By John Taffin, American Handgunner, Photos By Chuck Pittman
One of the things I can remember clearly from a lifetime of reading about guns are the classic phrases the old gun-’riters used to use. Pages were filled with things like “Use Enough Gun” or “Carry A Big Stick” or “A Pair and a Spare!” All come to mind easily. And one phrase I remember clearly — from reading 60 years ago — is “My work toughened hands.” This came from Elmer Keith and was given as one of the reasons he could handle heavy recoil in sixguns. He had spent most of his young life as a rancher and outfitter, working cattle and busting broncs. As a result, his hands had built up an immunity to recoil. This was combined with him shooting heavy stuff in relative moderation as well as having properly designed grips fitting him well.
As far as moderation goes, he said, after waiting 30 years for the .44 Magnum to arrive, he shot a grand total of 600 rounds the first year. Not the first day, not the first week, not the first month — but the first year. This averages out to only 12 rounds per week.
I also had work-toughened hands, with mine coming about much differently than Keith’s. I was in the last few days of my teenage-hood when I went to work in a tire factory. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I could work nights and go to school in the daytime while still managing to support my soon-to-arrive family.
The first day of work I came home with 10 bloody fingers; my hands were not even close to being tough. I got a bottle of formaldehyde from the pharmacist and worked it into my hands every day. As a result my fingers and hands toughened up and the bleeding stopped.
After graduating from college and leaving the job, my hands continued to stay tough as I began shooting bigger and bigger handguns. Moderation was not a word I understood when it came to shooting, and I would often shoot as many rounds or more in a weekend as Elmer Keith shot in a year.
However, as we grow older everything changes, and my “work toughened” hands disappeared, replaced by tenderness. Moderation, not one of my strong suits, even now, but it has been forced upon me. Any of you who are in the same age bracket realize how easily this happens and also how tender the fingers and toes are if we happen to bump into something. It’s just a fact of life. If we live long enough it happens to all of us.
A Gentler Recoiling Trend
Now where is all this leading? About five years ago I started looking for a 1911 chambered in 9mm. I promptly discovered how hard they were to find. Even though the 9mm’s existed everywhere, they were mostly plastic guns with safety triggers. I wanted the standard 1911 Government Model chambered in 9mm. I had several reasons for this, and in talking to Bill Wilson, founder of Wilson Combat, I definitely discovered a like-minded individual.
Bill wrote to me: “Personally, I’m convinced the 9mm is the wave of the future for all self-defense pistols and will soon be a big portion of 1911’s built.” I could not agree with him more. Five years ago, it was tough to find a 9mm in 1911 configuration. Today many companies are offering the 1911 in 9mm, including many of the custom gunsmiths who obviously believe Bill Wilson is correct.
As Bill and I looked at the reasoning we came up with the same conclusion as to why the 9mm 1911’s are becoming more popular. Many shooters are getting older and find they can no longer handle the .45 ACP Government Model as they once could. I can still handle it as well as ever, however, there’s a limiting time factor. I just can no longer spend as much time shooting .45’s in one session as I once could. At my age now, 100 rounds — if we pass by +P loads — is about my limit, and even then my hands will be sore the next day. Yet, with 9mm’s I can go at least 300 rounds with no after-effects.
Ammunition is another factor. Most 9mm’s have a greater magazine capacity, and we now have 1911’s which are double-stack nines. Ammunition cost is an important part of the equation too. I always watch for sales on ammunition and only recently bought new, factory Remington 9mm hardball on sale for less than $11 a box of 50. I bought 20 boxes at less cost than to actually handload them!
The Fun Factor
Recreational shooting should be fun, and shooting 9mm’s are almost as much fun as shooting .22’s. Shooting the 9mm in an all steel 1911 is not all far removed from shooting a .22. Yes, there’s a little more recoil — but it’s hardly noticeable.
Over the past couple of months I’ve been enjoying a lot of time shooting custom 9mm’s from Wilson Combat. Two of these are the Beretta Model 92 Brigadier and an Ultra Light Carry 1911 both of which will show up in another article. For this feature Bill Wilson supplied us with a pair of two of the best looking 1911’s one is ever likely to come across. The one on the cover and in the photographs for this piece is the “Grade 3 Texas BBQ Special” while I received the Grade 1 version. The only difference in the two is the amount of engraving.
The Wilson Combat Texas BBQ Special is a gun one would not only be happy to shoot but very proud to show. This goes back to the middle of the last century and the Texas Rangers of the time. I can recall seeing many pictures of Rangers like Bob Crowder, Clint Peoples and Manuel “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas. All of these men dressed pretty much the same. That is, light tan tailored shirt and pants, a brush jacket, custom boots and a Stetson of course. In addition to their Texas Ranger badge they had another badge of authority. They all wore two handguns in carved leather holsters on a carved leather belt. No plastic guns; no plastic holsters. Their guns were engraved and usually had ivory stocks. This tradition harkened back to earlier days, when the two guns would have likely been engraved SAA Colts, instead of S&W DA revolvers or Colt 1911’s as they were in the 1940’s and 1950’s.
