Wedgetail an all-Aussie option for pro shooters, says Daniel O’Dea
The ownership of self-loading firearms in Australia was all but curtailed after the 1996 National Firearms Agreement (NFA) and accompanying firearms buyback. As draconian as many might believe this to have been, the authorities concerned at least had enough understanding to recognise there was still a completely legitimate need for the use of self-loading firearms, primarily for vertebrate pest control by professional contract shooters and eligible primary producers (farmers).
Contract shooters for large vertebrate work such as the aerial control (chopper shooting) of pigs, goats, buffaloes etc. mainly use rifles of .308 calibre (7.62 NATO) and as far as firearms were concerned, this requirement had traditionally been fulfilled by self-loading surplus military rifles. Predominantly these included the Lithgow-made L1A1 (SLR), the US M14 and to a lesser extent early model Dutch Armalite AR10s. In design and manufacture all these can be dated back to the late 1950s. The Lithgow L1A1 ceased production in 1986, the M14 in 1980 and even 20 years ago it was apparent both the necessary parts and skill sets to service and maintain these firearms were becoming scarce.
Likewise, although there were some commercial variants of both rifles still being made in the US, both designs could be considered somewhat antiquated by modern standards. At the same time in Australia, although the NFA recognised the need for such firearms, for many years the Federal Customs Act remained somewhat ambivalent, making it near impossible to meet the importation requirements for legitimate licence holders.
Thankfully this situation has been improved but requirements and times for importation can still be somewhat arduous. Basically there has been opportunity presenting for locally-made options to service this niche market and among these is Victoria-based Wedgetail Industries. They make items catering to both Defence and law enforcement as well as domestic commercial sale with their main products being firearms and suppressors. Being both correctly licensed for possession and testing, I had the chance to review their WT25 self-loading variant which specifically caters to Category D primary production and professional vertebrate pest control licence holders.
Wedgetail Industries state: “The WT25 is a gas-operated, rotary bolt, magazine-fed, air-cooled, self-loading rifle chambered in .308 Winchester.” In essence it’s a modernised version of the Armalite AR10. The basic design with its modular split receiver system, excellent ergonomics and proven reliability has stood the test of time and would be one of the most copied, improved and modified platforms in firearms history. With multiple trips to the US SHOT Show and similar events, I’m familiar with the platform and its various interpretations.
The WT25 arrived professionally boxed along with an extensive A4 binder-sized owner’s manual, some neat ‘Wedgetail’ merch by way of stickers and Velcro patches and on the more practical side, a comprehensive Otis Defender Series .308 cleaning kit which includes a pull through four-piece steel rod, brushes and jags, a quality item in itself I know retails above $150. For testing the rifle was also supplied with a Blast deflector, suppressor and B&T case-catcher, as it’s Wedgetail’s intention to offer these items as a complete package to appropriately licensed professional shooters.
My first impressions were that of a solid if not hefty rifle (4.25kg bare), the one supplied being the 16” barrel variant (20” also available). As with all AR-type rifles the WT25 comprises a two-part modular receiver system, both upper and lower receivers 100 per cent Australian made by Wedgetail from 7075-T6 aluminum, as is the free-floating hand guard. All these items are finished in black Cerakote over Type III anodizing. Noticeable design features of the lower receiver are the integrated triggerguard and ambidextrous magazine and bolt releases, the excellent trigger a two-stage unit also made by Wedgetail.
Some AR-type rifle offerings are nothing more than component builds. There have even been cases where particular models of well-known brand names have been effectively licensing deals with the complete rifle being made of components outsourced, even assembled elsewhere and only carrying the brand name.
Wedgetail use Magpul components, a company recognised as a premium Mil-spec supplier and on the WT25 these are the MOE rubber over-moulded pistol grip, 10-position Mil-spec receiver extension and SL-S adjustable buttstock which includes battery storage in the cheekrest. The rifle is also supplied with a 20-round Magpul Gen M3 P-MAG.
With the upper receiver assembly, both receiver and modular handguard mate seamlessly for about 500mm of continuous Picatinny rail across the top for scope and accessory mounting. Likewise, handguard ventilations are machined as MLok slots across seven of eight features (top being the Picatinny rail) providing almost endless options for further accessory fitment.
The rifle’s barrel chambered in .308 Winchester is locally made by Lithgow Arms in chrome moly steel with six lands and grooves and has a one-in-10 twist rate. The muzzle is threaded ⅝-24 and fitted with Wedgetail’s suppressor taper mount allowing for fitment of various muzzle devices. Also supplied for testing was a Steiner M8Xi 1-8×24 scope courtesy of Beretta Australia and a Spuhr QDP-4002 mount, so I was keen to see how the WT25 would print on paper.
