Skip to main content

Wilson Combat NULA Model 20 Hunting Rifle: Full Review

The super-light hunting rifle has been revived by Wilson Combat. Here's a full review.

Wilson Combat NULA Model 20 Hunting Rifle: Full Review

(Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

Dense fog covered Oklahoma’s sand hills. The evening before, I’d glassed the stand from a distance, up on the toe of a dune. I’d never been there, so there was no way I could stumble upon it. It didn’t matter; the only way I’d see a deer was by stepping on one. There was no sense in making noise and spreading scent though. I sat for an hour until the fog lifted a bit and I could get my bearings, then I climbed up the ridge and took the stand.

It was late, the valley floor was clear, and fog still clung to the low ridges. I thought to myself, Are my eyes playing tricks? I blinked and lifted my binoculars. Several deer were coming over a far dune, wraithlike in the mist. There was no way to get a rangefinder reading, but it couldn’t be all that far because I couldn’t see all that far. I figured something more than 300 yards. They were does, trailed by a decent buck. He stopped, quartering slightly to me. Hedging my bet, I put the crosshair on top of his shoulder, just under the hairline.

(Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

The buck collapsed at the shot, sliding partway down the dune. The rifle was deadly accurate, chambered to the versatile .280 Remington, and light as a feather. It was a New Ultralight Arms, or “NULA” Model 20.

The trim M20s were long built by Melvin Forbes in his West Virginia shop, originally as “Ultra Light Arms,” later as “New Ultra Light Arms.” They were the original super-­light hunting rifle, barely 5 pounds in short action, yet delivering big-rifle performance. Mel Forbes’ rifles were favorites among some of the most astute rifle guys of my (or any) generation: John Barsness, Dave Petzal, and the late Thomas McIntyre. Great writers and good friends all, each had (or have) several M20s in various chamberings. It was fellow lefty Dave Petzal, longtime mainstay at “Field & Stream,” who introduced me to Forbes at an NRA show — and he exhorted me to write about his rifles.

The Model 20’s bolt is machined by Wilson Combat from 4140 steel alloy barstock. It is complete with a knurled, hollow handle and two-lug bolt. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

I did, several times. I wish I’d bought that .280; it was an awesome tack­driver in a left-­hand action. I think Mr. Forbes expected me to. Amazing performance and admirable portability. The thing is, nevermind the weight, I was in a walnut-­and-­blued steel phase. The rifle did its job, I did mine, and so I returned it. Now, the ultra-­light M20 is back, delivered from the capable hands of Bill Wilson’s shop, and in production in Berryville, Arkansas.

Complete with a Trijicon AccuPoint scope in Talley mounts and rings, the gross weight measured 61/2 pounds. The bare rifle weighed just 51/4 pounds. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

Wilson Combat acquired NULA in June 2022. Among modern rifles and handguns, few names are as respected as Wilson’s. However, it’s only fair to say that a bolt-­action sporting rifle falls a bit outside of the brand’s product lines. It’s not a stretch, because Bill Wilson himself is first and foremost a dedicated hunter — but a super-­light bolt gun is a different animal. For me, as a friend of Mel Forbes and an admirer of Wilson, it seems a good fit. For NULA, Wilson Combat is a respected firm with robust manufacturing capability. For Wilson Combat, NULA rifles were limited in numbers and huge in reputation. Wilson Combat thus acquired a major product line extension offering a brand-­new market.

The hinged, aluminum floorplate is opened by pressing a lever-release button on the inside the triggerguard. This method affords safer unloading versus cycling rounds through the action. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

New & True

Nearly a year passed before Wilson Combat’s NULA project was up and running, and before I was able to get my hands on one. A short-­action in .308 Winchester came from Wilson. I wasn’t concerned, but let’s be honest: My first curiosity was, Would I recognize this rifle as a NULA M20? Would Mel Forbes?

I can’t speak for Mel, but for me, the answer was an overwhelming and unqualified “Yes!” The M20 was and is a simple bolt-­action rifle with Mauser-­style dual-­opposing locking lugs. It’s a push feed with a drop floorplate. The primary difference between the M20 and other bolt-­action sporters is that everything possible was done to keep weight down. The bolt is narrow diameter, measuring .69 ­inches. The receiver and bolt are steel, the triggerguard and floorplate are aluminum.

Wilson Combat’s carbon-fiber stocks are complete with Pachmayr’s 1-inch Decelerator recoil pad. Color options include Kodiak Rogue (tested), Canyon Rogue, and charcoal grey. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

The stock is light, trim carbon fiber, standard with a 131/2-­inch length of pull (LOP) and Decelerator recoil pad, which a light .308 can use. The barrel channel has minimal visible clearance, but the barrel was free-­floated all the way, allowing thin paper to pass down the channel clear to the action.

