COMBAT HANDGUNS Top 1911s 2014
COMBAT HANDGUNS' 19 Top 1911s of 2014

One of the most recognizable handguns in firearms history and the one that legitimized the semi-automatic pistol for combat duty, John Moses Browning’s classic 1911 design is still popular today more than a century after its introduction. For those who want to learn as much as possible about where this classic design is today, take a look at the following examples of some of the best versions available today.

From compacts like the new Desert Eagle 1911U .45 ACP to ones with radical new chamberings like the Rock Island Armory .22 TCM to classics like the Colt Mark IV Series 70, this roundup will keep you up to speed on the your choices out there today.



By Rich Grassi

The frame of the 1911TC is cast stainless steel. For people who get worried over such matters, in 1979 I carried a “parts-bin” 1911 that had a cast frame. I had no problems with it and have used several guns with various cast frames since. The slide is stainless steel fashioned from bar stock. Using modern machining methods, the costs are held down because hand-fitting is all but eliminated. The machine-checkered frontstrap (20 lines per inch) helps you hang on, as do the checkered laminate stocks. A “Thompson bullet” logo disc is fitted into the stocks. The front and rear sights are installed in machined dovetail slots. Slanted grasping grooves are cut into the slide’s front and rear. The Thompson marking on the slide (and the other markings) are laser engraved.

The ejection port is lowered and flared, and the thumb safety is extended, though it doesn’t get in the way. An adjustable trigger, extended magazine-release button, beavertail grip safety and checkered mainspring housing are featured. There’s a full-length recoil spring guide rod, but don’t hold that against the gun. If it offends you as it does me, replace it with GI-spec parts from Brownells. No problem.

As I didn’t have to strip the gun in the field, I had no problems with it. As is currently fashionable, the hammer is slotted, too. It looks remarkably like most other recent 1911 offerings—and in my opinion that’s too bad. While it’s a nice look, and the 1911TC is nothing if not pleasing to the eye, it doesn’t stand out from others. Two things do cause it to stand out, however: American manufacture and the low price point.

Consider that this low-cost 1911 has the often-debated firing-pin safety. While many consider it to be a needless addition, I am conflicted. I think the firing-pin safety, if properly set up and timed, is fine. This is the pattern Colt uses in their Series 80 line, and it is less prone to timing issues than the firing-pin block design that uses the grip safety for deactivation.

Even the more recent iterations of the grip-safety-driven firing-pin block have been boringly reliable. To get an American-made, 1911-pattern pistol with a firing-pin safety, you’ll probably spend more than what the 1911TC costs. And the Thompson Custom 1911 is competitive in terms of features and cost with just about any other similar pistol out there.

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By Steve Ausband

The Mark IV Series 70 is a 1911A1 version of the old warhorse with a couple essential modern improvements. The gun has good high-profile sights, with the front sight staked and the rear sight in a dovetail groove. One could drift the rear sight to adjust for windage, but no adjustment was needed in the test sample. The feed ramp is relieved in an interesting fashion: Only a bare minimum of metal was removed from the bottom center of the ramp. This is unlike some of the more radical throating jobs I’ve seen on 1911s, but it obviously works, as the gun digested everything I fed it, from ball ammo to hollow points with gaping cavities. And that’s about it.

This Colt is the same one that fought wars and righted wrongs since its introduction, only now it has sights you can see and will feed hollow points. The sights, by the way, rise above the slide about 0.19 inches, and the notch in the rear sight is 0.12 inches wide, with the ramped front sight having the same width. This, coupled with a sight radius of just over 6 inches, allows for a little “air” around the front sight and makes accurate shooting at a distance much easier than it is with the miniscule sights on the original.

The gun does not have a firing-pin safety, relying instead on a light firing pin and a stout firing-pin spring to keep the potential litigants at bay. The mainspring housing is arched, the trigger is short with six longitudinal grooves, and there are relief cuts in the frame beside the triggerguard—another accommodation for shooters with smaller hands. Most of the 1911s I shoot these days have flat mainspring housings and long triggers, and these suit my oversized mitts just fine. Nevertheless, I very quickly readjusted to the A1-style mainspring housing and trigger configuration. My first experiences with Mr. Browning’s masterpiece were with the A1 variety, after all, and I am about as comfortable with one style as I am with the other.

