Wilson Combat Hunter in .460 Rowland and 10 mm
A Gun Test by Hunter Lee Elliott
I was offered to test the Wilson Combat Hunter, of course I would after all it was named after me (well not really but still)
I called Duane at Wilson Combat to talk about the pistol. I learned the Hunter is based on the 1911 Government Model design and chambered in either 460 Rowland or 10mm Auto. The Hunter utilizes a five and a half inch barrel, which will slightly increase muzzle velocity and comply with some state’s hunting regulations (as I understand it some states require a handgun with a barrel longer than five inches for hunting and, if so, you are covered). We then talked about how the Government Model platform would stand up to the added pressure of the 460 Rowland and full pressure 10mm loads. A twenty-two pound recoil spring is standard to slow down the heavy slide under full recoil, and the pistols are fitted with shock buffers. They are also fitted with a reduced radius firing pin stop.
Seeing was believing and, since I had already planned to go to the SHOT show, it would not be long before I could eyeball one in person.
The pictures from the SHOT show of the Hunter.
What exactly is the 460 Rowland?
The .460 Rowland cartridge was developed about thirteen years ago by Johnny Rowland (host of Guns and Gears television program), with help from Clark Custom Guns in Princeton, Louisiana. Externally it is very similar to the .45 Automatic case except the auto case is .898″ long, while the Rowland case measures .957″. The difference of .059″ of an inch will keep the Rowland from chambering in a .45 auto chamber. Internally the two cases are very different. The Rowland utilizes a much stronger case especially at the web. The 460 Rowland operates at or just below 40,000 copper units of pressure, while the .45 Automatic is around 19,000
This pistol incorporates a one-piece guide rod and reverse recoil spring plug so it does detail strip a little differently than a standard Government Model. Locking the slide to the rear, insert a take down tool to take the pressure off the reverse recoil spring plug.
Next, remove the slide as you would with any other Government Model. The guide rod assembly can then be removed, as well as the barrel. From here on out detail strip is as any other standard Government Model
The only thing I would of like to see changed would be the plunger tube spring having a kink in the middle keeping it captured when the thumb safety was removed. My first detail strip I had to locate the plunger when I removed the thumb safety. I did find it hiding in my living room rug; good distance though almost four feet away.
Jim, owner of Jim’s Guns in Raleigh NC called me one day about lunch saying he had an interesting Wilson Combat pistol with my name on it (pun intended). I picked up the test pistol from Jim late one afternoon.
I checked out the pistol while Jim was getting my paperwork together. This is the first Wilson Combat pistol I had a chance to really check out closely with the anticipation of shooting. It appeared to be a well designed pistol but judgment is reserved until after the smoke clears.
The Wilson Combat bag and the paper work that accompanied the pistol.
The bi-tone olive green receiver contrasted nicely against the black slide and the fit seemed tight as a drum.
The trigger is a three hole design, serrated for a positive purchase, and incorporates over travel adjustment.
Crimson Trace Laser Grips® are standard.
A switch at the bottom rear of the left stock powers the Laser Grips® on.
A small button located just under the trigger guard then activates the laser.
The slide stop is recessed into the receiver flush so as to not impede the laser sight.
The front strap is nicely checkered at 30 lines per inch, as is the flat mainspring housing.
The rear sight is a Wilson #428, adjustable for both windage and elevation.
The front sight is a blade type, nicely dovetailed and blended to the slide.
The magazine well is slightly beveled to aid in finding it during magazine changes.
Truthfully, I am not a big fan of front cocking serrations but I believe they are necessary on this pistol. With the twenty-two pound recoil spring the slide resists cocking unless you really have a firm purchase.
The rear cocking serrations provided grip to overcome the recoil spring.
The pistol I tested came with the optional ambidextrous safety. The safety engaged and disengaged with an audible click.
The magazine release had plenty of throw and was easily found. The serration helped sweaty thumbs keep traction.
The grip safety was also well fitted and incorporated a palm swell to aid in positive disengagement while grasping the pistol.
A close up of the breech face and ejector.
The fully supported ramp barrel.
The hammer is the Rowel Commander style.
The Hunter model comes standard with a full-length guide rod and reverse recoil spring plug.
