I’d always had two reasons for staying away from double-stack .45 ACPs. One was the bulkiness of the grips, and the second was the sheer weight of lead that you have to lug around. Fifteen rounds of 230-grain .45 ACP ammo weighs over half a pound. Add to that the 40-ounce empty weighs of a high-capacity 1911 and you’ve got over three pounds of firearm hanging from your belt. I wanted a high-capacity .45, but it had to be one that wouldn’t pull my pants down.
The answer for me was Para USA’s Big Hawg. By building the frame out of an aluminum alloy, Para is able to get the weight of a fully stoked Big Hawg down to 2.25 pounds. It doesn’t sound like much of a reduction, but that 0.75 of a pound weight loss makes a big difference when you’re carrying a gun all day. So I bit the bullet and ordered the lightweight double-stack, and I haven’t regretted it for a minute.
First of all, this is a striking looking pistol. The frame and slide are done in Para’s Regal finish, which is essentially a matte black, baked-on finish. The grips are likewise plain black plastic with a comfortable checkering pattern. The black background highlights the brushed stainless steel controls. The slide stop, magazine release, thumb safety and grip safety are all made from the understated silver-gray metal, as is the match-grade barrel and full-length guide rod. Even the grip screws are stainless steel. The resulting look is the equivalent to wearing a gray sports coat with a pair of black slacks and a black shirt…very east coast. And I have to admit—I like it. Ordinarily I put custom grips on my 1911s, but I think the Big Hawg will stay as is.
Like all Para handguns, the Big Hawg is more than just a 1911 with a big rear end. It has all the expected features of modern generic 1911s, like the flared and lowered ejection port, beavertail grip safety, skeletonized match trigger and hammer, low profile three-dot sights, and so on. But it has some features you’ll only find on a Para, like the Power Extractor. Unlike on a conventional 1911, the Para Power Extractor uses coil springs to control the extractor arm’s tension. The extractor itself is very aggressive, visibly much larger than typical 1911 extractors.
Also, unlike typical 1911s, the Big Hawg has a barrel with an integral feed ramp. The integral ramp is engineered to deal with the different presentation angles for the first couple of rounds in the big, double-stack magazines. Anyone who has had feeding problems on the first round of conventional, single-stack 1911s using 8-round magazines has seen that issue in real life. The Para integral ramp works; I’ve had no feeding problems with two different brands of 14-round magazines.
Para’s Big Hawg is equipped with an arched mainspring housing, à la the 1911A1. That puts it at odds with most other combat or competition oriented 1911s on the market today, most of which favor the flat housing. In fact, it puts it at odds with the rest of the Para line. When I asked about that, the folks at Para explained that the lightweight alloy frame, coupled with the heavier steel barrel and slide, would tend to point lower without the arched mainspring housing. Since either style feels fine in my hand, I’m not complaining. The housing seems to be made of a polymer, which undoubtedly keeps the weight down. It is aggressively checkered, and works with the checkered grip panels and the serrated frontstrap to provide a secure hold on the Big Hawg, even in sweaty situations.
Despite its wide body magazine, the Big Hawg isn’t awkward to grip. Thanks in part to razor-thin grip panels, it feels almost the same as a conventional single-stack 1911. I carry a 1911 almost everyday. A 1911 with standard wood grips measures 1.29 inches across at the grips. In contrast, the Para Big Hawg only measures 1.33 inches wide. That is 0.04 of an inch bigger, and for that you get seven more rounds of .45 ACP firepower. To carry that one step further, my regular, full-sized 1911 carry gun has elk antler grips that are fairly thick. That pistol measures 1.42 inches across the grips. So the Para Big Hawg actually has a slimmer grip than my favorite 1911…I may have found a new favorite.
The trigger pull on the Big Hawg is just over 5 pounds. Heavy for a target pistol, but excellent for a carry gun. I’ve seen guys shoot two rounds out of light-triggered competition guns and not even realize they’d done it. In a real combat situation with all that adrenaline, you could crush a brick in your bare hand; so ultra light triggers are not required. The trigger itself is some polycarbonate concoction. I’d prefer aluminum, but it functions flawlessly, so I can accept it.
At the range I felt the effects of the post-election ammo drought. All I could round up for a test was some Sellier & Bellot 230-grain FMJ, some Blazer 230-grain FMJ and a couple of boxes of Remington Golden Saber 185-grain +P JHP. The Big Hawg shot everything very well. There were no feeding problems and accuracy was in the 1- to 2-inch neighborhood all day. Most shooting was done from 15 yards offhand, with some speed drills from the 7-yard range. My son Rob and his roommate Travis also tried the lightweight .45, and we all shot it well.
The Sellier & Bellot FMJ ammo proved to be the most accurate of the day. It consistently kept rounds in 1- to 1.5-inch groups at 15 yards. Velocity for the 230-grain slugs averaged 848 fps (feet per second) out of the Hawg’s 5-inch barrel. It was no surprise that the Golden Saber +P was the velocity winner for the day, averaging 1208 fps over my F1 Chrony. Accuracy was also excellent with groups averaging 2 inches. The Hawg tended to place all shots about 2.5 inches below my point-of-aim, so I need to find a lower front sight.
You can pack the Big Hawg in any standard 1911 leather. For the ultimate in concealment I’m using Galco Gunleather’s new N3 inside-the-waistband holster. This is a fantastic holster that is the culmination of a lot of work at Galco. It has an offset belt loop for stability, a reinforced mouth for easy re-entry and a raised shield, which Galco calls a sweat guard. The sweat guard protects the pistol from your corrosive body fluids, but more importantly to me, it protects my delicate skin from being abraded by hard steel. I can wear this holster under a t-shirt without chafing. My favorite belt-mounted concealed carry holster for this pistol is Galco’s Side Snap Scabbard. It has a wide stance on the belt to distribute the weight of the gun, so it is comfortable to wear all day.
However, the best way to carry a big pistol like this is openly on a real gunbelt. The Kirkpatrick Deputy Marshal rig is my choice for 1911s. The Border Patrol-style holster has a comfortable cant that allows a natural, smooth draw. I had the good sense to order two sets of ammo pouches with my Deputy Marshal rig; one for single-stack 1911 magazines and the other for Para double-stacks. When I strap this rig on I’m loaded with 44 rounds of .45 ACP firepower. If I need more than that, then I must really be having a bad day.
I got the Big Hawg because I wanted a 15-shot .45 while it was still legal. I am exercising my rights. But after using it for the last couple of months, I’m kicking myself that I didn’t get one sooner.
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by William Bell / Mar 16, 2010