The back of the mainspring housing has eight longitudinal grooves, and the very handsome rosewood grips are checkered in the double-diamond pattern. This gun does not have night sights (nor even three-dot sights), a full-length guide rod, a lowered and flared ejection port, a beveled magazine well, hex screws on the grips, rails to hang stuff on, a rowel hammer, an oversized grip safety, a key-lock safety feature, or a firing-pin safety. Aside from its sights, the Mark IV Series 70 is the gun that Colt began making in 1924 (the year the 1911A1 was introduced) and that made Colt famous.

Heck, even the box the gun comes in is retro! It’s made out of cardboard (blue, of course, with the Colt emblem on the top) and contains a pistol, two 7-round magazines, a cable lock, an instruction manual and an invitation to join the NRA. No hard-plastic carrying case with a hole for a padlock, bushing wrench or cleaning brush. You open the box and you’re back in the early years of the 20th century—and that’s not a bad thing at all.

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By Rob Garrett

The Combat Elite is a two-tone pistol with a blued slide and a stainless steel frame. This retro look is reminiscent of Armand Swenson’s guns of the late 1970s. My initial examination was very positive. The slide-to-frame fit was good and the barrel lock-up was solid but without the hard “clunk.” There was no discernable play between the muzzle and the bushing or at the breach face. The pistol was void of any rough machine marks throughout.

The Combat Elite features forward cocking serrations, Novak three-dot sights and a factory beavertail grip safety. The frontstrap has a ball cut at the base of the triggerguard to allow a higher purchase on the pistol. The standard plastic mainspring housing is serrated and the magazine well is partially beveled. Upon further examination, I found that the radiused edges stop before the rear wall of the well. An extended thumb safety, a ring hammer and a three-hole, match-type trigger round out the operating controls. The grips feature a diagonal checkering pattern with the Colt logo in the center. Two polished stainless, eight-round magazines come standard with the Combat Elite.

For formal testing, I selected ASYM Precision’s 185-grain TSX load, PNW’s TacOps 185-grain SCP and Hornady’s Critical Duty 220-grain +P load. Each of these loads has a distinct bullet profile that I wanted to test in the Combat Elite. Normally, factory 185-grain loads are loaded hotter for better performance. The ASYM and PNW loads utilize a solid copper bullet that is designed to expand at more moderate velocities. The ASYM averaged 843 feet per second (fps) while the PNW TacOps averaged 989 fps. The Hornady Critical duty features a 220-grain Flex Tip bullet that eliminates clogging and ensures adequate penetration and expansion. Hornady describes the Critical Duty load as an “intelligent bullet that reacts differently depending on the barrier it encounters.” The Critical Duty load averaged 1,015 fps from the 5-inch barrel of the Combat Elite. This was slightly faster than the factory velocity of 975 fps.

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By Rob Garrett

Having tested the original Trident for COMBAT HANDGUNS in 2010, I was especially excited to see the new and improved version. The basic features of the original Trident have been retained, and it is important to note that all of the Trident II’s major components are C&S OEM parts. The critical internal parts are CNC-machined from billet steel or made from forgings and heat-treated throughout. Each part undergoes a rigorous inspection and is subjected to a hardness evaluation using a Rockwell testing machine. It’s also important to note that the Trident II contains no MIM parts.

To fully understand the Trident concept, it is necessary to review the major modifications and choice of components. The frame on my test pistol, an A1 variant, features an integral accessory rail that has been trued to mil-spec dimensions. The frontstrap is machine-stippled to improve the gripping surface. Stippling was chosen over checkering for several reasons. Proper stippling provides a positive gripping surface without the drawbacks of checkering, which can trap dirt, skin or blood and is hard to clean. Checkering also tends to abrade gear and can be dented and broken.

Another small and often overlooked detail involves stock bushings that, when improperly installed, tend to back out when removing the stocks. Cylinder & Slide properly torques and stakes the bushings to prevent this issue. The steel mainspring housing features a recessed lanyard loop and is stippled and cleanly blended to the frame and magazine well.

The slide features front and rear cocking serrations to facilitate cycling and press checks. The C&S-made, 5-inch, drop-in barrel is matched to a finger-tight barrel bushing that has been opened up to enhance reliability. This combination gives the Trident II, on average, 2-inch accuracy at 25 yards. The ejection port is lowered, and its leading edge has been relieved to allow for the safe ejection of an unfired round. C&S uses a machined extractor that is inspected for proper heat treatment and then fitted, radiused and tensioned. The diameter of the firing-pin hole has been opened to the original .45-caliber specification.

