I understand the rationale that most concealed-carry enthusiasts have for moving away from full-size handguns to something they believe is more comfortable to carry and/or easier to conceal. However, when the move is to a platform completely different than the one with which they practice, compete or qualify, I’m mystified. Muscle memory being what it is — ability built from thou- sands of repetitions — these folks are handicapping themselves in the event of a lethal confronta- tion. They are deceiving themselves, believing their skill with one handgun type will transfer readily to another.
Those feeling the need to carry something smaller than the handguns with which they are proficient — and let’s hope they’re proficient — have two choices, excluding deluding themselves: Choose a similar platform, benefiting from one’s developed muscle memory, and practice with it; or choose another platform and practice to develop muscle memory and proficiency!
Compact versions of most full- size handguns are available in production and/or custom mod- els, making option one probably the most logical. For 1911 enthusiasts, there are a number of excellent sources of production and custom compact versions, with Wilson Combat riding high in the custom arena.
Nestled in the Arkansas hills, in Berryville, Wilson Combat has been building beautiful, function- al, reliable 1911s since 1978: their products are synonymous with modern 1911s. The com- pany was begun by a hotshot IPSC shooter (long before the founding of the USPSA) who tired of waiting on the era’s pistolsmiths to deliver custom 1911s, which on occasion did not meet expectations.
Bill Wilson leveraged his watchmaking skills into a part-time, then full-time pis- tolsmithing career that blossomed into today’s Wilson Combat, builders of top- notch custom firearms and purveyors of outstanding parts. The pistolsmiths of yesteryear built much of what they need- ed and assembled pistols with a ton of hand fitting. Wilson Combat might not need to build parts, thanks to their own line of Bullet Proof parts, but their abundant hand fitting still goes into each firearm they produce.
Wilson Combat has several compact models available. Twelve by my count: four in the Sentinel line and eight in the slightly more conventional Compact line. I’ve been lucky to test a number of Wilson 1911s over the years, compact and full-size — I’ve even tested a few of the company’s long guns — and the only problem I ever encountered was caused by my incorrectly installing a reverse plug beneath a heavy barrel!
Two of the newest compact offerings, one from each line, are the Super Sentinel and the X-TAC Compact. Chambered solely for the .38 Super and .45 ACP respectively, they bring signifi- cant calibers to the table, while differing in more than cartridges.
X-TAC Compact Details
Wilson’s X-TAC Compact, their full- size X-TAC’s smaller brother, tosses the 5-inch barrel for a 4-inch, improving portability. Steel slide and frame are reduced to accommodate shorter barrels, and the butt was cut 0.5 inches to hold seven rounds, for enhanced concealment. Distinguishing the X-TAC family from other 1911s are its enhanced design parameters, which produce exceptionally controllable pistols. These include the distinctive, bi-directional “checkering” on the frontstrap and main- spring housing as well as on the rear slide-cocking grooves. Picture tightly meshed X-shaped grooves, pro- ducing diamonds where they cross. When wet or dry hands grab these Xs, grip pressure embeds flesh in the grooves and diamonds, creating almost unbreakable traction. The X-TAC check- ering is more durable and effective than traditional treatments — it’s less likely to be nicked and dinged than is the case with other kinds of checkering — and it cannot snag on clothing.
Finishing the enhanced grip of the pistol is Wilson’s attractive and highly functional Starburst G-10 grips. The
Starburst’s grooves, radiating in numerous directions, ef- fectively handle the different directional forces of recoil.
Completing the X-TAC Compact’s concealment and function package are Wil- son’s Round Butt frame, its serrated rear Battlesight (with a wider U-shaped notch surrounded by a recessed semi-circle), a fiber optic front sight, a Tactical Thumb Safety, a high-cut frontstrap, a beveled magazine well, and the High-Ride Beaver- tail. All steel parts are finished in a black, Mil-Spec parkerized phosphate, its slight texture adding to the grip’s friction. The 4-inch stainless Match Grade Cone Barrel and reverse recoil plug are left bright.
With only 3.75 pounds of pressure on the black, skeletonized trigger, the black oval burr hammer fell. The pull was crisp and overtravel was imperceptible, as expected on Wilson pistols.
Super Sentinel Details
The Sentinel line contains Wilson Combat’s smallest pistols, designed from the ground up “to provide maximum concealability with our reliability guarantee.” Small pistols, especially really small 1911s, are notorious for finicki- ness. Stories abound about difficulties associated with keeping those handfuls of power running. That explains the time and effort Wilson Combat devotes to building the Sentinel line, to eliminates those negative attributes. I believe Sentinels are Wilsons’s most time- intensive builds, in no small part to ensure that they work perfectly every time.
Chambered initially for 9mm, with a rare few in .45 ACP, Sentinels are the product of cutting, snipping, grinding and filing. Aluminum alloy frames drop the weight, a diminution supplemented further by the bobbing of the frame’s grip by a 0.5 inches, improving concealment. Wilson’s Round Butt treatment is applied, with the rounded portion covered by fine stippling. The slides are composed of carbon steel and feature Carry Cuts (making for easy holstering and comfort in IWB holsters) as well as rear Battlesights and fiber optic fronts. The Sentinel features a Tactical Thumb Safety, a beveled magazine well and high-cut, checkered 30 lines per inch (lpi) frontstraps. Present also is a new concealment beavertail grip safety.
