By Mark Kakkuri, GunWriting.com
As much as I enjoy military history, handguns, shooting, and the Second Amendment, I actually don’t own a 1911 style pistol. In fact, my 1911 experience is quite limited, having only fired a few Kimbers, a Colt Lightweight Commander, Wilson CQB, and Taurus PT 1911. Without a doubt, each of those guns and the 1911 platform overall have proved quite impressive. And with over 100 years of history behind the venerable 1911, it’s easier than ever to see the thoughtfulness and innovation in John Moses Browning’s seemingly timeless pistol design.
Here’s where I might get in trouble with 1911 purists: My preferred handgun is a Glock 19 or a Smith & Wesson J-frame. To demonstrate, however, my open-mindedness to trying out new (or old) design philosophies in handguns, I borrowed a new Colt 1911. It is not, however, a five-inch barreled Government Model. Nor is it a Commander-sized version. Instead I picked the three-inch barreled Colt Defender, a design that some say would never be approved of by Mr. Browning. Moreover, I’m a bit skeptical that a 100-year old pistol design, even with modern engineering, can match the profound simplicity of the newer Glock or the even older revolver. Speculation aside, here’s my report on how a Colt Defender performs in putting its first 200 rounds down range. I would prefer shooting over 300 rounds as a break-in but I’ve only got so much time and money. Two hundred will have to do.
The Defender owner’s manual says nothing about a break-in period for this pistol but it is common knowledge that some pistols need it. So, after thoroughly cleaning and lubricating the Defender, I took it to an indoor range along with four 50-round boxes of Winchester 230-grain .45 ACP Personal Defense ammo (JHP). The store manager assigned me to Lane 9 and provided a paper silhouette target.
Stacking up the boxes of ammo on the bench, I ran the silhouette out to 30 feet. This wasn’t an accuracy test but I wanted a steady target that would give me some impression of the Colt’s ability to hit at point of aim. Loading up the seven-round magazines, it was time to start shooting.
I recorded every round fired by using a two-column table — the first column numbered the rows from one to 200 and the second column would be where I would take notes about each shot, any stoppages, and so on. For the record, I never cleaned or even wiped off the Colt during the 200 round test. Here’s what happened:
First, I’m pleased to report that every round on which the Colt’s hammer fell, fired. I squeezed the trigger 200 times and put 200 rounds down range and into the target. In this respect, I experienced zero failures to fire. On the way to putting those 200 rounds down range, however, the slide locked back prematurely — in other words, with a loaded magazine — a total of 11 times. This happened four times in the first 50 rounds (#2, #29, #33, and #36), five times in the second 50 rounds (#70, #72, #90, #93, and #94), once in the third 50 rounds (#126 — in this instance, after holding back for about two seconds, the slide went forward and seated the round on its own), and once in the fourth 50 rounds (#165). As such, the longest streak of uninterrupted firing occurred with rounds 166 through 200 (34 rounds). I don’t know what contributed to the premature locking back of the slide. As best as I could tell, I had a firm grip on the Defender and my hands weren’t bumping the slide release during firing.
Two rounds (#21 and #121) failed to go into battery. In both instances the round was only partially stripped from the magazine but ended up pointing at the top of the barrel chamber. In both instances I pushed the magazine release and tugged the slide, causing the magazine and the round to drop down through the magazine well. Both times I reinserted the round into the magazine, reinserted the magazine into the pistol, chambered the errant round, and continued to fire.
The slide always locked back whenever I fired the last round of magazine.
At round #136 I switched from aiming at the center mass of the silhouette—which at this point was quickly disappearing—to aiming at the “head” of the silhouette.
At about round #150, I noticed a cut on my trigger finger.
At round #200, I think the Defender was just getting warmed up and broken in. In fact, so was I. Unfortunately I was out of ammo.
Some other notes about the experience:
The Defender’s rubber Hogue wraparound grip, while bulky, provides excellent purchase. I never felt like I needed to re-seat my hand or get a better grip during the 200-round test. While I initially thought the extra girth of the Hogue grip as well as its rubber composition would make it more difficult to conceal, this proved to be unfounded. The Defender disappeared easily in an IWB holster. Moreover, the Hogue grip actually aids in drawing the Defender from concealment.
Next, the sights, controls and final thoughts
The Defender’s stock sights are the familiar and simple three-dot configuration but clear and adequate to the task. In concert with the Hogue grip, it was relatively easy to double-tap and get back on target for additional follow-up shots. During my range time, the Defender easily shot accurately. The bullet holes you see in the silhouette got there with very little effort in aiming.
The Defender’s controls are configured in standard 1911 style, the only exception being the manual safety which has no extension and is more of a rounded nub. It engages positively. I actually prefer this style of safety as it seems far less likely to accidentally disengage when carrying. Whatever the problem was with the slide locking back prematurely, the slide lock itself functioned fine. The magazine release functioned well on the range; in other instances, it requires a very firm push to release a full magazine.
The Defender’s trigger was crisp, probably around four pounds, with no creep whatsoever.
The Defender’s slide features sharp grooves that certainly aid in manipulating the slide but would quite literally cut into flesh if you handled them just right (or wrong).
The overall fit and finish of the Colt Defender suggests that it is a hard-working, reliable pistol. Even though the trigger and mainspring housing are made of plastic, nothing on the pistol feels cheap. The polished and matte steel slide looks and feels very durable. The beavertail is not upswept like other 1911 pistols; it retains a classic and simple look and did its job perfectly.
The combination of my experience on the range with a close analysis of the controls leads me to believe that the Colt Defender, even with “100 Years of Service” under its belt, functions very much like a young pony—more in the realm of “force” as opposed to “finesse.” This pistol is all business, tough as nails, and built for years of dependable service. And the initial break-in period was revealing: despite the slide lock backs, the Defender’s performance improved over 200 rounds. Still, another 100 to 200 rounds might be needed before it is fully ready. If I can find some ammo, another trip to the range is in order.
Mark Kakkuri is a nationally published freelance writer who covers guns and gear, Second Amendment issues, and the business of the firearms industry. He blogs at gunwriting.com.