The bottom of the dust cover.
A close up of the muzzle showing the guide rod setup.
The barrel hood of the test pistol denoting the powerful 460 Rowland round.
The barrel hood of the 10mm pistol, I loooove the 10mm Auto
The magazine does not fit flush but incorporates a base pad to aid in locking the magazine in place when driving it home during a hasty reload.
The supplied Wilson magazines for the 460 Rowland (right) and 10mm (left).
Initial Range Trip
I received the 460 Rowland Hunter first so that was the pistol I used to begin the review and take most of the pictures.
I corralled a few of my friends one Sunday morning to try out the new Wilson and see how others saw the pistol. All I could locate was Georgia Arms 185gr jacketed hollow points, so for the first range trip that would be the fodder to see how the Hunter ran.
I began chronographing the jacketed hollow points to get the numbers and see if the pistol would feed the hollow points right out of the box.
After a few magazines with no failures I passed the pistol off to a few of my friends, who looked as if they had mixed emotions about shooting the big 460. Three of my friends Clint, Mike, and Dave, have shot Government Models before so they had an idea of what was in store. They each ran a magazine or so through the pistol. Accuracy was on par with the groups I shot but they did comment on the recoil. The 460 Rowland is not punishing, but please believe it is not a .45 Automatic.
Next was my friend, Josh, who is not familiar with handguns. I started him off with a Colt 1991A1 in .45 Automatic for him to get the idea of how the platform operates without jumping into the deep end of the pool. Then I loaded the magazine and handed the Wilson off to him. He was able to control the pistol and get rounds on target right away. With everyone at the range having a chance to try out the Wilson individually it was put into rotation of the other handguns we were enjoying.
We all had a good time that morning, and when the 460 Rowland sounded off at the firing line it was a head turner for others who arrived at the range. With better than 100 rounds down range out of the 460 and no pistol failures we packed it in and called it a day.
Second Range Trip
Duane at Wilson Combat was good enough to send me another 100 rounds of Georgia Arms 185gr JHP in preparation for the next range trip. I also took advantage of the empty brass I had from the first range trip with the idea of reloading it. This trip I decided to take along my mother so she could get in some practice with her Ruger SP 101. My mom has helped me with testing pistols before but I was unsure it would be a great idea for her to try out this pistol.
I started chronographing the lightest of my reloads for the Wilson. I was a little surprised the pistol functioned with the light load considering how the pistol is set up, but it did every time. The perceived recoil was less in this pistol than a standard .45 auto so I decided it would be fine for my mom to try some of these light loads. She ran a few magazines without any trouble and she printed pretty good groups.
Next was the warmer reloads and again the pistol ran great, though it was evident 1.5gr of Unique makes a big difference. I saw Barbara (my mother) taking a break from her Ruger and looking over the Wilson. I said “OK mom go for it” Again she ran through a few magazines and everything went great.
I began to run the Georgia Arms factory rounds through the pistol and the difference was evident at the chronograph screen and in muzzle rise. Now Barbara wanted to try the full house loads and I was a little nervous. She can handle full pressure .45 Automatic and .357 Magnum rounds but at 5′ nothing and 100 pounds soaking wet my mom is a small (but tough) woman. I gave in and loaded one round in the magazine, racked the slide, and engaged the safety, handing my mom the pistol. To make a long story short, after about three magazines my mom was hooked on the Rowland. I was proud of her, to say the least. I took a minute to field strip the Wilson to see how the internals are holding up after about 150 factory rounds and various reloads. So far I saw no evidence of peening, cracking, or breaking at the stress points.
We had finished off both boxes of reloads and fifty rounds of factory ammunition, policed up the brass, and headed to lunch. It was a good day.
Another pistol from Wilson Combat.
The .460 Rowland test was winding down and I had begun to get the details together to submit my test report when one morning I got a call from Duane asking to send me another Hunter, in 10mm, to test along with the 460 Rowland. To be honest I was really excited as I was falling in love with the Hunter and I am a fan of Cooper’s 10mm cartridge. Sure enough, a few days later Jim received another Wilson Combat Hunter, this one chambered in 10mm.
