The Perfect-Carry 1911: Pistol Test

The rounded butt of the SW1911 Sc helps with concealment and shooting comfort.

I like carrying a Model 1911 pistol, but I’m not one of those guys who say silly things like: “I carry a .45 because they don’t make a .46.” Sure, .45 ACP is a great caliber. For over 100 years, it’s done an admirable job. But I don’t carry a 1911 because of the default .45 chambering. I carry one because of the gun’s design.

For me, it just fits. The shape and thin profile of the 1911 feel like no other handgun when carried on the belt. And it’s not just about carry comfort. I feel confident shooting a 1911 because of my confidence in being able to hit what I aim at. The combination of grip angle, weight, and that single-action trigger result in a package that I can shoot well.

Nowadays, 1911s come in all shape and sizes, and it’s hard to keep track of the differences between the models, mainly because of the military-influenced naming system—Government, Commander, Officer, Vice-Rear Admiral, Field Marshal, Sub-Leftenant, Syntagmatarchis, Commodore…

OK, I’m not entirely sure about the last five, but I do know of at least three model categories of 1911s—and even those are unclear, because the industry has tweaked and changed things within each named category. So consider the following size categories more as “guidelines” than actual rules, as the dread pirate Captain Hector Barbossa liked to say:

The author shot all three models with a wide variety of factory practice and self-defense ammo. None malfunctioned.

Government Model: In terms of size, the Government model is the original. It’s the big daddy, complete with a 5-inch barrel.

Commander Model: The Commander model is a little more compact, and includes a 4.25-inch barrel.

Officer’s Model: Hey, officers don’t do heavy lifting, right? Maybe that’s why the Officer’s model has a 3.5-inch barrel in the original Colt version first offered in 1985. Since then, many manufacturers have created Officer-like models with 3-inch barrels.

As I said, we’re talking "guidelines" here. The "C.C.O." or "Concealed Carry Officer's" pistol mated the slide and barrel assembly of the stainless-steel Commander with the shorter frame of the blued Lightweight Officer's ACP to make yet another variant.

To find the "Perfect Carry 1911," I decided to do a head-to-head "wear off," in which I would carry all three basic configurations and switch between them daily. I called the nice folks at Smith & Wesson and asked to borrow some representative samples of each category: a 1911 eSeries (Government), a 1911 Sc (Commander), and a 1911 Pro Series (Officer).

The size-class designations are mine, and again, just a guideline. For example, the original Officer’s model had a 3.5-inch barrel, while the Pro Series has a 3-inch barrel. Close enough.

For the holster, I defaulted to my normal inside-the-waistband rig, a Galco KingTuk hybrid. I used that design for all three models. Galco makes variants of the KingTuk for rail and non-rail frames and two different sizes for Government and compact models.

Left to right: SW1911 Sc, SW1911 eSeries, and SW1911 Pro Series.

I like carrying the Model 1911 because its slender profile just seems to fit easily and comfortably. I’m accustomed to carrying the large Government model, so I expected the smaller variants to be more comfortable. I wasn’t disappointed. But before we get into that, let’s consider the dimension and weight differences of these three models.

- S&W 1911 eSeries: Model Class+ - Government, Barrel Length: 5", Overall Length: 8.7", Height:++ 5.8", Weight: 41.7 oz., Capacity: 8+1 rounds

- S&W 1911 Sc: Model Class+ - Commander, Barrel Length: 4.25", Overall Length: 7.95", Height:++ 5.7", Weight: 29.7 oz., Capacity: 8+1 rounds

- S&W 1911 Pro Series: Model Class+ - Officer's, Barrel Length: 3.0", Overall Length: 6.9", Height:++ 5.3", Weight: 26.5 oz., Capacity: 7+1 rounds

+These are guidelines only. Manufacturers specs for the same class may vary.

++As measured from the top of the rear sight to the bottom of the lowest point of an inserted magazine.

Government

Our benchmark is the full-sized Government model. We can all safely assume that it’s a large gun to carry, not so much for its dimensions but for its weight. For inside-the-waistband carry, barrel length is largely irrelevant because your pants cover the barrel. The increased height does make a difference because the grip tends to protrude from the back more, especially when leaning forward. The butt of the pistol is more likely to make a telltale bulge when covered by a shirt or jacket. Weight? Yes, plenty. You’ll want and need a good sturdy belt and some patience to lug this gun around all day. On the flip side, that weight becomes your friend if you ever have to fire the gun. I’ll take that tradeoff, but your opinion may differ.

Commander

The SW1911 Sc is just a tad less tall and almost an inch shorter. The important feature of this particular model is the reduction in weight and its rounded butt contour. The Sc stands for “Scandium.” To avoid getting into the periodic table of the elements, just know that the frame is made of aluminum, with a smidgen of Scandium. The net result is that the gun is lighter and has a bit of a rare earth element in its name. The rounded butt helps with concealment. Instead of a sharp point pressing against your cover garment, the well-rounded profile dramatically reduces the profile. It also makes the gun very comfortable to shoot.

Left to right: SW1911 Pro Series, SW1911 eSeries, and SW1911 Sc.

Officer

The SW1911 Pro Series spoiled me. It virtually disappeared inside the KingTuk IWB holster. The weight is just a little more than half that of the all-steel Government model. I expected it to be a rambunctious handful to shoot, but was pleasantly surprised. Actually, when shooting two-handed, it’s surprisingly controllable.

What About Performance?

I didn’t have any functional problems with these guns. I found that, especially with the compact guns, shooter technique is the biggest determining factor for feeding and ejection reliability. A gun that functions perfectly for one shooter may have periodic jams for another, simply due to hold and technique.

The primary performance difference between these three guns is velocity. Generally speaking, a bullet fired from a gun with a shorter barrel will leave the muzzle at a slower speed than the same bullet fired in a gun with a longer barrel. To get an idea of how much difference we’re talking about, I clocked muzzle velocities of some common .45 ACP ammo using a Shooting Chrony Beta Master Chronograph placed 15 feet down range.

As an example, I checked the velocity of Federal’s HST 230-grain .45 ACP load with all three guns. The eSeries (Government) fired the HST at 853.1 feet per second, while the Sc (Commander) and Pro Series (Officer) guns achieved 840.9 and 818.7 feet per second averages respectively.

The perceived difference in ease of carry among the three 1911s was enormous.

Know Your Gear

If you're going to make tradeoffs between a gun's convenience, reliability, performance, and ease of concealment, it's important to know your ammunition. Just looking at the extremes, the full-sized Government model and the pint-sized Officer's variant, there are two things to consider. First, your reliability results may vary. While I had no feeding or function troubles with the Smith & Wesson SW1911 Pro Series, not all pistol and ammo choices will yield the same result. Be sure that your compact 1911 works with your choice of ammo. Shoot it with two hands, strong-hand only, and even more with weak hand only. You must be confident that your gun will function for you. Second, account for the reduced velocity from a short barrel. I would highly recommend choosing ammunition that's designed for the lower velocity resulting from short barrels. I've had excellent results with Speer's .45 ACP 230-grain Short Barrel load.

Is There a Winner?

This is a subjective call. Clearly the smaller Sc and Pro Series models are more to handle in the recoil department, but they’re both oh-so-sweet to carry in comparison to a full-size, all-steel 1911. Here’s a compromise solution: In colder months, when I wear more clothes, I’ll stick with the Government size. When it’s hot, and every extra ounce of weight is that much more of a chore, I’ll go with the lighter models.