August 08, 2022
Despite what my ex-wife might tell you, I don’t think I know everything. And one of the great things about the so-called job of “gunwriter” is educating myself about a topic prior to informing readers. In this case, the topic is the 300 HAM’R cartridge, about which I knew almost nothing before last year. For this article, I got in a Wilson Combat Protector AR pistol, chambered in 300 HAM’R, to test. After studying the cartridge, I came to a fascinating conclusion—if the 300 HAM’R cartridge had been introduced at the same time as the .300 AAC Blackout…today the 300 Blackout would be a nearly-forgotten footnote in history, and the HAM’R would be reigning supreme. Let’s go over the specs of this pistol before we dive into the interesting cartridge that is the 300 HAM’R.
Wilson Combat offers both pistols and rifles chambered in their 300 HAM’R cartridge, and what you see here is their Protector AR pistol. I think it provides the best balance between performance and price in their pistol line.
Wilson Combat still to this day I think is better known as the “custom 1911 company” than anything else, and that may have been how they started, but today they produce far more firearms than just John Browning’s baby. In addition to Wilson Combat Berettas, custom Glocks, WC/SIG P320s that are a definite improvement over factory, and a few AR-10 models, Wilson Combat offers AR-15s in ten different calibers. They offer seven different models just chambered in .223/5.56 NATO, including the Protector Series of carbines and pistols.
Of all the rifles produced by Wilson Combat the Protector Series is the least expensive, and could be considered Wilson Combat’s “entry level” AR…as much as a world-class custom shop can do “entry-level” anything. The Protector is offered in 5.56 NATO, 300 AAC Blackout, and 300 HAM’R. The 300 HAM’R ARP (AR Pistol) version of the Protector sports an 11.3-inch barrel on the front and a Gear Head Works Tailhook Mod 2 five-position adjustable brace on the back, to provide the handiness and capabilities of a short-barreled rifle (SBR) without all the unconstitutional extra steps required by current federal law.
The ARP Tactical uses the standard AR direct impingement gas system. The 11.3-inch barrel has a carbine-length gas system, with a low-profile gas block underneath the handguard. The barrel is threaded 5/8"x24 and tipped with a Wilson Combat Q-Comp, which they state is a combination flash hider/muzzle brake. Despite the name this piece doesn’t really work as a compensator, and is instead a very effective solid bottom five-slot flash hider. The unit extends about 1.5-inches past the barrel and has five slots in the top and a solid bottom, but an open front (no baffles). For hiding flash it seemed to work very well, but as far as recoil reduction its effect was minimal— it is a flash hider first and foremost, but that also means it is not abusively loud to shoot like most rifles tipped with true muzzle brakes.
Both caliber and twist rate are etched on the top of the barrel, but you’ll need a flashlight and good eyes to read them inside the handguard. This 11.3-inch 416R stainless steel match barrel is button-rifled, has a 1:13-inch twist and M4 feed ramps, and a black Armor-Tuff finish. Armor-Tuff is Wilson Combat’s version of Cerakote, and they offer it in a number of different colors and camo finishes. As this is the basic Protector model, what you get is a plain black anodized finish on the upper and lower receivers. However, remember that Wilson Combat is a custom shop, and you can order your rifle or pistol with various options and upgrades, including Armor-Tuff in various colors and camo patterns.
It is interesting to me that Wilson Combat used to make piston ARs ten years ago when those were popular, but now that that fad has died down Wilson Combat only makes DI AR-15s and AR-10s. DI AR-15s are lighter, have fewer parts, less expensive to make and buy, have less recoil (all things being equal) and are as reliable if not more so than piston ARs. Although don’t tell the piston crowd that, they are as indifferent to facts as those religious zealots still clinging to the .45 ACP in the 21st century.
You’ll see the barrel free floats inside a 10.5-inch Wilson Combat handguard with M-LOK compatible slots every 45 degrees all around. This provides plenty of spots to attach lights and sling mounts. Provided with the pistol is a three-inch rail section if you don’t want to attach your accessories directly to the M-LOK slots.
The upper and lower receiver are standard forged units, with all the standard features you would expect with a Mil-Spec AR—an ejection port cover, forward assist, brass deflector, single-sided selector, and GI-spec bolt catch and magazine release. The lower receiver has an integral trigger guard.
