Home - Volume 2 (2007) - Issue 2 (Spring '07) - Pistol Review: Wilson Combat Sentinel Compact

Wilson Combat Sentinel Compact (WSC-A-A)

"Above and Beyond"
A Short Barreled, Reliable 1911 in .45 ACP

A Gun Test by Steve Clark (Rio Vista Slim, )

So........
What to do if you are one of the most highly respected builders of custom 1911s in the world, you have a brand new pistol, so new that you don’t even know what to name it yet? You think you have a winner, but you would like the opinion of some knowledgeable people, who are really dedicated to the 1911.

You do what Wilson Combat did. While the "decision-makers" are finalizing a name for the gun, you send a prototype to the M1911.ORG E-zine for tests, evaluation, and review. Since we are the most respected interactive internet site dedicated solely to the Model of 1911 pistol, we’ll take the gun in, wring it out, and give you a fair assessment on whether it has met your goals. Then we’ll give our readers the very first crack at seeing it, reading all about it, and giving their impressions. Don’t think for one second that those impressions are not valuable. The input from the people who participate in the M1911.ORG Forum has caused changes to be made in more than one of the pistols we have reviewed.

The Sentinel Compact


Right side view showing the new Wilson Sentinel Compact pistol.


Left side view showing the new Wilson Sentinel Compact pistol.

While many folks own 3 inch barreled 1911s and swear by them, the breed is notorious for occasionally developing the hiccups at the most inopportune moments. These malfunctions run the full gamut of problems. When the original 5 inch barrel 1911 is reduced in size, the re-engineering of items such as springs, timing, slide weight, etc. become critical. A manufacturer might issue a perfectly functioning gun from the production line, only to see the very next pistol exhibit all the qualities of a jam-o-matic!

Bill Wilson has stated that any barrel length below 3 and 5/8 inches is compromising the design into an area where reliability cannot be guaranteed. Thus, the original Wilson Combat Sentinel model is fitted with precisely that barrel length. Fit that barrel into a slide that has been precisely designed for that length, and you have the formula for success.

Per Wilson Combat's web site, some dimensional differences between their pistols need to be addressed here. A standard Wilson full size CQB (Close Quarter Battle) has a measured height of 5 and 13/16" inches. The CQB Compact has a measured height of 5 and 7/16". The Sentinel's listed height is 5". Since that height includes the sights, small variations must be taken into account. The Sentinel Compact is essentially an Officer sized frame, making it ˝" less in height than the full size standard CQB. The standard Sentinel is sub-Officer in size, accounting for its 6 + 1 ammunition capacity.

The new Sentinel Compact uses the slide components from the Sentinel, mated to the larger frame of the Compact. Hopefully, this will clarify the confusion as to size of the new pistol.

Description of the test Pistol

I had something of an epiphany when Duane Wormington, of Wilson Combat, contacted the M1911.ORG E-zine about being the first to test one of their brand new pistols. This particular model is so new that the model designation hadn't even been decided on before I had put a couple of hundred rounds downrange with it. This is a pre-production pistol, in the truest sense of the word.

Yet, don't get the wrong impression from this opening. This new pistol has some outstanding features, is a well thought out design, and could very well be a best-seller, waiting in the wings.

The name, Sentinel Compact, was only finalized just prior to this article receiving its final edit. The team at Wilson had already decided that the new gun would have a 3 5/8" barrel, so the Sentinel's slide was a given. Other than that slide, plus the use of Wilson's own exceptional components, this is a brand new offering from a company that takes innovation very seriously.


This photograph shows the "Sentinel" roll mark, and the quality of the Armor-Tuff finish applied to the pistol. Whether Wilson Combat decides to retain this roll mark on production guns remains to be seen.

The Sentinel Compact was delivered to Great Guns in Burleson, Texas, and store manager Bill Lamb immediately let me know that something quite special had arrived. Bill is most certainly a "gun guy", and not easily impressed. Not knowing Bill's weekend hours, I arrived at the shop a half-hour before his normal opening time. Yet he unlocked the door, went to his safe, and presented me with the brand new Wilson Combat pistol.


The test pistol (still secured from the Wilson facility), lying atop the Wilson Combat #146 nylon pistol case. A Low-Profile, pancake-style sharkskin holster was included with the test pistol, as well as a sharkskin single magazine carrier. An extra Wilson magazine also came with the package.

