by Dick Williams - Thursday, February 23, 2012
After more than half a century of living with handguns, I begin writing assignments with certain expectations. When working with a 1911, I expect to enjoy myself, since the firearm involved will be based upon the world's longest lasting and perhaps most revered fighting handgun. If I'll be working with a 1911 built by Wilson Combat, I expect to be dazzled. The new Wilson Ultralight Carry Compact lived up to my expectations.
My number one carry gun, a Wilson compact 1911, began life as an all-steel CQB model and was modified over time to incorporate some of the features on newer variants that appealed to me. Like my gun, the new Wilson Ultralight Carry Compact has a 1-inch-shorter slide and a .5-inch-shorter grip frame than a full-size 1911. But by using an aluminum-alloy frame, the Ultralight Compact sheds 8 ounces in weight. Lighter is better for a carry gun, as long as the shooter is able to control the greater recoil. At 26.5 ounces, this Compact model is quite manageable during strings of rapid fire. A number of features contribute to this, like G10 Starburst grips, 30-lpi checkering on the frontstrap, relief cuts under the trigger guard and full-length checkering on the mainspring housing.
One of my favorite features on Wilson compacts is the slightly rounded base of the mainspring housing and the rear of the frame. This modification is perhaps less critical in a 1911 with full-size grip frame, but it's a great idea on a compact. It makes the pistol more comfortable to shoot and reduces the gun's tendency to print through a covering garment.
The sights on the Ultralight Compact were different than on other 1911s I've seen from the esteemed manufacturer. Wilson literature calls it a "battlesight" with a fiber-optic front sight.
Both front and rear sights are dovetail mounted and fitted smoothly into the slide. The rear sight has a deep, U-shaped notch with parallel sides, while the front blade features a green fiber-optic rod enclosed by the steel blade. When I'm wearing glasses in reasonable light conditions, the battlesight provides a pretty conventional sight picture. Without glasses, I can still acquire a conventional sight picture (although much fuzzier) against a light background. With or without glasses, I can use the sights against a dark background simply by putting the green dot on the target, but there has to be some ambient light in order for the green fiber optic to be visible.
When using just the green front sight, I shot a bit low because I tended to bury the ball of light all the way to the base of the rear-sight notch. Under these conditions, groups at 25 yards printed about 3 to 4 inches low and expanded to about 6 inches wide. The green ball isn't as precise as a conventional blade/notch sight picture, but it's much easier to see in poor light conditions and faster to acquire.
The Ultralight Compact has a 4-inch stainless steel, match-grade, bushingless, cone-shaped barrel. What's new is the barrel is fluted. While distinctive looking, the flutes allegedly trap dirt and debris that might cause a malfunction. It's hard for me to comment on the merits of this claim, since all the Wilson guns I've tested were notoriously reliable. As usual, I did not clean the handgun during the relatively short time I had it, and I ran several different loads and bullet styles through it without any glitches. The Ultralight Compact provided the total reliability I've come to expect from Wilson Combat, even when covered in fine Texas trail dust.
Another feature I hadn't seen before was what Wilson calls the Concealment Bullet Proof Beavertail Grip Safety and Hammer. The Ultralight Compact has a much shorter and slightly lower beavertail. There's no cut for the hammer spur. Rather, the spur is lowered enough so the hammer doesn't touch the beavertail when cocked. Since the beavertail sometimes makes a gun print when concealed, reducing its size is a great idea. I don't know whether the Bullet Proof Beavertail will protect against slide/hammer bite for shooters with large hands, but I think it will work fine for most of us.
Partially because of his successful career as a competitive shooter, Bill Wilson pays attention to magazines and the features needed to reload a 1911 quickly. The pistol has a slightly beveled magazine well. It's not dramatic or bulky, but rather understated and effective. Wilson Combat also offers two sizes of magazines for its compact: a seven-round model for carry and an eight-round version for backup. Both have discreet bumper pads.
Other features on the Ultralight Compact might be classified as more cosmetic than functional depending on your point of view. For example, I like the slightly shorter trigger with a 3- to 3.5-pound pull weight, but I don't consider it essential for a fighting handgun. The skinny thumb safety is extremely functional for me because I shoot 1911s with my thumb on top of the paddle, and large thumb safeties sometimes prevent me from depressing the grip safety. In addition, the relief cut in the grip panel just behind the magazine-release button is helpful, since I don't have to shift my shooting grip quite as much to hit it with my thumb. The full-length chamfer on the bottom of the slide won't save any noticeable weight, but it does contribute to dehorning the pistol.
Bevels on the front end of the slide give the gun a Browning Hi Power look and actually proved useful. I usually perform chamber checks by grabbing the front end of the slide, and the extra purchase helps overcome the heavy recoil spring. Wilson's ArmorTuff finish provides good protection, and that's a plus for a gun that will be carried near the body. Finally, the 30-lpi checkering on the flattened top of the slide and the 40-lpi on the back of the rear sight and slide could reduce glare depending on light conditions.
I ran six different .45 ACP offerings through the chronograph, and the gun performed without a glitch. Wilson guarantees the pistol to produce 1.5-inch groups at 25 yards, and having witnessed the company's testing protocols, I'm a believer. The guarantee does not, however, say anyone can achieve that level of performance. At 25 yards, my best five-shot group was just less than 2 inches with the Black Hills 185-grain jacketed hollow points.
After shooting the Ultralight Compact, I definitely want a pair of G10 Starburst grips on my gun. Besides looking great, they do help me control the gun for follow-up shots. Were I buying a new Wilson 1911, I would definitely opt for the concealment Bullet Proof beavertail grip safety and hammer, but I'm not sure I would spend the money to upgrade my pistol. This is a budget decision more than a tactical one—I'm convinced the smaller beavertail is worthwhile. I like the shorter, solid trigger on the Ultralight Compact slightly more than the longer skeletonized version on my pistol, but again, I'm not sure. For me, the jury is still out on the fiber-optic battlesight and fluted barrel. Given the reliability of conventional Wilson barrels, and partly because I'm ambivalent on its looks, I haven't convinced myself I need a fluted barrel.
You're on your own regarding some of these accoutrements. One absolute certainty; you won't be unhappy with any of the features on the new Wilson Ultralight Carry Compact.
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