On the left side of the upper receiver, above the magazine well, you’ll see 300 HAM’R etched in white, which is not a bad idea. However, I recently tested an AR in an alternate caliber, and that caliber was etched just above the ejection port, and I think that might be a better location to help prevent accidents. On the left side of the lower receiver above the trigger you’ll see PISTOL etched into the aluminum.
The Protector pistol uses a standard GI-style charging handle. The pistol grip is a BCM Gunfighter made specifically for Wilson Combat and sporting their starburst pattern., which has a very aggressive texture.
The bolt carrier group is Mil-Spec, and the 300 HAM’R cartridge uses a standard 5.56 bolt. The bolt is 9310 steel, magnetic particle inspected and random batch HPT (high pressure tested). The extractor is 4140 steel, and the gas key is secured to the carrier via the appropriate Grade 8 fasteners before being staked in place. The carrier is 8620 steel. The entire bolt carrier group is given a black nitride finish for corrosion resistance. It is paired with a H (heavy) buffer.
Inside the lower receiver you’ll find a Wilson Combat M2 TTU—Tactical Trigger Unit. This is a two-stage trigger unit, with an advertised trigger pull of 4 pounds. For years and years and years, Wilson Combat’s TTUs always provided trigger pulls lower than advertised. But the two most recent WC TTUs I’ve tested, this and the previous, have both measured out at 5.25 pounds. It was a very crisp pull, but I would have preferred it closer to the advertised weight.
At the rear of the receiver you’ll see the Gear Head Works Tailhook Mod 2 arm brace. Because this is an arm brace, not a stock, this AR remains a pistol. The brace itself has a polymer body. If you look at it from the rear, you’ll see an oval shape—press a button and the right half of that oval swings out. That hook is meant to support your arm when shooting one-handed, helping to counteract the weight of the pistol. Of course, the BATFE has also said that as long as you do not otherwise modify the brace, shooting the gun with your brace touching your shoulder does not change the legal definition of this gun—it remains a pistol, and it’s legal to shoot it that way.
The polymer brace rides on a proprietary aluminum buffer tube extension and is five-position adjustable with the push of a button. With the brace fully collapsed this pistol is 27.5-inches long. Extending the brace adds another 2.6-inches to that. Unloaded, this pistol weighed five pounds nine ounces according to my digital scale. That means it is short, light, and handy, and with its 300 HAM’R chambering, powerful.
Which means it’s time to dive into the 300 HAM’R cartridge. Bill Wilson has a lot of property, and loves to hunt—especially hogs. He’s long been in search of the ultimate hunting cartridge for the AR-15 platform, and after being disappointed by just about everything on the market he brought the 7.62x40 WT to market in 2011. This was a wildcat developed by Kurt Buchert and introduced to the mainstream by Wilson. It was designed to provide performance on par with the .30-30 Winchester out of the AR-15 while using standard components.
After a few years, Wilson Combat slightly modified the 7.62x40WT to produce the 300 HAM’R. The case of the HAM’R is one millimeter longer and a few of the angles have been adjusted.
Like the .300 AAC Blackout the 300 HAM’R uses a .223 case necked up to .30 (so it uses a standard AR-15 bolt), but there the similarity ends. The .223/5.56 sports a case 45mm in length. The 300 Blackout cartridge case is shortened from the standard 45mm to 35mm (1.77" to 1.368"). The case of the 300 HAM’R sits between the two in length at 1.603" (40.7mm), allowing more space for powder behind that bullet than the Blackout.
The 300 Blackout evolved from the 300 Whisper, designed by J.D. Jones, and he was initially only concerned with its performance as a subsonic round, hence the short case (more room for the ultra-heavy bullets in the subsonic loads). Which is why the 300 Whisper was built around the shorter .221 Fireball case (similar to the .223 Rem in most dimensions, but shorter). Supersonic loads for that cartridge came along with the introduction of the 300 AAC Blackout. The 300 HAM’R was originally intended as a hunting cartridge, and Bill Wilson was only interested in it as a supersonic cartridge, and the case is thus maximized for that. It offers the same or better performance than the classic deer-killing .30-30 cartridge, sending a 110–130-grain bullet downrange between 2,400–2,700 fps out of rifle-length barrels…and you honestly don’t lose much velocity when firing them out of shorter, pistol-length barrels.