This photograph shows a totally no-nonsense 1911 designed for concealed carry. The only departures from the all-black Armor-Tuff finish are the barrel hood, the full length guide rod, and the Wilson medallions on the stocks. Unlike the original Sentinel model, the Sentinel Compact utilizes Wilson's compact frame, which is ˝" shorter than a full size 1911, as previously stated. Persons with average sized hands will appreciate this move to the longer frame. While highly concealable, the Sentinel frame often leaves the little finger of the shooting hand curled under the pistol, or worse, hanging out in space. The Sentinel Compact frame will allow people with all but the largest hands to get a good grip on the gun. This also means that magazines with a full 7 round capacity are standard with the pistol. Wilson includes two 47,OX magazines with each weapon shipped.

The entire pistol is de-horned, and the controls have been designed with concealment as a prerequisite. From the serrated slide stop and ambidextrous safety, to the Tactical Combat sights, nothing protrudes that would snag on holsters or clothing.

Those controls operate smoothly, but with authority. The thumb/slide safety engages with a distinctive "click", and is released in an identical manner. The slide stop is a Wilson exclusive. While having a smaller shelf than conventional slide stops, it nonetheless is easily accessed and performed flawlessly during the test. The upswept, High Ride beavertail grip safety disengages easily and positively, thanks to the extended palm swell immediately above the mainspring housing. All of these components were impeccably fitted, with no binding or looseness detected during the course of the tests.


Photograph showing the left side of the Sentinel Compact, featuring the High Ride beavertail grip safety, left side thumb safety, and distinctive G-10 stocks.

That previously mentioned mainspring housing is the most distinctive feature of the Sentinel Compact, and one of the reasons that a name for the new gun has been so difficult to come up with. The bottom 5/8" of the mainspring housing is rounded and stippled. While reminiscent of Ed Brown's "Bob Tail", the design is purely Wilson in nature. Mr. Brown was, in fact, consulted prior to the round butt configuration being included on this gun, and he expressed no concerns with Wilson Combat including this feature on the weapon.

The difference in the "feel" of this rounded butt has to be experienced to be appreciated. Those who have had the opportunity to grasp the Sentinel Compact have all commented on how good the gun feels in the hand. The CNC checkering, 30 lines per inch, blends perfectly into the stippling. Coupled with the same type of checkering on the front strap, as well as the finger relief under the trigger guard, the pistol is securely held in the hand, and resists movement during firing and recoil.


Thirty line per inch CNC checkering on the front strap of the Wilson Sentinel Compact.

The stocks blend perfectly with the all-black appearance of the gun, and are made from G-10. To those not familiar with G-10, the material is a filament glass cloth/epoxy resin composite, known for its durability and dimensional stability. The pewter-colored Wilson medallions add a nice contrast to the diagonal lines of the stocks.

The rear sight is Wilson's "Combat Pyramid" type, with tritium inserts. These particular sights are highly visible, yet snag-free. Although I had never shot a Wilson gun before this test, I admired those sights on every CQB I'd ever seen. Using them, as I did in the shooting tests of this new gun, proved that my admiration was not unfounded.

Alas, somewhere between Berryville, Arkansas and Rio Vista, Texas, the tritium insert on the front sight disappeared. While of no consequence to my shooting tests (other than a cancellation of low-light firing), this minor issue would be fully covered by Wilson Combat's excellent customer service.

The trigger is Wilson's outstanding three-hole design, with an adjustment screw for fine tuning the over travel. I found no need to make any adjustments (by the way, Wilson Combat uses Loctite when they set up their pistols, and they do not recommend for the end user to adjust it at all), as after a very small take-up (less than 1/8"), the trigger broke cleanly at 4 pounds of pressure. Notice, I did not use the word average! Twenty tests with my RCBS Trigger Pull Gauge consistently measured 4 pounds. Pauses during shooting exercises revealed that same 4 pounds. Although Duane Wormington sounded a little distressed over the phone concerning the trigger pull weight, I personally think that 4 pounds is perfect for a defensive-type pistol. The crispness of the release of the sear makes this exceptional trigger feel lighter than it is.


This photo, featuring the serrated three hole trigger, shows the very essence of the new Sentinel Compact. From the distinctive forward slide area, all the way back to the barely visible round-butt mainspring housing, this gun exudes what a combat/defensive arm should be.

Disassembly

The Wilson Sentinel Compact field strips easily, in a manner consistent with most compact-sized pistols utilizing a bushing-less bull barrel.