Unloaded, sans optics, the total weight was 51/4 pounds. Although close, it’s not quite the lightest repeating rifle on the market. The primary way to keep weight off a rifle is to use a short, slender barrel. On this NULA, a 20-­inch barrel is standard. It’s short, but long enough to provide credible velocity with the .308 family of cartridges. It is slender, but not “pencil-­weight.” It has a gentle taper down to .635 inches near the muzzle. Then, there’s a muzzle swell to .745, sporting a threaded muzzle with thread protector. Wilson’s initial series of M20s are short-­actions in .243 and .308 Win. The .308 is slightly lighter than the .243; same barrel, but the .308 has a bigger hole and less steel.

Out of the box, the M20’s Timney Elite Hunter trigger measured at 2 pounds, 19 ounces. It’s adjustable to 3 pounds, 4 ounces. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

This is a good place to talk about the differences between Wilson’s NULA M20 and Forbes’ rifles. They are slight, but I like almost all of them. It’s tough to use a light barrel without risking performance; however, one way to remove a few more ounces is to use a blind magazine with no floorplate. That Forbes .280 I should have bought had a blind magazine, as did many of his rifles. It was incredibly light, especially for a standard-­length action rifle. Honestly, the blind magazine was one reason I didn’t buy it.

Off the bench, the M20 produced lighter-than-expected felt recoil, mitigated by the Decelerator buttpad and straight stock. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

On a bolt ­action, I prefer a floorplate. It’s easier to clean debris out of the action and magazine on tough hunts. Also, the option of dropping the floorplate and loading or unloading through the bottom is somewhat safer and more certain in the dark. At least initially, all NULA M20s from Wilson have aluminum bottom metal with a floorplate that drops by way of a positive and secure latch in the forward radius of the triggerguard bow. At the expense of a few ounces, it’s a good move.


Groups from the NULA M20 were sub-MOA with all three loads, even with five-shot groups. On this day, Hornady’s rare Zombie loading, featuring the green-tipped 168-­grain “Z-­Max” bullet, printed the test’s best groups for both three and five shots. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

The bolt handle was modernized, too, and not just the knurled, cylindrical knob. The handle itself is vertical, rather than curved rearward. This is not exactly modern; it goes clearly back to Peter Paul Mauser. Mauser’s straight bolt handle kept the trigger finger out of the way of the bolt handle during recoil. There is also a bold red cocking indicator on the cocking piece, a feature I don’t recall on older M20s. Then there’s the muzzle swell to accommodate standard suppressors and flash hiders. It doesn’t make much sense for a company like Wilson Combat to market a rifle that can’t be readily adapted to use with suppressors. Wilson’s solution is elegant, unobtrusive, and effective. A flush-­mounted thread protector is supplied. For bolt-­action traditionalists like me, it looked a bit odd at first, but I can deal with it. I wasn’t at home, thus unable to use my Silencer Central Banish suppressors when I did the range work; I look forward to shooting this rifle suppressed and removing a bit of its bite.

With 5/8x24 threads, Silencer Central’s direct-thread Banish 30 suppressor is well-suited for use on the NULA M20. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

There is one thing about the “new NULA” M20 I don’t care for; it’s fixable, but it may take time. At least initially, and sensibly, the current M20 is a right-­hand-­bolt only. I can only hope, and still wish that I’d bought that mirror image in .280.

Light Rifles Can Shoot

No matter. I can work a right-­hand bolt just fine. Gun weight and barrel weight have little to do with a rifle’s raw accuracy. Adding gun weight is always the easiest way to reduce recoil, and heavier guns are easier to stabilize. Thus, light rifles kick more and are more difficult to get dead-­steady. This means they are more difficult to shoot well. Light barrels also heat up quicker and are unlikely to deliver as long shot strings without impacts starting to walk. Wilson’s M20s carry a 1-­MOA guarantee, which is offering a lot with a 5-­pound rifle.

The M20 bolt is removed from the steel-alloy receiver by pressing a bolt-release button on the left side of the action. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

As with gun weight, the trigger pull has nothing to do with raw accuracy. However, a light, crisp trigger makes it easier to realize whatever accuracy a rifle is capable of. Wilson’s M20s are fitted with Timney Elite Hunter triggers, which are readily adjustable. Straight out of the box, this rifle’s trigger tested at 2.17 pounds average on my Lyman digital gauge. Although no gunsmith, I can adjust a Timney trigger. For sure, I didn’t touch this one.

