How did we arrive at a Dan Wesson ECP Vs Wilson Combat ULC showdown? After years of carrying and practicing with a Glock 19, and a couple of other compact polymer double-stack 9mm pistols, I found I wasn’t really getting to where I wanted to be with my CCW pistol training. Specifically, I felt my double-taps and rapid-fire groups should be better. Seeing how well my peers were able to shoot rapid fire drills with the same pistols, I knew there was a lot of room for me to improve. But I had reached a certain point and I was just not getting any better. There were two possible explanations: either my shooting skills had plateaued, or I wasn’t using the right equipment. I decided to explore the latter explanation and look for a 9mm carry pistol I could better control. I figured if I could find a 9mm pistol that was designed for concealed carry that had noticeably less recoil than a Glock 19, that would be a great place to start.
Editor’s Note: Jason Bayne is the owner/operator of Backup Tactical who manufactures quality barrels and thread protectors. I consider him a friend and look forward to publishing more guest posts from him in the future.
Introduction: Dan Wesson ECP Vs Wilson Combat ULC
It was just over two years ago that my quest to find 9mm carry pistol with minimal recoil took me headlong into the world of single-stack 9mm 1911 pistols. For those of you who have checked in along the way reading my reviews and discussion forum posts, know it has been quite a trip! To be honest, had I known what an absolute fortune this journey was going to cost me, I probably would have stuck with my Glock 19 and the 6” rapid-fire groups I shot with it!
I’m not going to recount all the pistols I have shot, compared, bought and then sold; that’s all been well documented in other articles and discussion forum reviews. For this particular review, I’m focusing on a popular segment of the 9mm 1911 world, the 4” Bull-Barrel 1911. In particular, a couple of Bulls with lightweight aluminum-alloy frames. While Bull-Barrel 1911 pistols, can be had with a steel frame, they are heavier, and many find the extra weight makes them unsuitable for daily carry. A Lightweight Bull, on the other hand, with a full 9-round magazine, is comparable in weight to loaded Glock 19. But since 1911 Bull is a single stack, it is thinner and somewhat easier to conceal. So, the Lightweight Bull makes a lot of sense for the EDC crowd.
As of late, many EDCers, and shooting enthusiasts, in general, are finding that single-stack pistols handle better for them than double-stack pistols. In the last two years, we have seen more manufacturers release more compact single-stack 9mm pistols (think Glock 19 size range) than in the prior 20 years combined! Even Glock just released a single-stack version of their Glock 19, called the Glock 48. We all know that Glock is historically slow to add new models to their lineup. So, if Glock is making the change, clearly there is something to this whole single-stack trend we are seeing in the industry these days.
Now that we know why we are here, let’s take a look at guns we are going to be closely inspecting; The Dan Wesson ECP (Everyday Carry Pistol) in 9mm and the Wilson Combat ULC (UltraLight Carry) Compact 9mm.
Of all the choices out there, I chose these two Lightweight Bulls for a reason. Dan Wesson is considered by many to be the gateway to the semi-custom world of 1911 pistols. Those who have become 1911 enthusiasts over the years, most likely first encountered the platform by trying or buying a pistol made by one of the well-known manufacturers of Standard Production 1911 pistols; represented by brands such as Colt, Kimber and Springfield. If you get hooked on the 1911 platform at this level and find you are wanting more out of your 1911 pistols, like uncompromising accuracy, hand fit barrels, controls and small parts fit and blended with the frame, precise and flawless machine work, and so on, you find yourself in the semi-custom 1911 world; represented by manufacturers like Les Baer, Ed Brown, Nighthawk and Wilson Combat.
After you recover from the sticker shock of the Semi-Custom base model 1911s for $3,000 to $4,000 and up, you think to yourself “there must be a better way!”. Fortunately, over the last couple of decades, many found out there is a way. For several decades, Dan Wesson has been making near Semi-Custom quality 1911s for the same price as many of the better-equipped standard production 1911s from Colt, Kimber and Springfield. In fact, Dan Wesson recently released their new Vigil in numerous configurations and calibers with an MSRP of $1,289 (street price is $1,000 to $1,200)! What you get for your money is a gun that is considerably better than the similar priced Standard Production 1911s. So, for the price of a nicely equipped Standard Production 1911, Dan Wesson gives you an entry-level quality semi-custom 1911.
