March 05, 2020
By James Tarr
Wilson Combat is probably known to more people as the “custom 1911 company” than anything else, but these days the company produces far more types of firearms than just John Browning’s baby. In addition to Wilson Combat Berettas, custom Glocks, seven custom versions of the Remington 870 and a few AR-10 models, Wilson Combat offers AR-15s in 10 different calibers.
Its newest in the AR-15 line is the Protector series of carbines and pistols. It is the least expensive of Wilson Combat’s rifles and could be considered “entry level”—as much as a world-class custom shop can do an “entry-level” anything. The Protector is offered in 5.56 NATO, .300 BLK and .300 Ham’r. The company sent me one in 5.56 NATO.
One thing that struck me right off was the dog tag. The Protector comes with a dog tag attached to the stock, with that familiar beaded chain, telling you not only what model it is and what its serial number is, but also its date of manufacture. That’s just cool.
The Protector sports a 16-inch, stainless steel, match-grade, button-rifled barrel with an Armor-Tuff finish. The Armor-Tuff finish is over the entire rifle, and while my sample rifle is black, you can get the Protector in coyote tan as well.
The rifle has a 5.56 NATO chamber and a 1:8 twist, so it will handle every bullet weight loaded in factory ammo. It has a mid-length gas system, which is both softer to shoot than a carbine-length one as well as easier on the moving parts. (In .300 BLK chambering the gas system is pistol length.)
This is a direct-gas-impingement rifle. It’s interesting to me that Wilson Combat used to make piston ARs when those were popular a half-dozen years ago, but now that fad has died down and Wilson Combat makes only direct-gas ARs. Direct-gas AR-15s are lighter, have fewer parts, are less expensive and are as reliable—if not more so—than piston ARs.
The barrel has a medium contour, which keeps total unloaded weight down to six pounds, five ounces. With the stock fully extended, the rifle balances over the front receiver pin, and the balance is only this far forward because the stock is so light. That means the rifle is not muzzle heavy at all, and it’s quick-handling.
A quick aside on barrel thickness. Barrels are the heaviest part of an AR, and as seen with this Protector, I’m glad the tactical/defensive community has abandoned the concept of extra-thick barrels on carbines and SBRs.
The Protector’s barrel is tipped with Wilson’s Q-Comp, a combination flash hider/muzzle brake. 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 well, but it offered only minimal recoil reduction. It is a flash hider first and foremost, but this also means it is not abusively loud to shoot like most rifles tipped with true muzzle brakes.
The stainless barrel free-floats inside a 12.5-inch aluminum Wilson Combat handguard with M-Lok attachment slots at 45 degrees all the way around, with a full-length MIL STD 1913 rail on the top. Just like the barrel, the handguard is no heavier than it needs to be. The handguard is 1.5 inches wide, and from the top of the rail to the bottom, the handguard is two inches tall.
The rifle comes with one of Wilson’s QD sling swivel sockets mounted on the left side of the handguard as well as a two-inch section of aluminum rail mounted on the underside for a bipod, vertical grip, hand stop or other accessory. I’m a firm believer in the use of short vertical grips on rifles—not as grips but rather as hand stops and to brace against barriers to help reduce recoil.
While in the past Wilson Combat was using a few outside parts, the company has expanded its manufacturing operation, and now just about everything on its rifles, but for a few springs and pins, is made in-house. The upper and lower receivers on the Protector are CNC machined from forgings.
“PROTECTOR” is marked on the left side of the magazine well, and the caliber of the rifle is marked on the left side of the upper receiver.
The bolt carrier group has a black nitride coating, and the Wilson Combat logo is etched on the right side and is visible through the ejection port. The bolt is made from Carpenter 158, a chrome/nickel alloy steel with excellent core strength. It’s magnetic particle inspected, with a one-piece gas ring and chrome silicon ejector and extractor springs for longer life.
The Protector uses a standard carbine buffer. A lot of people experiment with lightweight bolt carriers and/or heavy buffers to reduce recoil, but that’s really needed only in a competition rifle where you’re trying to get felt recoil and muzzle rise reduced to nothing. The .223/5.56 round has minimal recoil to begin with, and in an AR with a mid-length gas system, I was expecting recoil to be soft even if the Protector had “only” a standard buffer and no muzzle brake. I wasn’t wrong.
