April 30, 2020
Crickets sounded off as daylight turned to darkness. Outside my blind, a half-dozen whitetail deer moved around the legs of an elevated corn feeder. I couldn’t see them clearly or tell the bucks from the does, but there was enough light to identify their dark bodies silhouetted against the light-colored earth. The Texas night was still and quiet, and the only sound besides the soft shuffle of hooves in the sand and the chirping crickets was the drone of a single mosquito that had found its way into my ground blind.
My feud with the mosquito was interrupted by the squeal of a hog off to my left. I reached down to activate the FLIR ThermoSight Pro PTS536 on the Wilson Combat Ultralight Ranger AR in .300 HAM’R that was propped on the sill. Through the thermal, I saw that the deer had stopped feeding when the hog squealed.
Before I could swat at the mosquito again, the deer snorted and crashed away into the oak forest. Soon after, more white forms appeared in the scope – a sounder of hogs, all boars.
As all five stopped to root at the base of the feeder, I tried to determine which boar was the largest. My examination was interrupted, however, when a larger boar appeared and scattered the others. This sixth pig was considerably bigger with a long, broad head and heavy shoulders.
Flipping the safety on the Ranger to the off position, I saw the boar offer a quartering shot. I centered the red crosshair of the FLIR where Bill Wilson, owner of Wilson Combat and veteran hog hunter, had instructed – below and behind the pig’s ear. I slid my finger into place on the trigger and fired.
There was minimal noise and recoil from the Ultralight Hunter AR, which was equipped with Wilson Combat’s new Quell suppressor, but the results of the shot were dramatic. The 150-grain .300 HAM’R bullet struck just where I’d aimed, behind the junction of the shoulder and neck. One shot was all it took as the 270-pound boar folded nose-first into the sand.
As the other hogs crashed away through the timber, the night became still once again. Except, that is, for the mosquito which returned and buzzed around my head again. Now I could invest all my efforts into sorting out the bloodsucker, and in a few minutes, I had him.
The Wilson Combat Story
Wilson’s parents owned a watch and jewelry story in Berryville, Arkansas. In the years following high school, he planned to carry on the family business and attended watchmaking school in Oklahoma, but watchmaking wasn’t his true passion. He loved shooting and began competing in Police Pistol Combat (PPC) matches and, later, in IPSC.
Wilson conned (his words) his father into allowing him to renovate part of the store in Berryville into a small gun shop. That marked the beginning of the end of Wilson’s career as a watchmaker. It was also the genesis of Wilson Combat.
Wilson had been tuning revolvers for some time and reasoned that if he could build clock parts and repair delicate watch parts, he could certainly tune the larger and more robust components of a 1911 pistol, so that’s what he did. When Bill Wilson built his first 1911 and began winning IPSC matches, his competitors wanted him to build guns for them, too. Why? One simple philosophy.
In his autobiography “Gun Guy,” Wilson laid out what made his pistols so good. “Practical pistol required some very specific modifications,” Wilson wrote. “First and foremost the gun must run all the time.”
Entering the AR Market
Wilson says that he had dabbled in markets outside the 1911 universe including collaborations with Beretta and with defensive shotguns following Wilson Combat’s purchase of Scattergun Technologies in 2000. Wilson Combat’s first major departure from all things 1911 came when he began working on AR-platform rifles.
“The AR market is every bit as unique as the 1911 market,” Wilson explains. “The 1911 was designed in an age of hand-fitting.” By contrast, he says, the AR doesn’t require nearly as much gunsmith work. “Our goal was to make sure Wilson Combat brought a unique product to this crowded table.”
Accuracy was paramount, but Wilson wanted to provide his customers with rifles that shot well, looked good and cycled flawlessly. As he had with 1911s, Wilson began building his own parts: barrels, charging handles, triggers and more, with everything being built in Berryville.
There’s no question that Wilson Combat rifles have made their mark on the AR world. Today, Wilson Combat offers a wide range of AR rifles in 24 different calibers.
In addition to being an extraordinarily talented pistol shooter with a long list of championships in a variety of disciplines, Wilson is also a dedicated hog hunter. The AR platform proved to be the perfect firearm for feral hogs, but Wilson hadn’t yet found the right cartridge. Just as he’d done when he wanted a better 1911 and a better AR, Wilson designed his own pig round.
Rise of the HAM’R
In 2005, Wilson began testing new cartridges in search of the perfect AR hunting round, beginning with the .300 Whisper. Wilson decided that he needed more terminal performance and switched to the 6.8 SPC, a cartridge he found effective for deer and hogs. Still, he chased more power and better terminal performance. In the years that followed, he tested the .30 Rem. AR and the .300 Blackout. Neither met his demands.
When Kurt Buchert brought the 7.62x40 cartridge to Wilson Combat, Wilson thought that he might have found the ideal big-game cartridge. Wilson believed the 7.62x40 could perform a lot better with a little more powder. So, he added .060 inch to the throat and .040 inch to the case length. In doing so, Wilson created a cartridge that was capable of attaining velocities that were 100 feet per second (fps) faster than the original 7.62x40.