First, align the take-down notch in the slide with the slide stop lever. Completely remove the slide stop, and ease the slide forward, off the frame. Although the recoil spring assembly didn't try to jump out of the slide during this maneuver, I normally secure the assembly with my thumb, just in case. Push the rear of the guide rod toward the muzzle, while lifting the assembly up and away from the barrel. Lower the barrel link, and slide the barrel forward, out the front of the slide. This is as far as one needs to go to field strip the weapon.

Reassembly of the Sentinel Compact is in reverse order, taking care to push down on the recoil spring assembly while positioning the slide on the frame. Should one desire to detail strip the piece, this is accomplished in the conventional manner of any 1911.


The new offering from Wilson Combat in slide-lock, which reveals the bull barrel and full length guide rod.

Bill Wilson's blue Shok Buffer and the G-10 stocks are the only parts in the preceding photograph that fail to attract a magnet.

Examination of all the internal parts failed to reveal any tool marks whatsoever. Duane Wormington had advised me during our conversation that the folks at Wilson had searched for the right combination of components for the assembly of this pre-production pistol. This led me to think that I might find some evidence of minor fitting marks. Yet this is a Wilson gun, and those thoughts were unfounded.

Shooting Impressions

The first 7 shots that were fired from this brand new Sentinel Compact revealed quite a bit about how Wilson Combat assembles their guns. Federal 230 gr. Hydra-Shok cartridges were used at a distance of 12 yards (36 ft. /10.97 meters). The pistol was fired from a two-handed, modified Weaver stance. The first five shots created a ragged hole .75", from center-to-center. The last two shots expanded the total group size to 1.5", revealing that my mediocre shooting talent had reared its ugly head. I was convinced, however, that this pistol is exceedingly accurate!

(Special Note: Several manufacturers of handgun ammunition have made significant donations of their products to the M1911.ORG E-ZINE. Without the assistance of these companies, the shooting tests would have much less impact in the scope of performance available with these pistols. ATK submitted the Speer and Federal cartridges used in this test. Likewise, HORNADY donated quantities of their jacketed hollow point ammunitions, in various weights and power ratings. Finally, ARMSCOR provided their 230 gr. Premium Full Metal Jacket ammo. These manufacturers recognize the importance of firing a variety of loads through any given pistol, and their kind donations help make these tests valid.)

The Competitive Edge Dynamics Millennium Chronograph was set-up 12 feet from the firing line for these tests. The target stand was positioned 15 yards from the muzzle of the pistol, or 11 yards beyond the near diffuser screen of the chronograph.

Smaller, short-barreled defensive handguns normally are not viewed as weapons suitable for longer ranges. The 5 3/8" sight radius of the Wilson Sentinel Compact would place it at a disadvantage, compared, to say, to the 6 7/8" sight radius of a Wilson Combat CQB (Close Quarter Battle). Therefore, all accuracy testing of record was conducted at 15 yards.

For this portion of the test, a bench was used, and the Sentinel Compact was held with two hands from a padded rest.

Ammo donated by:





From this table, the Speer 185 grain Gold Dot Hollow Point round is the fastest, and one of the most accurate, when fired from the new Wilson pistol.

The "Low" reading for the Federal 185 gr. JHP appeared to be an anomaly. However, re-testing this load yielded similar results, so I let the figures stand.

Once again, the Federal 230 gr. Hydra-Shok proved to be the accuracy winner.

Comparing the bullet velocities from this test, to a previous test with a full size 1911, I discovered that the 3 5/8" barrel on the new gun gives up an average of 30 feet-per-second to its longer barreled brother. That is much less than I would have imagined, prior to conducting these tests.

At round #238 (using the Hornady +P TAP cartridge), I felt the gun hesitate for a split second before it went into battery. Then, five rounds later, the weapon experienced a failure to go to battery at round #243, using the same load. The slide stopped about 1/8" from full battery. Lightly tapping the rear of the slide resulted in the gun going to battery. The gun was quite warm from all the shooting, and had not been given as much as a wipe-down to this point. I suspended testing until the pistol cooled off, and then field stripped and wiped down the entire gun. Re-oiling the frame and slide rails, I resumed shooting and had no further issues through an additional 277 rounds of various bullet types and weights.