A fancy gun was what one wore for a Texas barbecue or any important gathering. Bill Wilson’s two versions are apropos for a gathering of good friends sharing good food — perhaps steaks with Grade 3 and hot dogs and hamburgers for Grade 1! The “Texas BBQ Special” — so engraved on the right side of the slide — is all stainless steel. Both sides of the slides and the frame are beautifully engraved. Both of these 1911’s were engraved by former Smith & Wesson Master Engraver Wayne D’Angelo, and the engraving is particularly attractive on this stainless steel pistol.
Classic 1911 And More
The Wilson Combat Texas BBQ Special is equipped with Wilson Combat Sights consisting of a low riding rear sight with a highly visible square notch and the back serrated to reduce glare, matched up with a post front sight with a gold bead. Both sights are black and set in dovetails. They are adjustable for windage, however, I found for my eyes and hands they were pretty much dead on at 20 yards. The top of the slide has full-length striations to further cut down on glare.
Also from the top it’s easy to see the fluted chamber. As Bill says, this has no functional enhancement, but sure looks cool! The trigger is standard-style 1911 matched up with a Commander-style hammer and breaks perfectly crisply with no creep at 4 pounds. The beavertail grip safety and hammer are both designed for concealment. There are no rough edges on the grip safety to catch on clothes. There are also no sharp edges on the rounded butt or its one-piece magwell.
The grip frame is finely checkered on both the back and front straps giving a very secure feeling when shooting or drawing. Matched up with the grip frame is a set of G-10 red cherry grips custom-made for Wilson Combat by VZ; both panels carry the Wilson Logo in a silver medallion. They are also deeply checkered to add to the secure feeling, and there is a cutout for the thumb right behind the magazine release button. This button is slightly extended and fully checkered for ease of operation.
This 1911 came with two standard magazines plus one of the newest designed Wilson magazines. Bill spent three months and 10,000 rounds in developing this magazine, which is designed to run any type of 9mm ammunition no matter the bullet shape or OAL. It worked flawlessly.
All the inner parts are fully machined Wilson Bullet Proof parts with no casting or MIM parts used. The slide to frame fit is so tight they feel like a one-piece unit, yet the slide is easiest to work by hand — even with my old tender weakened fingers! In spite of this tightness the slide and frame work flawlessly together, and I had no malfunctions whatsoever with all the many types of ammunition I shot through this BBQ Special 1911. This is what happens with a good gun and good ammo.
The barrel is tapered at the front for a tight barrel to bushing lockup and the barrel has a beautifully carried out deep-dish crown. The barrel bushing is marked “WILSON” while the left side of the slide says “WILSON COMBAT” with the two words separated by the head of an Eagle. On the right side of the slide at the rear is a seal marked “THE STATE OF TEXAS” and on the corresponding area on the other side is the Wilson Combat Logo.
Low Recoil Shooting
In addition to the test pistol, Bill also sent along some of the new Wilson Combat Ammunition, which I ran with other factory offerings, giving me a total of 20 different 9mm loads using both standard and +P versions, FMJ and HP bullet shapes, and bullet weights from 115 to 147 grains. As mentioned earlier each and every load performed flawlessly with no failures to feed or extract.
The 1911 design is more than a century old and as I write this it is my 76th birthday. I am so blessed not only to be able to test guns like this but to still be able to shoot reasonably well. The Wilson Combat Texas BBQ shot exceptionally well in my hands and I would expect a younger shooter to make it literally stand up and sing.
The three most accurate loads grouping into 3/4″ for 5-shots at 20 yards were the Hornady 124 FMJ clocking out at 1,169 fps; Remington 115 JHP, also 1,169 fps interestingly enough and Winchester 115 JHP’s which registered 1,172 fps over the sky screens.
Next came the Wilson Combat 124 XTP-JHP +P at 1,227 fps and a group of 7/8″ for the 5-shots at 20 yards. Other notable results, all shooting into 1″ — or slightly over — were the Black Hills 124 FMJ at 1,155 fps; Federal 115 JHP, 1,227 fps; HPR 115 JHP, 1,171 fps; Speer Gold Dot 115 JHP and 124 JHP at 1,169 fps and 1,210 fps respectively. The Wilson Combat 115 TAC +P and 125 HAP at 1,268 fps and 1,160 fps also delivered the 1″ range grouping.
Expect the Grade 3 gun to shoot at least as well as our test gun, but perhaps do it with more flair! Maybe it’s time to reward yourself for a lifetime of hard work?
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