Something to note is that many states do not allow laser sights for hunting. This is not a problem, as Wilson will configure the pistol to however you want. To illustrate this, Duane was good enough to send me a pair of Wilson Combat Starburst stocks. To me they really set off the pistol.
The Starburst stocks are thinner than the Crimson Trace Laser Grips™ and have a little more of an aggressive grip to them. Honestly, I liked the Starburst a little better for shooting.
First Impressions of the 10mm Hunter
I will offer a few pictures of the 10mm but the only real difference between the 460 Rowland Hunter and the 10mm is that this pistol is all black, has a tritium front sight, and no ambidextrous safety.
Aside from the differences noted above, there really is no difference between the 460 and 10mm externally. Both pistols are hand fitted individually. For example, the slides are not interchangeable between the two frames, showing the individual parts are fitted together, a trait of tightly hand fitted pistols.
Third range trip with the 460 Rowland, first range trip with the 10mm
I spend Friday night working with the 10mm magazines. They were tight, and I could not get more than about six to seven rounds in the magazine before it began to become difficult. I wondered if this would become a problem during the initial test. I decided to leave six rounds in both magazines over the weekend to see if they would loosen up a little by Sunday morning.
I started out the test chronographing the 10mm. I brought along another 10mm magazine, with a convex follower, in case the Wilson magazines began to give trouble.
I showed the 10mm to Gary (another member of the range) and asked him to try out the pistol. He ran five rounds through the pistol and handed it back to me. He was pleased. I then ran another few magazines of the CCI test ammunition through the Wilson using the aftermarket magazine and all was great.
Next I started with five rounds of CCI at a time through the Wilson magazines and again everything went well. After about fifty rounds the Wilson magazines seemed loosened up. I then filled them up and finished out the day using only the Wilson magazines with the cross section of test ammunition. When all was said and done, I had put just about 150 rounds down the tube with no failures.
I was really pleased with the new 10mm but I was out of rounds so I moved on to the 460 Rowland. Cor®Bon had been good enough to send me several boxes of 460 Rowland ammunition for my review. It was also time to try out the 325gr lead flat point I had cast and loaded for the 460. Honestly, I was really excited because I do not believe anyone has tried this heavy of a bullet in this caliber.
After I got the numbers on the Cor®Bon ammunition I tried out the 325gr bullet. The recoil was similar to +P 230gr .45 Automatic, it was not sharp but very noticeable. The big bullet made its way down the bore and found paper right off the bat. The pistol functioned perfectly and I believe this load could expand the uses of this caliber. On this day I ran 160 rounds through the 460, bringing it to around 410 rounds total down range with no pistol failures.
I would say this day was successful. I was able to shoot two really nice pistols and show them off a little. That, coupled with the fact my experiments with the 200gr LSWC and 325gr FP went well, made me a happy camper.
Fourth range trip with the 460 Rowland and second range trip with the 10mm
My shooting buddy, Clint, and I went to the range on a beautiful Sunday morning to continue the tests for the two Wilson pistols. Clint had tried the 460 but not the 10mm. He is a fan of the 10mm round so I was interested in his opinion on the 10.
We fired another fifty rounds through the 10mm with out a failure and accuracy is on par with the first trip. By the look on Clint’s face he did not have to tell me how much he liked the pistol. Truthfully we both did.
We then fired another fifty rounds through the 460 Rowland and again it was flawless and accuracy was superb.
With approximately 460 rounds through the 460 Rowland and 200 rounds through the 10mm, at this point both pistols were holding up well and, in my opinion, doing Wilson Combat credit.
Fifth range trip with the 460 Rowland and third range trip with the 10mm
I had thought I was finished with the 460 Rowland test and was going to concentrate my efforts on the 10mm, but Cor®Bon was good enough to send me another couple of boxes of 230-grain jacketed hollow points to try out. I want to thank Mike at Cor®Bon for generously donating the 460 Rowland ammunition. Without his help this test would have been much more expensive.
I continued the test by chronographing the Cor®Bon for the 460 and another reload I was trying out for the 10mm. Gary was there again, and I offered him the chance to try the 460 Rowland using the 230gr JHP. He ran a magazine through the Wilson and again he was pleased with this one as well.