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By Andy Massimilian

The pistol tested for this article is a limited-edition, branded R1 made for Advanced Armament Corp. AAC is one of a stable of firearms and accessory companies owned by Freedom Group, which also owns the Remington, Bushmaster, Para-Ordnance and Marlin brands. The AAC 1911 is nearly identical to the 1911 R1 Enhanced Threaded Barrel. However, the grips and markings are distinct from the Remington variant. The AAC 1911 has gray VZ “Grenade” AAC logo grips, and the slide is prominently laser engraved with “Advanced Armament Corp” on the left and has a light etching of the AAC “skull and crossed guns” logo on the right. The AAC 1911 comes in a Pelican plastic case with custom-cut foam interior to fit the pistol, suppressor, extra magazines and tools.

The AAC 1911 and Ti-RANT .45 suppressor are only available as a complete package sold by distributor AcuSport to Class III dealers. AcuSport explains that this is the first time that a pistol and suppressor have been sold together, and it will likely appeal to the collector market. The AAC 1911 is a full-size pistol made from a forged carbon steel slide and cast frame. It is shipped in a sturdy, foam-lined case with slots custom cut for the pistol, magazines, cleaning rod and Ti-RANT .45 suppressor.

Like all Remington 1911 pistols, the AAC 1911 incorporates what many call the “Series 80” firing pin safety, named after what Colt referred to this system as when it first was released. The Series 80 system incorporates a spring-loaded plunger into the slide that prevents the firing pin from moving forward unless the trigger is depressed. The design allows pistols to be carried with a round in the chamber, because dropping the pistol on its muzzle would not move the firing pin forward to strike the primer. The original 1911 design lacked this feature, as do other current production models that use other drop-safe designs.

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By D. K. Pridgen

Developed to fit in a handgun with the external dimensions of a traditional 1911, the .50 GI uses a case 0.060 inches wider than the .45 ACP (wide enough to handle a .50 bullet) with a rebated head matching the .45 ACP. Overall length of the .50 GI cartridge is essentially that of the .45 ACP. Because of that overall length, the grip does not have to be lengthened, but the increased cartridge case diameter should necessitate widening the grip. But, GI refused to deviate from standard 1911 external dimensions. The interior of the magazine well and magazine were increased, accommodating the stubby cartridge without external changes to the frame.

Redesigned magazines for the .50 contain seven of the “fat boy” cartridges in the beveled magazine well, with an eighth up the spout. Guncrafters’ build on all of its 1911s is excellent: slides are tight, barrel hoods and links snug, triggers crisp and checkering sharp. It’s a delight to the eye. The list could go on, but you get the picture.

Long-slide 1911s are not new. Custom gunsmiths like Swenson and Clark made them years ago, but long-slides for the .50 GI are rare as hens’ teeth! An additional inch on the slide and barrel usually does three things: increases velocity, increases sight radius by moving the front sight forward and improves recoil control. If you examine the Model 4 bumper to bumper, until the new inch on the slide, nothing differs from previous models. You will see an impressively well-made 1911—a custom pistol in every sense of the word.

Slide and frame are forged from 4140 steel, heat-treated and CNC machined to exacting tolerances. After hand-fitting the two, the feel is similar to opening the door of a quality gun safe; despite tight mating of slide and frame, the slide glides smoothly back and forth with no hint of “slop.” The slide has a lowered and flared ejection port, rear cocking serrations and horizontal serrations running from 0.25 inches after the rear sight to 0.25 inches before the front.

A bigger bullet means a larger bore diameter, which translates to thinner barrel walls or bigger diameter for the barrel. Not much of a choice really. The standard-size slide has been “thinned,” if you will, to allow the bigger .50 GI barrel to fit and cycle. GI’s .50 match-grade barrels are of 416R stainless steel and have eight lands and grooves with a 1-in-18-inch twist rate. The barrel is not ramped but has appreciable throating with a bull/cone muzzle mated to the slide sans bushing. Beneath the barrel rides a full-length guide rod surrounded by a 22-pound Wolff recoil spring secured at the muzzle by a reverse plug. Of course, the ejector is also tuned perfectly.

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By Robert A. Sadowski

The frame of this compact 1911 is aluminum. It is light in the hand and easy on the hip when carrying. The grip frontstrap is textured in a scale pattern that affords a good grip. In hand it does not feel toothy and sharp like checkering. It is comfortable, yet it grips. The flat mainspring housing sports traditional checkering. Together, they work well when gripping and look good.

