AR-pattern rifles built from billet are becoming quite popular, especially as demand for ARs rises. While there are a few operational advantages, few companies can either afford or house the forge necessary to produce base “forgings” for lower and upper receivers. Everyone is waiting for those few that have the capability, making it difficult to keep up with demand. For those without CNC machines to complete the process, production can take even longer. Waiting for a supplier to provide parts needed to complete orders must be the bane of most manufacturers’ existences. Billet receivers and lowers are cut from a solid “billet” of material. Although a special CNC machine is required, they are compact compared to a forge and have fewer EPA issues. Many CNC machines can produce a completed product in very little time with very little final finishing—all in one basic step. This gives manufacturers complete control over production time and design. Custom features can be added, and unnecessary ones can be removed. Personal touches and designs separating builders can be input with a simple program change. In the end, it means one less outside aspect a manufacturer must depend on to complete a product.
Billet lower receivers offer some notable advantages. Stiffer as a rule, they can increase accuracy and consistency. Mag wells can be flared, trigger housings enlarged and operational controls enhanced. Even magazine angles inside the receiver can be altered to enhance reliability with various chamberings. Forward assist mechanisms can be altered or removed at the preference of the builder. Allowing for true one-of-a-kind builds, billet construction moves the AR into the truly custom rifle-making world.
In my opinion, Wilson Combat’s Recon Tactical remains one of the best AR-type rifles on the market. It is consistently the most accurate and reliable rifle I’ve tested in this platform without regard to chambering. Each is built by hand with significant attention to the smallest details. Only the finest materials and accessories are used, most of which are built by Wilson Combat. Mil-spec bolts and bolt carriers are MPI inspected and NP3 coated. The TRIM (Tactical Rail Interface, Modular) handguard starts as a thin and solid base, and you can add rail segments as necessary. Wilson’s match-grade barrels are made of stainless steel, and fluted models are available for weight savings.
Recon Tactical rifles also feature M4 feed ramps that are matched in the lower receiver. The rifles use mid-length gas systems in most chamberings, with the carbine-length system used on 300 AAC Blackout (300 BLK) models. Accu-Tac flash suppressors are installed to mitigate flash, and Recon Tactical barrels are threaded for adding muzzle brakes or Wilson Combat’s Whisper suppressors. A 4-pound Tactical Trigger Unit (TTU) is installed in either a single- or two-stage configuration. Hardcoat anodized, Recon Tactical rifles can also be coated at the customer’s request in a number of Armor-Tuff color combinations.
Wilson now offers a “BILLet” upgrade for any of its AR rifle builds. Matching billet upper and lower receivers are used in place of standard forged models. Each perfectly matched pair is machined in the company’s Berryville, Arkansas, facility. Designed by Bill Wilson and his engineers, the billet receivers address many structural and design weaknesses in the standard USGI configuration. Receiver walls are strengthened and a precise bolt raceway is added, making for butter-smooth operation and reduced firing flex. An oversized mag well and integrated triggerguard ensure fast reloads, operation in any climate and added receiver strength. Top rails are precisely machined to exact tolerances. A precision-threaded receiver ensures accuracy while the M4-style feed ramps ensure reliability. Removing the forward assist provides a smooth side that is stronger, stiffer and more conducive to accuracy. Each billet receiver pairing is hand-prepped for a flawless surface finish and hardcoat anodized prior to final finishing.
I wanted to evaluate a new Recon Tactical with the billet upgrade in 300 BLK, which remains one of the most popular AR chamberings to date. The cartridge’s accuracy has proven solid, with ballistics approximating the 7.62x39mm. Using a 16-inch barrel, it fills an excellent role as a patrol rifle, providing usable ballistics at 300 yards and closer (typical police distances). Bridging the gap between the 5.56mm and .308 cartridges, the 300 BLK fits nicely into most any police situation. Wilson Combat’s version is a fantastic example of this platform.
