I’ve been at this about 35 years now and during that time I’ve written close to 2,000 articles about firearms. A substantial number of those have been about John Browning’s greatest handgun design, the Model of 1911 and its many derivatives. That’s because I most often carry some kind of M1911 on a daily basis.
One hundred and two years after its adoption by the U.S. Army, the Model of 1911 caliber .45 ACP pistol is, if anything, more popular than it has ever been in more than a century of service. More copies and clones of the M1911 have gone into series production from China to the United States than any handgun in history.
Right now, almost all of the major handgun manufacturers, no matter what the flagship of their product line may be, produce an M1911 clone in one configuration or another. Further, it remains the firm conviction of a substantial number of knowledgeable individuals in the United States, whether they are military, law enforcement or civilian, that the most effective handgun cartridge for deployment in a gunfight was, is and will be into the foreseeable future, the venerable .45 ACP cartridge.
In addition, a countless number of pistolsmiths have, for many decades, assembled custom M1911-type pistols for competition shooters and those who walk in harm’s way. Those whose lives may well depend upon this tool of the trade will spare no expense to obtain the ultimate degree of reliability and performance.
Yet, I can assure you that almost every time I write about a handgun costing more than $1,500, I will receive an infuriated letter or email from a reader filled with self-righteous indignation that I dared to write about something he insists he could not nor will ever be able to afford. The subject of this editorial review sells for more than twice that amount and yet if you really want one, you can expect to wait almost a year and a half.
As a longtime practical pistol match competitor, pistolsmith Bill Wilson knows what it takes to win. A significant number of championships have been won with his products. In addition, within the last decade, his son, Ryan, has added his considerable talents to the family business and has become an integral factor in its great success and ever expanding product line.
Wilson Combat/Scattergun Technologies/Wilson Tactical is the world’s largest manufacturer of custom, combat-type, M1911 accessories and components. The vast majority of custom pistolsmiths throughout the United States use Wilson parts to one extent or another. Wilson Combat also builds complete handguns, at my last count close to three dozen different models in .45 ACP, 9x19mm Parabellum and .38 Super.
It is my honest opinion that there are no more than three pistolsmiths crafting custom-made M1911 pistols that match the standards required by those willing to pay whatever needed to obtain the maximum performance and reliability upon which their very lives may depend. Bill Wilson is one of them.
Almost two years ago, I decided it was finally time to acquire the M1911 of my dreams. Sparing no cost, I would ask Bill Wilson provide me with a handgun that had every single feature I had ever considered to be desirable; and a few that I just considered to be attractive; a pistol that I would want to carry every day and that I could justifiably take tremendous pride in owning. That pistol turned out to be a custom Wilson Combat’s CQB Light Rail Lightweight Compact with no less than nine extra custom features added.
As finally delivered to me, the weight, empty, is 27.3 ounces (774 grams). The weight, loaded, is 35.3 ounces (1001 grams). The slide is made from 4340 carbon steel and the lightweight frame from 7075 T6 aluminum alloy. Both the slide and frame are machined forgings. The overall length is 7.6 inches (193.04mm), with a width, at the grip panels of 1.3 inches (33mm) and a height of 4.9 inches (124.46mm).
The pistol has been finished in Wilson’s black Armor-Tuff Protective Firearms Finish that was developed specifically for use on firearms to provide a surface with optimum corrosion protection, abrasion resistance and lubricity. It permanently bonds to the pistol’s and its components’ surfaces to form a barrier from acids, oils, paint remover, powder solvents, bore cleaners and other strong industrial solvents. The extremely low curing temperature (300°) prevents damage to any of the parts during the lengthy curing process. Armor-Tuff is the most durable, chemical and heat resistant, thermally cured finish on the market.
It deserves a detailed technical description. Before applying Armor-Tuff, the pistol and its components are glass-beaded with extremely fine blasting media, then “dehorned” with great precision and surface prepped. All of the carbon steel parts are then phosphate finished (“Parkerizing”) before applying the material used to form a bonding surface with Armor-Tuff.
A highly trained technician then sprays the Armor-Tuff coating on the firearm just before the thermal curing process. After reassembly, a Master Class shooter performs a 100% inspection to insure that the final finish meets the Wilson Combat standards.
