Southwest Flight #2121 touched down in San Antonio just before noon on a wet Thursday in January. Robert, Shaun and I hustled to baggage claim to retrieve bag after bag of thermal scopes, night vision, IR lasers, and various toys for a four-day hog hunt at Highland Trails Ranch a little over an hour outside of town. Robert’s family owns the ranch and had graciously offered to let us descend upon their quiet slice of heaven in the rolling hills for a little R&R packed with shooting, hunting, hiking, great food, tall tales, and maybe an adult beverage or two. I wasn’t sure when I might get an opportunity like this again, so I had planned meticulously in order to make the most of this Texas hog hunt.
NIGHT OPS: Texas Hog Hunt
First, I reached out to Bill Wilson at Wilson Combat. I explained I wanted the ultimate pig killing AR rifles for this hunt. Now Bill knows a few things about killing hogs. In fact, I have never met anyone who knows more, is more passionate about it, or has exterminated more than he has. When Bill offers advice, I take notes. He recommended the exact same rifle he uses at his ranch outside of Dallas, and the same rifle he lets each of his guests use when they visit him on the ranch: the Wilson Combat Ultralight Hunter chambered in 300 HAM’R. This is a rifle that was designed from the ground up as the ultimate hog hunting machine.
As the name implies, this AR weighs next to nothing. The official weight is 5 pounds 2.5 ounces, but you don’t realize how light that is until someone hands you the gun bag and you swear there is no gun in it because it feels empty. Every feature is designed to optimize it for hunting. It has a 16-inch pencil barrel, low-mass bolt carrier group, a fixed Smoke Composites carbon-fiber buttstock and no forward assist to cut weight. I thought it might kick pretty hard firing the 300 HAM’R and being so light, but it actually has less felt recoil than a 5.56mm, if that is possible.
Built for the Field
The WC Tactical Trigger Unit is crisp and comes in around 4 pounds. The upper and lower receivers are Mil-Spec Anodized, then an Armor-Tuff finish is applied over that to make it impervious to rust and rain. The forend has Picatinny on top with M-LOK slots on the seven other sides. A short piece of M-LOK mounted Picatinny was included and used to mount IR lasers on the sides of the gun. One of us used two non-rotational, QD mounts to throw on a padded VTAC sling during long hikes. The guns functioned flawlessly and quickly became favorites because of how light and easily they handled.
Bill also sent us a bunch of Lehigh Defense 125-grain Controlled Chaos (CC) rounds in 300 HAM’R. It was a good thing he sent plenty; after we used them for sighting-in both thermal scopes and IR lasers, my buddies noticed that during hunts I send rounds downrange less like a traditional hunter and more like a man caught in a firefight. It might not be the best for the meat, but I’ve trained for decades to put multiple, fight-stopping rounds downrange quickly rather than one shot and reassess. The rounds proved extremely effective on everything we shot with them.
The second person I reached out to was Steve Lemenov at Armasight. I told him about the upcoming hog hunt and we were in need of thermal scopes for the WC Ultralight Hunter Rifles. Steve sent us three thermal scopes: Armasight’s Contractor TWS 320 3-12x25mm, Contractor 640 TWS 2.3-9x35mm, and Contractor 640 TWS 3-12x50mm. He also sent a small, handheld thermal scope called the Sidekick 320 9.1mm and a helmet mount for it.
Armasight Contractor Optics
The Armasight Contractor series is built around the ArmaCORE 12 Micron Sensor. Besides just being a thermal scope, each unit has a built in GPS, compass which can be visible on the screen, wireless interface so a parent can use their phone to watch exactly what their kid is seeing in real time, internal memory for recording photos and videos, and housing that is 40-percent smaller and weighs 25-percent less than similar scopes in its category. They have multiple color palettes including “Target” (our favorite), which was black & white with strong heat signatures in red. They have three, large, tactile knobs on top that were simple to learn and master so the first time we went out, everyone could turn them on and off, adjust zoom, adjust the color palette, and start/stop video recording just by feel.
While playing with them in the blinds, we each soon learned how to change the reticles as well as adjusting the other settings. The focus ring sits at the end where the objective lens is and can easily be manipulated in the dark. Another thing I liked was the battery compartment. It has a large knob on top that you unscrew and the tops of the two CR123a batteries are sticking out. Every time I changed the batteries it was pitch black and I couldn’t see anything. I was able to feel that knob on top of the right battery and quickly switched them out with new batteries 100-percent by feel without any light.
