November 2013

Testing Three Short 1911s from Kimber, Ruger, and SIG Sauer

These Commander-size pistols offer a lot to the concealed carry licensee — no pinched buttocks or sagging pants, to name just two advantages. They also happen to shoot pretty darn well.

Some accuse 1911 fans of believing the sun rises and sets on the big 45 ACP. And it is a certainty that the full-size pistol has played an important role in many lives as a badge of office, tool of the trade, a lifesaver, a game taker, and a sporting instrument. Some claim that when their hands wrap around the 1911’s handle, it says “friend” like no other pistol. The 1911 has prevailed in innumerable engagements because it fits most hands well and features well-placed controls. Also, the 1911 fires a powerful cartridge, but not so powerful that most of us cannot control it.

Digging down further, another great advantage of the 1911 is a straight-to-the-rear trigger compression. No need to lay the finger above the trigger and swing it down in an arc as is necessary with the double-action first shot pistol. Also, the trigger resets rapidly, and the slide lock safety and grip safety offer a combination of safety features not found on many handguns. But the full-size 1911 has its downsides as well — mainly, it is big and heavy.

So, to keep the advantages of the design and to mitigate its shortcomings, many civilian carriers have adopted shorter and lighter 1911s of the Commander size. The original Colt Commander featured a barrel and slide ¾-inch shorter than the 5-inch Government Model. The Commander pistol also had an aluminum frame, making it lighter. Later, the steel-frame Combat Commander was introduced. Some stated that ¾ inch off the slide was pointless when the weight of the pistol was considered. We do not find this to be true for one specific reason: The shorter length is just right to prevent pinching the buttocks when seated. The shorter pistol is also faster from the holster, and though the short sight radius may limit absolute accuracy, the Commander lines up on target quickly at combat ranges.

Some shooters also worry about the physics in the Commander-size pistols leading to more malfunctions. And it is true that the compact 1911 pistols with 4.25-inch-or-shorter barrels develop increased slide velocity because the same cartridge working on a lighter slide speeds things up. Therefore, a heavier recoil spring is needed for the short pistol to give it time to eject the spent case, then for the slide to race forward and strip a round out of the magazine. Because the Commander tries to run faster, Bill Wilson of Wilson Combat recommends 185-grain defense loads in these pistols, because the string of cartridges is about 315 grains less in weight than a magazine full of 230-grain loads, so the magazine spring has less weight to push up. Wilson also recommends a heavy hammer spring to control the slide’s velocity as well as a square-bottom firing-pin stop to change the leverage of the slide against the hammer in recoil. These recommendations show an expert understanding of the function of a short 1911. Of course, there are still more variables in a short 1911 that only hands-on testing can reveal, so we pitted a popular 4.25-inch barrel SIG Carry Stainless 1911CA-45-SSS 45 ACP, $1142, against the new Ruger SR1911CMD No. 6702 45 ACP, $829, and the 4-inch-barrel aluminum-frame Kimber Pro CDP. The results were interesting.

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