In appearance, Armor-Tuff has an attractive satin/matte look that is similar to an ultra-fine, sandblasted blued finish. Armor-Tuff is available in matte black, matte Olive Drab (OD green), matte gray or any combination thereof.
When applied to bare common gun steel, Armor-Tuff will pass the test protocols for salt water spray at 1,000 hours, salt water immersion for a minimum of 1,000 hours, accelerated salt spray test equivalent to 30 years marine atmosphere exposure, and 60 days sea water immersion. Armor-Tuff surfaces will never rust when subjected to normal firearm usage.
While Armor-Tuff contains molybdenum disulfide, which provides superb anti-friction characteristics, it’s still recommended that a high-quality synthetic lubricant, such as G96 Gun Treatment, be used on all of the reciprocating surfaces—especially the slide-to-frame rail contact.
Armor-Tuff will meet 24-hour immersion test protocols in the following harsh fluids: aviation gasoline, hydraulic fluid, jet fuel, lubricating oils, paint removers, trichloroethylene, nitric, sulfuric and hydrochloric acids, hydrogen peroxide, gunpowder solvents, common gun lubricants, strong bases such as hydroxide, and numerous other harsh industrial chemicals.
Armor-Tuff will withstand exposure to temperature extremes ranging from +500° to -250° F. Armor-Tuff is applied with a nominal thickness of .0003″ to .0009″, which permits easy reassembly of precision-fitted components.
CQB Light Rail Lightweight Compact in Detail
So, what’s under the Armor-Tuff? Starting with the slide, let’s examine the Wilson Combat CQB Light Rail Lightweight Compact M1911 pistol in detail. Wilson’s open square-notch Tactical Combat Pyramid rear sight is quite unusual. It has a vertical face machined at about the halfway point down its front-sloped ramp.
For single-handed slide retraction, this vertical face can be lodged against any rigid surface (such as the outside corner of a wall, a doorjamb, heavy-duty gun belt or the heel of your boot) and the pistol pushed forward. The rear face of the sight has 40 LPI horizontal serrations to reduce glare and the square notch is .140″ in width to enhance the rapid target acquisition needed in high stress scenarios.
The front sight blade has a single green tritium insert. The sight radius is 5.6 inches (142.24mm). Both sights are dovetailed to the slide and can be adjusted for windage zero, if necessary. The rear sight has an amber tritium insert on each side of the notch. By means of this color contrast, the eye is led instinctively to the all-important front sight. All that’s required is to remember only what the late Jeff Cooper stressed to me several decades ago in a class at Gunsite: “front sight, press.”
A significant number of my personal carry handguns are equipped with self-luminous sights. Tritium (an isotope of hydrogen) provides the energy source for self-luminous sights of this type. Tritium gas and a phosphor particle are pressurized within a tiny glass capsule. Tritium creates soft beta rays that are converted to visible light when they strike the phosphor particle. Because they are nuclear in nature tritium sights have a half-life that provides a useful life of about 10 years. The capsules are resistant to oil, water, corrosion and temperature changes.
While it has been my experience that white dots or outlines are rarely noticed under stress, self-luminous tritium sights are useful adjuncts to firing at night or under subdued-light conditions. They are, however, no substitute for a flashlight, as they do not illuminate or aid in the identification of a target as a potential threat. And, for that reason, this pistol’s dust cover has an integral MIL-STD-1913 rail interface.
To this MIL-STD-1913 dust cover rail interface we attached SureFire’s brand new X300 Ultra LED Handgun/Long Gun WeaponLight. Already one of SureFire’s bestsellers, the powerful X300 Ultra features a high-performance LED that produces 500 lumens of blinding white light focused by a Total Internal Reflection (TIR) lens that provides a tight beam with extended reach and significant surround illumination for peripheral vision.
This virtually indestructible and incredibly efficient LED generates tactical-level light—more than enough to completely overwhelm your opponent’s dark-adapted vision—for 1.5 hours per set of batteries. The high-strength aerospace aluminum alloy body is MilSpec hard anodized for toughness and is O-ring and gasket sealed to make it weatherproof.
The new X300 Ultra can be attached to either a handgun or rifle as its patented Rail-Lock system permits quick attachment to and removal from either Universal or MIL-STD-1913 rail interfaces. Its integral ambidextrous push/toggle switch provides one-finger operation for either momentary or constant-on operation. Optional grip switches for pistols and an XT07 tape switch for rifles are available.
