|Home - Volume 2 (2007) - Issue 1 (Winter '07) - Pistol Review: Wilson Combat Carry Comp|
Wilson Combat Carry Comp
Does a compensator make a difference on a short-barrel 1911?
Reviewed by Harwood Loomis()
Before the holidays descended upon us, I received a telephone call from John Caradimas, calling from Greece, on a Friday. John called to ask me what I was doing on Saturday. When I explained that I usually meet my brother and a couple of friends for breakfast on Saturday mornings, he informed me that following breakfast I was to go to a gun shop (which is actually located not far from my home, but of which I had never heard) to meet a gentleman named Duane Wormington from Wilson Combat. It seems that Duane and one of the gunsmiths from Wilson Combat were going to be in the area to do a manufacturer's day at the shop of one of their master dealers.
It isn't every day that an ordinary guy like me gets to meet a ranking official from one of THE "name" 1911 manufacturers, and with an introduction already lined up. Naturally, I said I would head over to the shop directly after breakfast. Which I did. When I was able to catch him between customers I introduced myself to Duane and we chatted for awhile about Wilson Combat, and he showed me some of the pistols they had brought with them to show off to prospective buyers. It was an impressive array, without a doubt. Then Duane hit me with THE QUESTION: "Which of our pistols would you like to test for M1911.ORG?"
Despite my natural shyness, I have had any number of people accuse me (unjustly, to be sure) of never being at a loss for words. In this instance, I was. Since I have never been anywhere near sufficient financial solvency to consider buying a Wilson Combat pistol, I had given less than zero thought to which of their offerings might appeal to me. So I did what any quick-thinking young man would do, and tossed the ball back into his court: "Which one would you like us to test?"
I think that was the right answer, because Duane didn't even hesitate. He picked up one of the pistols on the counter next to him and asked me what I thought of it. It had a bobtail grip, a feature I've never been much interested in, but what caught my attention was the … thingie … attached to the muzzle end of the barrel. It appeared to be a compensator, but instead of having two or three or four narrow slots, it has a single, large opening in the upper quadrant of the appendage. Duane asked me my opinion of compensators on 1911s, to which I could only reply that I had never shot a compensated 1911 but that everything I ever read suggested they don't work because the bullet is traveling too slowly and there isn't enough muzzle blast to make a compensator very effective.
"Why don't we send you one of these," said Duane, "and you can decide whether or not it works. We think it does."
With the selection taken care of, over the next few days we went through the formalities of having my gun shop and range owner send a copy of his FFL to Wilson Combat, and a week or so after that I got a call from Chris at the range to inform me that a package had arrived from Wilson Combat. Once again, thanks to the magic of pretending to be a gun writer, I was being given the opportunity to shoot a pistol I will likely never be able to afford to purchase. I could hardly wait to get to the range and see what had arrived.
The Wilson Combat Carry Comp
The CArry Comp that arrived was not the bobtail version I had seen in the shop, but had a conventional grip frame. Although I would have been curious to try shooting a bobtail 1911, I don't regret the lost opportunity because I don't really care for the appearance. The purpose is to aid concealment, and I simply don't believe coping the corner off the grip frame makes that much difference. However, I understand that many people seem to think a bobtail makes a difference, so for them it is available on this pistol from Wilson.
The Wilson Combat Carry Comp is essentially a Commander-sized pistol … with some variations due to the compensator. According to my measurements, the dimensions are 8.13" (206mm) long and 5.25" (133mm) high, with a weight of 32 ounces (910 g) including an empty magazine. So far, that's fairly standard Commander; a box-stock Colt Commander is 7.88" (200mm) long and 5.13" (130mm) high). The difference is primarily in the barrel … and in how much of the barrel is "barrel" and how much is compensator. Wilson's specs for this pistol list the barrel length as 4˝". My measurement was 4 3/8" (4.38", or 111mm). But that dimension is as measured to the end of the compensator, which is an integral part of the barrel assembly. The inside diameter of the compensator portion is larger than that of the barrel itself, and has no rifling. The ID at the compensator "muzzle" is 0.468" (11.89mm), which is significantly larger than the ID of a .45 caliber barrel. Combine that with the presence of the copious compensator port on the top, and the inescapable conclusion is that the effective length of the barrel is actually 3 7/8" (3.88" or 98mm). This is slightly shorter than a true Commander, which has a 4 1/4" barrel. The Carry Comp barrel length is much closer to the 4" barrel found in pistols such as the Springfield Armory Champion. But the overall package is just a fraction of an inch longer than a Commander, and should be able to fit into most holsters designed for that size 1911.