How well a cartridge performs out of short barrels in large part has to do with bore volume.
The more volume, the more space there is for that powder to burn. Narrow bores (like for the .223) provide very little room for powder to burn. .308 diameter bores (like with the HAM’R) provide nearly double the volume (48% more) per inch of barrel than the .223.
A .30 bore provides more room for powder to burn, and an 11.3-inch .30 barrel (minus the length of the respective chambers) has more volume than a 16-inch .223 barrel.
If you look at the numbers, you’ll see that even out of an 11.3-inch barrel, all of the 300 HAM’R loads were running in excess of 2,300 fps, which means that they provide 200+ more fps than the 300 Blackout cartridge out of the same length barrel with the same weight or heavier bullets. If you are one of those lovers of big calibers in short barrels, the 300 HAM’R is far more efficient than the .308. In fact, it gives you nearly .308 performance out of the same length short barrels, with a lot less blast and recoil, in a smaller, lighter gun.
If you are currently shouting “6.8 SPC!” and/or “6.5 Grendel!” at the magazine in your hands, yes, both those cartridges do provide more power than the 300 HAM’R. However, neither uses a standard AR-15 bolt or magazine. The HAM’R utilizes a standard AR-15 bolt, and works very well in a standard AR magazine, however, Wilson suggests the use of 300-Blackout specific magazines.
300 Blackout-specific AR magazines feature forward internal ribs that are wider, thus giving more room for the thicker .30 bullets. This helps prevent the cartridges from interlacing like fingers inside the magazine, affecting reliability. You can find 300 BLK-specific magazines made by Magpul, Lancer, and D&H. Provided with this pistol was one 20-round D&H aluminum magazine with an orange follower.
Why a 20-rounder, when Wilson sells both Lancer and D&H 30-round magazines? There’s a reason. 20-round magazines do not protrude any further from the bottom of the gun than the pistol grip, making them a much better choice if you plan on storing/transporting your pistol in a compact/discreet case with a magazine inserted. As this is a pistol, you might find it easier to legally keep it loaded inside your vehicle when traveling than a rifle. Which brings me to this anecdote:
The last time I visited Wilson Combat, Bill Wilson drove me from the factory to his house in his Dodge Hellcat—at speeds you might expect from a former competition shooter—and once we arrived there, we began unloading his trunk. It was there I saw that his vehicle defense weapon (beyond the pistols we had on our hips) was a Wilson Combat AR pistol chambered in 300 HAM’R, topped with an LPVO (a Leupold, if I remember correctly). At the time the 300 HAM’R cartridge was brand new. In fact, it was so new that his pistol was likely the first of its kind. I didn’t know much about the 300 HAM’R cartridge, but after doing some research, I came to the same conclusion as Bill Wilson—in addition to the hunting role for which it was intended, the 300 HAM’R makes a fine defensive cartridge in a pistol, especially if you have to fight in and around vehicles.
Looking at this cartridge from the perspective of home/self/vehicle defense, the truth is that small, light bullets do not penetrate intermediate barriers well, at any velocity. Car guys like to say, “There’s no replacement for displacement,” which is a nice way of saying size matters. The same is true with rifle cartridges. If you want penetration, you want mass (preferably combined with velocity). In that aspect, and for that purpose, the 300 HAM’R shines, especially when loaded with copper solid or bonded bullets.
Now for the good and bad news, but we’ll go with the good news first. One of the things Bill Wilson did when moving from the wildcat 7.62x40WT to the 300 HAM’R is to get the HAM’R SAAMI approved. That means it is a standardized cartridge with known/published dimensions and specifications for both the cartridge and chamber, so both firearms and ammunition manufacturers are far more likely to be interested in it.