The X300 Ultra LED Handgun/Long Gun WeaponLight features a body length of 3.60 inches and a weight of only 4.0 ounces with batteries. The bezel diameter is 1.13 inches. It uses two 123A lithium batteries. The price of the X300 LED Weaponlight is $299 and at this writing they are backordered for at least 10 weeks. Believe me, it’s worth waiting for as this is currently SureFire’s best WeaponLight for handguns. The new 500-lumen X400 WeaponLight, which features a laser aiming device has not as yet gone into series production.
This latter feature was not needed as I ordered the Wilson Combat CQB Light Rail Lightweight Compact M1911 pistol with optional Crimson Trace Lasergrips. Early on, I was not an advocate of visible laser aiming devices, especially on handguns. When deployed by inexperienced personnel, they all too often encourage shooting from the hip and employing the red dot only.
Then, when the shooter engages a target in bright sunlight and the laser beam is useless, the operator has not brought the pistol up into a Weaver firing stance and properly aligned the pistol’s sights on the target. However, if the laser aiming device has been properly adjusted beforehand in alignment with the front sight and the operator is programmed to always engage the target from the Weaver position, they can be useful adjuncts to rapid target acquisition, especially so in subdued light environments.
The Crimson Trace Lasergrips were attached to the Wilson Combat CQB Light Rail Lightweight Compact M1911 pistol by grip replacement. Factory sighted for a target at 50 feet, they feature front pressure, or “instinctive,” activation, in other words when the pistol is held in a normal firing grip, the laser is on. They use two 2032 lithium batteries with a battery life of four hours. They have a master on/off switch. The laser dot size is approximately a half-inch at 50 feet. They can be user adjusted with the wrench supplied for both windage and elevation.
The Wilson Combat “carry cuts” so characteristic of their Government-Model-size pistols, and more than a little reminiscent of the famous Browning High Power, are missing on the Wilson Combat CQB Light Rail Lightweight Compact M1911. The left side of the slide is marked “WILSON COMBAT” and the right side carries the model designation, “CQB”. On the right side, directly behind the cocking serrations is the new Wilson logo, the eagle they have used for more than 30 years superimposed over “WC” (Wilson Combat). There are no front cocking serrations. In a manner now more or less standard with custom tactical M1911 pistols, the ejection port has been lowered and flared to enhance reliability.
Wilson’s extractors are popular with custom pistolsmiths everywhere, as this is a weak link in the M1911 system and most failures to extract are as consequence of loss of extractor tension. Fully machined from solid bar stock, Wilson’s extractors are heat treated to provide optimum tension and long service life. The extractor on the CQB Light Rail Lightweight Compact pistol was polished and adjusted by hand for a perfect fit.
Our CQB Light Rail Lightweight Compact pistol is also equipped with Wilson’s “Extra Power” firing pin spring, which reduces the risk of an accidental discharge if the pistol is dropped, without reducing ignition reliability. Wilson recommends that the firing pin spring be replaced every 5,000 rounds.
Wilson’s Combat Match Grade barrels are known for their high quality and accuracy potential. The barrel is made from a 416 stainless steel forging, which is machined and broached to very close tolerances. These barrels are heat treated to RC 38-42 and chambered after broaching for perfect concentricity.
Wilson .45 ACP barrels feature six-groove rifling with a 1:16 right-hand twist. The barrel on our CQB Light Rail Lightweight Compact pistol was throated (polishing and opening up the chamber end of the barrel just above the frame’s feed ramp to improve feeding bullets with unconventional configurations). Additional custom options added to my pistol’s barrel were fluting of the barrel and chamber and a flush cut reverse crown of the barrel’s muzzle.
The full-length recoil spring guide rod protrudes out the front of the slide when the slide moves rearward in recoil.
The full-length rod means disassembly procedures vary somewhat from the standard M1911. First remove the magazine and safely clear the pistol. Lock the slide to the rear. Note that there is a small disassembly hole in the middle of the full-length recoil spring guide rod. While the slide is retracted, insert the half-inch paneling nail supplied or a bent paper clip into the hole.
Carefully and slowly release the slide and move it forward until the semi-circular tab at the rear of the slide stop is aligned with the disassembly notch on the slide. Remove the slide stop from the left side of the frame.
