July 02, 2021
By James Tarr
Bill Wilson, a world-champion competitive shooter, has a long history of working with other accomplished people in designing firearms. One of those people is Paul Howe.
Howe spent 20 years in the U.S. Army, 10 of those in Special Operations, and retired as a sergeant major. Howe was a sergeant first class in Delta Force in Mogadishu in 1993 during the “Black Hawk Down” incident and has collaborated with Wilson Combat on several projects. The latest is the Wilson Combat Paul Howe 6.5 Creedmoor Tactical Carbine.
This rifle is based on the AR-10 pattern, but instead of .308, it is chambered in perhaps the most successful rifle cartridge introduced in the past 50 years: the 6.5 Creedmoor. Based on the .30 TC cartridge, it fires lighter bullets with better ballistic coefficients than the .308 Win. for flatter trajectories and with a bit less recoil.
Howe is a well-respected tactical guru, and this rifle is designed as an all-purpose medium- to long-range tactical rifle with an effective terminal range surpassing 1,000 yards. That said, with its 6.5 Creedmoor chambering, this rifle is as well designed for hunting deer-size or perhaps larger game as it is defensive tasks, with a camo pattern as suited to the hunting grounds of America as it is the wilds of Turkmenistan. If you think the barrel on this rifle looks too short for hunting, read on.
The base rifle is a Wilson Recon Tactical. It sports a 16-inch, fluted, stainless steel, match-grade barrel exclusive to this model. The barrel has a 1:8 twist, intermediate-length gas system and a low-profile gas block.
The barrel is threaded 5/8x24 and tipped with Wilson’s Accu-Tac flash hider. I’ve found the Accu-Tac to be as effective as the Vortex, which means it pretty much kills all flash—period—while looking better and weighing less.
The barrel is free-floated underneath a 12.6-inch Wilson M-Lok rail, with M-Lok accessory slots every 45 degrees around the circumference. This aluminum handguard has a continuous Picatinny top rail, and it comes with one two-inch section of rail attached at the factory at the bottom front of the handguard.
This rifle begs for a bipod, and you have no shortage of attachment points and options on the handguard for one. There is a QD sling swivel socket attached midway down the rail at the 11 o’clock position, right where you’d want it for your two-point sling if you were right-handed.
With an empty magazine in place, this rifle weighs eight pounds, four ounces and balances at the front of the magazine well. It is heavy enough to keep recoil manageable—especially once you add a scope and loaded magazine—so you could shoot all day. At the same time, it’s light enough that you won’t be cursing it if you have to hike up and down a few hills with it. With the stock fully collapsed, it is 34.5 inches long, and fully extending the stock adds 3.25 inches to that length.
The front of the magazine well is angled upward more sharply than on some other guns, but the magazine fit is very tight. A good bevel has been added to the magazine well opening to smooth reloads. Both the upper and lower receivers are machined from billet stock and are a bit thicker than standard forged receivers.
The first thing anyone will notice about the Howe carbine is the finish. Wilson has been applying its Armor-Tuff finish on its rifles and pistols for some time, and the finish on this rifle has a special camouflage pattern. The base color is a light brown/dark tan, a bit darker than the polymer flat dark earth grip and stock. A camouflage pattern of green and rusty red that looks like the outlines of small branches is hand-applied over the base color.
The result is a pattern meant to work well in both urban and rural environments, although I think it’s more suited to forest and desert than Detroit or Atlanta. Wilson also says the finish reduces the weapon’s infrared signature. The finish has been applied to all of the exterior metal parts on the rifle except the buffer tube and the lower receiver pins/controls.
While colors and camo patterns are of course sexy and make you the envy of your friends, the biggest advantage to a non-black gun has to do with the sun. Even in mild weather, direct sunlight on a black firearm will often make it too hot to touch. Add that to the heat generated when you start shooting and you’ll understand one of the two main reasons our troops stationed in the scorching Middle East painted their guns lighter colors if they were allowed to. It was so the guns stayed as cool as possible not so they could look cool, but with the Paul Howe carbine you can do both.
Howe specifies a Daniel Defense fixed front sight tower for the rifle, perhaps the most popular fixed front sight on the market. It features a serrated face and a standard front sight post adjustable for elevation. If you are running a red dot optic, the front sight generally co-witnesses with the dot. If you’re running a magnified optic, as I suspect most people will, the front sight is visible at 1X, but it isn’t in the way. At higher magnification it tends to disappear.
For the flip-up rear sight, Howe chose Wilson’s CSAT, which he helped develop. This sight pops up when you depress a spring-loaded button and then locks into place. In addition to a standard large aperture, the CSAT has a second flip-up that features a smaller long-range aperture that enables the shooter to accurately engage targets out to 300 yards, if their eyes and shooting skills are up to it.
Above the long-range aperture is a 0.095-inch notch for use in point-blank-range shooting, like the sights of a handgun. In use I found that because of its proximity to the eye, the notch gets fuzzy. In addition, the protective wings on either side of the front sight fit just inside the notch of the rear and allows for quick and accurate target engagement to 25 yards and beyond, although Wilson Combat recommends zeroing the notch at seven yards. It is click adjustable for windage, with each click moving bullet impact a half-inch at 100 yards.
The six-position collapsible Rogers Super-Stoc in flat dark earth has a hard rubber buttpad and offers several slots for mounting slings as well as a QD sling swivel socket accessible from either side. The stock has a locking lever on the right side which, when engaged, removes all the rattle and movement from the stock.
Bravo Company made a special version of its BCM Gunfighter pistol grip specifically for Wilson Combat with the company’s signature starburst pattern. It has a more vertical angle than the original A2 pistol grip and provides a more natural grip angle if you’re running the rifle with the stock collapsed or nearly so. The rifle also has a beefy, oversize aluminum trigger guard.