I finished up the test with another twenty rounds in the 460 Rowland and about 150 for the 10mm. That brought the numbers up to approximately 480 rounds through the .460 and 350 for the 10mm without a pistol failure. Both pistols held up well and, to be honest, I cannot see any reason to shoot either pistol any more. Don’t get me wrong-I enjoyed shooting both pistols-but the test was really uneventful (except for the report of the big 460-that surely got folks’ attention).
Something about laser sights
I can see why laser sights would be useful as a sighting tool, but I also think there are some inherent drawbacks as well. The first thought is that they are battery powered, and obviously that can fail. The laser is mounted on the right side of the stock and not in line with the line of sight from the muzzle. This means that there is a point downrange where the point of aim intersects with the laser depending on where the beam is adjusted. Much closer and the laser will be to the right of the point of aim and much further away it will be to the left. With that laser sight acquisition is very quick (but keep in mind that laser works both ways). I can see where there is a place for a laser sighting system on a pistol but my concern is that with the ease of use practicing with the sights on the slide may not get the attention needed to develop proficiency with the pistol. If one relied only on the laser sight they would be doing themselves a grave injustice on learning how to properly use a pistol, and may be placed in a bind if the laser failed.
Reloading for the 460 Rowland
I was not able to find much reloading data for the .460 Rowland. A few references suggested using .45 Automatic data as a starting point in developing a load. My “go to” bullet for .45 Automatic is my home-cast 200-grain lead semi-wad cutter (Lyman mold number 452630). I am getting an average of 19.3 on the Brinnell scale in bullet hardness, so I believe that is hard enough to drive out of the Rowland chamber without risk of unacceptable leading.
I started with my .45 Automatic powder charge, which is 5.3grains of Unique (reload 1). That is a light load even for the .45 auto but I wanted to see how the pistol would function.
Next was the same bullet charged with 6.8 grains of Unique (reload 2), which is approaching maximum powder charge for the .45 Automatic. Normally I do not recommend jumping so far ahead in powder charge when developing a load but, in this case, the .45 auto operates at a much lower pressure then the 460 Rowland so I believed I was still in safe pressure limits.
The .45 Automatic operates at approximately 19000 copper units of pressure while the 460 Rowland operates around 40000 cup so there is already a large margin between the two calibers in operating pressure.
Another bullet I wanted to experiment with was a 325gr lead round nose flat point I shoot in .45 Colt (Lyman mold number 452651, also 19.3 on the Brinell scale). I thought the 460 Rowland could exploit the heavy bullet and I set out to find a charge of Unique that would function the pistol and offer accuracy. After some testing I settled on 5.6gr of Unique (reload 3)
For comparison, a picture of a few 460 Rowland rounds as compared to a .45 Automatic.
Left to right: Armscor 230gr FMJ in .45 Automatic, Cor®Bon 230gr JHP, Cor®Bon 185gr JHP, Cor®Bon 255gr JHP, Reloaded 200gr LSWC, and last is the 325gr lead flat point-all in .460 Rowland.
Another experiment I tried was shooting .45 Automatic ammunition out of the 460 Rowland. I spoke with Johnny Rowland and he told me it was safe. It is worth noting that the 460 Rowland headspaces off the case mouth just as does the .45 Automatic. When shooting .45 Automatic ammunition in a 460 Rowland chamber, the .45 Automatic will headspace off the extractor. This is not an ideal setup but it will work. I would not suggest making a habit of shooting .45 Automatic out of the 460 Rowland but if you had to you could do it.
I ran 50 rounds of 200gr LSWC .45 Automatic loaded with 5.3gr of Unique through the Hunter and it functioned fine. At thirty feet I did not see a decline in accuracy. As an option, the 460 Rowland Hunter can be ordered with an additional fitted .45 Automatic barrel.
Reloading for the 10mm Auto
I used 6.2gr of Unique and the 180gr Hornady HP-XTP bullet for reload 1 and 6.4gr of Unique with the Hornady 200gr HP-XTP for reload 2.
A telephone conversation with Johnny Rowland
I e-mailed Mr. Rowland through his Guns and Gears website late one Monday afternoon about the cartridge he developed and the Wilson I was testing. By Tuesday afternoon he had e-mailed me back and he called me Wednesday evening. We talked a little while about some projects he is on now, as well as some upcoming ideas. He was familiar with the Hunter model I was testing and worked with Bill Wilson some on its development.