In a previous conversation with Duane Wormington, he stated that he wished he had sent along a replacement recoil spring, as this pistol had been fired extensively before being sent to me. Since the gun was throwing the empty cartridge casings in a consistently good pattern, I didn't feel as if the spring was the issue. I think that the combination of continuous shooting, coupled with my failure to keep the gun moderately clean, led to the one and only malfunction of the test. Therefore, I accept responsibility for this FTRTB.

One hundred and fifty rounds of ammunition were fired during the accuracy and chronograph tests. The additional 370 rounds were shot over a three day period, in various outdoor lighting conditions. Most of these rounds were fired at FBI B-27 type targets, with the remainder expended while shooting steel plates and reactive targets.

In addition to the previously mentioned factory ammunition, these exercises were conducted using Federal American Eagle 230 gr. FMJ and Winchester White Box 230 gr. FMJ ammunition.

The final 5 rounds of my shooting test were from a bench rest at 25 yards. The Sentinel Compact had displayed such outstanding accuracy during its entire time in Texas that I wanted to see how it would do at our usual testing distance. My ammo of choice for this test was Federal 185 gr. full metal jacket semi-wadcutter Gold Match. These 5 rounds were fired from a pistol in desperate need of a good cleaning!

Extreme spread between the shots, measured center-to-center is 1 and 3/8 inch. Please understand that I am not a particularly good shot. This target photograph is presented primarily to show the outstanding accuracy of the Sentinel Compact, and its superb trigger. I have those rare days when everything seems to come together, and this was one of them.

Accessories

When I picked up the Sentinel Compact from Bill Lamb at Great Guns, there was something in the Wilson Pistol Rug besides the pistol and spare magazine. Duane Wormington had included a Low Profile pancake-style holster and single magazine carrier. Both of these items are constructed of sharkskin, and both are black, like the pistol. I have heard of Wilson holsters, but this was my first opportunity to view any of this custom leather work. The stitching is impeccable, and positioned at all the major points of stress.

The gun is held quite snugly in the Low Profile holster. This was expected, as the rig is brand new. I was surprised, however, at the ease of drawing the weapon. The slight cant of the holster allows the drawing hand to fall naturally onto the butt of the gun, and the pistol comes out of the holster without any drag or difficulty.


The excellent fit and finish of the Wilson Combat Low Profile holster is revealed in this photo. Notice the matching single magazine pouch, and the way in which the holster and pouch compliment the appearance of the new Wilson Sentinel Compact.

This holster and pouch are definitely accessories that would be welcomed by anyone who chooses to carry this pistol concealed. Since I am a connoisseur of fine gun leather, you may be certain this rig gets high points for appearance, fit, function, and comfort.

Evaluation

I have had the privilege to test and review several fine 1911-type handguns for the M1911.ORG E-Zine. In the areas of fit, finish, functional reliability, and accuracy, none have performed better than this Wilson Combat Sentinel Compact. The one minor hiccup that occurred about midway between 520 rounds fired was my fault, and I accept responsibility for it.

Likewise, Wilson Combat cannot be blamed for the missing tritium insert in the front sight blade. Tritium is a radioactive material, and as such, Wilson does not keep the vials on-site because of federal regulations. These sights are prepared at another factory (Trijicon) and sent to Wilson as completed components. In any event, Wilson stands behind their products, and the sight would have been repaired or replaced had this been a customer's gun.

This Wilson Combat Sentinel Compact is a very well constructed pistol, and the workmanship is evident everywhere you look. Lock-up was always positive, without any discernable play, and the slide action was smooth and predictable. There are no front cocking serrations on the slide, and I applaud Wilson Combat for this decision. The Browning Hi-Power-type treatment to the front of the slide is quite distinctive.

The Sentinel Compact does have exactly what a combat/defensive pistol should. These include features such as Wilson Combat's excellent slide stop and ambidextrous safety, a black Armor-Tuff finish, and 7+1 ammunition capacity. Add an ejection port that is lowered and flared, the all-steel design, and that wonderfully conceived round butt mainspring housing, and you have all the ingredients for a successful 1911.

This particular model is the second in what Wilson Combat hopes to be a trilogy in the Sentinel series of pistols. As I stated in the opening, the original Sentinel utilizes a slightly smaller frame than would be found on an Officer-sized gun. The new Sentinel Compact uses a frame that is ˝" shorter than the frame of a full size 1911, thus an Officer sized frame. Previously stated, but worthy of repeat, is the fact that this new Sentinel Compact comes with magazines that hold 7 rounds of .45 ACP power.


