The hammer of Thor, “Mjolnir,” was said to have magical powers. No one save Thor could wield it, because they were neither pure of heart nor strong enough. It would return to its master when called. And it was the very definition of the “unstoppable force.” Hmmm. Bill Wilson is the kind of guy who does not sit back and look at something with the idea in mind, Well, that’s good enough; we’ll leave it alone and go on to something else. No, he is the very definition of I can improve it.
He’s done that for decades with 1911s. He has been doing it for a number of years now with ARs and shotguns. He has even put his hand to improving ammunition and designing new calibers. And now, he has given us our very own “hammer”—the .458 HAM’R, to be exact.
THE HEART OF THE HAM’R
The heart of the .458 HAM’R is a Wilson billet-cut upper and lower receiver set. The upper is a flat top, with a full-length rail as a place to mount a sight, sights or even more sights. On the front end of this, Wilson Combat installs a match-grade, stainless steel barrel with an appropriate barrel extension for the .458 HAM’R bolt to lock into. (We’ll get to that in just a bit.) The rifle sent to me is the Tactical Hunter model, which means it has, like the Ultimate Hunter, a Wilson Combat free-float handguard that is machined for M-Lok attachments. The handguard is 14.6 inches long—plenty long enough to keep your hands off the hot barrel—to cover the gas block on the mid-length gas system and provide plenty of places to attach extras … perhaps too many, but that’s a personal choice. You get to decide how much gear you want to hang on your hammer.
The handguard top rail aligns perfectly with the rail of the upper receiver. There should be no surprise at this, because Wilson Combat machines the receivers and the handguard in house (and a whole lot of other Wilson products as well). It might be considered bad social form to attach extras that cross the joint between the upper and handguard, but when both parts are machined by the same company, I’m not going to worry, especially if that company is Wilson Combat. If it happens to work out that some mount has to cross the joint, I don’t think it will be an issue.
The barrel has an SLR Rifleworks adjustable gas block installed, so you can dial the gas flow for your chosen load, whether factory or handload and for suppressed or bare. The muzzle is threaded for a muzzle brake, flash hider or suppressor mount and comes with a thread protector for those times you won’t be using an extra gizmo. Peering up into the receiver, the lower locking lugs of the barrel extension have been reduced in size to create a feed ramp for the blunt cartridges that will be sliding by on a regular basis. I chambered and extracted a few rounds to get a feel for the process. The feeding was smooth, and the extracted rounds did not show signs of having been tortured in the process.
The Tactical Hunter has a Rogers Super-Stoc on the receiver extension (aka buffer tube). This allows you to adjust the length of pull to whatever suits your arm length and amount of clothing while hunting. And the Super-Stoc has a locking lever so you can clamp the slider down tight. It will then be as rigid as a fixed stock, with no wobble or vibration. The Ultimate Hunter uses a fixed stock and a carbon-fiber receiver extension. This means you can’t adjust length of pull, but it does mean that the Ultimate Hunter is 7 ounces lighter as a result. I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but taking 6 percent of the weight off a rifle as hard-hitting as this might be too much of a good thing.
The billet-cut Wilson Combat lower has a BCM pistol grip with a Wilson Combat Starburst pattern in the nonslip traction panels, along with a hinged storage compartment. Above is the selector/safety, which, on the Tactical Hunter, is a right-handed one. This being Wilson Combat, you can change many of the details—as long as it is something Wilson makes or can obtain. Me, I don’t worry too much about ambi selectors, because I don’t shoot left-handed.
Inside the lower receiver there is a Wilson Combat tactical trigger unit M2, set for a 4-pound trigger pull. This is a two-stage match trigger, and because it is a modular design, you can pull it out for cleaning—and you don’t have to worry about losing parts. It is a self-contained unit. The only extra parts that come with it are the standard lower receiver pins that hold it in. If you have an aerosol cleaner, you don’t even have to remove it. Just hose it clean, scrub what you can, wipe it off, lube, and forget it.
The upper and lower receiver, handguard and barrel are given a Wilson Combat Armor-Tuff finish in green or black as standard. If you want other colors or a camo finish, this can be arranged, but you have to let Wilson Combat know what you want when you order your Tactical Hunter.