I was hoping against hope that this rifle would live up to its 1-­MOA guarantee. That comes down to decent days on the range, a good optic, and good ammo. The weather cooperated; I did the shooting on the California Central Coast in September. Spread out across a couple of days, I had mild mornings in the 60s and 70s with virtually no wind. I used a Trijicon AccuPoint in 3-­9x40mm. It’s a good scope that I set in solid, dependable Talley mounts. Trijicon’s fine green tritium dot assists a steady hold, and this is a good general-­purpose scope. That said, magnification is spoiling and forgiving. Some of my groups might have been a bit tighter with a larger, higher-­magnification scope. The problem was, it would have looked silly on such a light, compact rifle. A versatile 3­ to 9X is the size scope I’d put on a light .308 hunting rifle. Ultimately, that’s what the M20 is: A light hunting rifle. So, I went with an appropriate scope, committing to bearing down on the bench.

(Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

Ammo was the most problematic aspect. For Guns & Ammo’s test protocol, it’s five, three-­shot, 100-­yard groups with three different loads. For the most likely results, I’d loved to have had some match-­grade ammo. At that moment, I hadn’t seen any for a long time, and couldn’t get any. As per usual these days, I had plenty of odds and ends, adequate supplies of three different factory loads: Fox SWCR ammo out of Georgia with 150-­grain TMEC, an all-­copper expanding bullet; Hornady Black with 168-­grain A-­Max; and some long-­hoarded Hornady Zombie with 168-­grain Z-­Max. Realistically, the A-­Max and Z-­Max are essentially the same Hornady bullet, differing primarily in the Steve Hornady-­directed “puke green” tip on the Z-­Max. However, the propellant charges are not the same. Hornady Black is optimized for performance in semiautos and short-for-caliber barrels. There would be a noticeable performance difference, at least in this rifle on those days.

(Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

It was essential to perform the three-­shot-­group protocol, and I knew barrel heat could be a problem; a three-­shot string is asking a lot from a slender barrel. Anything more is not entirely fair for a lightweight hunting rifle. We care about the first shot from a cold barrel, may occasionally need a fast second shot, and more rarely a third. It’s not often that we’ll fire five rapid shots from a hunting rifle. Now, a more patient person than I could fire a shot, let the barrel cool, fire another, and repeat. A half-­hour per group isn’t realistic, either, is it? On the rare occasions when more shots are needed, say, in reducing feral hogs, it’s not like the animals will wait around.

I decided to fire five-­shot groups at a normal pace, cool the barrel completely between groups, and clean between loads. Three-­shot groups are really more appropriate for light barrels and can be statistically as valid — if you shoot more of them. Lacking unlimited ammo and feeling curious, I cheated a bit: Within each five-­shot group, I also measured the first three shots as three-­shot groups, including in the accompanying chart both three-­ and five-­shot groups.

(Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

The results are interesting. Bill and Mel, quit worrying. G&A’s early-­production Wilson Combat NULA M20 met its guarantee with flying colors — both with three and five-­shot groups! For three-­shot groups, all three loads averaged solidly under 1 MOA, an amazing performance from a light rifle. (Also, it wasn’t a bad performance from the shooter.) Undoubtedly because of heat in the light barrel, after three shots, all groups opened, but not by much.

Both the 150-­grain Fox load and Hornady’s collectible 168-­grain Z-­Max round produced solid five-­shot sub-­MOA groups. Hornady Black, with 168-­grain A-Max, came close with a best group of 1.1 inches. (By the way, five-­shot groups induce more shooter error; imagine if I’d held one of those five shots just a bit tighter?) Considering the light barrel, three-­shot groups were actually more interesting and possibly more realistic of this little rifle’s amazing accuracy. For three-­shot clusters, five-­group averages were sub-­MOA for all three loads. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen that before in an ultra-­light rifle in a full-­up hunting cartridge.

(Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

As I’ve said before, flukes can be bad — or good. On the third group with Z-­Max, the first three shots went into one hole. My micrometer measured .324 ­inches. Minus the .308 bullet diameter, it was a .016-­inch group. That’s a good fluke, skewing the average in a good way. Hornady’s old Zombie load also produced the best five-­shot, five-­group average; it was a wonderful sub-­MOA, .935 ­inches, which was also something I hadn’t seen. Despite near-­identical bullets, Hornady’s Black and Zombie loads are not the same. In this rifle, on these days, the 168-­grain Black produced the worst five-­shot average: A very respectable 1.568 inches. From such a light rifle with a powerful cartridge, I’d take that any day!

Using a vintage, left-handed NULA in .280 Remington, Boddington remembers taking a whitetail on a foggy morning in the Oklahoma Sand Hills. He regretted sending the M20 back. (Craig Boddington photo)

A Great Rifle

Speaking only for myself, in this business of gunwriting, I like to make people happy. You, our gentle readers; my editor, because I want more work; and the manufacturer. The latter, not to solicit more advertising dollars, and not to my end of the business. Rather, because they are usually friends, I hate to disappoint them. I always report results honestly, but, not infrequently, I find myself offering gentle excuses. “For this action type,” “for this cartridge,” “for the sighting equipment used,” “for the weather encountered,” “for the ammo available,” or “for a light rifle.”

