March 24, 2020
What would you say if Wilson Combat could offer a rifle with all the same components as their other rifles in a package that knocks several hundred dollars off the cost without sacrificing any performance? I’d say, “Where do I get one?”
Well, that’s just what owner Bill Wilson did with his new Protector rifle. Yep, barrels, bolts, triggers, etc. are all the same. The only difference is the new line of rifles sport forged upper and lower receivers instead of the billet receivers.
Forged vs Billet
Basically, there is no functional difference between a set of forged receivers and a set of billet receivers. Some shooters like to argue that forgings are “stronger” because the manufacturing process beats lumps of hot aluminum into the rough receiver shape. They believe the beating causes all the molecules to align and eliminates any air bubbles or voids in the material. So, if you want to beat on your receivers with a hammer, forgings are definitely the way to go.
On the flip side, machining receivers from solid blocks of aluminum (billet) allows the material to retain a degree of ductility, meaning it will flex without breaking. The reality is the design of the AR-15 places very little stress on the receivers, so the manufacturing technique doesn’t really matter as it relates to strength. Where it does matter is machining time.
Any AR-15 receiver has to see some machining to get it to the final desired dimensions. One of the glorious attributes of the AR-15 is the dimensions are standardized, so everyone’s stuff should be compatible.
The difference is a good-quality forging requires about .020 inch of material to be removed before it meets final specifications. This doesn’t take much time on any CNC machine, so forgings are less expensive to produce. Billet receivers, on the other hand, come in as solid blocks and need a lot more material removed before they meet final dimensions. That additional removal takes more time, and time is money.
The reason Wilson Combat hasn’t done much with forged receivers in the past is that quality control is important to them.
During the AR panics of 2008 to 2009 and 2012 to 2014, everything AR-related was being sold quickly. When AR receiver forgings are being rushed out the door, a lot of bad things can happen. Most issues are hard to spot until after the machining process starts.
The first sign of forged receiver trouble is when more than the normal .020 inch of material needs to be removed. This means the forging house isn’t staying on top of maintenance and dies are worn out. These receivers can be made to work at the cost of additional machining time, which can drive the forged receiver’s total cost up into the range of a billet. This was why Wilson stuck with billets.
With all the potential headaches associated with forgings, they are still an excellent way to make receivers. They continue to remain the preferred choice for military contracts worldwide, because the only real advantage billet offers is improved aesthetics, but even that’s debatable. What isn’t debatable is the cost savings associated with using good forgings.
Give It Some Gas
Another detail I noticed about the Protector rifle was the gas system length. My test rifle was chambered in .300 HAM’R and comes with a midlength gas system.
The .300 HAM’R is commonly compared to the .300 BLK because they both shoot .30-caliber bullets out of a cartridge case with a .378-inch case head. The .300 BLK was designed primarily for subsonic use. However, it is now commonly loaded to supersonic velocity, but it’s not a great cartridge for anything other than subsonic use. Here’s why.
The reason .300 BLK isn’t a great choice for supersonic use is because of its case capacity. It is most frequently loaded with Hodgdon’s CFE BLK, a pistol powder with some high-speed coatings on it. Pistol powder use is necessary in the .300 BLK because of the small case capacity. Even with a max load of CFE BLK, the cartridge lacks the case capacity to get up to a relatively mild maximum rifle pressure of 55,000 pounds per square inch (psi).
This is why just about every gas-impingement AR chambered in .300 BLK has a pistol-length gas system. The small amount of powder generates a small volume of gas, so a short gas system is necessary to ensure the rifle cycles.
The .300 HAM’R, on the other hand, is a .30-caliber AR-15 round done right. The case is .260-inch longer than the .300 BLK with a chamber designed for tangent-ogive bullets. This means the bullets are short and stubby and don’t take up much case capacity. Between the longer case length and smart bullet selection, the .300 HAM’R has a truckload more case capacity than the .300 BLK.
That additional case capacity gets put to wise use with an extra-large helping of CFE BLK. The additional powder gets .300 HAM’R chamber pressures up to 55,000 psi, making it a legitimate rifle cartridge. If you want to shoot .30-caliber bullets out of an AR-15 at maximum velocity, the .300 HAM’R is by far one of the best choices.
Wilson chose a midlength gas system for the .300 HAM’R instead of just hitting the easy button and putting a shorter length on the rifle.
Shorter gas systems unlock the bolt and begin extraction sooner while there is still binding force on the bolt lugs, and binding force during extraction is what causes bolts to break. So Wilson chose the longest gas system possible to almost eliminate binding force. This is why the Protector will likely last longer than its owner.
Upgrades and Details
Taking a detailed look at the Protector shows some thoughtful upgrades the company included in the rifle. One of the most obvious upgrades is the integral triggerguard that is part of the forged lower receiver. While this is a nice cosmetic touch, it also eliminates the gap normally found just forward of the grip’s frontstrap. That gap can tear up the middle finger of the firing hand after a long day on the range.
The bolt carrier group (BCG) they use checks all the Mil-Spec boxes. You may think the extractor is also Mil-Spec, but Wilson would have none of that. While most extractors are treated like an afterthought, wearing quickly and breaking, the extractor on the Protector is made from cold-drawn 4140 steel and then annealed for a longer life. The annealing process isn’t something a person could tell by just looking at it, but it is a crucial step that heats the extractor to relieve any stress from the manufacturing process. Annealing also allows the extractor to flex without breaking.
The bolt, bolt carrier and gas key are coated in nickel boron, a hard finish possessing lubricating properties. The finish keeps carbon from sticking to these parts that are regularly exposed to it, while its low friction coefficient ensures reliable operation, even after most of the lubrication has burned off.
Another small touch that sets the Protector apart from other ARs in the market is a small rubber disc seated inside the lower receiver behind the trigger group. It sits right under the tab that extends down from the upper receiver where the takedown pin passes through. The purpose of the disc is to apply slight upward pressure on the upper receiver and eliminate any movement between the receiver set. It’s simple and works beautifully.
Given there’s no wobble and the manufacturer uses quality components, any AR-15 with a stainless steel match barrel should hover right around 1 MOA for five rounds at 100 yards. A quick scan of the performance chart shows this rifle was well under the 1-MOA average, and it turned in this performance with hunting ammunition, which I prefer over match ammo for testing.
Most of us like to save money where possible, and the Protector series of rifles from Wilson Combat is a great place to start. If you want all the performance associated with Wilson Combat but want to save some money, the Protector is for you. For hitting steel or hair with maximum effect using .30-caliber bullets, get one in .300 HAM’R.
Wilson Combat Protector Specs
- Type: Direct-impingement semiautomatic
- Cartridge: .300 HAM’R
- Barrel: 16 in.; 1:15-in. twist
- Overall Length: 33.5 in. (collapsed), 36.5 in. (extended)
- Weight: 6 lbs., 5 oz.
- Handguard: 12 in., M-LOK
- Stock: Wilson/Rogers
- Grip: Wilson/BCM
- Finish: Type III hardcoat anodized, Armor Tuff
- Trigger: Wilson Combat M2
- Magazine: 10, 20, 30 rds.
- Muzzle Device: Q-Comp
- Sights: None
- MSRP: $2,000
- Manufacturer: Wilson Combat; wilsoncombat.com
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