December 17, 2019
When a new cartridge or a new bullet is to be tested, many hunters have to wait until hunting season arrives. But when it does, bag restrictions often drastically limit the amount of testing that can be done. Not so for Bill Wilson. He simply places an AR-15 built in his Berryville, Arkansas, factory in the rack of an ATV parked near the backdoor of his Texas ranch house and tours automatic feeders that are strategically positioned over 12,000 acres infested with feral hogs. Wilson can bump off more pigs in a single day than many of us see in an entire year. This exercise reveals the killing power of various cartridges and the performance of bullets fired from them. That’s how he developed and fine-tuned the .300 HAM’R cartridge. But it was a few years in coming.
The .300 HAM’R
Wilson’s search for the perfect pig-popper began in 2005, when he received reloading dies and an AR upper in .300 Whisper from J.D. Jones of SSK Industries, the originator of that cartridge. The Whisper worked fine inside 100 yards, but when loaded to maximum velocity with a 125-grain bullet, it ran out of steam on longer shots. Loading it with heavy bullets at subsonic velocities resulted in rainbow trajectories with little to no bullet expansion. Enough shots were taken with the Whisper to reveal inconsistency in delivering quick kills on big hogs with bullet placement that was less than perfect. For anyone not familiar with the .300 Whisper, it is the early wildcat version of today’s .300 Blackout.
Wilson next tried the 6.8 SPC, and it was his favorite porker medicine for several years. Hundreds of high-quality Wilson Combat AR-15s shipped to customers were chambered for it. In the back of his mind, though, he believed a bullet of larger caliber would be more effective at downing 200-pound boars.
Soon after the .30 Remington AR was introduced in 2008, Wilson gave it a whirl and found the terminal performance he had been searching for. On the downside, it required a different AR upper, bolt carrier group, magazine, and recoil buffer. Too soon after the cartridge was brought to market, Remington left owners of rifles chambered for it up the creek with no ammunition or unprimed cases.
Wilson next discovered the 7.62x40 USA wildcat developed by Kurt Buchert and liked it more than any other cartridge he had tried. It’s basically the .300 Whisper/Blackout case lengthened to 1.565 inches. Any AR-15 in .223 Rem. is easily converted to it with just a barrel switch. A .223 bolt and magazine work fine. With Buchert’s blessings, Wilson began offering it in his ARs as the 7.62x40 Tactical. Ammo was also made available.
Wilson’s eventual goal was to develop a cartridge that comes as close as possible to delivering .30-30 Winchester performance from a short-barreled AR-15, and while the 7.62x40 was an excellent performer, it fell a bit short. Lengthening the case to 1.605 inches allowed a pinch more powder to be burned for a small velocity increase at a slightly lower chamber pressure. And so the .300 HAM’R was born. A chamber reamer from Pacific Tool and Gauge arrived at Wilson Combat in January 2018, and load development began soon thereafter.
Barrels with various rifling twist rates were tried, with 1:15 delivering the best accuracy with several bullet weights. As to be expected, bullets designed for the .30-30 Win. proved to be perfect, with those weighing 130 and 150 grains from Speer high on Wilson’s preference list. He has probably bumped off more pigs with the Speer 130-grain SPFN than any other bullet, and in March 2019 it accounted for his biggest boar to date. I examined several of those bullets recovered from pigs shot out to 200 yards, and weight retention ranged from 87 to 94 percent with expanded frontal diameter measuring 0.45 to 0.56 inch.
Pointed bullets shoot a bit flatter and deliver more energy than those with flat noses, and while they usually have thicker jackets, most should expand out to 250 yards from the .300 HAM’R, some a bit farther. Through the years I have taken several deer and hogs with a Winchester Model 54 in .30-30 Win., and the Nosler 125-grain Ballistic Tip is my favorite for that rifle. When exiting the barrel at 2,550 fps, it is still moving along at about 1,800 fps at 300 yards where it expands to a fairly large frontal diameter. Residual energy is 1,030 ft-lbs at 100 yards and 900 ft-lbs at 300 yards. When developing the .300 HAM’R, Wilson reached his performance goal when compared to original .30-30 Win. loadings, and he also came close to Hornady LEVERevolution ammo that delivers 1,000 ft-lbs at 300 yards. And he did so with a cartridge that’s no longer than the .223 Rem.