However, time for the bad news. Have you looked outside your window at all in the past few years? It’s been a dumpster fire of Orwellian proportions. The news media has moved on from shouting about Covid to shouting about World War III, bless their hearts. With the panic buying of ammunition over the past few years most ammo makers have been struggling just to keep up with the demand for common calibers. Things are not nearly as bad as they have been, but still, at this point, your selection of ammunition in 300 HAM’R remains slim. Wilson Combat and SIG are the only names you might recognize. There are also a few small companies (such as SBR Ammunition) also making 300 HAM’R ammo, but admittedly it isn’t that easy to find, and it is not priced as low as .223/5.56. I do expect that to change, but not quickly. However, if you’re interested in handloading for the HAM’R, the components are easy to find, as are dies.
But let me point this out—yes, 300 HAM’R ammo is not widely available nor as inexpensive as some other calibers. But you don’t buy a 300 HAM’R with plans to pound thousands of rounds downrange. When you want to do that, you use a .223. Or a .22. You get a 300 HAM’R for the terminal performance. And that terminal performance isn’t measured in gel blocks, but rather in the 2,000+ hogs and other animals (some in excess of 800 pounds) it has been used to kill.
Felt recoil to a large extent is math. Supersonic 300 Blackout loads provide roughly 25% more recoil than the .223/5.56. The 300 HAM’R has about ten percent more recoil than the 300 Blackout. It is still less than a .308, but you will definitely notice each and every time you pull the trigger. But the payoff for that increased recoil comes at the muzzle, because the 300 HAM’R darn near provides “big bore battle rifle” performance out of a much smaller and lighter package.
At the range the Protector pistol provided nearly MOA performance, which is very impressive. Contrary to what a lot of people might think, shorter barrels are actually inherently more accurate than longer barrels, as there is less flex. For accuracy testing I mounted a Leupold 1-6X on the pistol. For running a few speed drills, double taps on cardboard silhouettes and transitions, I mounted an EOTech HWS on the pistol. With a 5.56, recoil management is almost a non-issue, but that’s not the case with the HAM’R. Still, with every pull of the trigger you’re sending downrange a bullet capable of taking down mid-size game or punching through a car door.
The HAM’R cartridges are maximized for an AR-15 magazine—they fit, with no room to spare, and sometimes loading the magazines things got a little tight. The 300 Blackout cartridge was designed to fit inside standard AR magazines, but heavy subsonic rounds really don’t feed reliably except out of dedicated Blackout magazines. The 300 HAM’R, due to its shape, should be kept to 300 Blackout-specific magazines. I never experienced any reliability issues or malfunctions using the provided 20-round D&H magazine or my own Lancer and Magpul Blackout mags.
Old-school rifle guys look at the performance of 300 Blackout in supersonic form and are underwhelmed. As a “rifle” cartridge, the 300 Blackout is rather anemic (as is, honestly, the .223/5/56). The same can’t be said about the 300 HAM’R. With the 300 HAM’R you get velocities 10–15% faster than the Blackout, moving it up to that true mid-range power level. Out of the same length barrels, it beats the .30-30 and 7.62x39mm, and nearly equals the .308 Win. All out of an AR-15 that is identical to a 5.56 gun but for the barrel and Blackout-specific mags.
Will the 300 HAM’R rise to glory or end up an interesting historical footnote? Only time will tell, but you can’t argue about its performance, which is the point of the cartridge.
If you’re looking for an AR pistol that’s accurate enough to engage targets beyond 200 yards, powerful enough to take down medium-sized game or punch through car doors with ease, and light and compact enough to fit into truly discreet cases, Wilson Combat’s Protector in 300 HAM’R is a contender.
Wilson Combat Protector Specifications
- Caliber: 300 HAM’R
- Weight: 5 pounds, 9 ounces
- Overall Length: 27.5 inches (brace collapsed) 30.1 inches (brace fully extended)
- Upper: Forged aluminum
- Lower: Forged aluminum
- Finish: Anodized
- Barrel: 11.3 in. 416R stainless, 5/8"x24 threaded
- Muzzle Device: Wilson Q-Comp
- Sights: None
- Trigger: Two-Stage, TTU M2, 4 pounds (5.25 pounds as tested)
- Arm Brace: Gear Head Works Tailhook Mod 2
- Pistol Grip: BCM Gunfighter
- Handguard: 10.5 in. Free-Floated Aluminum with MLOK attachment points
- Includes: One 20rd D&H Magazine, cable lock, 3-inch rail section
- MSRP: $2,199.95
- Contact: 800-955-4856, WilsonCombat.com