“The heart of the .458 HAM’R is a Wilson billet-cut upper and lower receiver set. The upper is a flat top, with a full-length rail as a place to mount a sight, sights or even more sights. On the front end of this, Wilson Combat installs a match-grade, stainless steel barrel with an appropriate barrel extension for the .458 HAM’R bolt to lock into.”
THE .458 HAM’R CARTRIDGE
Now, all of this is one heck of a nice rifle. But why is it a “hammer”? Simple: It is chambered for a massive bullet of .458 inch in diameter. “Oh, you mean the .458 SOCOM. So, what?”
No, not the SOCOM. What Bill Wilson did was take the SOCOM and make it better. The .458 SOCOM was made from .50 AE brass, with rims turned to a .473-inch diameter. The idea was to make it as compatible as possible with the M4/AR-15. Given the limits on bolt strength and barrel extension diameter, the upper pressure limit for the .458 SOCOM was set at 35,000 psi.
Because the 5.56 has a pressure limit of 55,000 psi, you can see that the .458 SOCOM was a compromise to get such a big bullet into such a compact package. What Bill Wilson did was simply move the idea from the M4/AR-15 package to a modified AR-10 package. This gave a much larger amount of steel to support case thrust (that is the load put onto the locking lugs) and on the barrel extension. As a result, the .458 HAM’R uses an AR-10-sized bolt and carrier, which has been shortened by ¾ inch (and the carrier of which is given an NP3 coating). You are not going to mix this up with your AR-15 bolt and carrier. By doing this, he could set the pressure ceiling for the .458 HAM’R at 46,000 psi. Now, using a .458 HAM’R in a .458 SOCOM would be a very bad thing. To prevent this, Bill set the case shoulder .040 inch farther forward on the .458 HAM’R than it is on the SOCOM. This would preclude the bolt closing on a HAM’R in a SOCOM chamber. However, we all know someone who won’t take a clue, let alone buy one. If you are shooting a .458 SOCOM and the bolt won’t close, stop. Find out why. Don’t just pound on the forward assist.
It should be obvious to anyone who thinks about it for a nanosecond, but you do not want to ever mix .458 HAM’R in with your .458 SOCOM ammo supply. Should you happen to own one or more of each, you must keep the ammo separate. That explains the “hammer,” but you might wonder why it’s spelled “HAM’R.” Bill Wilson loves this thing for hog hunting. Hogs …”HAM”-’R.
Wilson Combat Whisper suppressors are titanium constructions and are available for calibers from .22 LR to .458. The main tube is larger in diameter than is customary with other suppressor makers in order to gain more volume and keep the overall length down. Where many other centerfire suppressors for the big-bores can be 8 or 9 inches long, the Whisper is only a smidge over 6½.
The baffle stack is 100 percent welded (no tack welds here), and each comes with a Melonite-treated muzzle brake as a suppressor mount. A muzzle brake on a 5.56 is a competition device, but on the .458 HAM’R, it is an essential extra. Even if you weren’t using a suppressor, having the brake on would be a good idea.
In shooting the .458 HAM’R suppressed, there was still the supersonic crack!, but the report was muffled to a great degree. Should you be out culling hogs, the Whisper is going to get you more opportunities than non-suppressed would, and the whole idea is to get as many as you can.
You can have yours in bead-blast titanium or one of the five Armor-tuff colors available.
But wait—there’s a problem: The AR-10 uses a large, .30-caliber magazine. The current (and best) design is the M-110, exemplified by the Magpul and Lancer .30-caliber magazines. The .458 HAM’R (or a .458 SOCOM) round would be swimming around in that magazine, and the feed lips would have no hope of holding them properly.
So, Bill and the crew made the .458 HAM’R receiver set as a “hybrid”-length AR-10 upper and lower, which gives it an AR-15-sized magazine well (and also houses the shortened BCG). (Ever have one of those moments when you just want to slap yourself on the forehead and say, Why didn’t I think of that? Yep, that was me when I realized just what Bill and the crew had done.) So, we have a compact AR-10 (more or less) rifle with an AR-15 magazine well, chambered in a high-intensity .45-caliber cartridge. Just what do we get with this?