Bullet trajectory limits the practical range of the .300 HAM’R more than energy delivery. Zeroed 3 inches high at 100 yards, the Nosler 125-grain Ballistic Tip will impact close to point of aim at 200 yards and about 12 inches low at 300 yards. Trajectory and residual energy considered, let’s call it a solid 250-yard hog cartridge with no scope-twirling or Kentucky holdover. Most wild pigs are taken at closer distances.
Easy to Convert & Readily Available
I would be remiss if I failed to compare the performance of the 300 HAM’R with some of the other AR cartridges. Wilson is offering individual barrels chambered for the new cartridge, and because many Shooting Times readers already own ARs in .223 Rem. or 5.56mm NATO, I will approach it from a conversion point of view. As an instructional video on the Wilson Combat website clearly shows, switching barrels is easy and requires very few tools. The gas tube will have to be switched, but the .223 bolt, magazine, and recoil buffer are compatible.
As I mentioned, the maximum velocity of the .300 HAM’R loaded with a 125-grain bullet is in the neighborhood of 2,550 fps from an 18-inch barrel. The 6.5 Grendel, 6.8 SPC, and .30 Russian are capable of matching that with bullets of the same or similar weights, but the bolt and magazine of an AR in .223 Rem. will have to be changed to accommodate their larger rim diameters and fatter cases. The .300 Blackout does not require a different bolt, but due to its 300 fps lower velocity, it is a weak alternative. So if you already own an AR in .223 Rem. and want an easy switch to a larger caliber, the .300 HAM’R is mighty tempting.
Load data for the .300 HAM’R is on the Wilson Combat website, and properly headstamped cases made by Starline are also available from Wilson. The same goes for case headspace and bulletseating gauges and RCBS reloading dies. Match-grade barrels in 16.25, 18, and 20 inches are offered, as are complete AR uppers. Seven factory loads come with bullets ranging from 110 to 150 grains in weight, and ammo loaded with different bullets is slated for availability from other sources.
A lot of hog hunting takes place at night. In some areas of the country, it is not uncommon for night-vision equipment to reveal dozens of four-legged rooting machines busy plowing up a farmer’s valuable planted field. ARs are popular for that, but they toss spent cases deep into tall grass and thorn bushes never to be found. Forming .300 HAM’R cases from more expendable 5.56mm is an option, and Wilson recommends Lake City Arsenal brass and a 5-percent reduction in recommended powder charge weights. I had a supply of those cases on hand, and after necks were inside-lubed with sizing wax, they were run through an RCBS .22 to .30 expander die. A Hornady case-prep center was used to shorten them to 1.595 inches. Case loss was zero.
If large quantities of cases are needed, a form die set from RCBS is better because using the file/trim die for case-shortening is quicker than trimming away almost 0.150 inch of case neck, even if a power trimmer is used. Average gross water capacity of the .300 HAM’R cases from Wilson is 29.6 grains, and the cases I formed from Lake City brass held close to 1.5 grains less. As already mentioned, the capacities of cases formed from .223 Rem. brass can vary and if it’s less than that of Wilson .300 HAM’R cases, recommended load data should be reduced.
I used a Hornady Vernier ball micrometer to compare neck-wall thickness. Cases formed from Lake City .223 Rem. brass were 0.001 inch thicker, and that increased loaded-cartridge neck diameter. More specifically, with bullets seated, the Wilson .300 HAM’R case measured 0.327 inch versus 0.329 inch for Lake City cases. According to a Wilson Combat cartridge drawing, maximum cartridge neck diameter is 0.332 inch. Maximum case length is 1.603 inches. Maximum cartridge length is 2.260 inches—the same as for the .223 Rem. Shoulder angle is 30 degrees.
Wilson Combat offers the .300 HAM’R chambering in six AR variations with barrel lengths ranging from 11.3 inches (Protector Pistol) to 20 inches (Tactical Hunter). Weights range from 5.63 pounds for the pistol to 8 pounds for the Ranger rifle. Weighing only 6 pounds, the Protector rifle with a 16.5-inch barrel and the Ranch Rifle with an 18-inch barrel are the lightest rifles.
The Ranch Rifle Up Close
The Wilson Ranch Rifle Package I shot came with a Trijicon AccuPoint 3-9X 40mm scope in Wilson lightweight aluminum rings. The rifle is called that because it’s the one you are most likely to see Bill carrying on his Texas ranch. It weighs 6 pounds, and the scope and mount increase that to 7 pounds, 2.9 ounces. An overall length of 35.6 inches makes it quite maneuverable in the cramped quarters of a blind. My rifle came with a Lancer AWM 20-round magazine, but magazines holding five, 10, and 30 rounds are available. I tried .223 Rem. magazines from several manufacturers, and all of them worked fine.