Wilson Combat, on the other hand, is right at the top of the semi-custom world. Expect to pay $3,000 at a minimum for a new Wilson Combat 1911. Add a few options, or start with a better-equipped model, and you quickly find yourself looking at a $4,000 build-sheet. However, for the price you will get exactly what you pay for, a top quality semi-custom 1911 that looks and feels like it is one piece of metal. More on what exactly goes into making a true Semi-Custom a little later.
Regardless of what anyone may be willing to admit, we all have our biases, favorites, likes and dislikes. So, am I biased toward one of these brands over the other? Do you want to know if I have a dog in this fight? Actually, I don’t have a dog in this fight; I have TWO! I’m a big fan of both Dan Wesson and Wilson Combat pistols. I own, shoot and carry a number of examples from both manufacturers. Both of these brands have a lot going for them and depending on the importance of numerous variables to a prospective buyer, one brand may be more suitable over the other. Especially when one of those variables is finances 🙂 The bottom line is, when you are talking about two guns of this quality, neither is going to be “bad”. It is more about looking carefully at what they do well and how well they do it, and if there is anything they don’t do so well and can maybe do better.
FEATURES And Specifications of the DAN WESSON ECP And the WILSON COMBAT ULC
Since the ECP and ULC are Lightweight Bulls, we know they both at least have an Aluminum Alloy Frame and a Bull Barrel. But even though the Bull Barrels on these two guns are the same length, as you can see in the picture below, they look different. The fluting on the Wilson Barrel is just one of a number of aesthetic differences between these two Bulls. Overall, however, I find there are many similarities between these two pistols; especially when it comes to the important functional features that aren’t just there for good looks.
Model: ECP 45 ACP
Caliber: .45 ACP
Magazine: Capacity 8
Frame Material: Forged Aluminum
Slide: Finish Duty Finish
Overall Length: 7.64 in
Barrel Length: 4 in
Height: 5.4 in
Width: 1.25 in
Weight: 29 oz
Trigger Mechanism: Single Action
Front Sight: Brass front
Rear Sight: U Notch
Safety: Manual thumb safety, grip safety
- Professional-Size Aluminum, Round Butt Frame
- 60% Lighter Frame Than a Comparable Steel Frame
- High Cut Checkered Frontstrap
- Aluminum Mainspring Housing
- Concealment Bullet Proof® Beavertail Grip Safety and Hammer
- Tactical Bullet Proof® Thumb Safety
- 3 ½# – 4 ½# Crisp Trigger Pull with Medium Length Pad
- Bullet Proof® Magazine Release
- G10 Starburst Grips with Pewter Medallions
- Torx Head Grip Screws
- Countersunk Slide Stop
- 4.25” Carbon Steel Slide
- Heavy Machine Chamfer on Bottom of Slide
- Battlesight with Fiber Optic Front Sight
- 4.25” Stainless Match Grade Barrel and Bushing, Flush Cut Reverse Crown
- Fluted Chamber
- 30 LPI Slide Top Serrations
- 40 LPI Serrated Rear of Slide
- Carry Cuts/Ball Cuts
- MSRP: $3825
Both the ECP and ULC have a blacked-out U-Notch Rear Sight (see picture below). Which is my personal choice for a defensive rear sight; I want as few dots and markers in my sight picture as possible. Especially on a weapon like a handgun which is meant to be deployed and fired very quickly. My brain can only process so much information, especially in a stressful situation. So, all I want is ONE dot to have to focus on. Well, Dan Wesson and Wilson Combat abide. The ECP has a Gold-Bead front sight, and the Wilson has a Tritium Dot front Night Sight. Both are great choices for a carry gun and are a toss-up in my opinion. Some might argue that you can’t see the gold-bead in darkness. To them I say, you shouldn’t be shooting at anyone in complete darkness. Whatever light is sufficient enough for you to identify your target, is enough light to reflect off the gold-bead on your front sight. I like to think of a gold-bead front sight on a pistol as a smart low-tech option that doesn’t wear out, fade, or run out of power.