The beavertail grip safety protects the hand from hammer bite without being too large. It did not print when I carried it concealed. The speed bump ensures the grip safety is deactivated with even a less-than-perfect grip. A full-size, ambidextrous thumb safety is featured on the Ultra Raptor II, and it works—with distinct clicks locking the slide and the trigger. With either hand I was able to flick the thumb safety on or off quickly.

The match-grade trigger is made from aluminum and sports three holes. The trigger face is finely grooved. I prefer grooved triggers on 1911s since my finger seems to get better traction, especially when I’m firing for speed. A hole in the front of the trigger face allows a user to adjust the trigger stop. The factory trigger stop suited me, so I did not adjust it. I liked the feel and the trigger pull on the Ultra Raptor II. On average, the pull weight was slightly over 4 pounds. This is a good trigger pull weight for concealed carry when you have had training on the 1911 platform.

The Ultra Raptor II is a Kimber Series II pistol, meaning it is equipped with a firing-pin safety. The grip safety needs to be depressed to disengage the firing-pin block, which then allows the pistol to fire. Some other manufacturers, like Colt, use a firing-pin block connected to the trigger.

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By D.K. Pridgen

The Kimber Master Carry Pro bears a distinct familial resemblance to the Lightweight Commander of Colt fame, a model viewed as the perfect carry gun by many serious and knowledgeable 1911 users, including Col. Cooper, with its shorter barrel and full-sized frame of aircraft-grade aluminum alloy. Cooper felt the Lightweight Commander achieved great portability without sacrificing performance or reliability.

The .45 ACP Master Carry Pro is not a clone of the original Commanders. Kimber designed its Master Carry Pro using a 4-inch barrel/slide, which many feel makes for better drawing and concealing compared to a full-size 1911.

A match-grade, stainless steel bull/cone barrel is mated directly to the abbreviated stainless steel slide and uses a full-length recoil spring guide rod inside the 22-pound recoil spring. The slide is coated black with KimPro II, a polymer finish Kimber describes as “tough and self-lubricating” and which “offers outstanding resistance to chemicals, moisture, salt and UV light.” Of all the properties listed, the self-lubricating feature may be the most important as it provides a smoother-running slide.

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By David Bahde

The 1911 pistol has long been a steady favorite of tactical operators. But, in recent years, it’s also surged in popularity among civilians. Production pistols are better made now than ever before, with features to meet most any need. Improvements in machining and manufacture have made them more reliable and accurate. While well-built 1911 pistols are not cheap, they are more affordable today than in years past.

My first 1911 pistol, purchased over 20 years ago, cost close to $1,500 after minimal upgrades. Today that gets you an excellent factory 1911 with features not even available in the 1990s. As the use of weapon-mounted lights continues to grow, 1911 manufacturers have worked hard to meet demand. Mounting a light to a home-defense pistol is an excellent idea, allowing you to clearly identify the threat. For those carrying on duty or in a tactical rig, they are almost a necessity. Tactical lights are smaller, more powerful and more rugged, making them well suited to use in any environment. Once a rarity, duty pistols with lights are now almost the norm.

One of the most popular 1911 pistols designed to meet the need for light and laser attachment is the Kimber TLE/RL II. The Custom TLE (Tactical Law Enforcement) was designed with input from the Los Angeles Police Department’s SWAT team, and they carry it today in .45 ACP. It is simple, rugged and includes a rail for the addition of a tactical light. Although designed by a SWAT team, it has gained traction among civilian 1911 shooters. With a retail price at under $1,200 it is one of the most affordable tactical 1911 pistols on the market, putting it within reach of many potential users. Once only available in .45 ACP, the 10mm option adds an entirely new dimension to this pistol.

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By Mike Detty

When I received my test and evaluation sample, I was impressed with its fit and finish. Both the frame and slide are finished in a flat matte black finish with an aluminum trigger and stainless beavertail grip safety for contrast. Bul machines the 1911U from a block of T6 aluminum and machine cuts the frontstrap with 30 lines-per-inch (LPI) checkering. “Double diamond” wood grips with stainless steel hex-head screws give the 1911U a distinctly custom look!

The subcompact pistol is outfitted with an extended thumb safety. It snicks on and off crisply and is long enough for shooters, like me, who like to shoot with a “thumb high” grip. Thankfully, the pistol does not have an ambi thumb safety. Over the years I’ve had several compact-style 1911s with ambi safeties and on several occasions have found the manual safety accidentally swiped off, leaving me with a cocked and unlocked .45! For this reason my preference for carry is for a strong-side-only manual thumb safety.

