I’ve had a nodding acquaintance with Bill Wilson for nearly 30 years now. Back in the early days, it was as fellow competitors, typically with me scanning the score sheets to find his name a ways above mine. Soon after it was to find his address to order parts for various handguns I was building, upgrading or replacing parts my customers had home-gunsmithed into oblivion. And not long after that it was to test and write up the custom guns coming out of his own shop.
There are a few things you need to know about Bill Wilson and the ammo line he’s come out with. For one, he’s been at this a long time. Back when we were all new to IPSC, we all had to load our own ammo. Factory ammo often wasn’t accurate or reliable enough, and it was always more expensive than we could craft ourselves.
It didn’t take long to figure out what it took to load accurate, reliable ammo, and Bill was at the forefront of such research. You don’t load and shoot 100,000 rounds in a single year (1980) without learning how to load them right. You don’t make it to the United States IPSC Gold and Silver teams (1983) without learning how to shoot all that ammo properly.
Then, in building and testing custom guns, Bill and his crew of gunsmiths put millions of rounds downrange, so they know more about what makes ammunition reliable and accurate than some custom ammunition loaders I know.
That’s why it really piqued my interest when I found out they were going to be making their own line of ammo. Now, this is not plinking ammo, and it’s not the practice or competition ammo you’d want to be shooting by the five-gallon bucket. This is premium defensive ammo. All are loaded in U.S.-made brass cases and with U.S.-made bullets. All the loading is done in the Wilson Combat plant in Berryville, Arkansas.
Right now there are nine handgun calibers, and while all nine are serious defensive calibers, I’d consider at least one of them–the .460 Rowland–to be more hunting ammo than daily carry ammo.
Each caliber was individually designed and tuned. Bill and the crew selected the powder best suited for that caliber and bullet weight to produce consistent velocity, clean burning, low muzzle flash and reliable function.
Instead of trying to reach brass-busting pressures and velocities for each, they tuned each load in each caliber to deliver the optimum performance for that bullet out of barrel lengths you will likely be using for daily carry.
One aspect you can be sure of, because it was one of the details worked out 30 years ago, is that the taper crimp for each caliber is the correct diameter for ultra-reliable function as well as proper bullet retention in feeding. In fact, if you have aspirations of reloading your own ammo, you could do a lot worse than to buy a box of Bill’s ammo and measure every detail five ways from Sunday until you can begin to come close to what he has crafted.
Production is still ramping up at Wilson Combat, so what you determine to be the best load for your application may not yet be available. In order to get my hands on some ammo, I had to have my contact inside Wilson Combat walk down to the loading floor, and once a finished box or two came off the line, grab them before they could be scooped up and stuffed into a shipping box.
What I scored was a small supply of the Wilson Combat .45 ACP ammo loaded with Hornady’s 230-grain XTP bullet. This load is specifically designed for use in four-inch barreled guns, but I figured I’d stretch the boundaries of the load and test it in a five-inch Government model.
Typically, when you push a bullet faster than it is designed for, it penetrates less due to over-expansion. However, Hornady knew this when it designed the XTP, and it has a very forgiving performance envelope. So the question is, Will a load designed to be used in a compact gun, gaining velocity from a larger one, suffer in performance? The short answer is no.
Meant to deliver 815 fps out of a four-inch gun, the load gave me spot-on original 1911 ballistics: a 230-grain bullet at 824 fps. In an age of +P loads, that is almost sedate. However, in the all-steel five-inch gun I tested it from, the recoil was entirely manageable and easy to deal with. Out of a compact or a compact and lightweight gun it will recoil with a bit more enthusiasm but certainly not anything approaching difficult.
As for penetration and expansion, there it excelled. The FBI protocols require that a bullet penetrate a minimum of 12 inches to be suitable. Up to 18 is fine, and past that there is no additional score.
The Wilson load averaged 18 inches of penetration. The bullets fully expanded, and the tracks through the ballistic gel were absolutely straight. The average expanded diameter of the bullets was .740 inch.
With a limited supply, I considered not shooting for accuracy, but, hey, what could go wrong? Well, try shooting for groups at the end of a long day, in 90-degree heat and high humidity. The best I could do was a two-inch group, but as I was testing it out of a single gun instead of running it through several, and accuracy really is a function of the gun/ammo combination, that’s not a true measure of how the ammo may shoot in terms of groups.
Now, if you’re looking for ammo with greater velocity, Wilson loads four different .45 ACP +P loads, as well as high-velocity loads in 9mm, .38 Super, .357 Magnum, .40 S&W and 10mm. If you carry a .38 Special, then the Wilson offerings are all +P for the most velocity that can be wrung from that century-old stalwart.
Again, at $22 to $36 per box of 20 rounds, this is not plinking ammo. And it will take you at least a couple of boxes to make sure your handgun is both reliable with it (if it isn’t, you should probably blame the gun) and hits to the sight with the load you’ve selected.
But once you pick one, carry it with confidence. After all, you have decades of experience and millions of rounds of testing to back that confidence.