He was inspired to develop the 460 Rowland from having to carry the bulk of a revolver and speed loaders while at his home place. While experimenting with a 10mm automatic he found that a magazine for .45 Automatic would work with the 10mm. Though the 10mm has a longer case then the .45 Automatic their cartridge overall length is almost the same.
That gave him the idea of having a cartridge with the same cartridge overall length of a .45 Automatic but a longer case. The events of the 460 Rowland were set in motion and, with help from Clark Custom Guns and Starline; Johnny’s idea became a reality.
We then drifted off topic to hot rods (another passion of Mr. Rowland) and wrapped it up. I would like to thank Mr. Rowland for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk with me and answer my questions.
I believe Mr. Rowland is a pretty sharp man and I look forward to seeing his other projects and meeting him at the SHOT show.
I do have a good deal of experience with high-end Government Models. I have shot a few and I do understand the difference between a production pistol and a custom one. These two Wilson Combat Hunters are truly high-end pistols. That is evident in the fit and price tag. I will admit the $3,000-plus price tag surely is not something to sneeze at. Something I try to stress to folks is that it is not so much how the pistol looks on the outside but it’s the innards that matter most. A great looking pistol that has been built with poor parts and is ill fitted is, in my opinion, not worth having. I tend to gravitate to pistols that are not so much on flash but are well built. The Hunter does have a degree of flash but it is tastefully done. What matters more to me is how it is put together.
I showed the pistols to my gunsmith, Tom Beliveau, and a few other dealers in the area I respect. Tom field stripped the 460 and was impressed in the fit and finish of the gun. Of the several dealers I showed the Hunters to, they all commented on the feel of the pistols all the way around. With no sharp edges I believe either pistol would serve as a great carry gun and not just for the woods.
Both pistols fit in a standard Government Model holster with an open end (to allow for the extra half inch of barrel). The heavier 460 rounds were not punishing on recoil and would really expand your margin for error on perfect shot placement. Don’t get me wrong, shot placement is paramount, but it is nice to have all the extra you can handle.
The 10mm is over-built enough that I believe it can handle full pressure 10mm loads all day long without accelerating wear on the pistol.
I understand Wilson Combat is marketing the pistols as a sidearm for hunting, a niche they fill nicely but with the diversity of the two calibers, reliability, and sights I believe they could also serve well as defensive pistols. I carried the 10mm a few times in a Wild Bills inside the waistband holster and it carried just as easy as any full-size Government Model.
The Wilson Combat Hunter can be had from Wilson with many options (such as color scheme). If you have something special in mind for the pistol, call the nice folks at Wilson and talk to them, I bet they can make it happen.
A comment some folks made was the fact with the extra half inch of barrel, fitting the pistol with a suppressor would be just a matter of threading the barrel instead of having to buy a threaded barrel and have it fitted.
Three things that remained constant during all parts of the test: accuracy was excellent, reliability was 100%, and both pistols really make it a challenge in finding the spent cases. Ejection distance was about three times the distance of .45 Automatic. They sure did draw attention to the firing line.
For those who think this handgun’s recoil will be too much to handle here is a short video of my mother shooting the .460 Rowland.
At 5′ even, 110 pounds, and almost 70 years old she was dead on with the Wilson Combat.
Model Wilson Combat Hunter
Height 5.5″ (13.79 cm)
Weight (empty): 39.7 ounces (1125.5 grams)
Barrel length: 5.5″ (13.79 cm)
Overall Length 9.2″ (23.37cm)
Width 1.4″ (3.56cm)
Trigger pull: a very clean 3 pounds
Magazine capacity. 7 rounds (.460 Rowland) 9 rounds (10mm Norma)
Twist: 1 turn in 16 inches.
Sight radius 6.9″ (17.53 cm)
Recoil spring 22 pound
Jim owner of Jim’s Guns in Raleigh NC
Tom Beliveau gunsmith
Cor®Bon for the test ammunition.
My mom, Clint, Mike, Dave, and Josh.
I would like to dedicate this to the memory of my father, Ronnie Elliott.
I miss you pops.
Article originally published in M1911.org.