This photograph shows a comparison of the new Wilson Sentinel Compact with a Colt Lightweight XSE Commander Model.

The mainspring housing sets the Sentinel Compact apart from all of its peers. The gun is rock-solid in the hand during firing sessions, due to this round-butt design. Thirty line-per-inch checkering literally "welds" the pistol to one's hand, and does so without abrasion or discomfort. Several people had the opportunity to hold this weapon, and a guest at my place in the country had a chance to shoot it. Every single person commented on how "good" the pistol felt. The round-butt also makes concealing the Sentinel Compact easier, as one more sharp edge has been eliminated.

This is an outstandingly well-thought out design. If one is looking for a short barreled, task-specific 1911 that can be counted on to be reliable, accurate, and good looking, the new Sentinel Compact from Wilson Combat should be seriously considered.

Acknowledgements

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the contribution of Duane Wormington, General Manager of Wilson Combat. He put up with my constant badgering prior to the test pistol being shipped, then calmly answered each and every one of my questions when it arrived. I have always heard of Wilson Combat's commitment to customer service, but Duane takes it to another level. Even when I was pressuring Duane for a "name" for the new pistol, he kept his cool and got back to me on a timely basis. Thank you for your help, Duane.

Another person who seems always able to adapt to the slings and arrows I toss his way is Bill Lamb of GREAT GUNS in Burleson, Texas. Thank you for your patience Bill, and the valuable input you have given me on all of the test pistols. Your opinions are valued and appreciated.

Some clarifications about part numbers: Wilson informed us that the Sentinel Compact will have the following part numbers:

WSC-T-A: with Tactical Safety and Armor-tuff coating.
WSC-A-A: with Ambi Safety and Armor-tuff coating.

The "round-butt" option is characterised by -WCRB and there will also be a lightweight version of this pistol.

You may discuss about this pistol, ask questions or in general discuss about this review, in this thread in our Forums Site:

http://forum.m1911.org/showthread.php?t=31379

Specifications

Caliber---------------------.45ACP Barrel Length------------3 5/8" (88.9 mm)
Overall Height-----------5 7/16" (139.7 mm)
Overall Length-----------7 1/4" (184.15 mm)
Width----------------------1 5/16" (38.78 mm)
Weight (empty) ----------34 oz. (approx.) (1057.5 grams)
Weight (fully loaded) ---40 oz. (approx.) (1244 grams)
Sight Radius---------------5 3/8" (133.35 mm)
Features: Black Armor-Tuff finish, two 7 round 47,OX magazines, dehorned, ambidextrous safety, Wilson Combat sights w/tritium inserts, bushing less bull barrel.
Wilson Combat nylon pistol rug includes a Wilson DVD and the instruction manual for the pistol.
Suggested Retail Price: with Tactical Safety $2,495.00 U.S. Dollars, with Ambi Safety (as tested) $2,530.

Sources:

Pistol

Wilson Combat® & Scattergun Technologies™
2234 CR 719
Berryville, AR 72616
USA

Order Toll Free: 1-800-955-4856
Technical Questions: 1-870-545-3635
Fax: 1-870-545-3310

Email: info@wilsoncombat.com
Web site: http://www.wilsoncombat.com


Ammunition

Armscor Ammunition

Advanced Tactical Firearms
150 N. Smart Way
Pahrump, NV 89060
USA

Phone: 775-537-1444
Fax: 775-537-1446
Web Site: http://www.advancedtactical.com

Hornady Ammo

Hornady Mfg. Co
P.O. Box 1848,
Grand Island, NE 68802-1848
USA

Phone: 1-800-338-3220
Fax: (1) 308-382-5761

Email: webmaster@hornady.comm
Web site: http://www.hornady.com


Federal and Speer Ammo

ATK Ammunition Systems Group
900 Ehlen Drive
Anoka, MN 55303-1778
USA

Phone: 866-223-9388
Fax: 763-323-2506

Web site: http://www.federalpremium.com, http://www.speer-ammo.com


Chronograph

Competitive Edge Dynamics USA
P.O. Box 486,
Orefield, PA 18069-0486
USA

Orders: (1) 888-628-3233
Phone: (1) 610-366-9752
Fax: (1) 610-366-9680

Email: info@CEDhk.com
Web site: http://www.CEDhk.com


Home - Volume 2 (2007) - Issue 2 (Spring '07) - Pistol Review: Wilson Combat Sentinel Compact