On the Hunt
When we arrived at the ranch, the first thing we did was lay out all three Ultralight Hunter rifles and everyone grabbed a scope. I was assisting Shaun positioning and locking on his scope with the ARMS throw levers when Robert said, “The other two are mounted.” No way, I thought. He had done both in less than 60 seconds. I looked and he showed me they both had Kinetic Sidelok mounts. You literally press it down on the picatinny, and it locks itself into place.
To remove them, you press a button at the front of the mount and it unlocks off the rail and resets to snap on again. Adjusting it forward or backward takes just a few seconds and no need for a screwdriver to pry open the ARMS lever mounts when they are a touch too tight. I wiggled the two with Kinetic Sideloks and they were solid. I was very impressed.
Once everything was mounted we headed to the range to sight in. A ½-MOA boresight feature is built into each unit. You aim at the heated target, fire once, then figure out where you hit. You set up your sights again and dial the reticle over to where the round hit and click save. Easy-peasy. We did have trouble figuring out the scale of how far up and over to move the reticle so we put a second heated target on the board and used it as a reference point. After that, it was a breeze.
Hittin’ it Hard
We hunted every morning and evening. We got to the blinds a couple hours before sunrise. Instead of having to wait for dawn to break, the hunt started immediately. Likewise, hunts that normally would have ended at dusk went on for a couple more hours and could have gone all night. We saw pigs, whitetail, aoudad sheep, and I even captured a mountain lion silently stalking the pig feeder hours after the sun had set. One hunter noticed a tree looked completely bare, but then saw dozens of dove in it with the Armasight thermal scope. It was eye opening to say the least.
Personally, I really liked using the Sidekick 320 mini thermal monocular to scan the area while my rifle sat in the corner of the blind. Once I saw a heat signature, I picked up the rifle and turned on that scope to scan and finally take the shot. The Sidekick 320 can be set up on a bridge mount with a PVS14 so one eye looks at thermal and the other eye looks through night vision and your brain super-imposes the two on top of each other. We did not have the right mount to try all of that, but I would be lying if I didn’t say the idea intrigues me.
In the end, the hunt was a raging success with all equipment functioning flawlessly. That alone shocked me considering just how much gear we had brought and tried out. Not surprisingly, we got a little better each day we went out. We hunted a little with night vision and IR lasers on the guns, but we mostly used the Armasight Contractor thermal scopes. Each scope weighed less than 2 pounds and paired perfectly with WC Ultralight Hunter Rifles.
Even on long walks, no one complained about the weight. We took pig and deer that week and had the opportunities to shoot a lot more than we did simply because we did not have all of the necessary tags. Personally, I am big believer that we had the perfect load out for a hog hunt. I wouldn’t have substituted one piece of gear and I cannot wait to go try it all again.
For more info, visit wilsoncombat.com or armasight.com.
Wilson Combat Ultralight Hunter Rifle Specs
- Caliber: 300 HAM’R
- Modes of Fire: semi-auto
- Barrel Length: 16”
- Weight empty: 5 lb, 2.5 oz
- Twist Rate: 1:15
- Barrel Material: 416R
- Muzzle Device: thread protector
- Handguard: Wilson Combat M-LOK® Rail
- Fire Control Group: Wilson Combat TTU (Tactical Trigger Unit) M2, 4#
- Capacity: 20+1
- Buttstock: Smoke Composite carbon fiber closed shoulder buttstock
- Pistol Grip: Mission First Tactical Grip
- Action: Direct Impingement Gas; Mid Length
- MSRP: $2,250
Armasight Contractor Thermal Weapon Sight Specs
- Multiple color palettes
- Intuitive menus with turret controls
- 8+ Reticle Types
- 4 hours runtime at 20° C
- Image Detail Enhancement
- 1/2MOA Boresight
- Quick Detach Mount Included
- Video Recording & Image Capture
- USB Video Stream
- Wi-Fi Video Stream
- Bluetooth 5.0 Capabilities
- Application on iOS / Android Devices
- USB-C Interface for External Devices
- Integrated Stadiametric Rangefinder
- Graphic Compass
- Picture in Picture Mode
- Angle Cosine Indicator
- Reticle ON/OFF Selection
- Battery Status Indicator
- Alloy Metal Body and Ergonomic Design
- MSRP: $3,299.00 to $5,799.00
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