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American Handgunner

A serious five-inch for those who demand a battle-tough .45

Wilson CQB: A serious five-inch for those who demand a battle-tough .45

Dave Anderson

More than two decades ago, in the Jan/Feb 1979 issue of Handgunner, a little one-eighth page advertisement appeared. Under a bold heading “Combat Shooters,” the ad announced “Custom combat handguns built… Specializing in tuning Colt .45 ACPs for practical pistol shooting… for the serious combat shooter. Quality work. Reasonable prices. Moderate shop time. For complete brochure of custom work and accessories, send two 15-cent stamps to Wilson’s Gun Shop, Berryville, AR.”

Bill Wilson was a young man, twentysomething, when that ad ran. Trained as a watchmaker, Wilson had become interested in the growing sport of practical pistol competition. After a disappointing experience in purchasing a custom 1911, Wilson reasoned that tuning up a pistol properly should be no more difficult than repairing a watch. Other shooters were impressed with the gun he built for himself and asked him to work on their guns as well.

Wilson could, and still can, shoot them as well as he can build them. In 1979 he won several regional International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) matches, won the tough Second Chance bowling pin match, and placed fifth at the IPSC world championships. Through the ’80s, until the expansion of his business claimed too much of his practice time, Wilson was a threat to win any match he entered. He competed for the United States on the IPSC national team on several occasions.

The small, one-man shop has grown into a highly successful company. The current 83-page Wilson Combat Catalog shows a complete line of 1911 style pistols– full size, compact, lightweight and polymer-framed models– all carrying the Wilson name. There are custom shotguns from a Wilson subsidiary, Scattergun Technologies, and even AR rifles. There is a full line of quality holsters and leather gear, all designed by Wilson. His son, Ryan, offers folding and fixed-blade knives. In the Wilson emporium there are also books, videos, and a huge array of high quality parts and accessories.

What accounts for such success? Actually, it isn’t a mystery.

For more than two decades Wilson Combat has maintained the principles outlined in that first ad– quality work, reasonable prices and prompt service. When Wilson began building guns, the big names in IPSC circles were Jim Hoag, Frank Pachmayr and Armand Swenson. The practical shooting competition arena is tough on equipment and unforgiving of inadequate performance; reputations are hard to build and easily lost.

It’s significant that by the Nov/Dec 1980 issue, Massad Ayoob could write in Handgunner that “…many of the top aces speak of him [Wilson] and Hoag in the same breath.”

In the decades since, Wilson’s reputation has never wavered.

His guns have won more major matches, and been used by top shooters in more major tournaments than those of any other gunmaker. Many of his designs–the Accu-Comp C, Accu-Comp LE and Steel Special–were on the leading edge of technology.

Real World Focus

Despite the sterling record his guns earned in competition, Bill Wilson has always been most devoted to real-world, practical defensive pistols. Even though he was one of the earliest of IPSC members and supported that organization for many years, he became increasingly disillusioned with the equipment race. He despaired at the lack of practicality in both courses of fire and the equipment needed to win.

Rather than just sit back and complain, Wilson did something about it. He put up the money and helped found the International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) as a way of making practical pistol competition truly practical once more.

In keeping with a practical theme, the Wilson catalog no longer carries IPSC “raceguns,” those with optical sights or fancy compensators. Certainly there are still “full-house guns, such as the beautifully polished and detailed Classic Super Grade (currently listing at $3,495), but even that magnificent gun is truly a practical pistol you would feel comfortable carrying every day in a duty or concealment holster.

The Wilson CQB is proving to be one of the most popular pistols ever to come from the Wilson Combat shop. It’s as nice a defensive pistol as you can buy, with every feature needed and no unnecessary frills.

A great custom pistol needs a solid foundation. The CQB has a good one, Wilson’s own frame and slide serving as the basic components. The frame and slide are CNC machined from heat-treated, hardened steel forgings, machined to tight tolerances, handfitted and matched for a precise fit.

On this rock-solid foundation Wilson’s team of gunsmiths installs and fits Wilson’s own high quality parts to make a complete pistol. A Wilson stainless steel, match-grade barrel is handfitted. The rear sight at first glance appears to be a Novak, but is actually a Wilson #463. It’s very similar in appearance to the Novak and in fact will fit the same dovetail cut as a Novak. The sides of the sight are cut at an angle to give what Wilson calls it’s a “Combat Pyramid” sight picture.

Certainly this is an outstanding design, very strong, smooth, attractive, and providing an excellent sight picture. The front sight is a dovetail mounted post, ramped just enough to prevent snagging. Tritium night sight inserts are fitted in a three-dot pattern and provide superior sight acquisition in dim light conditions. A Wilson firing pin, firing pin stop and Bullet Proof extractor complete the slide assembly.