For the Sentinel, Wilson developed a special 3.6-inch bull barrel, concen- trating, via conical shaping, as much weight as possible in the forward area. Riding beneath the barrel is a full-length guide rod with reverse plug. The grips are G10 Slimline Starbursts. The trigger, except on original Sentinels, is solid and short. Wilson’s famous Armor-Tuff finish is on everything except barrels and reverse plugs.
The Super Sentinel is, as you might guess, chambered for the frequently underestimated .38 Super. Around 1930, Colt’s 1911 .38 Super was released to assist law enforcement fighting big gangs wearing armored vests with bulletproof glass on their automobiles. Police were clamoring for an equalizer.
Colt’s .38 Super Auto could penetrate the era’s armored vests, bulletproof auto glass, and auto bodies. Even the FBI adopted the pistol and cartridge.
Originally, .38 Super cartridges headspaced on the rim, which led to it gaining a poor reputation for accuracy. The Super’s rise to popularity in IPSC put a nail in inaccuracy’s coffin, proving the efficacy of headspacing on the case mouth, as happens on the .45 ACP and 9mm.
The Super Sentinel had a beautifully crisp trigger pull, virtually free of overtravel, and showed a weight of 3.9 pounds. My reach to the trigger was perfect, and I doubt that even those with larger hands could find fault.
All the edges on both compacts were gently broken, improving the concealed carry experience. These shooters will be right at home in a pocket, an IWB holster or in some alternative means of carry.
I experimented with a couple of alternates befitting these diminutive compacts. Blue Stone Safety’s excellent Tactical Belly Band is comfortable for deeper concealment, with room for pistol, magazines and more. It can be worn below waist level reached by ripping up a tucked or untucked shirttail. Worn on the chest, with a shirt such as Woolrich’s Elite Oxford CCW, the Belly Band allows for a quick and easy pistol draw.
At a press event at Bill Wilson’s place, I noticed he wore a bag on his belt that looked very much like Elite Survival System’s Discreet Security Pack. I can’t say with certainty whose bag it was, but after working with one of Elite’s Avenger GunPack I can see the attraction. Quick to access, more versatile but less noticeable than fanny packs, and comfortable for all day carry, the Discreet Security Pack rides easily on the belt or shoulder.
Shooting finely built custom 1911s is more like a party than work, so my accomplices and I spent quite a bit of time pouring a significant number of rounds down at the range. Naturally, there was nary a bobble or hiccup. Recoil for both calibers seemed quite controllable, a credit to the Starburst grips fitted on both, the X-TAC’s grooves and the recoil impulse of the .38 Super.
During rapid fire, I discovered that the length of both Starburst grips combined with the sharp edge on their mainspring housing pin cutout to dig into my hand’s heel. Bearable for brief range sessions, I’d want to take a fine file to the edge if planning for a longer shoot.
I was quite impressed with both pistols’ green fiber optic sights. They seemed to jump into the sight plane quickly after each shot and draw my eyes back to them. The new Battlesights were excellent accompaniments to the fiber optics.
Accuracy, as you can see from the accompanying results, was excellent by the standards of both compact and full- size pistols. There’s no reason to feel handicapped by their size!
There were only two things I would change — other than making them mine — and both are personal preferences relating to the X-TAC Compact. With my smaller hands, I’d like it to feature Slimline G-10 Starburst grips. I’d also pay extra for Wilson’s nearly inde- structible Armor-Tuff protective finish, because I am hard on handguns. As a fan of big bores, I was surprised when the size and performance of the Super Sentinel led me to desire it a fraction more than I did the X-TAC Compact. The .38 Super ballistics convert the Super Sentinel into a pocket .357 Magnum, but one much more controllable, comfortable and concealable.
These Wilson pistols qualify as works of art. Not barbeque pistols, flashy and begging for notice and attention, but subdued, quiet art objects that one can just hold in one’s hand and admire. Both pistols’ lines are impeccable. Everything fits together perfectly, and their slides’ cycles were as smooth as a baby’s bum.
On the X-TAC Compact, the grooved treatment on the front strap looked like it was made especially to complement the Starburst grips! The Super Sentinel’s flat- top slide, with fine grooves running along the flat, its perfectly executed checkering, the contouring of front sight’s base to the match slide, the feel of its Slimline Starburst grips in my hand: All of these aspects united to make me feel — literally! — as though I had found a long-lost friend.
Don’t get me wrong: These Wilson compacts are fighting pistols, and nothing I’ve said should indicate that I’d abstain from using them for fear they might get marred! Wilson Combat’s X-TAC Compact and Super Sentinel are worthy of being a part of anyone’s armament as either back-up or primary weapons. From tactical and practical standpoints, they give up nothing with their compactness, yet gain enormously in concealment and portability! To find out more call 800-955-4856 or visit wilsoncombat.com.