By Massad Ayoob, GUNS Magazine
When John Moses Browning and the Colt company delivered the 1911 .45 Automatic Colt Pistol upon the world, it was already in its iconic format of 5-inch barrel with proportional length slide, and long service-size grip-frame. At mid-20th century, Colt introduced the Commander, with light aluminum frame and a 4.25-inch slide.
In 1985, Colt debuted the Officers, a subcompact 1911 .45 inspired by the Army’s handmade General Officers pistol and custom chopped and channeled 1911s pioneered by Armand Swenson and George Sheldon in the private sector. The barrel was down to 3.5 inches now, and the butt shortened for concealment, sacrificing a round in its shorter magazine.
It became apparent to shooters that the 3.5-inch-barrel version had so short a cycle time that it wasn’t nearly as reliable as the bigger pistols, though Colt eventually would make their successor to the Officers, the little Defender, which is as reliable a subcompact .45 as any on the market. Well into the 1990s, the Colt stable delivered the CCO.
The name stood for Concealed Carry Officers, and the pistol comprised a 4.25-inch barrel/slide assembly atop the short butt and aluminum alloy frame of the Lightweight Officers. Gun writer Ray Ordorica publicly proclaimed it the ideal format for a concealment 1911 .45.
In all these years since, I’ve never been able to dispute him on that. The CCO carved a unique niche for itself.
Other companies have since offered 1911s in this format. Dan Wesson even unabashedly calls theirs the CCO. Nighthawk offers it as the T3, in lightweight or all steel. The Smith & Wesson version in their SW1911 line is SKU 108310. SIG SAUER’s 1911 series has embraced the CCO concept in at least two versions, the C3 and the RCS. I’ve seen multiple Kimbers that appear to be 4-inch (rather than the traditional 4.25-inch Commander length) atop frames that will take an Officers magazine. And I’ve undoubtedly missed a few others.
Over the years, Colt made the CCO in various iterations. The folks at Gunsite Training Center thought highly enough of it to commission Colt to produce an exclusive Gunsite CCO, available only through the Gunsite Pro Shop. Curiously, though, I can’t find a variation of the CCO on the current Colt website.
The hardest part of a full-size 1911 to conceal is the butt. Whether in hip holster or shoulder rig, the short butt of the CCO genre simply “hides better.” The CCO/Officers length fits well in most hands and doesn’t really sacrifice control compared to a full-size Commander in the same caliber. Reliability is there: led by Colt, the industry has learned to make 4.25-inch 1911 .45s run as surely as their bigger brothers. Accuracy is there, too. My own battery includes a plain Colt CCO, a fancier one, and an all-steel Nighthawk T3. All give me about 2-inch groups at 25 yards.
The original Officers was built around a 6-shot magazine, just as the original 1911 mag held seven. Modern design (thank you Chip McCormick, Bill Wilson, Bill Rogers, et. al.) has upped the ante in both sizes. Today, we have reliable 7-rounders for our compact single-stack 1911 .45s, and 8-rounders for the larger ones. (While a longer magazine will fit an Officers/CCO frame, it can overtravel and lock up the gun if rammed in hard when at slide-lock. Consider the Wilson option of a longer magazine with an outside stud that blocks overtravel in these little 1911 .45s.)
I’m writing this after 2 months with the Nighthawk T3 as my primary carry gun, loaded with Winchester Ranger-T .45 ACP 230-grain JHP. Modern bullets like the Ranger-T are designed to expand even out of shorter barrels. I acquired the T3 in 2009, before Nighthawk offered it in the lightweight format; done over again, I’d take the latter. The factory Colt sights on my lightweight CCOs are good, but the Heinie Straight Eights on my Nighthawk are better, hence the current preference. Even in all-steel format, they’re still slim 1911s that ride oh-so-comfortably inside the waistband, and in an outside the belt holster, the 4.25-inch barrel length lets enough slide ride against the hip to tuck the butt firmly and discreetly into the body.
The CCO and its clones are “try it and you’ll like it” guns: you have to shoot and carry them to truly appreciate them. When you do, you’ll find out why Ordorica and so many others have found this little-recognized format to be ideal for carrying the 1911 .45 concealed.
Colt Mfg. Co.
P.O. Box 1868, Hartford, CT 06114
5169 Route 12, Norwich, NY 13815
1306 W. Trimble
Berryville, AR 72616
2234 CR 719, Berryville, AR 72616