Wilson Combat’s NULA M20 is faithful to Melvin Forbes’ legacy. (Craig Boddington photo)

With Wilson Combat’s NULA M20, no modifiers, caveats, apologies, or excuses are necessary. It is a great bolt-­action rifle. It is not damning with faint praise to say that this is as good a rifle as any M20 ever. Forbes should be proud, and I hope he’s smiling in retirement.

The action was smooth, slick, and positive, feeding flawlessly. The stock felt good, handled well, and the straight American Classic style soaked up a surprising amount of recoil. The dark Kodiak Rogue camouflage finish looks good, as does the black Cerakote finish. 

The rifle begged to hunt, and that’s the way I wanted to finish this story. I tried, paddling around on my kids’ Texas ranch, but I couldn’t pull it off. Too early for deer season, I had some trespassing aoudads we were trying to get out of one pasture; I couldn’t find them. A gully-­washer of a September rain, and hogs not cooperating, I simply took pleasure in carrying this rifle; no shots in the field. It happens sometimes. There will be other days to hunt with this rifle.

Wilson Combat NULA Model 20

  • Type: Bolt-Action
  • Chambering: .308 Win (tested)
  • Capacity: 4+1 rds.
  • Barrel: 20 in., 1:10-in. twist, threaded muzzle, 416R stainless steel, LW profile
  • Overall Length: 39.75 Inches
  • Weight: 5 lbs., 4 oz.
  • Stock: Carbon Fiber
  • Sights: None
  • Length of Pull: 13.5 in.
  • Finish: Cerakote (stainless steel), Kodiak Rogue camouflage (carbon-fiber stock)
  • Trigger: 2 lbs. 2 oz (tested)
  • Safety: Two-position lever
  • Price: $3,295
  • Contact: Wilson Combat, 800-955-4856,

Current Magazine Cover

Enjoy articles like this?

Subscribe to the magazine.

Get access to everything Guns & Ammo has to offer.
Subscribe to the Magazine

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

Live from the show floor, Joe Kurtenbach visits Grant Dubuc at the Smith & Wesson booth to talk lever guns. The new Mode...

Interview: Doug Hamlin, NRA's New CEO

Live from the show floor, Joe Kurtenbach visits Grant Dubuc at the Smith & Wesson booth to talk lever guns. The new Mode...

HIVIZ FastDot H3 Handgun Sights

Live from the show floor, Joe Kurtenbach visits Grant Dubuc at the Smith & Wesson booth to talk lever guns. The new Mode...

Meprolight's M22 Dual-Illumination No Batteries Reflex Sight: Video Review

Live from the show floor, Joe Kurtenbach visits Grant Dubuc at the Smith & Wesson booth to talk lever guns. The new Mode...

Ballistic Advantage Continues Excellence in Barrel Design

Live from the show floor, Joe Kurtenbach visits Grant Dubuc at the Smith & Wesson booth to talk lever guns. The new Mode...

Winchester Ranger Returns! Now In .22

Live from the show floor, Joe Kurtenbach visits Grant Dubuc at the Smith & Wesson booth to talk lever guns. The new Mode...

Latest Name In Lever Guns: Aero Precision

Live from the show floor, Joe Kurtenbach visits Grant Dubuc at the Smith & Wesson booth to talk lever guns. The new Mode...

SAKO 90 Quest Lightweight Hunting Rifle

Live from the show floor, Joe Kurtenbach visits Grant Dubuc at the Smith & Wesson booth to talk lever guns. The new Mode...

Warne Scope Mounts New Red Dot Risers

Live from the show floor, Joe Kurtenbach visits Grant Dubuc at the Smith & Wesson booth to talk lever guns. The new Mode...

New Warne Scope Mounts Skyline Lite Bipods

Live from the show floor, Joe Kurtenbach visits Grant Dubuc at the Smith & Wesson booth to talk lever guns. The new Mode...

Smith & Wesson Response PCC: Now Taking SIG Mags

Live from the show floor, Joe Kurtenbach visits Grant Dubuc at the Smith & Wesson booth to talk lever guns. The new Mode...

Mark 4HD Riflescopes: The Latest Tactical Line From Leupold

Live from the show floor, Joe Kurtenbach visits Grant Dubuc at the Smith & Wesson booth to talk lever guns. The new Mode...

Show Stopper: Smith & Wesson 1854 Lever-Action Rifle

Guns and Ammo Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Guns & Ammo App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Guns & Ammo stories delivered right to your inbox every week.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Guns and Ammo subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now

Never Miss a Thing.

Get the Newsletter

Get the top Guns & Ammo stories delivered right to your inbox every week.

By signing up, I acknowledge that my email address is valid, and have read and accept the Terms of Use