The Wilson Carry Comp arrived in a nice quality nylon carry case with internal, fitted compartments. The package included two magazines, with bumpers installed on the floor plates, and an instruction sheet. The box in which our test pistol arrived also included a Wilson Combat holster, but this was listed separately and not in the carry case with the pistol. Duane sent it along so that we could see how it works with the pistol.
The thumb safety is an extended, ambidextrous unit. Although I often read about ambidextrous safeties working loose, this one remained tight throughout the period we had the pistol, during which we fired a few hundred rounds of various ammunition brands and types.
The slide stop is not a standard configuration. It is standard length but, rather than being a sort of wedge shape in cross-section, this slide stop is more of a sideways 'T', providing a small shelf rather than the traditional checkered, beveled surface on which to press to release the stop.
The photograph above also shows the lightweight aluminum, three-hole trigger. The trigger has a serrated face and an overtravel screw. The magazine catch button is not massively oversized such as those favoured by some competitors, but is the slightly elongated type often referred to as "tactical." It extends far enough to allow easy and consistent magazine drops, while not being so large or extending so far as to interfere with holstering or result an accidentally dropping the magazine at the worst possible moment.
The grip panels are (I think) wood, in a striated gray pattern that may be the result of natural variations in the wood or could possibly be laminated. The grips are full checkered and adorned with a Wilson Combat medallion. I asked Duane by e-mail what the grips are made of and who makes them. Either he isn't talking, or the e-mail got buried in his inbox, because I haven't gotten a response. Accordingly, although I have a private guess as to at least a potential source for the grips, in fairness to Wilson Combat I'll say nothing rather than write something that could be incorrect and misleading. Thankfully, Wilson Combat used conventional, slotted screws for the grip panels rather than hex head or Torx head screws, which would necessitate a special tool for removal. Hex head screws look nice on a range gun but, in my opinion, have no place on a "working" gun.
Also visible in the photo above, the mainspring housing is checkered and the front strap is also finely checkered below the trigger guard at 30 lines per inch. The checkering is very well executed and uniform.
The grip safety is a beavertail design incorporating a palm swell, and the hammer is a skeletonized loop-style hammer. The fit of the beavertail to the frame of the pistol is exceptionally well executed, with a very tight and uniform gap. The extractor is also perfectly fitted into the slide, to the point of the outline being almost invisible. The rear of the slide aligns perfectly with the rear of the frame, another indication of the care taken in assembling and fitting the Carry Comp.
In another nod to this being a "working" pistol, no special tools are needed to field strip. The compensated barrel, however, does mean that there is no barrel bushing. Field stripping requires working against the pressure of the recoil spring, but is not difficult. The recoil spring plug is extra long and extends beyond the end of the slide, forming a visual "underlug" beneath the barrel. This arrangement allows Wilson to utilize a longer recoil spring for more reliable operation despite the short length of the actual barrel. The recoil spring guide is a conventional, short guide. Field stripping simply calls for pulling the slide back to align the take-down notch in the slide with the end of the slide stop and holding it there; removing the slide stop; then allowing the barrel, slide and recoil spring to come off the frame together. Assembly is simply the reverse. The most difficult part of this task is holding the slide with the take-down notch aligned with one hand, so the other hand is free to manipulate the slide stop.
