Back From the Range 4/3/2017

Back from the range; another 263 rounds of 9mm has gone downrange.

The range session was to give the Wilson ESP Classic a workout. The name “ESP” does not mean this gun has extra-sensory perception, or that if you shoot it, you will. It’s a version of Wilson’s well-established Classic Model in 9mm, intended to give shooters everything they need to compete in IDPA’s Enhanced Service Pistol division. Though the truth is, out-of-the-box (or the gray Wilson pistol rug, as it were), it had one glaring lack in that regard: no mag funnel. I installed and blended a blued steel Smith & Alexander arched and checkered combo mainspring housing/funnel myself, then had my friend, gunsmith Ron Soderquist, silver polymer it to match the ESP Classic’s stainless steel frame.

Those who know me might wince when they word associate “Duane” and “installed a mag funnel.” The first time I tried to do this, Mr. Dremel and I trashed the gun’s frame. Let’s just say I’m a fast learner, especially when the lesson is that painful. This time my goal was that all dremeling go into the funnel, none on the frame. Not saying this mag funnel installation is flawless, but y’know, it’s pretty darn good. And only about, oh, 10,000 times better than my first attempt.

I think of this gun as the WESP (pronounced “wesp”). As we all know, the downfall of the 9mm 1911 over the decades has been a lack of feed reliability. This can be traced to the design of the typical 9mm 1911 magazine. Fairly recently I tested the stainless steel 9mm 10-round 1911 mags from Chip McCormick Corporation (in the WESP, actually) and all six of my sample magazines fed perfectly, and locked the slide to the rear when they were empty. I was amazed. The closest thing I had to a malfunction was that two of the six mags wouldn’t fall free when I punched the magazine release button, but I just blamed that on the fact that dimensions in 1911 mag wells are notoriously variable, and it’s not at all unknown for magazines that will fall free in one gun to not in another.

As I was readying the gun for this range session, I thought, “SURELY the problem can’t have been that the ends of the grip screws were protruding into the mag well.” So I installed a set of short grips screws. Suddenly all six CMC 10-rounders started falling free. Reinstalled the original grip screws. Suddenly not all of the mags were falling free. Put the short screws back in. Everything began working again as it should. So I feel safe in saying this “one flaw” to the CMC mags was no flaw at all.

The WESP features Wilson’s adjustable rear sight, which comes complete with a rear notch a bit tight and shallow for my tastes. I had on hand a rear blade on which the kind folks at Wilson Combat had both widened and deepened the rear notch considerably; also the sharp edges of the rear sight blade were rounded for concealed carry. One great charm of the Wilson rear sight system, I have always felt, is how easy it is to replace the blade. I removed the original blade, plopped in the new blade, just eyeballed the windage as I was cranking in the screw, and figured I’d dial it in for both windage and elevation when I got to the range.

Got to the range, sat down to bench the gun, realized I’d forgotten my bag of tools, including my Brownells Magna-Tip Super Set Plus with all its flat-tip screwdriver bits. Decided, what the hell, bench the gun anyway. Wouldn’t you know it, the gun shot spot-on for windage and only about 1/2” high for elevation. Well, THAT could have gone worse. Fired a nice 0.9” group with this gun and the 4.4-gr. Universal load (more about which shortly) right off the bat. This is the same ammo that was shooting inside 2” but not much better out of my Glock 17. There IS something to be said for 1911 trigger pulls and the accuracy of a fitted match barrel. When I get this gun home, I will be cranking down one click on the rear sight with my Magna-Tip screwdriver. I would not be at all surprised to find the WESP printing nice, tight, perfectly centered groups on my next range session.

I had brought two loads with me, both with the Rainier 124-gr. RN, one with 4.4-gr. Universal, the other with 4.2. I knew that both these loads worked in my Glock. I decided to start with the 4.4-gr. load since, in my experience, the heavy slide on a full-sized 5” 1911 needs a vigorous load in 9mm to cycle reliably. And cycle it did, flawlessly through the 163 rounds of this load I’d brought with me.

After benching, it was into my standard “six A-hits from 50 feet freestyle” workout. RIDICULOUSLY easy with this gun. Then I moved into the descending par time draws at 10 yards that have been the focus of my practice sessions lately. 5 seconds, 4, 3, 2, 1.50, 1.40… Took me awhile to get my performance where I wanted it, consistent A-hits, at circa 1.4 but eventually it happened, the truth is most of my times were in the 1.3s, I was REALLY looking forward to dropping the time down to 1.30 and maybe even 1.20. By this time I was through the 4.4-gr. load and had just started into the 100 rounds of 4.2 I’d brought, so I knew I had enough ammo. At which point my timer said to me, Low Battery Shutting Down. And then it stopped working. I was just looking at the thing, thinking, “Seriously? How about a little bit of warning before you do that?”

So there I was, 100 rounds still left to test for reliability in this gun, looking forward to getting my draw and fire A-hits at 10 yards down consistently into the 1.2s, and suddenly I had no timer. In a way, this was a blessing in disguise, because instead of burning through the rest of my ammo doing draws at 10 yards, that gave me an opportunity to test things on this gun I really should have been testing, anyway. For instance: firing it from the retention position. In my experience, even some guns that work flawlessly when you’re firing them freestyle, two hands on the gun, or even right hand only/left hand only, will begin malfunctioning when you fire them with one hand and a bent elbow, the gun tucked in tight to the body. Remember, by this time I was into the 4.2-gr. load which generated a bit less recoil, so I figured if the WESP was going to start malfing on me, this was its chance. It didn’t. It burned through multiple magazines from the retention position without a single bobble.

Then it was some right hand only work. Then left hand only. Then speedloads and slidelock reloads. The gun worked flawlessly, a tribute both to the folks at Wilson Combat but mostly the Chip McCormick magazines, in my humble but inarguably correct opinion.

Y’know, I’m liking this gun, with these magazines.

So, the question is: am I ready to sock away my Glock 17 and start carrying, and competing with, the Wilson ESP Classic? Not yet. I have always competed with my carry gun, and I will need to put many more rounds through this gun before its reliability level is well enough established for me to trust it with my life. Also I would need to find a good carry load featuring a hollowpoint with a rounded, hardball-like ogive, since in my experience even reliable 1911s don’t like truncated cone shaped bullets, and test the gun with that, as well. But if the gun continues to perform to this level…I will seriously consider it.

I’ve never wanted to be be one of those guns who fires a match with a 1911 then puts on a Glock to head home. And I’m not. But I will say that tonight I did have a pretty darn cool practice session with a fairly awesome 1911, then put on my Glock 17 to head home.

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