The rifle has been equipped with one of Wilson Combat’s Tactical Trigger Units. Officially, this version is the TTU-H2, and it has a two-stage pull with full mil-spec weight springs. It’s advertised as having a 4.5- to five-pound pull, and my sample broke at 4.5 pounds. This is a drop-in cassette trigger assembly, and the hammer features a half-cock notch to prevent the rifle from going off if it is dropped.
The bolt and bolt carrier are finished in NP3, which looks like hard chrome. This coating not only is corrosion resistant but also has high lubricity. As a result, this makes cleaning the rifle much easier, and the rifle will run reliably for a longer time.
The first Wilson Combat Paul Howe carbine was introduced in 2014 in 5.56 NATO. At the time I was surprised that with all its upgraded features it sported a stock GI charging handle. This model, on the other hand, comes with an extended ambidextrous charging handle that is easier to grab—especially if you’re running a traditional scope. It protrudes about as far from the receiver as the brass deflector.
The carbine is supplied with one Lancer L7-AWM magazine. For AR-10 pattern rifles, I think the Lancer magazines are the best on the market, but they don’t get a lot of attention. They offer stainless steel feed lips up top and a translucent body down below, along with a non-tilt follower, a strong spring, and drainage holes for water if you and the gun go for a swim—basically everything you’d want in a hard-use magazine.
Wilson Combat sells the Paul Howe Tactical Carbine by itself or as a kit with Howe’s preferred optic, mount, sling and light to make the rifle tactically complete. With the kit you get Wilson’s 30mm Bullet Proof scope mount, Leupold VX-6HD 1X scope with FireDot duplex reticle, Streamlight TLR-1 HL weapon light, and a Vickers Combat Applications sling with push-button swivels. The kit adds $1,475 to the cost of the rifle.
For testing, I topped it with a 1-8X Trijicon AccuPower. Even with a relatively short 16-inch barrel, the 6.5 Creedmoor cartridge is 1,000-yard capable. While the 6X maximum magnification of the Leupold kit scope or the 8X Trijicon I used might seem lacking, the rifle is intended as an all-purpose defensive/tactical gun, and the ability to crank that scope down to 1X for close targets is probably more important than a high magnification. If you want to use this as a hunting rifle, 6X or 8X should be sufficient for the distance you’re likely to be shooting critters, but I understand that everybody wants more magnification.
Sixteen inches might seem too short—whether you’re interested in using this rifle for hunting or for long-range tactical shooting. However, the 6.5 Creedmoor cartridge does very well in shorter barrels. When compared to a 26-inch hunting rifle-length barrel, most loads lose only 200 fps or so out of the much shorter 16-inch tube. And because the ballistically superior 6.5 Creedmoor has less drop and sheds velocity more slowly than the .308, with most loads a 16-inch 6.5 Creedmoor will show the same drop as a 22-inch .308 out to 1,000 yards—with less recoil.
This is why the cartridge has become so popular. A lot of the tactical experts seem to think that if most of your shooting is within 600 yards, 16 inches is perhaps the ideal barrel length for a 6.5 Creedmoor rifle, and I would say that advice transfers well to hunting applications as well.
Wilson barrels are known for being accurate, and the fluted stainless specimen on my sample rifle was no different. Most ammunition types would do one m.o.a. or better, and a five-shot 0.62-inch group with Hornady’s 140-grain ELD Match load was the best of the day. I should have stopped shooting after I did that, but of course, I did not, and I was unable to replicate the feat. Still, for a rifle that is meant to fulfill a general-purpose tactical role, that is superb.
Most people never get the opportunity to shoot their rifles beyond 200 yards, but it doesn’t mean they don’t want a rifle that can reach far beyond that. It’s the same reason we buy cars that can do double the speed limit.
A scope and loaded 20-round magazine add more than three pounds to the overall weight of this gun, so you can send a lot of ammo downrange without having to pack your shoulder in ice. Shooting it offhand, I was able to land rapid follow-up shots on 100-yard steel, although it did get heavy before I was done with the magazine.
A substantial percentage of hunters are now hitting the woods with AR-pattern rifles, and as someone who’s killed a wild boar and a nilgai with an AR, I think this rifle is as well suited to that as defensive use. I’d wager more of these end up as hunting guns than counter-sniper rifles.
I won’t argue that the Paul Howe carbine is inexpensive, but it’s meant to be a do-everything rifle, the last rifle you need to buy. In fact, it is everything you think it should be, and it does everything you think it should, if not more. The Howe carbine is roughly the cost of the average Wilson Combat 1911, and nobody blinks twice about paying that much for a mere handgun, and I would argue the Howe carbine gives you so much more, both physically and in performance.
Wilson Combat Paul Howe Tactical Carbine Specs:
- Type: Direct-impingement AR-10
- Caliber/Chambering: 6.5 Creedmoor
- Capacity: 20-round Lancer L7-AWM magazine (supplied)
- Barrel: 16 in. fluted match, 1:8 twist; Accu-Tac flash hider; threaded 5/8x24
- Overall Length: 34.5–37.75 in.
- Weight: 8 lb., 4 oz.
- Furniture: free-float 12.6 in. aluminum fore-end w/M-Lok slots, Rogers Super-Stoc buttstock, BCM Gunfighter grip
- Finish: camouflage Armor-Tuff
- Sights: flip-up CSAT rear, fixed Daniel Defense front
- Trigger: 4.5 lb. pull (measured)
- Price: $3,345
For more information, please visit: WilsonCombat.com