The frame is of “Series 70” style and does not incorporate a firing pin safety of any sort. Bul uses a checkered slide lock on the 1911U. Its wedge shape offers a little more purchase than a standard part. The magazine release is also checkered and slightly extended to make its activation from a shooting grip easier. One nice feature of the frame is that it is undercut where the triggerguard meets the frontstrap. This feature allows the shooter to get the knuckle of their third finger as high as possible for a very secure grip.

Bul outfits the pistol with a high-sweep beavertail grip safety that blends nicely to the frame. In conjunction with the extended thumb safety, checkered frontstrap and undercut frame, this provides the shooter with a comfortable firing grip.

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By William Bell

The Bobcut is a Commander-sized 1911 with a 4.25-inch barrel. It gets its name from the diagonal cut on the backstrap at the bottom of the grip frame. This cut gives the pistol a round-butt profile that aids in concealability. Both the frame and hammer-forged slide are made from 4140 steel, which contributes to its empty weight of 34.58 ounces.

Two finish options are available, deep blue or hard chrome, and both are polished on the “flats” and have a sandblasted matte finish on the top of the slide and other areas of the bottom and sides. Custom hardwood grips featuring a fish-scale pattern and the MAC emblem come standard. The Bobcut is chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge and has an 8+1 capacity with the factory-supplied magazine.

This pistol is just chock full of standard features that in times past would only be found on a customized 1911. On top of the slide, a Novak-type rear sight is mounted in a dovetail. On my hard-chrome sample pistol, the rear sight is blue, and the backside facing the shooter is finely serrated to reduce glare. It’s fully adjustable for windage and elevation. The red fiber-optic front sight is also attached via a dovetail cut in the slide.

The ejection port is lowered and flared to reduce brass deformation, and there are 10 well-defined serrations on the rear of the slide. If you retract the slide and look inside, you’ll note the barrel is throated, and the surrounding area is expertly polished for reliable operation. Both sides of the slide have the MAC emblem near the rear, while the left side of the slide is laser-cut with the MAC 1911 and Bobcut logo. The extractor and firing-pin retention plate are blued and give a nice contrast to the chrome-matte finish. The hammer is a sketelonized, Commander-style version, and the Bobcut is equipped with a full-length guide rod for the recoil spring.

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By David Bahde

The Maximus Arms Gladiator looks (mostly) like a standard 1911. Based on the spec sheet and general observation, there are some obvious (and some subtle) differences, mostly in the frame. The model includes an integral, flared mag well and a lower lip. It is matched to a custom mainspring housing that includes a lanyard loop, and it is indented to make for a larger mag well opening. Integrated into the slide, it is matched, smoothed and well melted. Coupled with a custom-made grip safety and a high-cut frontstrap, you get as high a grip as is possible with a 1911 pistol. The Gladiator also has a “ready one” indentation machined into the frame just above the triggerguard, providing for placement of your trigger finger when not in the triggerguard.

As a tactical pistol, the Gladiator includes a rail, but unlike most it includes three notches, not just one, allowing for just about any light (and even some of the new lasers) to mount up easily. There was no checkering on the front- and backstraps (though a fish-scale mainspring housing is now being offered to customers as an option free of charge). Everything on the frame is nicely melted and smooth. An extended slide stop is cut flush with the frame on the right side. This pistol has a single-side, tactical-style safety and a slightly extended magazine release. The trigger is a match aluminum design, and it broke cleanly.

The Gladiator is a Series 70 pistol, which means there’s no plunger in the slide. It houses a match-grade barrel that is mated to a match bushing. The gun uses Sprinco’s recoil-reducing recoil spring and guide rod. The ejection port is flared and lowered for solid ejection, and a .38-caliber firing pin has also been installed. Cocking serrations are located at both the front and the rear. Front sighting is accomplished with a fiber optic that is dovetailed. Rear sighting is a target-cut, adjustable ghost ring. The slide, frame, slide stop, thumb safety, grip safety, hammer and mainspring housing are all made of 17-4PH stainless steel. It ships in an airline-approved case with two eight-round magazines and a cool, custom barrel-bushing wrench.

