Commanders, Defenders and Officers Model 1911s

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While heavier than some pistols, the steel frame Commander is very controllable and well balanced.

While heavier than some pistols, the steel frame Commander is very controllable and well balanced.

A LW frame 1911 is not for non-dedicated personnel. The pistol demands attention to detail and proper technique to master. I find the lightweight 4-inch barrel 1911 easier to control than a polymer frame .40 caliber pistol, but there is time and effort in the equation. The difference is that you will be able to reach a high level of competence with the 1911 that may elude shooters using the polymer frame pistols. The 4-inch pistol certainly falls into the ‘if I could have only one pistol’ category. It is that versatile.

At this point you may reasonably ask for a recommendation on which 1911 is best for you. My recommendation is always to begin with a steel frame 5-inch barrel Government Model. I might add that it is best to purchase the best quality handgun you can afford for a good return on performance and future trade-in.

If you are beginning with a concealment pistol, then the steel frame Commander is an excellent first choice. I simply do not recommend jumping into a lightweight frame 1911 without considerable experience with the Government Model. A good 4-inch barrel steel frame pistol may be concealed, and with proper selection of a good holster such as the inside the waistband holster illustrated from Milt Sparks, then you will have a good comfortable platform for carrying the pistol.

There is more weight but as you begin your shooting career you will appreciate it.

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Moving to the lightweight 3-inch barrel pistols such as the Colt Defender is a gradual process. As an example, I began my 1911 journey with the Combat Commander. It was some time before I considered the smaller pistols, and I found many of them not as reliable as the Government Model. Times have changed. The Colt Defender and the compact Kimber pistols are another story. These handguns demand attention to detail but they are reliable, accurate enough for personal defense, and good examples of the gunmaker’s art.

Today we have 4-inch pistols with night sights and complete reliability – and frame rails as well. The LW Operator is a first-class all-around 1911.

Today we have 4-inch pistols with night sights and complete reliability – and frame rails as well. The LW Operator is a first-class all-around 1911.

They are not as useful for all around informal target practice and competition shooting but that is not their design goal. These are first class lightweight personal defense handguns. When you consider the snub nose .38s and double action only 9mm pistols in wide use, the Colt Defender as an example is a wonderful defensive handgun in trained hands.

The short sight radius of the Defender and the Kimber compact pistols may challenge marksmanship. A slight misalignment of the front sight is less noticeable when the sight radius is shorter than average. I recommend that any compact defensive handgun have good sights. Superior sights are an aid in hit probability, perhaps more important in the case of the compacts that with the full size handguns. Fit, feel and a long sight radius may be compromised in the compact pistols, but, just the same, these are first class defensive handguns.

Despite their short grips and short sight radius, the position of their controls is all 1911, and that means very ergonomic. Increased recoil is far from startling if you have began your shooting career on the Government Model. These handguns are a technical accomplishment well worth your praise and attention.

This article is an excerpt from the book Gun Digest Shooter’s Guide to the 1911. Click here to order your copy.

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4 thoughts on “Commanders, Defenders and Officers Model 1911s

  1. Harold

    Warning: since I was a teen, the M1911 has fit my hand like a glove, for me it’s ergonomically perfect so I may be a special case.

    I wonder if the author is overstating the issues with switching between a somewhat “lightweight” model and a normal one. I own both a 100% steel (aside from the mainspring block) 5 inch model plus a Kimber Pro Carry (first generation), which is an aluminum frame 4 inch model. I notice *some* difference when I fire them, but it’s not marked, doesn’t require adaptation and doesn’t seem to make much difference in accuracy (then again I’m not shooting bulls-eyes).

    I agree that a standard 5 inch steel model ideally would be the base of your M1911 collection (it’s what I have for home defense) but don’t be too afraid to try one of the smaller models and see how it preforms in your hands. I can say the Pro Carry is nearly a joy to carry (still weights a bit much), and as usual the thinness of the M1911 makes it conceal pretty well. I also would not be upset if the Pro Carry was the only one I had; it or an equally high quality model with the same features should be able to earn your complete confidence.

  2. SmithKoWitz

    Very good article, although I can not say I totally agree with some of the thoughts about short barreled 1911’s. I began my 45 1911 experience, shooting with the Kimber SIS Ultra. Awesome piece of work; very accurate and easy to handle; helped by it’s heavyweight. I have shot a lot of different handguns (pistols and revolvers), still find this to be one of my favorites. Everything about it just feels good. I am hoping to check out a Kimber Super Carry HD in PRO 4″ size one day. I also have a Springfield TRP Full Size 5″; it is an equally fine piece, though I still like the SIS better. I’ve also looked at the new S&W 1911’s; might have to test ride one of these in the future, sure do feel nice in the hand. I noticed you didn’t mention 3.5″ barrel 1911’s. They are also another nice alternative if you want a carry conceal 1911. I have a Rock Island 3.5″. For a relatively inexpensive (less than 5 bills) 1911, it is a well made reliable piece.