Separate the slide from the frame by sliding it forward off the frame. Remove the full-length guide rod and recoil spring assembly by withdrawing it rearward and then separating this group from the slide. Tip the barrel’s link forward to clear the recoil spring tunnel and then pull the barrel forward and clear of the slide.
Remove the grip panels from the frame. Each grip panel is held to the frame by two slot-head head screws threaded into replaceable bushings in the frame, one of the M1911 pistol’s smaller, but still quite important characteristics, which seems to have almost totally eluded European handgun designers.
No further disassembly of the frame components is usually required for routine maintenance. However, removal of the firing pin and extractor should be performed with some degree of frequency. With a drift of appropriate diameter, push inward on the spring-loaded firing pin and slide the firing pin stop down and off the rear of the slide.
Remove the firing pin and its spring by pressing upward on the spring-loaded firing pin safety. Gently pry out the extractor. The extractor claw should be cleaned thoroughly and the extractor inspected for loss of tension, one of the most common causes of malfunctions in the M1911 series. The magazines should be disassembled as well. After cleaning and lubrication, reassemble in the reverse order.
Lubrication is especially important with John Browning’s M1911-type handguns. And, the smaller the envelope, the more important it is to make sure that the reciprocating components are adequately lubricated.
Moving down to the frame, we find all of the features expected of a true custom M1911 and quite a few more. The front strap carries 30 LPI (Lines Per Inch) EDM-cut checkering. Wilson’s Commander-style hammer is skeletonized to provide a faster lock time without sacrificing reliability. This component is machined to an exact final dimension and then heat-treated.
Hammer bite was at one time a serious problem for those who shoot the M1911 series from the Weaver position. Wilson’s “Concealment Bullet Proof,” high-ride, beavertail grip safety prevents this and also features a pocket to enhance the pistol’s snag-free qualities. It’s used by a number of other pistolsmiths.
When the pistol is carried cocked and locked, the Commander-style hammer rests down in the beavertail. In addition, this beavertail grip safety positions the hand closer to the bore’s axis to spread the recoil over a broader surface.
Finally, the bottom of this grip safety has a raised so-called “Posi-Release” tab, which provides positive grip safety disengagement while serving as a grip memory point during the drawstroke.
Another example of the great attention to details, large and small, found on Wilson Combat handguns is the hole on the right side of the frame through which the slide stop lever’s axis pin passes. I selected an option in which it has been countersunk to permit clearance of the Crimson Trace Lasergrips beam.
My first experience with ambidextrous thumb safeties, more than 30 years ago, was negative. At the time, I carried a cocked and locked Colt Combat Commander with a pinned grip safety and ambidextrous thumb safety from a famous pistolsmith of that era.
The thumb safety would frequently disengage merely by brushing up against my jacket. I had it removed. Wilson’s ambidextrous thumb safety has a narrow profile and has been properly installed to prevent this. While this is an essential feature for left-handed shooters, there are other important applications, such as training with the weak hand.
The Wilson trigger found on this pistol has an overtravel adjustment screw and a medium length pad. It’s machined from aircraft-grade aluminum with a serrated front surface and a black Armor-Tuff finish.
The bow is hardened stainless steel, which has been polished to reduce bow-to-frame friction. The trigger was adjusted for a crisp, creep-free 3.75-pound trigger pull weight on my pistol, which falls within Wilson’s trigger specifications of 3.5 to 3.75 pounds.
The frame’s feed ramp was polished to enhance feeding hollow-points. An extended combat ejector installed. Wilson’s ejectors are machined from 4130 bar stock and heat-treated for maximum durability. They are designed to provide optimal case clearance and endure the constant pounding generated by military ball and even hotter handloads.
Unlike the mainspring housings of most now manufacturing these pistols in series production like Colt’s, Kimber, SIG and Smith & Wesson, which are now made of plastic, Wilson’s mainspring housing is machined from bar stock with EDM-cut checkering at 20 LPI vertical and 30 LPI horizontal. I selected another optional feature and had the bottom of the mainspring housing and frame rounded to fit better in the hand.
This configuration also prevents the pistol from digging into the kidney or gut when in a strong-side belt holster, especially when sitting. It also inhibits snagging on clothing and minimizes the possibility of the pistol “printing” its configuration when carried concealed.