Both pistols also have a serrated flat-top slide. This is one of my favorite options on a 1911 pistol; not only does it look great, but the serrations break up any light that might normally reflect off the top of the slide and interfere with your sight picture or ability to aim. You will notice the ECP has a couple of extra machine cuts along the top of the slide; this is known as a “Tri-Top” slide. Purely an aesthetic feature that may appeal to those shooters who want a more modern looking 1911. Personally, I like the look, not a must have or a feature I would specify on a build, but I think it fits the look of the ECP quite well.
Overall weight is another feature the ECP and the Wilson ULC have in common. Both guns are just over 27 ounces unloaded without a magazine, and both are just under 35 ounces with a fully-loaded magazine and a round in the chamber (9+1). That’s just a few ounces heavier than a fully-loaded Glock 19.
When it comes to the quality of the machine work on these two pistols, there are a lot of similarities here as well. I’m certain both Dan Wesson and Wilson Combat upgraded their machine shops pretty recently and benefit from the latest and greatest in CNC machines. The machine work is precise, immaculate and without flaw on both guns. To someone who can appreciate that kind of thing, the machining on both guns is a thing of beauty. This is not only true for these two models, but for all of the models made by both manufacturers.
A couple of years back, when I found myself becoming more interested in the 1911 platform, I decided to expand my collection beyond the two new 9mm Colts I had recently purchased. So, I bought my first Dan Wesson; a Valkyrie Commander chambered in 9mm. The second I took the Valkyrie out of the case at my local FFL dealer, I instantly noticed there were vast differences between my new Colts and my newly acquired Dan Wesson.
The Valkyrie felt much more solid and tighter than my Colts in every place imaginable. When I pulled back the slide on my new Dan Wesson, it felt like the slide glided back on ball bearings; a very different experience from racking the slide back on my new Colts. The audible creek of the Colt’s recoil spring and feeling the slide stutter along the rails now made me cringe! But, what impressed me most about the Dan Wesson the first time I field stripped it and took the slide off the frame, I saw some of the nicest and cleanest machine work I’d ever seen on a semi-auto pistol. There was not a chatter mark, tool mark, burr or inconsistency anywhere to be found! Inside the slide and frame, the surface of every single part, the machining was perfect. In that instant, it became clear to me that Dan Wesson 1911s were produced on a different level than the Standard Production 1911s made by Colt, Kimber, and Springfield.
The day after New Year’s 2019, about two years after I bought my first Dan Wesson, I took possession of my first Wilson Combat 9mm 1911 pistol. After running a couple of hundred rounds through it, I field stripped it. Aside from the expected perfect machining, I saw something I had never seen before; there was absolutely no fouling, dirt or carbon buildup on the back rails or on the surface of the top of the frame from the magwell to the back of the frame. It looked like that area of the frame had just been cleaned. On all of my other 1911 pistols, that area of the frame almost just as dirty as the rest of the inside frame and slide after a range session. I realized it wasn’t dirty on that part of the frame on the Wilson because the slide to frame fit is so perfect and so tight, it is not possible for the fouling and blow back to even enter that area!
This is where the most significant difference between the ECP and ULC lies; it’s the precise way all the parts and the barrel are hand-fitted, filed, and blended together by the skilled Wilson Combat gunsmiths who spend a many dozens of hours building each gun. It’s those hours of skilled labor fitting the barrel and blending the parts that bring the cost of the Wilson Combat ULC to about $4,000, or $2,500 more than the Dan Wesson ECP. When you buy a Wilson Combat 1911 pistol you can be confident you are getting one of the tightest and most meticulously fitted 1911 pistols you can buy.
This, however, does not mean that Dan Wesson pistols aren’t tight, and the parts are not fit at all. I consider Dan Wesson the “gateway to the semi-custom world” for a reason. On all of the examples I own, the slide to frame fit is tighter than any of the production guns I owned prior. Dan Wesson also does indeed fit and blend the parts to some extent, but they rely more heavily on the precise machining of the parts to do the fitting for them. For Wilson, the fit from precision machining is just the beginning of the fitting process.
QUALITY OF PARTs
Both Dan Wesson and Wilson Combat manufacture many, if not all, of the parts they use to build their guns. All the parts are top quality forged or tool steel. Even the aluminum frames on the ULC and ECP are forged. There is not a single Cast or MIM part used in any of the 1911 pistols made by these two manufacturers. In comparison to the typical Standard Production 1911s I mentioned earlier: Colt uses 4 MIM parts in their guns, while Kimber and Springfield 1911s are chock full of MIM and Cast parts.