Wilson Combat offers four loadings for the .458 HAM’R: a 250-grain Hornady MFX bullet, 300-grain Nosler BT, 300-grain X-treme RNFP and a 300-grain Barnes TTSX. The “slow” one is the Nosler boat-tail, at a mere 1,975 fps. The fast one is the Barnes, at a listed 2,100 fps. To compare, the .458 SOCOM lists a 300-grain bullet at 1,900 fps, which, to be fair, some loads do actually deliver. But that is the top end of the loads, and you are getting that in an M4-sized package.
PREPARE YOURSELF FOR RECOIL
The .458 HAM’R promises 2,100 fps, and you know what? It does that. Of course, given the light weight of the Tactical Hunter or the Ultimate Hunter, that can, perhaps, be another example of too much of a good thing. In the interests of scientific inquiry, as well as letting the readers know, I fired exactly one round of the .458 HAM’R out of the Tactical Hunter without the muzzle brake. One was enough. I then went up to the club workshop and installed the muzzle brake, which is also the mount for the Wilson Combat suppressor.
Now, if you are hunting, and the guide (or your hunting partner) is not keen on you using a muzzle brake, you have two choices: Shoot it bare, or shoot it suppressed. Because the intent of this rifle is a hog-hammering tool, suppressed is your best option, and I suggest you exercise it. The rifle arrived, as they all do, with the Wilson Combat dog tag inventory tag, with the model and serial number on it. Cool. It also arrived without sights. If you wish, you can order a Leupold VX-R 2-7×33 scope in a Wilson 30mm Ultralight mount for an additional $590, but I have plenty of optics and mounts on hand.
“Now, all of this is one heck of a nice rifle. But why is it a “hammer”? Simple: it is chambered for a massive bullet of .458 inch in diameter.”
I grabbed a suitable optic, a Meopta 1-4×22 in a Geissele mount, and bolted it on. Having test-fired the Tactical Hunter without sights or a muzzle brake (one shot, remember?), I wasn’t at all worried that the scope and mount would be “too heavy.” After that, it was fun work. I did my due diligence in chrono work and clocked the two loads I had received—the 300 TTSX and the 300 RNFP. The TTSX is a solid-copper hollowpoint with a blue polymer insert in the tip to initiate expansion (as if a .458-inch-diameter bullet needs to expand!).
If you want penetration, you opt for the 300-grain X-treme round-nose, flat-point bullet. This is going to drill a hole through pretty much anything you care to shoot with it. Having done my chrono work, I sat down at the bench and proceeded to spend the afternoon shooting groups. And yes, it took the full afternoon to produce the accuracy results. Were I to have hurried, the last groups of the second load would have been sorry, indeed. It is considerable work to bench-test a caliber such as this; and, in addition to not being fun, it would not tell us what we wanted to know—that the .458 HAM’R is an accurate cartridge and the Tactical Hunter is an accurate rifle.
Oh, you won’t see it setting any benchrest records. There’s too much recoil for that. But when I can sit at the bench, with a 4X scope, and blame the fifth shot in a group—at just over an inch from the rest of the cluster—as my mistake, that’s an accurate rifle.
One reloading tip: When you go to reload, get the case gauge from Wilson Combat so your brass will be the correct length, the shoulder properly placed for long brass life and to preclude use in a .458 SOCOM. Unlike Mjolnir, you don’t have to have the strength of Thor to wield this hammer. You do, however, have to be “pure enough of heart” to pass the NICS check. But that shouldn’t be a problem. Get your hammer—get your HAM’R.
|WC TTSC Barnes
|WC X-treme RNFP
NOTES: Accuracy results are the average of five five-shot groups over a Sinclair shooting rest at 100 yards. ES = Extreme Spread; SD = Standard Deviation. Velocity is the average of 10 shots measured by a Labradar chrono programmed to measure velocity 15 feet from the muzzle.
TYPE: Hammer-fired, self-loading rifle
CALIBER: .458 HAM’R
CAPACITY: Seven or nine rounds
BARREL: 18 in., fluted
OVERALL LENGTH: 37.5 in. (stock extended)
WEIGHT: 7 lbs., 11 oz.
FINISH: Wilson Combat Armor-Tuff
GRIPS: BCM with WC Starburst pattern
SIGHTS: N/A (optics optional)
TRIGGER: WC TTU-M2; 4 lbs.
MSRP: $2,905 (base price)
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the October 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.