To enhance magazine changing under stress, the bottom of the magazine well has been beveled—a procedure now de rigueur on custom M1911 pistols. The Bullet Proof magazine catch/release is slightly extended to enhance the ability to depress it under stress.
One final option that I selected was the Extreme De-Horn for Carry, which costs $95. The base price on the Wilson Combat CQB Light Rail Lightweight Compact pistol is $3,280. All of the options I selected, including the Extreme De-Horn, round butt frame, Crimson Trace Lasergrips, flush cutting and reverse crowning of the barrel, fluting the barrel and chamber and front and rear tritium night sights brought the price up to $3,935.
My pistol was built by no less than five of Wilson Combat’s master pistolsmiths and it is the finest M1911 that I could ever hope to own.
Wilson’s magazines for Compact Officer’s ACP Model pistols are available with six-, seven-, or eight-round capacities. Wilson’s M1911 .45 ACP magazines are quite simply the standard by which all others must be judged and the magazine that should have been developed for the Government Model .45 a century ago.
Their most important feature is a removable base pad and follower-spring floorplate. Only those who have jammed pieces of wood into a 1911 magazine to compress the follower spring enough to insert a drift into the vent holes so the follower can be tapped out and the spring subsequently removed—hundreds and hundreds of times—can appreciate how important this feature is.
Wilson’s magazines are the choice of top competitors, U.S. military special operations personnel and thousands of armed professionals. The bodies are made of 17-7 aircraft-grade stainless steel, heat treated to RC 38 and precision formed from .027″ gauge metal. The self-lubricating followers are made from a high-strength, custom-blended, Fiber-Fill nylon, as is the base pad. The follower spring is made from heavy-duty, high-tensile-strength spring wire to reduce “spring set” and provide the longest possible spring life.
I have been personally using these outstanding magazines for almost three decades and can verify their uncompromising reliability and durability. The magazines included with my pistol were the seven-round version with a stainless steel body, which cost $32.95 each for every spare that you want. Personally, I believe that you never own too many spare M1911 magazines, especially if you intend to pursue formal training.
A pistol at this level of custom craftsmanship deserves to be stuffed into a holster of the same quality. Wilson Combat manufactures a line of custom handgun holsters and ancillaries that are every bit the equal of their superb M1911 pistols.
Available in Kydex, premium cowhide, sharkskin and even more exotic materials, such as elephant, Wilson Combat holsters, belts and magazine and flashlight pouches are among the very best that I have ever wrapped around my waist. You can select a Wilson Combat holster in any color you desire, as long as it’s black.
I selected a rig made from sharkskin, as I have used it in the past and I’m familiar with its origin and qualities. It’s actually more appropriate to say that a holster has an exterior lining of sharkskin, as the backing is almost always a thick layer of cowhide.
Unlike bony fish, sharks have a complex dermal corset made of flexible collagenous fibers, arranged as a helical network surrounding their bodies. This serves as an outer skeleton, to which are attached their swimming muscles, which consequently is energy saving.
These fibers, called denticles (literally “small teeth”), which cover the skin, are similar in structure to teeth that may, in fact, have evolved from them in primitive fish. These placoid scales in sharks are formed of dentine with dermal papillae located at their core.
These scales develop from the dermal layer of the skin, quite in contrast to the epidermal development found in the elasmoid scales of tetrapods (four-limbed creatures). The salient feature of the denticles of which sharkskin is composed, is the exceptional roughness of its uneven surface.
This quality has, over the centuries, made it attractive to traditional Japanese swordsmiths, who have used sharkskin and that of the stingray for covering sword handles, because of the secure gripping surface it provides. Sharkskin, although not inexpensive, is also used by several custom holster makers because of its rough, pebble grain appearance and its ability to withstand abrasion.
The Wilson Combat Practical Carry holster is equally suited for both concealed carry and use on the range. It features a low-cut front, wide interior sight track, double belt slots and an adjustable tension screw. Its vertical cant provides a very comfortable wrist position during the draw stroke.
Riding extremely close to the body, the Practical still permits a full firing grip before the presentation. Sitting low on the belt, this rig features an exceptionally fast draw stroke. In black sharkskin with black suede lining, the Practical holster (catalog #PC1BSR15) costs $129.95.
