By Nate Parker
The Recon Tactical is Wilson Combat’s “do-it-all” rifle – intended for high intensity training/duty use, hunting or general field use. It came in a soft-sided case with one Lancer L5 Advanced Warfighter Magazine and a test target. Not being the kind of guy that is too adventurous when it comes to the AR-15 platform, my sample is intentionally generic. It is chambered in 5.56 with a 1/7 twist 16” fluted stainless barrel topped with an Accu-Tac flash hider and has a mid-length gas system . . .
Wilson Combat also offers the Recon Tactical in .300 Blackout, 6.8 SPC, .458 SOCOM and their proprietary cartridge, the 7.62x40WT with barrel lengths between 16” and 20”. There is also a myriad of upgrade options in which you can add essentially any doodad that Wilson Combat makes for the AR-15, including a billet upper and lower. If someone wanted a less than typical configuration, it is certainly there to be had.
On the outside the Wilson Combat Recon Tactical has their Armor-Tuff finish, a Roger’s Super-Stoc buttstock, BCM Mod 1 grip, comes standard with the Wilson Combat designed and built T.R.I.M. Rail and is all put together exceptionally well. The T.R.I.M. rail is machined from 6005A-T5 aluminum and is an evolution of Wilson Combat’s previous proprietary rail system. There are two integral QD sling mounts towards the rear with one on each side, and a small section of Picatinny rail that can be positioned anywhere on the hand guard in the 3, 6 or 9 o’clock position.
I like the T.R.I.M. rail but if I were to order another Recon Tactical I would probably request a longer rail. Wilson Combat defaults to a rail length that terminates even with the front of the gas block even though the current trend is to run a longer rail that terminates just short of the muzzle. I am not sure what their reasoning is for this, but if you want a longer rail, just know that it has to be specifically requested.
Open the Recon Tactical up and you will find Wilson Combat’s NP3 coated bolt carrier group (BCG) at the heart of the rifle. NP3 is a combination of submicron particles of Teflon (PTFE) and electroless nickel, it is used in the firearms industry for its corrosion resistance and high lubricity. Since the PTFE particles are impregnated into the nickel, as the finish wears it maintains its lubricity where other finishes do not.
The bolt carrier group itself is a well-built semi-auto unit with a staked, chrome lined gas key held in place with Grade 8 bolts. The bolt is machined from Carpenter No. 158 steel, is high pressure tested, magnetic particle inspected and shot peened for increased strength per the military specification. I have seen two Wilson Combat bolts break in the past that were in rifles purchased around 2008. Since then I have not seen any bolts break despite the guns being run just as hard, so I think they either did not build to the military specification previously, or have made some other change that has improved the quality of their bolts.
Moving to the lower, we find Wilson Combat’s Tactical Trigger Unit which is a single stage drop-in trigger that comes standard on all of their rifles. The TTU has characteristics very similar to a high end 1911 trigger; something that I guess should be expected from a high end 1911 manufacturer. There is no take up or slack in the trigger and it has a very crisp four pound break and a distinct reset. The trigger is well suited to precision shooting tasks and even though I have a preference for two-stage triggers in AR-15’s, the TTU gets close to making me a single stage fan.
If you would like for the rifle to come with sights Wilson Combat can put sights on the rifle, but they will cost you extra. My rifle came with Wilson Combat’s Quick Detach Sights. While they have the Wilson Combat logo upfront, they are actually rebranded Yankee Hill Machine Quick Deploy Sights with YHM markings located on the underside of the sights.
Wilson Combat also has another sight option for the rear called the Flip Up Rear Sight II that is built in-house. It is an ingenious idea and allows for windage and elevation adjustments in the rear sight, but is limited to a single aperture. They tried to split the middle between the A2 style large aperture and small aperture, but as with a lot of things that try to be the best at everything by being in the middle, it wasn’t very good in either role. Based on my experience it was too small for closer range speed work, and too large for precision work. I would like to see Wilson Combat take another whack at making their own back up sights for the AR-15 because I have a feeling they could design and build a truly exceptional set of sights if they wanted to.
On the Range
After roughing in the zero with the iron sights it was time to get to work running the gun through its paces and making it earn that Wilson Combat reputation of quality. I chose to spend most of my initial testing at the ends of the performance spectrum focusing on precision at distance and speed inside of 25 yards. Due to limitations of the test range I could not move back any further than 170 yards, but despite long distance shooting not being my forte, ringing a steel popper with the iron sights was easy work and is well within the capability of this rifle. With some good glass, match quality ammunition and a capable shooter, I have no reason to believe that this rifle could not push the 5.56mm round to its practical limits in terms of distance.
