It was so light I thought Wilson Combat had sent me an empty soft case.
Unzipping the rifle case I realized what was inside, the newest addition to the Wilson Combat line, a precision .308 Winchester bolt action rifle weighing in at just 4lbs., 15oz. Wilson Combat has released the Wilson Combat NULA Model 20, and it’s everything I’d imagined it could be.
I’ve been hoping for this review ever since I read that Wilson Combat had purchased New Ultralight Arms (NULA) from its creator, Melvin Forbes, about a year ago. Way back in 1985, Mr. Forbes introduced the world to his Model 20, a sub-5 lb. centerfire bolt action rifle. I never got the chance to shoot one back then, but I read all about them. They weren’t cheap, but they sounded amazing.
I was a little surprised that Mr. Forbes decided to sell NULA. The reason there’s a “new” in New Ultralight Arms is because Ultralight Arms was sold to Colt some time back and, of course, Colt being Colt back then, they didn’t perform. But Wilson Combat isn’t Colt and Bill Wilson and Melvin Forbes have many of the same demands for quality and ingenuity in common. It’s a good match.
It’s an amazing rifle.
It’s called the Model 20 because the action weighs 20oz. That’s not a misprint. The action weighs as much as a big cup of coffee. It’s not made of titanium. It’s the same 4140 steel we see in many high-quality firearm receivers.
The entire bolt is EDM cut and machined from bar stock. The bolt is ultra-high strength 4340, not as common as 4140, but by no means an exotic material. It’s also not skeletonized. There are no big airy cutouts. There are no deep “lightening” grooves in the receiver. The bolt isn’t fluted.
And yet somehow it weighs 20 oz, and it has since the mid ’80s when Melvin Forbes created it.
The magic in the NULA Model 20’s action isn’t all in the materials. It’s in the design itself. Everything is sized exactly as it should be. The action isn’t mass produced and designed to accept as many cartridges as possible. It’s not built so that it fits with established common machining fixtures or other rapid manufacturing processes.
The NULA Model 20 is built for a fairly narrow range of cartridges with precision in the manufacturing process. The result is an action that’s exactly what it needs to be, no more, and no less.
The bolt itself seems downright dainty, but it moves with perfection. There’s no undo wobble at the back of the pull. It’s a traditional two-lug design with a single claw extractor and a big ol’ single plunger ejector. A red indicator ring shows when the rifle is cocked.
The weight savings continues in the stock, with the same material Mr. Forbes used, carbon fiber. Mr. Forbes was secretive about the material back in the day, and for good reason. Although the use of carbon fiber in stocks that are both extremely light and extremely rigid is more commonplace now, it was virtually unheard of back then.
I was very happy to find a hinged floorplate for the internal box magazine with a four-round capacity. There was no added tension on the bolt running the gun loaded 4+1.
Although the construction is fairly obvious, I took the rifle apart to photograph the stock. I was very pleased when I put it back together, noting that the pillar bedded action screws only lined up when the recoil lug was pressed firmly rearward into the stock.
Given the accuracy I had experienced, this was no surprise, but it still brings a smile to my face when I see things done the right way, not just the easy way.
Unsurprisingly, coming from Wilson Combat, the finishes are exceptional, and not just in terms of the cosmetically. There’s a wide range of appropriate finishes used throughout the rifle.
The barrel is finished with Wilson’s Armor-Tuff, the bottom metal is hard anodized. The receiver and bolt are both finished in ArmorLube’s DLC coating, probably the best possible anti-friction and long-term wear internal/external finish available for a firearm.
That little bolt glides inside the action, and unlike just about every other bolt action rifle I’ve tested, it’s very hard to tell if this gun has been used at all. Every photo you see in this article was taken after the shooting for the review was complete.
Wilson Combat uses a Timney Elite Hunter trigger for the Model 20. It’s a solid choice. Averaging at 3lbs 0.1oz over five pulls from my Lyman digital trigger scale, there was a total of just over 1oz of extreme spread between all the pulls. If you want to find creep or slack, you have to be very still, close your eyes, and try really hard.