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By Rob Garrett

The foundation for every Nighthawk pistol is a frame and slide forging that is machined at the company’s facility in Berryville, Arkansas. This allows Nighthawk to control quality and ensures that slides and frames are held to exacting tolerances. The frame and slide are fitted and hand-lapped for a glass-on-glass feeling. This process is time consuming and requires the touch of an experienced gunsmith; there are no shortcuts. Like the full-size Costa Government Model, the Costa Compact is an all-steel gun. As with other Nighthawk compact models, the Costa Compact is based on an Officer’s Model frame that is paired with a Commander-length slide. The Commander-length slide allows for the use of a 4.25-inch barrel and a conventional barrel bushing.

The solid aluminum match trigger is of medium length and is precisely fitted to the internal parts. The trigger broke cleanly at 3.9 pounds with no overtravel. The high-cut frontstrap, now standard on all Nighthawk pistols, has been checkered at 25 lpi. A ball cut at the top of the pattern serves as an attractive border.

As with all Nighthawk pistols, the .45 ACP Costa Compact is built the old-fashioned way, by hand fitting precision-made parts using old-fashioned files and sanding sticks. All internal parts are made to Nighthawk’s specifications using quality tool steel. For those who are concerned about such things, there are no MIM parts in any Nighthawk pistol.

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By Doug Larson

The Nighthawk T4 is made for self-defense and is meant to be carried every day. It’s not a lightweight gun—it has a comforting 37 ounces of heft—but that weight helps to absorb the recoil of the 9mm cartridges it fires. Now, for all of you who don’t think a defensive handgun chambered in anything less than .40 caliber is worth considering, you may be surprised that some seasoned law enforcement officers—ones that are real gunfighters who have defended their lives with a handgun—are switching from larger-caliber guns to 9mm.

The T4 is smaller than the standard 1911, and that makes it easier to carry discreetly. The barrel length is only 3.8 inches long, which is shorter than the 5-inch standard length or even the 4.25-inch length of a Commander-size gun. But the grip still extends about 2.25 inches below the triggerguard so all three fingers of most users have something to hold onto. That also means the gun’s magazine will hold eight rounds. With one in the chamber, that’s nine rounds. While that’s fewer than the number provided by a double-stack gun, it is still more than most small pistols hold, and it’s slim, making it less likely to create a bulge under clothing, which can give away the fact that you’re carrying a gun. Thin is in—or at least it is popular for carry these days.

While most 1911s have a grip width of around 1.25 inches, the T4’s width is about 0.1 inches thinner. That’s due to the Micarta thin-profile Alien grips that are made by VZ Grips. They have an aggressive texture for a very good, slip-resistant surface, but are not so rough to be uncomfortable to hold for extended shooting sessions. The mainspring housing is flat, both lengthwise and from side to side, which contributes to making the grip frame about 0.1 inches less in size than a standard 1911’s when measured from front to back. Those smaller dimensions don’t sound like much, but they are very noticeable when the gun is held. Most people seem to like the feel and find that it makes holding onto the gun under recoil easier.

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By Dennis Adler

The Executive Carry has a barrel length of just 3 inches and a slide that barely exceeds 5 inches in length, combined with a Government Model-sized grip and an eight-round, single-stack magazine. The North Carolina armsmaker builds its handcrafted 1911s for specific end-user requirements, and thus there are numerous short-barrel/short-slide variations throughout the Para USA line. None, however, are more dedicated to combining concealment and capacity in a traditional 1911 platform (Click Here to view Para Ordnance Executive Carry 1911 .45 ACP | VIDEO ) than the Executive Carry.

With its very short 3-inch, match-grade, ramped stainless steel bull barrel, 5.125-inch-long slide and full-length Government Model grip frame, the Executive Carry is a uniquely shaped 1911 that looks like a capital “L” if you turn it upside down. The gun’s uncanny proportions are further accentuated by an Ed Brown Bobtail mainspring housing that rounds off the bottom edge of the grip frame, a small, rounded palm swell grip safety and upswept beavertail. One might call it a “VCQB” (very close-quarter battle) pistol. As a top-end model, the gun is fitted with Trijicon night sights, a skeletonized match-grade trigger and a non-reflective, durable IonBond anodized finish on the slide and lightweight aluminum alloy frame. The Executive Carry fills your hand but not your holster.