After being satisfied with the distance work, I moved to my comfort zone inside the 50 yard line to start working on speed. One of the more demanding speed drills for the AR-15 is the VTAC Half & Half. The drill starts at the 20 yard line where the shooter fires 10 rounds in 10 seconds, then moves to the 10 yard line and 10 rounds in 5 seconds, then finally the 5 yard line and 10 rounds in 2.5 seconds. The 20 and 10 yard line strings are not overly difficult, but the 5 yard string can be a challenge. I use this drill to evaluate the recoil characteristics of the gun, and how easily the trigger can be run without inducing some sort of shooting error. The crispness of the trigger made the 20 and 10 yard strings even easier than usual and the 5 yard string was on par with what I typically shoot, getting the 10 rounds off in just under 2 seconds with all the hits inside a USPSA target’s A-zone. I also worked through the NRA Law Enforcement Tactical Shooting Instructor qualification course which includes head shots from 25 yards, shooting on the move, and pivots.
In total, approximately 300 rounds went through the gun in the first range session, straight out of the box so to speak, without a single hiccup. The T.R.I.M. rail is a fairly light set up – combine it with the fluted barrel and the rifle is nimble and balances well. It drives from target to target with relative ease and snappiness due to the light weight up front. The rail will heat up after extended shooting sessions with fast strings of fire though, even more so in the summer months. It was getting a little toasty up around the gas block towards the end of the range session.
The rifle took a few months off before being brought back out to play and had not seen a cleaning cloth or drop of lubricant since it left Berryville. I thought this might be a good time to test Wilson Combat’s NP3’d BCG to see if it really made that much of a difference. I sprayed on some Slip 2000 725 Gun Cleaner and wiped the BCG down to make sure there was not any residual lubrication lingering around and went to work. I made it through nearly 300 rounds before I started to experience a problem.
If using the bolt catch to chamber the top round on a full 30 round PMAG, the bolt would not go completely into battery. Pulling back on the charging handle and releasing would fix the problem, but it still malfunctioned. I started downloading magazines to 28 rounds as is common practice among some shooters and the problem went away. I continued to run the gun up to 500 rounds before exhausting my ammunition supply for the day. Even though the gun did technically malfunction by failing to return to battery on a fully loaded magazine, getting through 500 rounds with all the lubrication removed from the BCG without a more serious type of malfunction, breaking any parts, or seizing up is an impressive feat. The BCG doesn’t look too worse off for it either. The bolt and cam pin still moved fairly easily in the BCG at the end of the test.
When testing the Wilson Combat Recon Tactical for accuracy, I used Wilson Combat’s own 65gr Match Grade Tactical Ammunition (part # A223-65-SBT) which uses a 65gr Sierra GameKing bullet. The factory velocity is listed at 2,730fps from a 16” barrel, but I did not have access to a chronograph to verify that number. I was running iron sights only from the prone position using my range bag as an improvised rest. The five round group is about 1” with the one flyer. For iron sights I am pleased with it and this is on par with what I have shot in the past with other high quality ammunition. With a good red dot or magnified optic, I imagine that group size would improve significantly.
Wilson Combat does guarantee the accuracy on their rifles but there are some conditions associated with that guarantee – you have to use a 10X optic and shoot match grade ammunition. While I think this rifle could be pressed into service for precision shooting tasks, there are probably some other Wilson Combat offerings that would suit those tasks better. For me personally, this is a duty/defensive use AR-15 and the precision capability is well within where I want it to be for that purpose.
I have been shooting this rifle off and on for several months, it never being legitimately cleaned and only adding lubrication once at about the 1,000 round mark. The round count now is a touch over 2,500 and the only malfunctions occurred during the no-lube test on the BCG. No question, the Wilson Combat Recon Tactical is a solid rifle with excellent build quality; it is just a matter of whether or not it is worth the price. A Recon Tactical will run about $2,300 direct from Wilson Combat minus the sights. In my local area, I don’t know of any dealers that carry Wilson Combat AR-15s, so I don’t know what the true street price is but I doubt it would be very much different. Personally I wouldn’t feel bad spending that kind of cash on this rifle, but not just because of the rifle’s build quality. Wilson Combat is known for standing behind their product, even with the little things that most manufacturers would probably laugh at you for even asking about.
So you are not just getting the rifle, you essentially get a service plan that says “anytime something is wrong, call us up and we will make it right no matter how trivial, even if it is just a worn out part”. On more than one occasion I have contacted Wilson Combat and said, “Hey, this broke,” and they ship me a new part or have me send the gun in to get fixed at no cost. That is what you pay for when you buy a Wilson Combat firearm. Sure, the guns are well built from quality parts, but everything wears out or breaks eventually if you run it hard enough and that is when buying a Wilson Combat pays off.
RATINGS (out of five stars):
Accuracy: * * * * *
I think anyone would be hard pressed to find an AR-15 with more accuracy potential than a Wilson Combat.
Ergonomics: * * * *
It has the ergos of pretty much any AR-15. The T.R.I.M. rail is nice and slim, stock is good, grip is one of the best on the market.
Reliability: * * * *
Even though there were malfunctions, they were under particularly adverse conditions and were relatively minor. Given halfway decent care, this gun will run for a long time.
Customization: * * * * *
Considering the various configurations that the Recon Tactical is available in, plus being an AR-15 (aka: man Barbie), I don’t think it gets anymore customizable.
Overall Rating: * * * *
It would take one heck of a gun to get a five star rating from me, and I debated on this one, but there are still some things that I think might make this gun run even better, so it only gets four.