The Wilson frame incorporates all the elements of the modern 1911. The highride beavertail grip safety has a raised area at the bottom to ensure the safety is released by a proper firing grip. The thumb safety is a Wilson extended model; an ambidextrous version is an optional extra.

The hammer is slotted, and a long trigger has the distinctive three-hole Wilson pattern. Trigger pulls on CQB pistols are tuned to be crisp, in the 3.5 to 4 pound range.

The magazine well is beveled and the slightly extended magazine release button is checkered to provide a secure purchase. A set of checkered black Dymondwood grips carrying a handsome Wilson medallion insert are fitted.

Tough Finish

Wilson CQB pistols carry the proprietary Armor-Tuff finish, applied at a new facility built by Wilson. It’s described as a phenolic resin that is thermally cured at extremely low temperature. The finish contains molybdenum disulfide, making for a very slick, smooth finish.

Although Wilson recommends the pistol be lubed on contact surfaces with a synthetic lube, as with any 1911, the Armor-Tuff finish does seem to make for exceptionally smooth slide to frame functioning. According to Wilson, the Armor-Tuff finish withstands testing including 1,000 hours of salt spray, 1,000 hours of salt water immersion, accelerated salt spray testing equivalent to 30 years of marine atmosphere exposure and 60 days immersion in sea water. It will also withstand 24-hour exposure to a wide range of chemicals including jet fuel, paint removers, hydrogen peroxide, nitric, sulphuric and hydrochloric acids, and many other strong chemicals. Oh yes, and temperature extremes from -250 to +500 degrees F.

Frankly, I decided to take Wilson’s word for all this, and I have no doubt it will meet all claims. What I like most about the Armor-Tuff finish is its handsome, subdued appearance and non-reflective qualities. While I like a polished, gleaming blue finish as well as anyone, a matte non-reflective finish makes a lot of sense from a tactical viewpoint.

After firing several hundred rounds, the finish showed some signs of wear on the frame and slide rails. It appears to be somewhat less abrasion resistant than hard chrome, but more rust resistant. It’s claimed that the finish actually penetrates the metal surface and, even when apparently worn to bare metal, it continues to provide protection against rust.

Testing Wilsons

Over the past couple of decades I’ve shot many Wilson pistols. I’ve purchased three of my own for IPSC and speed shooting competition: an Accu-Comp LE in .38 Super, an Optical Steel Special also in .38 Super and a Master Grade LTD in .45 ACP. How many rounds I’ve put through them I don’t know. I tried to keep track of the rounds fired in the Accu-Comp LE, bought in 1986, by tearing the end flap off each box of 1,000 primers and tossing it in a parts bin drawer. By 1991 when I lost track, that one gun had fired close to 55,000 rounds.

The .45 also got shot a lot, the Steel Special not so much since I had trouble getting enthused about optical sights at the time. In all those rounds only once did one of the guns let me down.

During a match around 1990, after the Accu-Comp had shot some 50,000 rounds and been dry-fired probably 150,000 times, the middle leaf of the three-leaf spring broke off and tied up the gun. That was a Colt part, not a Wilson. I also had the lower part of the firing stop on that gun break and fall off after extensive dry firing, but the remaining portion of the stop held the firing pin and the gun continued to function; I didn’t even notice it was broken until detail stripping the gun for a thorough cleaning.

I mention this simply to illustrate that if there is one thing you can absolutely count on with a Wilson gun, it is reliability.

Certainly Wilson guns are attractive, durable and accurate– my old Accu-Comp still shoots sub-2″ groups at 50 yards– but Wilson understands that above all else, a defensive pistol has to work.

Testing The CQB

The Wilson CQB consigned for testing was a standard model with a left-side only thumb safety. Initial inspection showed excellent fit and finish. There was no play in the slide-to-frame fit, yet the slide glided smoothly back and forth. It’s not loose and it’s not tight. It’s right.

There is virtually no perceptible play in the barrel fit to the slide stop and barrel bushing.

The CNC-cut checkering on the frontstrap and flat mainspring housing is 30 lines per inch and is very well done. After using both 20 lpi and 30 lpi checkering, I’ve come to prefer the finer 30 lpi version. The smaller diamonds are a bit more susceptible to damage but provide a more comfortable grip and look better besides.

Trigger pull on the test gun was exceptional, breaking clean and crisp at 3 lbs. This is actually a bit light for a defensive pistol; I’d suggest specifying a 4 lb. pull on a duty or carry 1911. All the functional aspects of the gun– magazine release, grip safety, thumb safety, slide stop– were crisp, solid, and reliable.