I’m not going to get into the MIM and Cast vs Steel parts argument here. For our purposes right now suffice it to say MIM and Cast parts are considerably cheaper compared quality made forged and tool steel parts. Let’s also not forget, just because the Dan Wesson ECP is $2,500 less than the ULC, at $1575 (MSRP), the ECP is not an inexpensive or cheap pistol.
Before we take a look at how these guns shoot, there are a couple of more key features I want to look at.
If durability is the most important thing to you when it comes to finish, DW uses the toughest finish I have ever come across on a firearm. What Dan Wesson calls their ‘Duty Treat’ finish is more commonly known to shooting enthusiasts as Black Nitride. Black Nitride is actually not a “finish” as we have come to think of a finish in the firearm industry. The black color left on the slide of the ECP is Black Nitride which is the result of a heat treatment process done in a special chemical bath. If you are interested in the science behind the Black Nitride process, there is plenty of info out there about it (it also goes by the names: Melonite, Tennifer, Hard Hat, and several others). I carried a DW with Duty Treat for 2 years and you simply can’t find any wear on the finish; not even on the edges of the slide from holster wear. While finishes like PVD, Ionbond, and DLC also show good wear resistance, from what I have seen and experienced, Duty Treat (Black Nitride) is a step above. Not only is the most durable firearm finish I have seen, Black Nitride also is a great looking finish. So if you want the most durable firearm finish that looks great as well, Black Nitride, or Dan Wesson’s Duty Treat, is exactly what you want.
Wilson calls their finish “Armor-Tuff”. Unfortunately, in my experience, and many others, this finish is not tough as Armor. In fact, Armor-Tuff (AT) looks to me to be very much like Cerekote, Duracoat, and other spray-on and bake finishes. In my experience these finishes are not the most durable. BUT, the concept of, what I will call for now, a “Quick Change Finish System” is growing on me. Wilson has been using the AT for years and they have the application and removal of this finish down to a science. I really like the fact that I can send my gun to Wilson and they can easily and completely remove the current finish and redo it in any one of the colors they offer any time I want. This can be done for a pretty reasonable price and a pretty quick turn-around too.
I believe it is $300 to remove and replace AT on the entire gun, and that includes all small parts and controls. Turnaround on a complete refinish seems to run just a few weeks. When refinishing a gun with other finishes, especially a gun as tight as a Wilson Combat, it is possible for the finish to be too thick and cause reliability problems. It gives me a great amount of comfort to know my Wilson is being refinished with the finish it was designed to use, and it is being applied by the same folks who built my gun! The more I think about it, I really like this “Quick Change Finish System” concept, and I would like to see other manufacturers offer something similar. It is also a smart way for a manufacturer to keep building a relationship with their customers and keep them coming back.
SHOOTING the ECP & ULC
Having reviewed all the features and details of the ECP and ULC, it is time to take a look at how these guns shoot. But before we pull the trigger, we need to take a quick look at the triggers on these two guns.
When it comes to shooting 1911s, the quality of the trigger is a common metric used to differentiate one 1911 pistol from another. Both Dan Wesson and Wilson Combat advertise they ship their 1911s with a 4.5 lb. trigger. Give or take a tenth of a pound or two, this has held true for every Wilson and Dan Wesson I own(ed) or have handled fresh from the factory. Both the ECP and ULC I used for this review have triggers that are free of any grit or roughness on the uptake, and both break absolutely cleanly and crisply at right around 4.5 lbs as promised.
I’m a huge fan of a great reset on a trigger, especially a 1911 trigger. In my experience with Standard Production 1911s, the reset is a little slow or sluggish as you let off the trigger and allow it to come forward to reset so you fire the next round. But the triggers on both the ECP and ULC are so eager to reset after firing, you can feel the trigger reset spring pushing your finger the couple of millimeters forward to the reset. Either the distance to reset on a typical production 1911 is actually longer, or just seems longer because of the sluggishness of the return spring.