The two-position safety locks the bolt when on “safe.”
The Model 20 runs like an absolute dream. There’s no fighting it at all. The simple stock geometry gets the rifle right to your shoulder every time and the grippy finish helps you hold it in place.
The large bolt handle is easy to find and grab, and the action itself works smoothly enough to keep your eye in the glass while cycling. There is a whole lot of much heavier rifles that can’t seem to accomplish that.
The barrel itself is 16 inches long. Made by Wilson Combat, it’s their lightweight profile, button rifled, and made of 416R stainless.
I’m not a big fan of 16-inch .308s, but there’s no denying the simple fact that this gun is almost nothing to carry and, in the hands of a competent marksman, certainly capable of taking any ungulate in North America out to 300 yards.
The same gun with a 20″ barrel in 7mm-08 would weigh in at a scant 5lbs, 4oz and stretch your capability even farther. It’s also available in .358 Winchester, a too-little used cartridge. So chambered, it would be supremely capable of taking elk, moose, or any of the African plains game.
The rifle points like a stick. It’s not nearly as easy to make a lightweight gun shoot as well as a heavy gun, but that’s exactly what NULA has done with the Model 20.
Wilson Combat guarantees each gun will shoot minute-of-angle or better. This one certainly does. I shot IMI’s M118LR, Wilson Combat’s 175gr SMK, Hornady’s 165gr Copper Solid, and Lehigh Defense 152gr and 125gr Controlled Chaos rounds. None of them shot groups as large as 1″ at 100 yards.
Groups around 3/4″ were far more common, with everything I shot falling between .6-inch and .8-inch groups. These were five-round groups averaged over four shot strings, fired untimed from a Caldwell Stinger shooting rest. The optic used was a supplied Trijicon Accupoint at 9X. I suspect the rifle could have produced ever tighter groups with a higher magnification optic.
There is, of course, a toll to be paid for such incredible weight saving. A toll paid in pain. There’s just no denying physics.
I normally fire 100 rounds at a time on a bolt gun for a review and typically fire 500 rounds or more. For this review, the most I could shoot consecutively was 50 rounds.
Like all rifles, shooting standing or kneeling isn’t nearly as challenging, but from the prone the little rifle is brutal. The Decelerator recoil pad helps a bit, but putting a silencer on the threaded barrel helps a lot more. I put 300 rounds through the gun for this review and never experienced any issues of any kind with any of them.
Wilson Combat has done right by the genius of Melvin Forbes. It’s hard not to see the Wilson Combat NULA rifles as anything other than one master paying homage to another.
Exceptionally well built, the NULA Model 20 is an absolute marvel. It’s impossibly accurate for its weight, and somehow, given that weight, remains well-balanced and easy to handle. It’s an American vision, continued by a great American company.
Specifications Wilson Combat NULA Model 20
Length: 35 3/4″ (as reviewed)
Barrel: Lightweight profile Wilson Combat button rifled 416R stainless
Bolt: machined 4340 Receiver: machined and EDM cut 4140 Trigger/Safety:
Finish Action and bolt: Armorlube DLC
Finish Barrel: Armor-Tuff Finish
Bottom Metal: Hard Anodized
Stock: Carbon Fiber with Pachmayr 1″ Decelerator recoil pad and Nitride coated sling studs
Weight: 4 lb. 15 oz to 5 lb. 4oz (depending on caliber and barrel length)
Trigger: Timney Elite Hunter (2.75#-3.25#) Locks the bolt closed when on safe.
5/8″x24 barrel threads with a nitride coated thread protector
Base price: $3,295
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style and Appearance * * * * *
Perfect finishes throughout. Great overall fitment.
Customization * * *
Order what you want from Wilson, but this isn’t another 700 clone.
Reliability * * * * *
Accuracy * * * * *
All sub-minute groups from a sub-5lb rifle.
Overall * * * * *
It’s an extremely impressive rifle. The weight is amazing, but the performance, given that weight, is just spectacular. Huge thanks to Wilson Combat for keeping this American dream gun alive.