Overall workmanship, fit and finish are excellent. There isn’t a sharp edge to be found, nor anything that might snag on holster or clothes. The two-tone Armor-Tuff finish– matte black on the slide, OD green on frame– gives the CQB a striking appearance. Some of my own 1911s are two-toned, with blued slides and hard-chromed frames. I’m used to that look, so the OD green frame took a bit of acclimation. I found its low key, understated, businesslike appearance to become more appealing as I got used to it.

The only preparation done before shooting was to run a few dry patches through the bore and properly lube the gun. Some 600 rounds were fired over the course of two afternoons with no further lubing or cleaning. There were no malfunctions of any kind, which is hardly surprising. Wilson guns are built to be reliable, even during break-in firing. If it wasn’t reliable, it wouldn’t have left Arkansas.

Series 47 Magazines

A big part of this reliability comes from the outstanding Wilson Series 47 magazines, two of which are provided with each CQB. There simply are no better 1911 magazines made. Wilson magazines are made of high quality stainless steel, heat treated for long term durability. Several variations are offered with standard, low profile or extended base pads and in natural stainless steel or black finish.

Montana pistolsmith Mike Johnson of Shooting Specialties calls Wilson magazines the “instant reliability tuneup.” When a customer comes to his shop complaining about an unreliable 1911, Mike’s first step is to give him a Wilson magazine and tell him to go back to the range. Most often, Mike says, the customer comes back beaming, pays for the magazine and a couple of spares, going away happy.

Ammunition tested included a wide array of brands and loads from Black Hills, Cor-Bon, Federal, Hornady, Speer and Winchester. They ranged from target wadcutters to +P 230 gr. JHPs. Bullet styles included roundnose, SWC, flat point and hollowpoint. All proved 100 percent reliable.

Accuracy was good, if not exceptional. Five-shot groups at 25 yards ran from 2″ to 3″, most in the 2.5″ range. This isn’t quite as good as my Wilson Master Grade LTD. which will sneak down to the 1″ range with its favorite loads, but it is certainly adequate.

There was a bit of the “autopistol first shot” syndrome, as the first hand-chambered round was usually about an inch high. For example, Hornady 200 gr. match ammo printed a group with four of the shots touching in less than an inch, the first shot about 1.5″ high.

By loading six rounds in the magazine, firing the first into the backstop and then firing five for record, we got consistent sub-2″ groups with Black Hills 200 gr. SWC, Hornady 200 gr. match, and WW 230 gr. ball. I know some people discount the “first shot syndrome,” but as the saying goes, I not only believe in it, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Even my old High Standard Victor, one of the most accurate handguns I’ve ever shot, prints the first shot a bit out of the main group.

All Wilson pistols are zeroed before shipping. Whoever sighted this one must use the same sight picture and grip pressure as I do. With standard velocity 230 gr. JHP loads, this pistol shot dead center for me at 25 yards. Lighter and heavier loads naturally hit slightly higher or lower– we re talking about differences of an inch or so– but remained centered for deflection.

Defensive Quality

Would I carry the CQB for self– defense? Without a moment’s hesitation. I took it with me while travelling to the American Handgunner World Shootoff Championship at Montrose, Cob. Following the match I spent some time fishing in Colorado’s beautiful high country with Handgunner’s outstanding photojournalist, Nyle Leatham. At the store where we bought our fishing licenses, we were advised that several bear attacks had occurred in the area we were heading for, and that it was highly recommended to be armed.

Not a problem. Nyle belted on a hip holster holding one of his matched pair of Colt SAA .44 Specials, its action tuned up by the renowned Bob James. I slipped the CQB, loaded with Black Hills 230 gr. +P JHPs, into a Wilson Summer Companion holster.

A .45 ACP wouldn’t be my first choice in grizzly country, but black bears in summer typically weigh around 150 to 250 lbs., and at the short ranges involved in a defensive situation, I felt adequately prepared. Fortunately the bears left us alone.

The Wilson holster, incidentally, proved extremely comfortable and kept the pistol tucked neatly out of the way.

The tab for a Wilson CQB pistol is $1,795. The price includes everything: tritium night sights, frame checkering, rust-resistant finish, high quality parts, hand fitting, tuning, adjusting the trigger, test firing, zeroing, instructional video and manual, two magazines, all in a quality nylon pistol rug. The only criticism I can make of the test gun is that at 3 lbs. the trigger pull is a bit light for a defensive pistol. Darned if I ever thought I’d criticize a trigger for being too good.

You get one more thing with a Wilson gun– unsurpassed customer service. Wilson’s reputation for honesty, integrity and quality is unquestioned. Never have I heard of a customer who wasn’t treated with courtesy and respect.

All the people at Wilson Combat are “gun people” who genuinely want you to get a gun that is right for your needs. If what you need is a 1911 for home or personal defense or for practical pistol competition, one that you can show with pride and pass on to the next generation, the CQB will do the job.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Publishers’ Development Corporation

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group