The oversize aluminum trigger guard is a Wilson Combat design. The pistol grip is a Bravo Company Gunfighter model made specifically for Wilson Combat with Bravo’s Starburst pattern on the grip. The sides of the grip are aggressively textured.
The Protector comes standard with a Wilson Combat M2 TTU (Tactical Trigger Unit). This is a drop-in cassette-style two-stage unit with an advertised trigger pull of four pounds, and that’s exactly what I found on my sample.
The Rogers Super-Stoc, developed by the legendary Bill Rogers, was introduced a few years ago. It's available from a lot of online retailers as a separate unit, but Wilson Combat is the only company currently offering it on factory rifles. This polymer stock is adjustable for length on the six-position receiver extension and has a hard rubber buttpad, slots for slings and a QD sling swivel socket.
The rifle is supplied with an aluminum D&H Industries magazine with a Magpul anti-tilt follower, and it was this magazine I used when doing accuracy testing. For my other fun, I used Magpul magazines, and the gun never had a hiccup.
What “other fun”? I had an opportunity to take the Protector out to a big, local two-gun (pistol and rifle) match. Wilson Combat says the Protector is meant to offer custom rifle performance in a tactical rifle package, but I have long said that all you need to start competing in multi-gun competition is a reliable rifle. I thought the Protector would do just fine, and I was right.
The match was 350 rounds, split about equally between rifle and pistol. As an aside, for the pistol I shot a Beretta 92 Elite LTT, which recently had a trigger job done on it by Wilson Combat. I topped the Protector with a Trijicon TR24 1-4X AccuPoint scope with a fiber-optic triangle reticle. Other than occasionally using 40- and 60-round magazines to save myself a reload, I kept the Protector stock.
Turns out, I didn’t need any magnification as the rifle shots at the match ranged from two to 45 yards. I dialed the scope down to 1X and kept it there for the entire match.
Shooting was fast and furious, and I was competing against guys with dedicated competition rifles and pistols. One shooter on my squad had a full-house JP Rifles race gun, and another had a $3,000 Cobalt Kinetics competition rig.
The Protector, in contrast, has no muzzle brake to reduce recoil, and I still finished in second place in my division shooting a tactical/stock gun and full-power factory ammo (Hornady 55-grain full metal jacket boattail, in this case).
The old adage that “It’s the shooter, not the gun” is true, but the fact is that the great trigger on the Protector and the softer recoil of the mid-length gas system allowed me to shoot up to the rifle’s potential and beat everyone at the match but one guy.
One thing I was reminded of at that match is you do not want a muzzle brake on any rifle meant for defensive use. Rifles are, of course, loud enough to damage your hearing in the first place, and with a brake they seem twice as loud. If you have to fire a rifle equipped with a muzzle brake indoors with no hearing protection...well, there’s no hope for your hearing, short term or long term.
Shooting the Protector at the match has made me rethink my position on two-stage triggers. Historically, I’ve preferred single-stage triggers on all my ARs set up for defensive use, in the belief that they’re faster than two-stage triggers, but shooting the Protector at the match I never once noticed that it was a two-stage trigger. I noticed only that it was nicely light and crisp, and when you’ve got some time to aim at a distant target, a two-stage trigger will allow you to break the shot with a bit more precision.
With so many ARs on the market, we are now at the point where you can probably find a factory gun that sports every specific option you want. With the Wilson Combat Protector you get a rifle with features and accessories you can’t get anywhere else, with an accuracy guarantee most companies wouldn’t even dare to make, from a company with one of the best pedigrees in the business.
Wilson Combat Protector SpecsType:
Direct-gas impingement AR-15, mid-length gas systemCaliber:
5.56 NATO (tested), .300 Ham’r, .300 BLKCapacity:
30-round D&H magazine (supplied)Barrel:
16 in. stainless; button-rifled 1:8 twist; Wilson Combat Q-Comp compensatorOverall Length:
6 lb., 5 oz. w/o magFinish:
Black Armor-Tuff (as tested)Furniture:
Free-float aluminum M-Lok handguard; Bravo Company Gunfighter grip; Rogers Super-Stoc stockTrigger:
Wilson Combat M2 TTU; 4 lb. pull (measured)Sights:
None; optics railPrice:
Wilson Combat, WilsonCombat.com