October 31, 2022
By Brad Fitzpatrick
When anyone begins discussing the merits of a $2,550 AR-platform rifle, some shooters—invariably those who don’t shoot ARs—are taken aback. Aren’t ARs, they’ll ask you, simply an amalgamation of assembled parts? Don’t cheap ARs run fine? Couldn’t you assemble a gun that costs less money or simply wait until AR prices drop and pick up a secondhand, barely used gun for a song?
Sure, you could. And, yes, AR rifles are an assemblage of parts and don’t require the hand-tuning of, say, a 1911 pistol. In fact, in his book Gun Guy, Bill Wilson himself contrasts 1911s and ARs, calling the former a gunsmith’s gun and the latter a gun that could be assembled by a “reasonably well-trained Labrador.”
What, then, makes the new Wilson Combat Tactical Hunter AR rifle in 6mm ARC worth $2,500? That demands a deeper look into both the rifle and the cartridge. Any serviceable automobile can carry you from point A to point B, but the rides are quite different in a Fiat and a Ferrari. So it goes with ARs. Because ARs are, like I said, created as an assemblage of modular parts, the quality of those parts becomes the primary difference between a quality rifle and something else.
Not surprisingly, Wilson Combat’s Tactical Hunter AR uses premium parts—from the barrel and gas system to the pins that hold the whole works together. If you’ve met Bill Wilson, you know standard parts won’t do on his guns. A watchmaker in his youth, Wilson’s attention to the most minute details is legendary, and it’s also why he machines many of the parts himself. The Tactical Hunter is kitted out with top-shelf parts from buttstock to muzzle, including a Wilson Combat Lightweight Billet Flat-Top upper and a Wilson billet lower receiver. The 12.6-inch M-Lok rail is also Wilson’s own design, and it ships with three of the company’s rail covers and a multitude of mounting positions for every imaginable AR accessory. An Armor-Tuff finish is applied over the mil-spec hard-anodized upper and lower receivers. A color scheme of green and black is standard, but a palette of custom color options is available as well.
The Tactical Hunter’s match-grade barrel is also Wilson’s own design, and it is both threaded and fluted. A mid-length gas system with a low-profile gas block keeps the rifle running smoothly, and the Wilson premium bolt carrier assembly is precisely machined. A Wilson Tactical Trigger Unit (TTU) M2 with a clean four-pound break is also standard. Like most everything else on the Tactical Hunter, the furniture is top-notch. The collection includes a Bravo Company Starburst Gunfighter grip and a Wilson Combat/Rogers Super-Stoc. The Super-Stoc is popular among AR aficionados because it offers several thoughtful touches like multiple sling-mounting options—including a top-mounted sling loop—a removable recoil pad and a cam locking system that reduces play and noise in the stock.
A quick-release lever allows for length-of-pull adjustments, and the locking lever permits the operator to secure the stock in position. It’s a rugged and dependable design, offering silent operation and stability, and the company says the Super-Stoc passes a 36-inch, fully loaded drop test. What also sets this new Tactical Hunter apart is the chambering. Hornady released the 6mm ARC (Advanced Rifle Cartridge) cartridge in mid-2020. Unfortunately, news about this excellent cartridge—which utilizes high ballistic coefficient 6mm bullets and operates in a standard AR-15 pattern rifle—was overshadowed by a looming cloud of Covid-19 closures and mask mandates. Were it not for all those distractions, I believe the shooting world would have caught on to the 6mm ARC much more quickly, because it really does have a lot to offer. It’s finally starting to get the press it deserves in the civilian market.
The military has long known about this cartridge, and in fact the 6mm ARC was designed to meet the specific needs of military professionals who weren’t satisfied with the current cartridge offerings. The problem was that while the .308/7.62x51 round offered adequate ballistic performance, the weight and size of the cartridge required larger rifles and a heavier loadout. An AR-15 platform cartridge helped lighten the load, but the 5.56’s performance in barrier tests and at extended ranges was lacking.
Hornady found a solution with the 6mm ARC. Because it fires heavier projectiles—up to 110 grains—than the 5.56 at velocities up to 2,800 fps, the 6mm ARC has the ballistics needed to vastly improve the performance of AR-15 rifles without a lot of added weight. It’s no surprise Hornady chose a 6mm bullet, either. High ballistic-coefficient 6mm projectiles are popular with long-range shooters because they buck the wind and hold velocity well without producing so much recoil that it’s difficult to spot hits and misses.
Currently, three different 6mm ARC load offerings are available from Hornady. They include the 108-grain ELD Match, 105-grain boattail hollowpoint Hornady Black and 103-grain Precision Hunter ELD-X. The 105- and 108-grain factory loads have a muzzle velocity of 2,750 fps while the Precision Hunter load makes 2,800 fps. Not surprisingly, all these bullets have high G1 BCs, ranging from .512 to .536, which means that despite the 6mm ARC’s barely there recoil, this cartridge shoots quite flat.
One of the key ingredients that have made cartridges like the 6.5 Creedmoor and 6.5 and .300 PRCs so successful for Hornady is that the cartridge and chamber were designed simultaneously, so tolerances are tight, and off-the-shelf accuracy is usually quite good. For testing, I mounted a Trijicon AccuPoint 3-9x40mm on the rifle and secured an M-Lok bipod to the handguard. The gun’s black-and-green Armor-Tuff finish resembles reptile skin, and while I can’t tell you how effective it is at breaking up the gun’s outline, I can promise that it looks great and protects the rifle.