Magazines were well made, and were equipped with polymer followers rather than the Browning-designed flat metal style followers. The magazines functioned flawlessly throughout our tests. Nonetheless, I am old enough that I do not entirely trust anything made of plastic, especially when the item may be involved in defending my life, and therefore I would probably replace the magazines with a brand using traditional metal followers, or perhaps simply replace the followers in the Wilson magazines. (Yes, I know that's akin to heresy, but … I don't trust plastic.) The pistol itself does not have an extended magazine well, but the opening of the standard magazine well is neatly flared and beveled to facilitate magazine insertion.
The barrel is a bushingless, bull barrel that incorporates the compensator as an integral part. It, like the rest of the pistol, was well-made and devoid of extraneous machining marks.
Machining of the slide was also well-executed and free of machine "chatter," as illustrated by the following photo:
How does it shoot?
Testing was conducted at Chris' Indoor Shooting Range in Guilford, Connecticut. This is an indoor, underground facility located in a suburb of New Haven and used by a number of area gun clubs and local police departments. I shot the Wilson Combat Carry Comp off a bench, using a 50 caliber ammo can as a rest. Our protocol for testing at M1911.ORG calls for shooting Commander and full-size 1911s at 25 yards (approximately 23 meters), and compact and Officers-size pistols at shorter range. Accordingly, the groups obtained with this pistol should not be compared with those pistols tested at shorter distances. The procedure in this test was to shoot 6-round groups, discarding the worst round in each group and counting the best 5 of 6 for the group size.
Despite the pistol's smooth operation and ultra-nice trigger, the accuracy portion of our testing was (for me) an exercise in total frustration. There is no question after this that Bill Wilson is not going to hire your humble servant as a test target shooter for Wilson Combat. In fact, I felt as though I couldn't buy a decent group the entire session. To my amazement, the best group was turned in not by one of the "name" brand, premium cartridges, but by Sellier & Bellot ball ammo. The figures in the table below tell the entire sordid tale.
The ammunition most dedicated as a self-defense load, Remington's Golden Saber, produced the worst groups of the session. It should be noted, however, that most self-defense encounters take place at distances closer to 25 feet rather than 25 yards, which means these group sizes can be divided by three to approximate the anticipated 25-foot performance of each round. And … even at 25 yards, the worst of our test groups was still well within center-of-mass. The question is: What happened? How can a well-made pistol from a legendary pistol shop not shoot well despite functioning smoothly and flawlessly, and with all the parts fitting together tightly and smoothly? The answer, I think, lies in the fact that the pistol is configured the way most customers would probably want to buy it … and I am not most people. First, I shot all the tests using the two supplied Wilson magazines, both of which had bumper pads. My hand hold when shooting off the rest is such that the bumper pads were continually bumping the top surface of the ammo can rest, but not the same on every shot. That has to affect the gun's reaction under recoil.
The other problem is that, due to a medical condition, the palms of my hands are extremely sensitive. It is obvious from reading the gun magazines that a lot of people like checkered front straps and checkered back straps. I do not, for the simple reason that they cause me pain. On this pistol, while the checkering is very nicely cut, it is also very sharp. In addition, the checkering on the grip panels is also very aggressive. The result was that, after a comparatively few rounds, my right hand felt like raw hamburger, and shooting each round was a painful experience. (For what it's worth, I also find the so-called "Griptor" grooves in the front strap of some Para-Ordnance models to be painful, and this is a point on which Para's marketing person and I have simply had to disagree. Painful is painful, regardless of how well he tells me it works for other people.)
Lastly, the lighting at an indoor range cannot compare to shooting in daylight. The level of illumination was just bright enough to render the night sights impotent, yet not bright enough for my senior citizen eyes to be able to see the front sight clearly. I would like to think that with better lighting and a comfortable pair of rubber grips I could shoot this pistol better. However, I don't want to fall into the typical gun writer trap of shooting truly lousy groups and then confidently proclaiming that the gun is obviously capable of better. Having explained the conditions under which I was operating, I will leave it to each reader to decide how much importance to attach to each of my excuses.
The trigger pull was a consistent 3 1/4 to 3˝ pounds as measured with an RCBS analog trigger pull scale, and was clean and crisp. The overtravel screw was properly adjusted and eliminated overtravel without causing any functional issues.