Locked down in my Caldwell Lead Sled I was impressed. Factory loaded .308 Winchester ammunition included offerings from Winchester, Federal and Hornady of various weights and the group average achieved was around 1 MOA, though the WT25 particularly liked the American Gunner 155gr with groups as tight as ¼ MOA. I’ve shot many AR-type rifles, mostly in the US, and have seldom seen accuracy like this.
Wedgetail credit this to their complete redesign of the AR10 barrel to trunnion interface. The barrel nut threads into the receiver trunnion as opposed to the normal arrangement with a barrel nut screwing down over the externally threaded diameter of the trunnion. This reversing of the male/female thread arrangement is said to stiffen the complete assembly making it more inherently accurate.
Groups were fired both with and without the supplied Wedgetail suppressor fitted. Point of impact was affected though it would seem only on the vertical plane with windage remaining the same. Simply put, point of impact dropped 2-3”, ammo dependent, with the suppressor attached but being only a vertical change, this data could easily be recorded with optics adjusted as required dependent on suppressor fitment.
Accuracy aside, shooting the WT25 with suppressor fitted dramatically changes the gun’s dynamic, as it not only cuts out noise but seems to reduce felt recoil and all but eliminates muzzle blast. Contrary to popular myth suppressors don’t ‘silence’ a firearm but importantly, on a rifle like this, reduce dangerous level noise exposure to more bearable levels. You’re still wearing hearing protection but the blast is significantly reduced and in occupational situations their use should really be mandatory. Thankfully some state regulatory authorities are now recognising this and approving permits to qualifying end users.
In operation I found the ambidextrous controls particularly useful. For those familiar with the basic AR layout, on the left side of the WT25 you now enjoy a magazine release button just below the traditional position of the bolt release paddle. On the right the magazine release is in the normal position as is the forward assist button, though we now have the addition of a bolt release/hold open lever between the two. This is perfectly positioned for activation by an extended trigger finger outside of the triggerguard and operates the same as a Magpul B.A.D. lever (Battery Assist Device), only much better as it’s integrated into the lower receiver as opposed to a ‘bolt-on’ accessory.
In practice these additions improve the method of arms for this type of rifle. Example: Rifle at point, loaded magazine, bolt locked open. To charge, traditionally you’d either remove the left hand from the handguard to depress or slap the bolt release paddle, or operate the charging handle to full rearward extension to release the bolt that way. Now you simply extend your trigger finger and press the right-side lever down, likewise to lock the action open without a magazine inserted.
Again, traditionally this could be quite a manipulation involving removing the left hand from handguard to grasp magazine housing with thumb over top of the bolt release paddle, then removing the right hand from the pistol grip to operate the charging handle rearward while tilting the bolt release paddle backwards to lock the bolt open.
Now you just pull the charging handle back with the left hand and with the right hand in full control still on the pistol grip, extend your trigger finger to press the lever upwards to lock the bolt. Much simpler! Please excuse this extended description but it’s really a significant improvement. I note the WT25 as tested didn’t have an ambidextrous safety lever but did have clear markings F (in Red) and S (white), Safe and Fire, on both sides of the receiver so I’m sure this would be an available option.
Gas adjustment is easily done using a 5/16 Allen key (supplied) to turn the regulator screw on the forward face of the gas block. Easily accessible, this is just inside the end of the handguard effectively shrouded by the same for protection. Being able to adjust the gas is a valuable feature on a gas-operated rifle, as it lets you tailor operation for best efficiency. Ideally you want to be using just enough gas to reliably cycle the action and eject spent cases without stoppage, as too much gas can increase recoil and wear and tear on the rifle, too little and the gun simply won’t cycle. Adjustments are click adaptable and the alterable screw can be removed for cleaning.
In closing, the Wedgetail WT25 presents as an accurate and well-built, functional ‘D’ Category firearm with a host of great features well above that of many standard US-made commercial offerings. They offer local support for parts and service claiming they already have contractors (clients) putting more than 30,000 rounds a year through their WT25s. Lastly, pricing appears competitive against comparable imported offerings without all the AG import hassle, so for approved licence holders let’s support our local outlets. More at www.wedgetailindustries.com
Rifle: Wedgetail WT25
Action: Gas operated self-loading
Trigger: Wedgetail two-stage
Calibre: .308 Winchester
Capacity: 20-round detectable box magazine
Barrel: Chrome moly steel 16” (406mm)
Twist rate: one-in-10, six lands and grooves
Sights: Picatinny rail
Upper and lower: 7075-T6 Alloy
Stock: Magpul SL-S
Pistol grip: MOE rubber over-mould
Weight: 4.25kg (9.37lb)
Price guide: Around $6790 RRP