Late last year I called Melvin Forbes at New Ultra Light Arms (NULA) and placed an order for a rifle. I jokingly told Melvin, “You are getting older. I want another before you are also old to do your magic. ” In April 2022, I drove through West Virginia to get my new rifle and visit my good friend. We ate hot dogs, told stories and made plans for the next deer season. It was then that I learned that Forbes had finally worked out the details and would pass it on to New Ultra Light Arms Bill Wilson from Wilson Combat.
Because Forbes does not advertise and because almost 75 percent of its customers are returning customers, you may have never heard of NULA. In 1985, Forbes introduced an under 5 kilogram bolt action called the Model 20 that was treated like a samurai sword and fired like an ornamental rifle. He started with a front protective screw, knowing that for optimal balance, every ounce he added behind it had to add forward. He designed his action and completely revolutionized the way rifle stocks were made and adapted.
What makes a NULA rifle different
Working with engineers at the Allegheny Ballistic Laboratory, Forbes learned how to make a stockpile of rifles by hand using Kevlar and carbon fiber. The result was a stock that is stronger than a rifle barrel and weighs only 8 ounces when it comes out of the mold. Then, against all conventional wisdom, Forbes ended his action in this action from the tang to the top.
Because the stock is stiffer than the barrel action, there is no need for the barrel to be loose. The stock basically makes the barrel more rigid, extremely reduces vibrations and softens harmony. The result is an astonishing level of accuracy that some builders try to achieve with rifles that weigh – and cost – twice as much. Forbes also worked with Timney Triggers to design a three-function / two-position bolted safety trigger. And he created his two ounce rings, which are now produced by Talley Manufacturing.
With the Model 20, Forbes set the standard for the operation of light bolts. He set it so high that no one else has been able to achieve it in more than 35 years, and his work was so clever that he was honored with the Golden Bullseye Pioneer Award by the National Rifle Association. Field & Stream’s Rifle editor David E. Petzal once called Forbes the most mechanically fit human being he has ever met.
Forbes has tried to sell NULA in the past
Any good machinist can create an action and screw a barrel straight. But the key to Forbes rifles performing in the way they work is the intricate hand-placed stocks. It takes time and patience to train them properly, but more than anything else, it takes skill. This is why Forbes has had a hard time finding someone other than himself and a small group of stock manufacturers to make his rifles the right way.
In 1999, Colt bought NULA, but they threw the ball and Forbes had to buy his company again. Then, in 2012, defense contractor Titan Machine convinced Forbes that they could manage NULA. They started well, but stopped listening to Forbes. Thus, Forbes left and the company Titan had started – Forbes Rifles – folded. The problem with both business endeavors was twofold. These large companies were more interested in maximizing profits than in building the Forbes rifle correctly, and they refused to listen to the rifle maker’s advice.
The truth is that Forbes never needed a big company to buy it. What he needed was another firearms innovator with an appreciation for the magic he had created. Someone with whom he could share his rifle building secrets and who respected his legacy.
Why Wilson Combat might be best for NULA
Through a mutual acquaintance, Forbes began talking to Bill Wilson. In Wilson, Forbes found an associate, offspring, and caretaker who needed his rifle. Wilson Combat is the largest and most successful custom firearms manufacturing company in the world. They have mastered 1911 and AR15. After all, Forbes and Wilson respect each other and speak the same language when it comes to firearms.
“I have all the confidence in the world of Bill Wilson and this is a project whose time has come,” says Forbes. “I am really pleased that future generations will be able to enjoy the same rifle that I have built and that thousands of others have enjoyed for almost 40 years.”
Melvin and his team will continue to service the rifles manufactured by Colt — Colt Light Rifle — Forbes Rifles and the New Ultra Light Arms Wilson Combat rifles. But now he’s going to show his new rifle caretakers how to build the pound-to-pound hunting rifle, the most accurate ever built. Initially, Wilson Combat will offer the Model 20S in .223 Remington (Wylde), 300 HAMR and 350 Legend, and the Model 20 in .243 Winchester, 6.5 Creedmoor, 7mm-08 Remington, .284 Winchester and .30
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“I feel very fortunate to know Melvin and to have been entrusted with the opportunity to continue his legacy of building the best and lightest rifles on the market,” says Wilson. “I am also deeply humbled and honored that Melvin has trusted me and my team at Wilson Combat to continue the work of his life. “He is basically returning his child to us and I assure him and all past and future clients that we will not disappoint any of you.”
From the acquaintance and hunting with Forbes and Wilson, I believe the legacy of NULA and Forbes are in the most capable hands possible.