The triggers on both of the pistols I’m reviewing here today are excellent and not a useful way to distinguish between these two pistols. A good gunsmith can easily lighten the trigger pull on either of these guns should 4.5 lbs. be a little too heavy. I personally like my triggers somewhere in the neighborhood of 3.5 to 4.0 lbs. Anytime I have sent any of my 1911 pistols in for some custom work, though not really necessary, I always have the trigger dialed-in to my preferred weight range. That said, I could easily live with the ECP and ULC triggers exactly as they come from these two manufacturers.
When it comes to actually shooting these two guns, the pictures below can pretty much tell the story on their own. If you ever had to use either of these pistols to defend your life, I would fully expect that situation to occur within 10 yards of the muzzle. I would also expect most folks to be practicing and training within that same 10-yard distance with these pistols. As you can see in the pictures below, I did a number of different drills within 10 yards comparing the ECP and ULC; slow-fire, double-taps, and rapid fire. I did not find any significant difference in how these two pistols performed in terms of accuracy at this distance in any of the drills I did within 10 yards.
I can assure you one thing; when I take out one of my polymer double stack 9mm pistols of this size, the groups do not look like the groups below. My slow-fire groups with my Glock 19 or my CZ P-10C are close, but my double-taps and rapid-fire groups open way up. While your experience may be different, these two 1911 9mm pistols with their outstanding triggers and handling characteristics are easy to shoot well. Heck, they even make me look pretty decent.
I’m lucky enough to live a five-minute drive from what I like to call, South Florida’s Tactical Mega-Store; Delray Shooting Center has more inventory of the latest and greatest in tactical firearms than any other gun store I have ever been in. They also have an indoor range where I do a lot of my handgun testing for reviews. I find if I go beyond 17 yards, it gets a little too dark at the back part of the range for me to see the target well enough. So, 17 yards is about as far as I generally shoot there. As you can see, I managed to shoot about 2.5” groups, give or take a little, with both the ECP and ULC at 17 yards.
The truth is, to really know how accurate a pistol is you would need a mechanical rest and 25 – 50 yards to work with. I don’t have access to a mechanical rest, so I have no way to know how truly accurate these pistols are. If I had to guess, I would expect the Wilson to be more accurate because of all the extra hours of hand-fitting the ULC receives, and how tightly fit the gun is in general. But, in terms of practical accuracy, or at least the accuracy you would need from a carry gun, it is difficult to see ANY difference between the Wilson and the ECP.
RECOIL & HANDLING
If you have ever spent any time shooting or even fondling a 1911, you already know that few handguns point as naturally or as well and that you would be hard pressed to find a gun that feels better in your hand. Let’s face it, even the most popular double-stack polymer 9mm pistol for the last few decades, feels like a brick in your hand.
Since the ECP and ULC are the same weight, same basic shape, and both have checkering on the front and backstraps, there are really only two handling characteristics remaining that can distinguish these two pistols from each other; the grips and the amount of recoil each gun produces. There are two basic size grips available for 1911s; “standard” grips and “thin” grips. Grip size preference is very subjective; though I’m over six feet tall and have large hands, I personally prefer thin grips on my 1911 carry guns. The ECP comes with thin grips, and as a result, the ECP feels a little better in my hand. But standard grips can always be changed out for thin grips. So, whatever your preference, grip size can be easily adjusted with a new pair of grips.
Recoil, on the other hand, is not quite as subjective. A gun either has more, less, or the same amount of recoil as another gun. Over the past two years in my search for the lightest recoiling 9mm pistol I could find, I have compared many aluminum framed 9mm 1911 pistols from a variety of manufacturers. Time after time the result was always the same; regardless of which Dan Wesson aluminum framed 1911 9mm pistol I selected, it always shot softer than a comparable model from any other 1911 manufacturer I have come across.
There are a few key parts on a 1911 that directly affect recoil. Specifically, I am talking about the recoil spring, Mainspring and the Firing Pin Stop (FPS). Recoil springs and mainsprings for 1911s are available in many different weights, and the FPS is available with a radius ranging from curved to flat. When you swap out different spring weights and FPS shapes, the recoil of your pistol will change. Selecting the perfect combination of these parts will minimize recoil. The opposite is also true, an imperfect mix of these three parts will increase the recoil. It is clear to me that Dan Wesson engineers spend a lot of time coming up with the ideal mix of these parts in order to minimize recoil to the lowest levels possible for each gun they design. Dan Wesson seems to have recoil management down to a science.
