .308, they shipped the gun from the factory with a tiny piece of paper wedged between the dust cover and lower receiver to keep them from rubbing. In all my years reviewing AR-15 rifles (admittedly not that many), I’ve never seen that before.
Right, enough ooh-ing and ahh-ing, on with the details. Starting with the business end of the gun.
Wilson Combat doesn’t make everything in-house. The receiver set is the only thing I know for 100% sure they make on site, and the barrel is similarly the only thing I know for 100% that they get from a supplier (when I visited a couple months back they were just producing their very first in-shop barrels with their brand new barrel machine, so that is subject to change). A couple accessories are obviously made by other companies, but WC selects only the very best. For example, they use Lancer magazines because “they just work every time” — and I use them in competition shooting for the same reason.
That said, the guns aren’t just a parts build. According to the folks at WC, very few of the guns they sell are off-the-shelf as-is builds. Most people want their guns customized to their specifications, which makes sense if you’re dropping this kind of money on a firearm. Review guns are an oddity in that manner, what you see here isn’t necessarily what you get from the factory — they have to make it “as is” for reviews. You can order it if you want, but why not make it your own?
For the review gun, the barrel is a fluted 18″ medium profile setup with a threaded muzzle. The barrel comes with an Accu-Tac flash hider, but you can crank that off and add whatever muzzle device makes you all warm and fuzzy on the inside. Surrounding the barrel is Wilson Combat’s own T.R.I.M. Rail system, which offers a full length top rail and user-attachable rail sections for your accessory mounting needs. The rail section mounting system is proprietary, which means additional rail sections are only available through Wilson Combat. I’d prefer to see something like keymod or even M-LOK to make things more interchangeable personally, as proprietary systems with marginal benefits aren’t really my thing.
The handguards also sport QD cups for slings, which is a nice addition.
Moving back to the receiver, the gun keeps looking sharp. The upper and lower receiver match up perfectly, as one would expect from a company that makes them both in-house. The triggerguard on the lower receiver is machined into the build, meaning no extra pins and no rough edges to worry about down there. Its flared slightly at the front, which allows more room for your finger to find the trigger and looks very appealing.
The trigger for this build is a 4-pound Trigger Tactical Unit (TTU) single stage affair made by Wilson Combat. Jeremy will be reviewing the trigger separately shortly, but in my opinion its a fine thing. The break is crisp and clean with very little take-up, something I definitely find appealing. However, for the build, I’m wondering if a two stage trigger might be more appropriate. The gun is designed almost as an SPR build, with long range shooting in mind. I’d think that a two stage trigger would be better suited for those long range shots rather than a run-and-gun single stage setup, but that’s really the shooter’s choice. And you can change that at the factory before its even built, so no biggie really.
The bolt is NP3 treated, which means it is slick and clean and stays that way. Running the bolt back and forth in the upper receiver is butter smooth, with not a single rough patch or hang-up. Perfect.
And then we get to the stock.
This gun was doing so well. It was hitting all the right notes, and then it all came to a screeching halt where the rubber meets the shoulder. For a rifle build such as this one, the normal expectation is that it would come with a Magpul PRS stock attached or something similar. With specs like these the gun falls squarely in the “precision hunter” category of rifles, somewhere a light and flimsy adjustable stock is simply not done. I could even see a Magpul UBR doing well here, but a standard carbine buffer assembly is simply not appropriate. It throws off the balance of the gun, and even visually seems like something is missing from the rear.
Wilson Combat does have some logic behind this move. Their assertion is that the end user will swap out the stock for whatever suits them best, and having dozens of SKUs for every stock imaginable isn’t possible at the factory. That’s true, and even reasonable, but we don’t review guns as they could be — we review guns as they come from the factory. And as it comes from the factory, the stock is definitely out of place.
The real test of a gun is how well it does in practice. For that we took the gun out to the range, loaded it up with some Eagle Eye Ammunition (TTAG’s official ammo sponsor), slapped a US Optics 1.8-10x scope on top, and took a poke at a 100 yard target. The results were, to be honest, disappointing.
The best group I could get out of the gun at 100 yards was just a hair under 1 MoA. I thought something might be wrong with the gear I was using so I switched to Federal Gold Medal Match ammo and the Leupold scope I usually use for reviews, but the groups didn’t change.
Wilson Combat tests every gun on their private range at the rear of the shop to ensure that it meets their accuracy standards. When I sent the gun back I asked about their guarantee for this gun, and their response was that it is guaranteed to produce 1 MoA or better 3-round groups. It succeeded, but not by much. I asked the Wilson Combat guys to run some rounds through it on their end to double check that my results were accurate, and the targets they provided were right around 0.8 MoA. The following was the best of the groups.
I’m not the greatest rifle shot in the world, but I’ve produced my fair share of cloverleaf groups before. The WC guys provided better 3-round groups, but the fact remains that the gun simply isn’t as accurate as the Armalite AR-10 we tested a few years back, and yet Wilson Combat’s offering is 50% more expensive.
There’s no doubt that a lot of love and attention went into building this rifle. The gun is aesthetically beautiful, and the fit and finish on every part is excellent. But when you’re asking a few pennies under $3,000 for a rifle that doesn’t shoot as well as a $2,000 rifle, I just don’t see the value. Heck, by the time you have a proper stock on the gun you’re already flirting with the price of a Les Baer AR-10 which comes with a Magpul PRS from the factory and a 1/2 MoA guarantee.
To me, performance is everything. Buying a rifle that talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk is like buying a Ford Focus that has been chopped up to look like a Ferrari — it looks nice and might even feel nice, but you’re still going to be left in the dust at the starting line.
The saving grace is that Wilson Combat are starting to do their own barrels from scratch. The barrel shop is just opening, so if they can get their processes right this might turn out to be a good shooting gun as well as a good looking one in the fullness of time. But as it stands, meh.
Specifications: Wilson Combat .308 Project
Caliber: .308 Winchester
Magazine: One 20-Round Magazine included (takes standard AR-10 mags)
Ratings (out of five stars):
Accuracy: * *
Out shot by a rifle that costs 33% less. And not by a little, either.
Ergonomics: * * * *
The handguards are great, the trigger is fantastic, and the action is butter-smooth. But the stock is flimsy and out of place on this gun.
Reliability: * * * * *
No issues. We fired hundreds of rounds without a hiccup.
Customization: * * *
Compatible with other AR-10 parts, but the rail sections are proprietary on the handguard.
Overall: * *
Given its current accuracy, I think the gun is overpriced. Give me a better stock from the factory and some improved accuracy and we’ll be in business. But in this case, what you’re buying is the Wilson Combat name and a pretty rifle — not an appropriately accurate one.