While it looks like it is going to be unwieldy, the gun has an uncanny sense of balance. The leggy 1911 grip frame, fitted with machined VZ grips matched to the angle of the Ed Brown Bobtail mainspring housing, sits firmly in the hand, and the lower profile of the rounded grip safety melds smoothly into your grasp. Pick it up and the Para points naturally. The Executive Carry uses a heavy-duty recoil system and full-length guide rod design to reduce recoil and make follow-up shots more consistent. The compromise (there’s always one) is greater effort to cycle the slide when chambering the first round or clearing the gun, but it is a fair tradeoff, as this is one sweet-shooting .45.

The operative word in concealed carry is “concealed,” and that has always been just a bit more demanding when the gun being carried is a 1911. Since the Para Executive Carry has a very specific profile, it requires holsters that best suit the gun’s unusual barrel and grip frame relationship. The full-length grip rules out pocket carry, but the short 3-inch barrel makes the gun ideal for carry in a shoulder holster like the Galco Miami Classic. Drawing with the holster’s thumb-break safety is smooth, and the gun presents quickly as the situation dictates. DeSantis offers a variety of holsters suited to this 1911 configuration, including the Cozy Partner IWB rig, the legendary DeSantis Speed Scabbard belt holster with multiple loops to adjust cant, and an open-top belt rig, the Mini Scabbard. The Mini Scabbard is contour fit to the gun, so it will stay put even though it is an open-top holster.

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By Jeremy Clough

In its current form, the Rock Island Armory .22 TCM comes packaged in a black plastic case with foam cutouts to hold the gun, magazine and spare barrel, along with a manual and a pair of the obligatory fired casings. In addition to the barrel, it also comes with a recoil spring calibrated for the round it’s to be used with—7 pounds for .22 TCM and 12 pounds for 9mm.

Since my first pistol was delivered in only .22 TCM, I wound up with a second test gun that had both barrels. Both guns are identical, except for the rear sight. As usual, we’ll start with the top of the pistol and work our way down.

Business-like in appearance, the TCM is a Para-pattern, high-capacity M1911 that comes in a matte black, Parkerized finish. Only the chamber area of the barrel hood is silver (but even that was black on the first gun). Of the two barrels that come with the gun, you’ll notice that the 9mm barrel is basically the same diameter through its length, but the .22 TCM barrel is narrowed in the middle between the chamber and muzzle area. While it makes it easy to tell the barrels apart at a glance, the reason for this feature is the reduction of weight.

Since the barrel is locked to the slide at the moment of ignition (as with all locked-breech designs), the recoil impulse of the cartridge has to overcome the combined weight of the slide and barrel in order for the slide to move backwards, opening up the action to eject the spent casing and load a fresh cartridge. The .22 TCM has less recoil than the 9mm, so the reduction in weight from removing material from the barrel reduces the resistance that has to be overcome in order for the slide to cycle. Also seen on M1911s in 9mm, it’s a functional feature well applied and clearly one of the reasons the gun functions so well.

The slide, which has a narrow flattop machined down its length for a nice aesthetic effect, has a plain black, dovetail-mounted front sight. The rear sight on the earlier gun is an adjustable Bo-Mar pattern with a broad, flat, serrated rear face. While the later pistol’s adjustable white-dot sight mimics some of the lines of the Novak LoMount sight, it is not one, and it does not use a standard dovetail cut for those who may wish to replace it with a genuine Novak sight.

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By Andy Massimilian

The Range Officer is a full-size, American-made pistol. The locking system follows the conventional Browning design that uses a swinging link to attach the barrel block to the pistol’s frame via the slide stop pin and the standard GI recoil spring guide rod that allows disassembly without tools.

The Range Officer is designed to provide superior target shooting performance for all but very formal competition within a price range that’s less than $1,000. It accomplishes this by including features that are relevant to its intended purpose and leaving off the “added cost” extras. For instance, the Range Officer has all of the functional features—extended beavertail grip safety, lowered/flared ejection port for more reliable ejection, longer trigger made lighter with skeletonized cuts, lightened hammer for faster lock time—that any shooter would appreciate and that two decades ago were considered aftermarket customizations. However, a tactical rail, an ambidextrous safety, frontstrap checkering and front slide serrations are left out in favor of what matters most.

More significantly, the Range Officer is made using the same forged carbon steel slide and forged frame and shares the same trigger and hammer as the higher-priced Trophy Match and TRP pistols. The pistol also features a match-grade stainless steel barrel and bushing. (The barrel diameter increases slightly at about 1 inch behind the muzzle to help make the lockup consistent.)