When comparing the recoil of the ECP and ULC, my findings were the same as always; the ECP is a slightly softer shooting pistol. The difference in recoil is not nearly as dramatic as many of the previous recoil comparisons I have done with 9mm 1911s from other manufacturers. The Wilson is an absolute pleasure to shoot in terms of recoil when compared to all of my double-stack polymer 9mm pistols. It is also not at all far behind the ECP in terms of minimizing recoil. But I definitely notice the ECP is a little softer shooting.
I ran over 400 rounds through each pistol for this review over the course of two range sessions. Both were 100% reliable. Over the last two years, I have shot almost 30,000 rounds of 9mm ammo. About 80% of those 30K rounds went down the barrels of the Dan Wesson and Wilson Combat 9mm pistols I own. I have never had a single failure of any sort with any of these guns. I have run over twenty different 9mm factory loads of every possible weight and bullet type through these 9mm 1911 pistols without incident. I have no doubt both of these pistols will run reliably for many years and tens of thousands of rounds; assuming, of course, basic maintenance and cleaning procedures are followed. I recommend a basic field-strip and cleaning every 500 rounds, and a detailed cleaning and recoil spring replacement every 3000 to 5000 rounds; exactly what I would recommend for any handgun. Also, run the rails wet with a light oil. Do not be shy when you are lubricating the rails.
The Dan Wesson ECP and the Wilson Combat ULC are both outstanding pistols in their own right and you will be extremely well-served with either one as a carry pistol and range gun. Is one a better choice than the other? Well, that depends on your budget and what you are looking for in a new handgun.
A standard production lightweight bull barrel 9mm from Springfield or Kimber with features similar to the ECP, is going to be a maybe $200 or $300 dollars less expensive than the ECP. But you are giving up an awful lot to save a small amount of money. Things like Dan Wesson’s top quality forged and tool steel parts, hand-fitting of parts by skilled gunsmiths, toughest finish in the industry, and my favorite, the best recoil management you’re going to find anywhere. You need to a carry gun with a comp, or a .22LR pistol to get softer recoil.
Now to go from the Dan Wesson ECP to the Wilson ULC, you have to come up with a significant amount of money, about another $2,300. So, the question now becomes is the Wilson Combat ULC worth $2,300 more than the Dan Wesson ECP. While this is a very subjective question, for what it’s worth, I’m going to tell you my thoughts; the answer is yes and no.
As mentioned earlier, the $2,300 difference gets you many hours of a skilled gunsmith hand fitting each and every part. Every part is filed, polished and/or buffed until it fits as perfectly as possible with every other part. The result is a truly hand-built and hand-fit gun. The barrel in my ULC is fit to the slide and frame as tightly as possible to guarantee a high level of accuracy. There is a world of difference between a highly-skilled Wilson gunsmith fitting a barrel to a Wilson 1911, and an assembly line worker at Glock dropping a barrel into a Glock 19 slide. The barrel in a production Springfield, or Colt 1911, is fit much more like the Glock barrel is fitted. Now, Dan Wesson doesn’t just slap their 1911s together in assembly line fashion.
A skilled gunsmith, not unlike one who works at Wilson Combat, hand-fits many of the parts on each Dan Wesson pistol. The difference is, the Dan Wesson Gunsmith doesn’t spend nearly as much time fitting the parts and they do not fit the parts to the extent that Wilson does. For the Dan Wesson to be considered a high quality, accurate and absolutely rock-solid reliable gun does not require the grip safety or the mainspring housing to be perfectly fit and blended to the frame, or to have the slide fit so tightly to the frame that it won’t budge a fraction of a millimeter side to side. Though this type of perfection is certainly nice to have, it does not come cheap. Rightly so, Wilson Combat pistols are built by skilled craftsmen, something that has become all too rare these days.
I am very proud of the Wilson Combat pistols I own. I have worked very hard to be able to afford the few I have. The ULC I used for this test, I purchased a few months ago. Down the road, if I can afford to buy another one, I no doubt will. But under no circumstances am I underserved with the Dan Wilson pistols I have. I feel strongly that Dan Wesson 1911s are the best value in the 1911 world, and rival some of the big name semi-custom builders out there. I will definitely be buying more Dan Wesson pistols in the future. In fact, I like the ECP so much, that I decided to buy the one I tested.