My test Recon Tactical in 300 BLK utilizes a 16-inch, fluted barrel with a 1-in-7-inch twist rate and capped with a Rapid Thread muzzle brake. This brake works as a standalone device, but is also designed to accommodate the Whisper suppressor. The billet upper receiver was coated in Flat Dark Earth, with a black, full-length TRIM handguard covering most of the barrel.
As mentioned previously, the upper receiver is flat-sided with no forward assist, which makes for a very nice, streamlined look. The forward assist is the source of serious controversy within the AR community. Some say no duty rifle should be without it; others say the exact opposite. I can take it or leave it, but removing it does seem to increase the Recon Tactical’s structural integrity. If used inappropriately or at the wrong time, forward assists can potentially cause more problems than they fix.
A matching lower receiver was equipped with a TTU single-stage trigger within an oversized triggerguard. A Rogers/Wilson Super-Stoc is installed on the mil-spec buffer tube. Light weight and strong, this buttstock locks into place solidly and provides a good cheekweld.
For accuracy testing and long-range work, I mounted a 1.5-5x20mm Leupold Mark 4 MR/T scope with a lighted 300 Blackout reticle and a 30mm maintube. It utilizes standard, low-profile M2 knobs with zero stops that are secure. The lighted reticle has seven intensity settings with an off position in between each setting, facilitating fast activation and deactivation. I installed the scope in a Leupold Mark 2 IMS 30mm integral mount to keep it in place. For CQB work, I used an EOTech EXPS-2 holographic sight.
My Wilson Combat Whisper suppressor was used during all of the testing. Completely machined from billet titanium, it is light and quick-cooling, with very little impact shift. The oversized design allows for effective suppression in a short overall package. Available in bead-blasted titanium gray or Armor-Tuff, this suppressor was coated in Cerakote to match my personal 300 BLK rifle.
Wilson Combat rifles are the most consistently accurate AR systems I have ever tested. Having reviewed them in most every configuration built, they have all been sub-MOA performers. Variations in accuracy with different ammunition are usually small—the rifles typically even shot practice ammo well. This test was no exception, with Remington’s 125-grain OTM load shooting into 0.55 inches at 100 yards. The AccuTip load was a close second, with everything shooting at or under an inch. Given that I fired five-shot groups from prone using a bag as a rest, this is indicative of what an officer would see in the field. Just to keep it real, I also fired groups from kneeling at 50 yards, with most results measuring under 2 inches. In law enforcement, precision is critical at 25 yards, and at this distance, the Recon Tactical put most rounds into the same hole. After a quarter-mile run, I took a shot at a hostage-rescue target using my truck as a rest and wearing gloves and I was dead on. This rifle is a tack-driver for sure. It’s perfectly ready for patrol use and could even be used as a designated marksman rifle with match ammunition.
Even with the Whisper suppressor attached, the Wilson Combat Recon Tactical was pretty handy in the close confines of my range’s shoothouse. The suppressor’s titanium build does not make the rifle barrel-heavy, and the short overall length keeps it pretty well balanced. Even in full kit, it was pretty easy to move in and around the house, barricades and vehicles. I removed the Leupold Mark 4 MR/T and replaced it with an EOTech for most of this shooting. The Recon Tactical was flawless as expected, offering no disadvantages for an officer entering close-quarter environments.
The billet construction feels really nice in your hands, and the bolt is truly butter-smooth—so smooth, it surprises you when you run it. The rifle’s overall fit, finish and composition is superb. It was 100 percent reliable with all of the ammunition tested, and favored the 125-grain Remington OTM ammo for accuracy testing. As a duty load, my preference would be the 125-grain Remington AccuTip if you can get it. It provides solid accuracy with better terminal ballistics and matches the 125-grain OTM for point of impact on barriers or at longer ranges.
As expected, the Recon Tactical was a joy to shoot. The “BILLet” upgrade is only $400 extra on a complete rifle build. It may not be for everyone, but if you want the ultimate in construction, it is well worth the money. For more on Wilson Combat, visit wilsoncombat.com or call 800-955-4856. For more on Leupold, visit leupold.com or call 800-538-7653.