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By Dennis Adler

The overall length for the Compact Carry is 7.5 inches. It has a height of 5.25 inches, a width 0.875 inches (1.18 with grips) and a carry weight of 37.5 ounces. The Full Size tips the scales at an even 40 ounces, with an overall length of 8.75 inches on the Full Size model, a height with the extended magazine basepad of 5.5 inches and an overall width of 1.18 inches. Suggested retail in Cerakote finishes is $799 for the Full Size model and $814 for the Compact Carry. The standard 1911-A1 FS Tactical with Parkerized finish starts at just $570.

Based on Colt Series 70 designs, Taylor’s 1911s are built by Armscor to the company’s exact specifications and exhibit fine fit, finish and sturdy build quality. The guns have exceptionally close tolerances between the outer dimension of the slide and the inner dimension of the frame rails for a solid fit that goes beyond the price point. Shake a Taylor’s 1911 and there isn’t a sound. You can’t say that for every 1911 on the market today. The Tactical models also come with heavy-duty recoil springs and full-length guide rods, two features that are generally add-on options on 1911s. Although the recoil spring makes chambering the first round, clearing the action and field stripping the guns more demanding, the extra effort is well rewarded through less felt recoil and improved handling for higher-velocity defensive rounds.

The Compact Carry’s slide has nine deeply cut rear slide serrations; the Full Size has 10 on the front of the slide and 10 at the rear for chambering the first round or clearing the gun. Some question the advantages of front slide serrations, but if you need to push the slide back just enough to check the chamber, they quickly earn their keep, especially with Taylor’s recoil spring!

The dovetailed Novak-style rear sights are adjustable for windage and elevation, and the front is an interchangeable, dovetailed, green, fiber-optic blade. The rear sights have rounded edges to prevent them from snagging on clothing, but those rounded edges also save hands and tactical gloves from the minor cuts occasionally received from straight-edged adjustable rear sights. The slide releases are deeply checkered for solid purchase when dropping the slide on the reload (even with tactical gloves); the Compact Carry has a single, 1911-A1 GI-style thumb safety, while the Full Size comes with an elongated, ambidextrous safety.

Overall, these two specialized Taylor’s Tactical models have the majority of the upgrades found on custom-grade 1911s costing well over $1,000.

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By D.K. Pridgen

The original 1911 began life as a full-size, all-steel pistol with a 5-inch barrel, a grip long enough to fit any hand and the capacity for seven rounds of stubby .45 ACP full metal jacket (FMJ). Many believe the full-size 1911 is the epitome of effectiveness and reliability. After all his years of working with full-size 1911s, it seems Ken Hackathorn prefers it as well.

The Hackathorn Special starts with Wilson Combat’s carbon steel full-size frame and 5-inch slide. Both are CNC-machined and then fitted, shaped and contoured at the hands of a Wilson pistolsmith. That same pistolsmith fits a 5-inch, stainless, match-grade barrel and bushing, adding a flush-cut reverse crown to the muzzle. The Hackathorn Special uses a traditional spring, recoil spring guide rod and a solid plug. From this starting point nothing but the best parts—Wilson Combat Bullet Proof parts—are added and fitted by the gunsmiths, to comply with all of Ken’s design parameters.

Starting with the slide, Wilson adds its Snag-Free Front Sight with a green fiber-optic tube to the front dovetail, matching the sight base to the frame’s contours. Horizontal, 30-lpi serrations run longitudinally from the front sight across the flattened slide top to the dovetail-mounted rear Battlesight.

The Battlesight appears to be the latest evolution of Wilson Combat’s time-proven Combat Pyramid Sight. A speedy sight to use, the higher profile Battlesight has a generous 0.145-inch notch dropping deeper than its predecessors and terminating in a “U” shape. The notch area is recessed into a pocket, providing a crisp, protected sight picture. Perfectly executed 40-lpi serrations run horizontally across the non-recessed portion of the concave back of the Battlesight. Dual set screws secure the Battlesight to the slide. The slide rear has 40-lpi serrations, including the Wilson extractor, which merges well with the sight. Battlesight edges are radiused, but an external shelf makes for easy one-hand slide cycling.

As expected on a custom pistol, the Hackathorn Special has a lowered and flared ejection port with cocking serrations fore and aft. As an extra touch, the bottom edge of the slide has been broken—“Heavy Machine Chamfer on Bottom of Slide,” Wilson Combat calls it. The final touch is fluting on the exterior of the barrel hood, which is said to redirect grunge, the accumulation of which could potentially cause a malfunction.

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