Just the name .458 SOCOM conjures up visions of stealthy operators, special missions and exotic gear. After only hearing about the cartridge, my interest was renewed when I had a conversation with Bill Wilson during a visit to Wilson Combat in Berryville, Arkansas. Wilson Combat was building custom .458 SOCOM rifles and developing hunting rounds for the chambering. Bill’s test laboratory was his Texas ranch, where he had used the cartridge extensively to harvest hogs. I made a note to at the first opportunity test both the cartridge and one of Wilson’s rifles.
“As related in… accounts of the operations in Somalia, the 5.56mm round was not particularly effective against Somalis who were amped up on qat. The discussions led to the development of a .458 cartridge that was given the SOCOM name…”
I recently requested a Wilson Recon Tactical chambered in .458 SOCOM. While waiting for the carbine to arrive, I learned about Southern Ballistic Research (SBR), a company located in Brunswick, Georgia, that has a great deal of experience in developing .458 SOCOM loads for a variety of customers, including unnamed government agencies. According to SBR’s Buddy Singleton, the .458 SOCOM was born out of discussions with members of the U.S. special operations community. As related in Mark Bowden’s book, Black Hawk Down, and in other accounts of the operations in Somalia, the 5.56mm round was not particularly effective against Somalis who were amped up on qat. The discussions led to the development of a .458 cartridge that was given the SOCOM name.
The hope was that the new cartridge would be standardized and adopted by the special operations community. In order for that to be considered, the new cartridge had to retrofit, with relative ease, the existing M16/M4 weapons system. The new cartridge featured a 40mm long case with a rebated rim of 0.473 inches. This allowed existing 5.56mm bolts to be retrofitted for the new caliber. The only new parts that are needed are the bolt, extractor and barrel.
The length of the case allowed the overall length of the round to fit and function in the standard 5.56mm magazine. However, the fat SOCOM cartridge significantly decreased the magazine capacity. A standard 20-round magazine would only accommodate seven rounds of SOCOM. The 30-round magazine would hold 10 rounds and the 40-round magazine would hold 15 rounds.
The .458 SOCOM can best be described as a modern .45-70. Bullet weights vary between 250 and 600 grains. Testing has shown that the optimum bullet for most purposes is a 300-grain projectile, such as the Barnes 300-grain TTSX ballistic tip. As you can tell, I have been intrigued by the .458 SOCOM for many years.
I recently completed an evaluation on Wilson Combat’s Paul Howe Tactical Carbine and came away very impressed with the quality and execution of the rifle (Click here to read the full review!). I was equally impressed when I received the Wilson Combat Recon Tactical in .458 SOCOM. The fit and finish of the rifle was as clean and crisp as one of the company’s 1911s. Like all Recon Tactical carbines, the .458 SOCOM is based on 7075 forged upper and lower receivers that are precision machined and fitted to ensure consistent performance. The fire control consists of a two-stage Wilson Tactical Trigger Unit that has been upgraded with heavy-duty mil-spec springs. The trigger on my sample rifle measured a clean 4.5 pounds with a clean break and no excessive overtravel.
“Another modification is the enlarged ejection port, which provides more clearance for the larger .458 SOCOM case…”
The bolt is machined from Carpenter 158 steel, shot-peened and magnetic-particle inspected. In addition, a mil-spec extractor O-ring buffer has been installed. The carrier keys have been properly staked, and the entire bolt carrier group has been NP3 coated by Robar. The operating controls consist of the standard, non-ambidextrous, M4 components and, again, reflect simplicity and functionality.
Whether it is a 1911 or an AR/M4, Wilson Combat takes a lot of pride in its barrels. The Recon Tactical was equipped with a stainless, match-grade barrel with a 1-in-14-inch twist rate and Wilson’s Accu-Tac flash suppressor. To ensure optimum reliability, Wilson uses a mid-length gas system with an adjustable gas block and a straight gas tube. The ability to adjust the gas volume allows the user to fine-tune the rifle to a specific load. Another modification is the enlarged ejection port, which provides more clearance for the larger .458 SOCOM case.
The Wilson Combat TRIM modular, free-floating handguard is one of the sleekest on the market. The handguard is machined from a 6005A-T5 aluminum extrusion and has threaded holes along the 3, 6 and 9 o’clock positions. This allows short sections of Picatinny rail panels to be installed to meet the individual user’s needs. The TRIM handguard not only looks good, but it’s also very comfortable to run. An Ergo pistol grip and a Rogers/Wilson Super-Stoc complete the Recon Tactical’s fixtures.
All five of Africa’s dangerous game animals have been taken using the .458 SOCOM…”
I contacted U.S. Optics and requested one of its new SR-8C 1-8X scopes with an illuminated reticle. As with all U.S. Optics models, the SR-8C is a robust scope that is built for hard use. The SR-8C can be used like a 1X red-dot reflex for short-range encounters while the 8X provides identification and engagements at extended ranges. The left turret features the controls for the illuminated red-dot reticle. The red dot is 4 MOA and has 12 brightness settings. The scope’s 8C first-focal-plane reticle consists of 1-mil windage and elevation stadia lines. This mil-radian-based reticle is clear, easy to use and works well at both low and high magnifications.
Wilson Combat and SBR were kind enough to provide loads for the review. Wilson Combat forwarded two loads for evaluation, as did SBR. Both companies provided a load that used a 300-grain Barnes TTSX ballistic tip. In addition, Wilson provided a 300-grain JHP while SBR provided a 300-grain, solid-brass Dangerous Game load. As a side note, all five of Africa’s dangerous game animals have been taken using the .458 SOCOM.
On the range, I initially zeroed the Recon Tactical at 50 yards using Wilson’s TTSX load. I then moved back to 100 yards for accuracy testing. The first thing I noticed was the authoritative recoil of the big cartridge. While not abusive, the rifle lets the user know that he has sent a substantial round downrange. The Wilson 300-grain TTSX averaged 1,798 feet per second (fps) and produced a five-shot group that measured 3.01 inches. Wilson’s 300-grain JHP averaged 1,745 fps and produced a 2.21-inch group. The SBR TTSX load averaged 1,887 fps with a 2.39-inch group, while the Dangerous Game load averaged 1,661 fps and produced a 3.81-inch group. Interestingly, the SBR Dangerous Game load group shifted approximately 3 inches in windage.
“The .458 SOCOM is truly the king of the AR platform, and companies like Wilson Combat and Southern Ballistic Research continue to lead the industry in development of the cartridge…”
By its very nature, the .458 SOCOM is a special-purpose platform. Drawbacks include limited magazine capacity, ammunition availability and expense. However, it does have a place in the law enforcement inventory. For agencies that may encounter large, dangerous game, such as bear or feral hogs, the .458 SOCOM offers a significant increase in lethality. The cartridge also gives tactical units a barrier penetration capability against hard targets.
SBR currently offers nine .458 SOCOM loads and has several other loads under development. These include a 100-grain CQB load, a 500-grain frangible and several incendiary loads for military use only. When used with a suppressor and subsonic ammunition, the .458 SOCOM becomes even more viable for special mission requirements.
The .458 SOCOM is truly the king of the AR platform, and companies like Wilson Combat and Southern Ballistic Research continue to lead the industry in development of the cartridge. When the cartridge is paired with Wilson Combat’s excellent rifles, it becomes a force unto its own.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Southern Ballistic Research