The feature that drew me to the Ranch Rifle is its color. In lieu of boring all-black, the gun is offered with Armor-Tuff finish in matte OD green covering the upper and lower receivers, the barrel, and the stock.
And how do they arrive at a weight of 6 pounds? Several ounces are trimmed away by using a lightweight, 18-inch barrel that tapers to 0.650 inch at the muzzle. The muzzle is threaded, and a protector is included. Heft was further reduced by utilizing a minimalist Open Shoulder carbon-fiber stock from Smoke Composites. Weighing a mere 4.1 ounces, it is nothing more than a buffer tube measuring 1.125 inches in diameter. The roughened surface of a recoil plate at the rear prevents slipping from the shoulder. Non-adjustable length of pull is 12.63 inches. At first look, I figured the stock would be uncomfortable during long strings of fire, but due to the mild recoil of the gun/cartridge, it wasn’t unpleasant.
The upper and the lower are machined from aircraft-grade aluminum bar stock. The lightweight 12-inch handguard measures 1.510 inches across the flats and has M-LOK attachment points over its entire length. Removable 6.0-inch soft rubber strips along the sides and bottom keep out field debris and are easy on the hands. A two-piece Picatinny rail runs the full length of the receiver and handguard. A removable ERGO LoPro rubber cover protects the rail from dings and shields the hand from sharp edges. Wilson’s two-stage Tactical Trigger Unit has a 4-pound pull rating, and my Lyman digital gauge indicated exactly that. The BCM Starburst Gunfighter grip is made in America, and its reduced angle, extended forward tang, and high-sweep backstrap make it one of the most comfortable my hand has wrapped around. Releasing a hinged trapdoor at the bottom of the grip reveals a water-resistant storage compartment large enough to contain a pull-through bore cleaner and another small item or two.
Three-shot groups included with the rifle ranged from 0.249 to 0.947 inch, for an average of 0.611 inch. I usually shoot three-shot groups when accuracy-testing rifles with light barrels, but since the Ranch Rifle is intended for getting off as many aimed shots as possible before a sounder of pigs vanishes into the bush, I decided to shoot four, five-shot groups with the barrel water-cooled between each 20-round string.
Extensive testing by Wilson technicians revealed Accurate 1680 and Hodgdon CFE BLK powders to be the most suitable propellants for the .300 HAM’R, and since I had a good supply of the latter, I used it in my test loads. CCI 450 Magnum and No. 41 primers are also recommended, so I used them. When seated to proper overall cartridge length, most of the bullets extend deeply into the case and because powder charges extend into the neck of the case, they are heavily compressed.
Groups were fired with the forearm of the rifle snuggled into a Lyman Match Bag sitting atop a Lyman Bag Jack and the butt of the stock resting on a bunny ear sandbag. After shooting 140 bullets at paper, I “HAM’Red” steel targets out to 300 yards with another 160 rounds. I don’t recall previously shooting flatnose bullets in an AR, but the rifle gobbled those and pointed bullets with not a single malfunction. Ejected cases landed in a fairly small pile about 11 feet to my right and 16 feet behind me. The rifle is easy on brass as not a single one was dented or otherwise mangled.
Wild hogs are prolific breeders, and they do a huge amount of damage to crops, farm animals, and other wildlife. In some parts of the country, they are classified as varmints. Year-round hunting is allowed in some states, with shoot-as-many-as-you-can-as-quickly-as-you-can rules posted by farmers, ranchers, and wildlife officials.
If an accurate AR-15 in 300 HAM’R is not the perfect pig-popper, it comes mighty close.
Wilson Combat Ranch Rifle in 300 HAM'R Specs
- Manufacturer: Wilson Combat, wilsoncombat.com
- Type: Direct-impingement autoloader
- Caliber: .300 HAM’R
- Magazine Capacity: 20 rounds
- Barrel: 18 in.
- Overall Length: 35.63 in.
- Weight, Empty: 7.18 lbs.
- Stock: Smoke Composites carbon fiber
- Length of Pull: 12.63 in.
- Finish: Matte OD green Armor-Tuff
- Sights: None; Trijicon AccuPoint 3-9X 50mm scope
- Trigger: 3.8-lb. pull (as tested)
- Safety: Two position
- MSRP: $3,650