Everything about the Tactical Hunter is premium, from the machining on the upper receiver to the trigger and the stock. The Gunfighter grip is much more comfortable and manageable than a standard A2 grip, especially when shooting prone. There’s plenty of rail space on the gun to mount any combination of thermals/reflex optics/scopes/lights/lasers and other accessories you think you’ll need on a hunting rifle. Wilson Combat includes an M-Lok compatible five-slot Picatinny rail section and M-Lok QD mount with the rifle, and these guns come with 15-round metal ASC magazines. Because of the 6mm ARC’s geometry, it works just fine in these magazines, and there were no mechanical issues throughout the test.
Hornady’s velocity specs are slightly higher than what I realized with the Tactical Hunter rifle, but that’s not a great surprise. Hornady’s published velocities of 2,750 fps to 2,800 fps were obtained using a 24-inch barrel, and the Tactical Hunter’s pipe measures just 18 inches. With that barrel, velocities averaged at or just above 2,600 fps for all three loads. Accuracy was good, with groups consistently ranging from right at an inch for three shots out to 1.6 inches. Hornady’s Match load proved the most accurate, but the 103-grain Precision Hunter and 105-grain boattail hollowpoint loads were close behind.
That type of accuracy makes the Tactical Hunter in 6mm ARC a suitable long-range target rifle, and there’s little doubt rifles chambered in this caliber will begin showing up more frequently in PRS Gas Gun matches. Because recoil is so mild it’s very easy to maintain sight picture when shooting and to call your shots. A few years ago, I had a chance to spend time with Bill Wilson at his Texas ranch, and while I was there we shot a handful of pigs. I managed to drop two boars dead in their tracks using a Tactical Hunter rifle in Wilson’s own .300 Ham’r cartridge.
My success was due in part to Wilson’s expert advice on shot placement. Bill killed more than 1,000 wild hogs during the developmental stages of the .300 Ham’r, so he knows exactly where to shoot a feral hog. But that performance wouldn’t have been possible without an accurate rifle. I’ve been a fan of Wilson’s Tactical Hunter ever since, and I rank it as the best AR I’ve carried in the field.
At The Range
The new 6mm ARC version of Wilson’s Tactical Hunter is a superb combination of the right rifle parts and build quality and a forward-thinking cartridge that lends versatility to the AR platform. Fully loaded, this rifle weighs just over seven pounds, which is considerably lighter than AR-10 rifles chambered in .308 Win. With its adjustable stock, overall length ranges from 33.5 inches to 37.5 inches. That makes the rifle suited for hunting in confined spaces, and the 6mm ARC’s ballistics make it a much more potent deer and hog round than the 5.56. If you’re looking for a youth deer rifle, I can’t imagine a better option than the Tactical Hunter 6mm ARC, especially with a suppressor in place to dampen muzzle blast.
With the 103-grain Precision Hunter ELD-X load, the 6mm ARC has a muzzle energy of 1,793 ft.-lbs. of energy, and at 400 yards it’s still holding onto just over 1,000 ft.-lbs. By contrast, the company’s 75-grain 5.56 InterLock load generates just 897 ft.-lbs. of energy at the muzzle. The Tactical Hunter in 6mm ARC may well be the ultimate one-gun solution for the shooter who wants a single AR rifle capable of a wide variety of tasks. It’s great medicine for whitetails and hogs, even at extended ranges, and it would also make a superb predator hunting carbine. The 6mm ARC is a bit much for prairie dogs, and if clearing towns is your primary objective, you’d probably find a .22 more suitable, but this rig would still work well.
It’s also a great weekend range rifle, perfect for the casual shooter who likes to ping steel at long distances or those who compete in matches. Factory ammunition for the 6mm ARC runs about $2 a round. That isn’t as cheap as 5.56 ammunition, which can still be found for less than a dollar a round as of this writing. Hornady is currently the sole provider of factory ammo for the 6mm ARC, but that will change if the cartridge gains traction.
Hornady offered a solution to the demand for a better AR-15 round, and the 6mm ARC has proven a capable alternative to the 5.56 and 6.5 Grendel. Pair the 6mm ARC’s intelligent design and impressive ballistics with Bill Wilson’s precision-built Tactical Hunter in 6mm ARC and you can see why this rifle/load combination is ahead of the curve.
Wilson Combat Tactical Hunter AR-15 Specs
- Type: Gas-operated, semiautomatic
- Caliber: .22 Nosler, 6mm ARC (tested), .300 Ham’r
- Capacity: 15+1 rds.
- Barrel: 18-in. fluted Wilson Com- bat Match Grade, threaded
- Overall Length: 33.5-37.5 in.
- Weight: 6 lbs., 14 oz.
- Stock: Wilson/Rogers Super-Stoc
- Finish: Armor-Tuff green and black (other options available)
- Trigger: TTU, 4 lbs.
- Sights: None, Picatinny optics rail
- MSRP: $2,550
- Manufacturer: Wilson Combat