Over the decades, there have been hundreds, maybe thousands, of writers before me that have written about and extolled the virtues of the products from Wilson Combat, whether they were talking about magazines, “Bullet Proof” parts, rifles, shotguns or the product for which the company is truly renowned—custom 1911 pistols.
It occurred to me that so much ground has been covered, there might not be anything new or more that I could reveal as a gun writer. Having read about Wilson Combat since the mid-1980s, I’ve always longed for the ability to own and shoot a custom 1911 from Wilson’s shop and never would have guessed back then that I would eventually have that chance.
Even further from my thinking would have been the fact that the Wilson 1911 I’d try would be in 9mm. But that’s exactly what I found in the box when the new Wilson Combat Ultralight Carry (ULC) Commander showed up at my local gun shop.
Being one of the very best custom 1911 manufacturers in business today, the exceptional attention paid to even the slightest detail comes as no surprise. Straight out of the box, the ULC Commander is a black-tie affair. It’s quite simply a work of art. The black Armor-Tuff finish is sleek and clean, and there wasn’t a single blemish on the entire pistol.
Features that stand out immediately include the green fiber-optic front sight, the flush-cut reverse crown at the muzzle, the fluted barrel hood and the black G10 Starburst grips adorned with pewter medallions. Though these features don’t necessarily determine the pistol’s performance, they certainly draw the eye quickly and help it make a great first impression.
Bullet Proof Build
Wilson Combat has garnered almost as much praise for its Bullet Proof parts line as it has obtained with its pistols. As far back as 1997, I remember buying a few Wilson 47D magazines for a beat-up 1911 that I carried, and I thought I was really doing something. Now it seems the sky’s the limit where parts are concerned.
Aside from the normal requirements of accuracy and reliability, a lot of folks forget about durability, and that’s what Wilson Combat’s line of Bullet Proof parts is all about. If an individual is going to purchase a firearm that’s in the $4,000 ballpark, they’re going to want a pistol that not only stands up to heavy use, but does so for the long haul.
The ULC Commander hosts a bevy of these parts manufactured in-house to build a rock-solid 1911 that will stand up to whatever challenges the owner throws at it. Within this package resides Wilson’s Bullet Proof Concealment beavertail grip safety, Tactical thumb safety and magazine release.
These parts and a few others, like the carbon-steel slide, are fitted on a Professional-sized aluminum frame. Specifically intended to facilitate all-day concealed carry, the aluminum frame is the heart of the ULC Commander’s light weight, and it actually reduces the weight of this Commander-sized variant by 60 percent compared to steel.
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Of course, simply fitting parts together on an assembly line doesn’t result in a high-end 1911 like the ULC Commander. An extreme amount of precision work goes into the fitting of parts, and the skilled gunsmiths at Wilson Combat include a number of additional features ranging from the cosmetic to the purely functional.
First, there are more serrations on the ULC Commander than you’ll find in a drawer full of bread knives. Though they do enhance the aesthetics of the pistol, each set has a specific function. For example, the 30- and 40-lpi serrations on the top and rear of the slide, respectively, help reduce glare. The ULC Commander’s frontstrap also has 30-lpi checkering that adds a dimension of control to the shooter’s grip on the pistol, even in wet conditions.
Some cosmetic features that enhance the overall appearance of the ULC Commander package include the ball-mill cuts at the front of the slide, the countersunk slide stop and, as mentioned earlier, the fluted barrel hood.
Why The Nine?
The 9mm round has been seeing quite a resurgence lately, particularly with 1911 users. While 1911 pistols have been chambered in 9mm and various other calibers in the past, there wasn’t a real demand for it from consumers until the last few years. This was an observation made by Bill Wilson, the owner of Wilson Combat, during a phone conversation we had in regard to the ULC Commander and the 9mm round in general.
According to Bill, the custom 1911 pistols made at Wilson Combat are at an almost 50/50 split between .45 ACP and 9mm chamberings. Several factors that he’s noticed push 9mm demand are ease of shooting, controllability and higher capacity—as found with the 10-round magazines for the ULC Commander.
He’s observed at competitions and handgun classes that the folks shooting .45 ACP 1911s seem to be “beat up after a couple of days while the 9mm shooters are ready for more shooting.” Couple this observation with the advent of modern bullet technology, and Bill feels that the 9mm is a highly effective chambering that puts less stress on the shooter during extended firing.