Hodgdon Powder’s Ron Reiber suggested that Wilson try his new pet load with the company’s CFE BLK. Testing showed propellant provided superb performance in the new cartridge, and the new creation became the .300 HAM’R.
Wilson finally had the hog cartridge he was looking for, a round that would function in AR-platform rifles. Besides the performance boost, the cartridge made converting an AR in 5.56 to .300 HAM’R as simple as a barrel change. The .300 HAM’R would also function in 5.56 magazines, although the internal ribs that help align 5.56/.223 ammo will cause the larger HAM’R cartridge to “nose in” and restrict capacity. However, .300 Blackout mags, with their shorter rib, don’t restrict magazine capacity. And additional case capacity allowed the HAM’R to reach velocity and energy figures that Wilson wanted in a hog and deer rifle: velocities over 2,500 fps with 130-grain hunting bullets and almost 2,300 fps with 150-grain projectiles.
I don’t know exactly where most commercial cartridges were developed, but I can point you to the exact spot where the .300 HAM’R came to pass — Wilson’s reloading bench in his workshop at the Circle WC Ranch in Texas. That’s the place where Wilson honed his new hog round to a razor’s edge.
Today, Wilson offers 10 .300 HAM’R loads that range in bullet weight from 95 to 150 grains, and there are few hunting cartridges that have been so thoroughly vetted on game. Wilson didn’t test the .300 HAM’R in ballistic gel or in a lab but rather in the field. Just outside Wilson’s reloading shop is a 9,000-acre proving ground of ranch.
The Circle WC is hemmed in between two rivers, the Sulphur River and Cuthand Creek (which is actually larger, in terms of flow, than the Sulphur). With so much water and thick river bottom habitat, hogs are numerous on the property. Despite the fact that a very large and growing feral pig population might not attract a lot of buyers, it was exactly what Wilson wanted.
Over the course of testing the .300 HAM’R, Wilson personally shot hundreds of hogs on the property, and he kept notes on bullet performance with each pull of the trigger. The 7.62x40 was (and is) a good hog round, but for hunting big boars at extended ranges, the .300’s extra punch proved perfect. Before he released his hog-themed hunting cartridge to the world, it had to pass his strict testing protocol, and it’s safe to say that very few cartridges have seen so much use in the field before being sent to market.
With 9,000 game-rich acres and shooting ranges out to 1,200 yards, the Circle WC is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise, and Wilson and his wife, Joyce, spend as much time as possible there. Most days you can find Wilson cruising around the ranch on one of his side-by-sides (Wilson puts more miles on a UTV each year than on a vehicle) with his dogs. And, of course, there’s always a rifle in the rack.
The day following my pig hunt, I spent time on the Circle WC range shooting some of Wilson’s 1911s and ARs. As evening approached, we gathered our gear and returned to the field for one more hunt.
One More Test
“There are feeders along this stretch of road that will go off in the next 10 minutes,” Wilson said. Daylight was fading to dusk, and I took the Ultralight Ranger that I had used to harvest the pig the night before out of the rack and turned on the thermal. Wilson’s German shepherd Zulu rode between us on the side-by-side.
I could hear pigs feeding in the darkness as we approached the first feeder, but through the thermal I could see there weren’t any large hogs. We continued on to the next feeder, slipping through the trees until we were within 50 yards. The only animal under the feeder was a raccoon that glowed ghostly white in the thermal.
There was a hog at the third feeder, and after looking it over Wilson said, “It’s a boar, and it’s lame.” Through the FLIR, I could see the pig turning half-circles around the base of the feeder.
“Go ahead and take it,” he said.
That was easier said than done. From our position in a pasture field just above the feeder, tall grass obscured the hog, and I could only see his backline. I moved to the right and higher up the hill, carefully picking my way over the moonlit ground, but when I stopped, the pig still wasn’t visible. I waited for my eyes to adjust, moved up the hill and finally found a position from which to shoot the pig.
Looking through the thermal, it was clear that the pig’s injured leg wouldn’t support weight. When it turned and quartered toward me, I fired, and the boar dropped where it stood. It was the second pig I’d taken in two days with the HAM’R, and neither had taken a step after the trigger broke.
When new products arrive on the market, we assume, correctly or incorrectly, that they will perform as advertised. Wilson Combat’s .300 HAM’R R&D team consists primarily of Bill Wilson, and before the cartridge could reach consumers, it had to pass muster on the Circle WC.
Wilson builds guns for those who demand premium performance, and although my hogs were just two of almost a thousand harvested with the new round, it’s clear that Wilson has finally found his pig cartridge. And you can bet there’s a .300 HAM’R riding shotgun on his UTV at the Circle WC just in case pig number 1,001 steps out of the pines.
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