I believe that most often a single-cell magazine pouch is sufficient for concealed carry. Wilson Combat magazine pouches are designed to be worn on the weak side, in a bullets-forward, magazine-follower-to-the-top, orientation. A single cell snap pouch in black sharkskin (catalog #SS1BSR15) sells for $49.95. So often neglected, but every bit as important as the holster itself, a 1.5-inch, black sharkskin belt (catalog #B42BS15) with a heavy cowhide inner for additional rigidity and support, with double stitching and a solid brass buckle will cost you $129.95.
Tested for accuracy, point of impact and reliability, the CQB Light Rail Lightweight Compact pistol sailed though SGN’s test and evaluation without a stoppage of any kind. The recoil impulse was mild, as the lightweight aluminum alloy frame appeared to have no impact on that parameter whatsoever.
In addition, as the front strap has been slightly relief-cut just under the rear portion of the trigger guard (a so-called “kidney cut” that is now an almost common feature of custom M1911 pistols), the slightly higher grip permitted by this and the “Concealment Bullet Proof” beavertail grip safety lowers the bore line in relation to the shooter’s hand and further reduces the perceived recoil to a small extent.
The Wilson Combat CQB Light Rail Lightweight Compact pistol is guaranteed to print 1-inch groups at 25 yards, and that’s exactly the accuracy our test staff achieved with all three loads of Wilson Custom ammunition used.
In addition to rifle ammunition, Wilson Combat now manufactures handgun ammunition in the following calibers: .357 Mag., .40 S&W, 10mm, .460 Rowland and .45 ACP. Wilson Combat ammunition features match grade accuracy with excellent wound ballistics performance. They use the highest quality brass cases, bullets and other components with rigid taper crimping and operating pressures tailored for different barrel lengths.
The three loads we selected were the 200-grain Hornady HAP (Hornady Action Pistol) JHP (Jacketed Hollow Point) with a muzzle velocity of 865 fps out of a 5-inch barrel; the 200-grain H&G (Hensley & Gibbs) #68 Lead Semi-Wadcutter (LSW); and the 200-grain Hornady XTP JHP. This latter load has been optimized for compact .45 ACP pistols and travels at 955 fps out of a 4-inch barrel. The Hensley & Gibbs bullet is an ideal target or field load and moves out of a 5-inch barrel at 875 fps. Hornady’s HAP bullet provides superb accuracy with exceptional feed reliability.
RATTENKRIEG! The Art and Science of Close Quarters Battle Pistol, by Robert K. Taubert. Saber Press, 268 Main Street, PMB 138, North Reading, Massachusetts 01864; phone: 978-749-3731. Copyright 2012. ISBN: 978-0-9772659-4-7. 248 pages with 150 photos and illustrations. $24.95.
Here is a book at a level that explicitly matches that of the Wilson Combat CQB Light Rail Lightweight Compact M1911 pistol. Bob Taubert needs no introduction to armed professionals. He assisted in the creation and training of the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) and trained DEA agents in Close Quarters Battle.
Bob also specialized in maritime terrorism and the rescue and recovery of ships and off shore oil platforms; developed the FBI’s patrol rifle concept; served as North American Law Enforcement consultant for Israel Military Industries; instructor for many federal agencies and prominent manufacturers in the firearms industry and a great many other accomplishments.
“Rattenkrieg” was the term used by German soldiers during the battle of Stalingrad to describe the type of vicious, close quarters battle they experienced there while fighting the Soviet army street by bloody street.
This term was adopted for the title because the true art and science of close quarters battle pistol skills can only be found when the techniques practiced and employed are based not upon unrealistic range training protocols, but on the vivid realities experienced when engaged in a life or death fight for survival and total victory.
This book is most certainly not a basic pistol course and very little time is spent reviewing those skills. Those reading this book must be able to hit the ground running and physical fitness is a definite asset when challenged by some of the more dynamic aspects of this training.
The important topics covered include weapons and ammunition, the CQB pistol defined, modified fundamentals of CQB pistol, CQB pistol training considerations, multiple targets and target acquisition, ballistic shield and CQB shooting, vehicle assault shooting techniques, close quarters battle pistol drills, and an examination of pistol sights. If you’re serious enough about the handgun to want a Wilson Combat custom M1911 pistol, you will also need a copy of Bob Taubert’s superb book.