Bill also noted during the conversation that quality parts, like magazines and re-engineered extractors, will last longer, resulting in an extremely high degree of reliability, even possibly more so than those installed in a .45 ACP pistol. As a competitive shooter, Bill watches tens of thousands of rounds being fired and indicates that he has not seen any issues with reliability directly related to his Wilson Combat pistols. Any problems he’s noticed are usually linked to out-of-spec ammunition.
As an aside, Bill mentioned that his carry pistol is the X-TAC Elite in 9mm, and he mentioned it was on his hip while we were talking. For someone that’s been in the custom 1911 business for close to 40 years and has seen it all, that’s an endorsement for the 9mm that’s hard to ignore.
The ULC Commander ended up being tested by several users from the bluegrass of Kentucky down to the foothills of North Carolina, where some of the locals believe it’s still half-time during the War of Northern Aggression. Each person that gave the pistol a workout was duly impressed by its performance.
At the range, the shooting drills and accuracy tests were conducted with a variety of ammunition from Sig Sauer, Speer and Federal Premium. The bullet weights ranged from 115 to 147 grains, and the types included both FMJ rounds and hollow points.
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Starting off with Sig’s 115-grain FMJ load seemed to be the appropriate starting point, and it took very little time at all to realize the accuracy potential of the ULC Commander. Wilson Combat guarantees at least 1.5-inch or better accuracy at 25 yards, and just from my shooting experience with the test pistol, I can believe it.
After priming the pistol with a few magazines of the Sig 115-grain FMJ load, I used a few B-29 targets to check the practical, off-hand accuracy of the ULC Commander. That includes not only the inherent accuracy of the pistol, but takes into account sight visibility, handling characteristics, controllability and so forth.
Even with the FMJ practice ammunition, the ULC Commander turned out to be an exceptionally capable pistol off-hand. With the Sig ammo, a five-shot group on a B-29 target at 15 yards had a spread of just 1.25 inches. Not too shabby considering the group took just a hair over five seconds to shoot. A good part of this achievement was due to the excellent fiber-optic front sight and the light and clean break of the trigger. The weight of the trigger pull came in at an average of 3.4 pounds. For a defensive pistol, that’s light enough to give you goosebumps.
Coincidentally enough, the best five-shot group from a rest at 25 yards was just 1.32 inches, and it was with Sig’s 147-grain V-Crown JHP load. Though I’d take groups like this all day long, that wasn’t the case. Too many human factors were involved. Most groups hung around the 2- to 2.75-inch range. The second best group came in at exactly 2 inches with Speer’s 124-grain Gold Dot HPs.
Having an Officer’s-sized 1911 on hand for comparison, I definitely appreciated the full-sized grip height of the ULC Commander. While the Officer’s-sized frame might arguably be easier to conceal, the Commander’s grip provided a more solid purchase—especially with the aid of the checkering—and I certainly felt like I had more control over the pistol.
The green fiber-optic front sight was extremely easy to pick up and contrasted well with various targets. This aided in very fast target acquisitions. The ULC Commander was fired in very bright conditions on a couple of occasions, and the serrations on top of the slide definitely worked well to minimize glare.
From the very first shot, neither I nor any other shooters working with the ULC Commander encountered a single malfunction with any of the ammunition we tried. The pistol just worked, and even with the aluminum frame, the recoil was fairly soft. It was easy to get off quick, accurate follow-up shots. The ULC Commander is definitely a pistol you could trust your life with.
It really hurt my feelings to box up the ULC Commander and send it back home. In my lifetime, very few pistols have ever endeared themselves to me as quickly as this one did.
From the classic lines of the 1911 to the unique character and quality that can only be found in custom pistols made by the very best, the ULC Commander not only lived up to its hype, but also met my expectations as a young dreamer leafing through articles years ago wanting a Wilson Custom all my own. Nothing’s changed.
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The big hurdle to overcome is the price, but the struggle will be well worth it, especially when you consider all the factors like the gorgeous aesthetics, accuracy and absolute reliability built into this package.
For more information, visit wilsoncombat.com or call 800-955-4856.
This article was originally published in ‘Combat Handguns’ March 2017. For information on how to subscribe, visit outdoorgroupstore.com.