The Wilson Combat Carry Comp is a very well-made 1911 pistol with a twist. The purpose of our testing it, aside from to test a Wilson Combat, was to form an opinion regarding the efficacy of the integral compensator. Duane Wormington assured me that it works. I didn't have any preconceptions going into the test, so I was prepared for anything. Anything, that is, except what I actually experienced. I had a fuzzy notion that if the compensator functioned at all, it would reduce muzzle rise after each shot. I prefer Commander-size 1911s, so shooting this pistol as a comparison was a natural step for me. What I initially noticed was that I did NOT seem to be experiencing a dramatic (or even perceptible) reduction in muzzle flip. As I shot the pistol more, however, and especially when playing around with some double taps and Mozambiques, was that the muzzle seemed to come back on target both faster and easier than when shooting my uncompensated Commander.
I believe this all ties into the much-discussed dynamic of how recoil affects the pistol, and when. I subscribe to the theory that recoil begins at the moment the primer ignites the powder and the bullet begins to leave the casing. To my understanding, it can be no other way. "For every action, there must be an equal and opposite reaction." The notion that recoil and muzzle flip somehow don't begin until after the bullet has left the barrel is inconsistent with the laws of Physics. Yet, if the compensator were going to materially reduce muzzle flip, that incorrect view of the dynamic of recoil would have to apply.
In fact, since recoil begins as soon as the bullet begins to move, and is still in the barrel, it would be difficult (impossible, actually) for a compensator to eliminate the first stages of muzzle flip. But once the bullet reaches the end of the barrel and the trailing gasses exit the compensator port, the gasses act as a brake to slow down the muzzle flip quicker than a shooter can do it manually, and thus aiding in getting the sights back in line and on target faster.
A word about finishes
What finish to put on a firearm has always been problematic. Bluing wears, and doesn't prevent rust. "Paint" is inexpensive, not especially durable, and doesn't yield an attractive finish. And so various companies have brought to market a variety of multi-component polymeric coatings for use as firearms finishes. Wilson, like the vast majority of 1911 manufacturers, uses polymer coatings. Wilson calls theirs "Armor-Tuff." Wilson says it is the most durable, chemical and heat resistant thermally cured finish available. They say their finish will resist wear better than any other competitive polymer finish. However, they admit that the finish will not (and cannot) resist holster wear as well as hard chrome or nickel plating will. Accordingly, Wilson recommends using suede-lined leather holsters, because unlined Kydex will "dramatically" increase finish wear. Even with leather holsters, however, minor wear at sharp corners and leading edges is considered to be normal.
I enjoyed shooting the Wilson Combat Carry Comp more than I expected to, and I admit to being surprised that the compensator actually seemed to do something positive. I did not expect that to be the case as I went into this test. The pistol is well-made, well-balanced, doesn't include a lot of unnecessary frills, and strikes me as being an excellent duty weapon for anyone whose agency or office authorizes carry of 1911 pistols.
As might be expected, there were a few things about the Carry Comp that I would have preferred to see different, notably the checkering. If I were to buy this model, I would want grips with less aggressive checkering, and I would want a smooth front strap. The good news is that all this is possible. Duane Wormington made certain that I understood the distinction between a "custom" gunsmith shop and a "semi-custom" operation. He stressed that Wilson Combat is a true custom gunsmith operation, and that it is possible to order a pistol configured exactly as the buyer wants it. So, if I wanted to order a Carry Comp with a smooth front strap, my favorite type of grip panels, and no ambidextrous thumb safety … no problem. Wilson will build it exactly that way.
Now, if I could just find a way to afford it …
If you want to discuss or comment on this test, please use the following thread in our Forums Site:
Caliber: .45 ACP
Wilson Combat® & Scattergun Technologies™
Competitive Edge Dynamics USA
Orders: (1) 888-628-3233
Chris Indoor Shooting Range
Phone: (203) 453-1570
|Home - Volume 2 (2007) - Issue 1 (Winter '07) - Pistol Review: Wilson Combat Carry Comp|