I have said it before, and I’ll say it again… I love compact .45 automatics. They make me giddy inside. I love the 1911 platform as well. Make that 1911 a compact, and I can really geek out. But hold on a second, something is not right here. Springfield, we have a problem.
When John Moses Browning designed the 1911 Government Model, he truly created a work of art. A pistol that is almost flawless. Since then every gunsmith worth his file has worked at removing the "almost" in one way or another.
One of the shortcomings of the 1911 is that it isn’t short. It’s quite a large pistol and sets the standard for the dimensions of a "full sized" automatic. When the 1911 was born it was intended to be a "Horse Pistol"; meaning a large and powerful weapon to be used one handed while mounted. This it is, and in this it serves well. The problem is that the word "mounted" has changed in its meaning. In the past, to be mounted meant to be riding on horseback. Nowadays mounted means riding in a vehicle while sitting on a seat. (No?
Then why do they call getting out of the vehicle in the Army "dismounting"? Huh? Let’s get back on track.) With a pistol strapped to your side, the act of sitting down in your vehicle can become painful. The 1911 is a bit too long to do this comfortably.
Colt responded to this problem by creating the "Commander". This is a regular 1911 that has a barrel and slide about an inch shorter that the Government Model. The Commander made sitting in vehicles much easier to deal with as you didn’t have your weapon cramming up into your side. You still had the full length grip and you really didn’t give up all that much in terms of accuracy or ballistics. In fact, even today, Commanders and 1911’s in the Commander Style are some of the best carry guns one could hope to have. They remain popular with professionals still. A local police chief out here carries one. As good as the Commander is, it doesn’t lend itself to concealed carry work. The length of the grip is the problem now. Its length is sometimes a giveaway in compromising situations. This isn’t a good thing. Colt answered the call with a release they called the "Officer’s ACP". The Officer’s is even shorter yet in the barrel and slide, and shorter in the grip length. This makes for a concealable carry package that is just about ideal. It gives up a round in magazine capacity but makes up for it in surprise.
Other makers of 1911-style arms have generally followed these three basic sizes ever since. Some have tried going smaller, and some have even gone longer (what we call Long Slides) but pretty much, these are the benchmarks and define size descriptions when talking about 1911-style guns even when they are not made by Colt.
Springfield makes a Commander-style gun that they call the "Champion", and they make an Officer’s size gun that they call the "Ultra Compact" which is what I am holding right now. Springfield’s Ultra Compact (or UC as I’ll call it from here on out) feels very good in the hand. While small, it feels beefy and authoritative thanks to its solid stainless steel construction. As far as compact 1911’s go, this package is just about ideal. It lends itself to comfortable shooting while still being small enough to carry with you every day, all day. It feels great in the hand. Unlike smaller 1911’s such as the Detonics Combat Master and others that are following those lines, the UC and Officer’s size guns have enough grip length to give your pinky finger a place to stay. Some shooters find free hanging pinkies to be distracting. While I am not bothered by that so much, a full grip with the whole hand is more comfortable.
Speaking of comfort. The UC comes with soft rubber grips with molded finger grooves. These are the famous Hogue grips and are just about the most comfortable grips you can get on any gun, especially for a 1911. I think JMB would have approved of the Hogues, and even have put them on his own sidearm. But they are not just for feeling good. The Hogues do a wonderful job of keeping the weapon in full control during recoil no matter how hot the load you are firing. This is why a lot of competitors as well as police officers use the Hogues. The downside of these soft rubber grips is that they can sometimes be a little sticky to some fabrics. This could result in the weapon becoming exposed because the covering garment has ridden up on the grip. Concealed carry means hidden carry and exposure is a bad thing… sometimes in some situations it could even be a dangerous thing. For deeper concealment, a good option is what are know as "slimline grips". These are wood grips that look like the typical wood grips we all know and love, but are much thinner. These also require the use of shorter grip screws, but the overall result is a dramatic reduction in the width of the whole grip area. It makes the gun feel very flat, and makes it that much easier to conceal and keep concealed. Were I to go out and purchase a UC, slimline grips would be purchased at the same time. It’s a matter of personal opinion if slimline grips make all that much difference to CCW work, but sometimes just feeling like it does is just as good. That extra touch of confidence can sometimes make all difference.
The UC I’m holding sports Novak style night sights. For those who are new to the subject of arms and do not know what "night sights" are, let me give you the run down. They take a tiny amount of radioactive gas and put it in a wee little capsule. This gas is Tritium, and it’s rather docile. There is not enough of it to be dangerous, just enough to give the capsule a slight glow. These capsules are fixed into the gun’s sights. The results are not all that obvious during the day, but at night the little glow that these capsules put out is enough to allow you to align your weapon’s sights. This is important and I suggest that any gun you carry in the dark should sport night sights. You remain just as liable for where your bullet goes in the dark as you are during daylight. Another good idea would be to carry a small but very powerful flashlight, but that is another subject. While I am not a fan of Novak style sights, I do like the fact that these are loaded with Tritium. These will do just fine.
One of the things talented gunsmiths did to the 1911 was to give it an ambidextrous safety. This is considered to be a custom feature. The UC comes with it. I find it to be a nice touch, but one that is over rated. The safety on a 1911 can be manipulated with the index finger when held left handed, but I guess if you are left handed you will find this setup to be most accommodating. It looks good, and it does give the gun some added symmetry. Springfield has another little added bonus in the UC, and that is a lifetime warranty.
Actually Springfield backs up all their firearms with this lifetime warranty and that is a very good thing. For one, it shows that Springfield has confidence in their products. For another, it shows a commitment to customer satisfaction. With this pistol, Springfield’s warranty is a very good thing. I had to call them on it. More on that in a minute.
This gun is actually owned by my very good friend, Steve and he has lent it to me for the purpose of this article. I’ve always had very good experiences with Springfield Armory’s weapons, and when it comes to 1911 style production pistols they are my very favorite maker. I was looking forward to shooting this gun. Steve and I loaded up a number of pistols and headed down to Rangemasters in Springville, Utah. Rangemasters is my favorite indoor shooting range in the whole state. Just something about it; the joint feels very comfortable to me. Maybe this is because of the knowledgeable, helpful and casual staff there. Maybe it’s the cleanliness and the décor of the shop. Whatever it is, it feels like home. Two hours there passes in an instant.
One of the new features Rangemasters has is an action target lane with electronically controlled pop-up steel plates. There is a remote control device that looks like a cordless phone. (Well, that’s because it is) All you have to do is press a number on the phone and up pops a preprogrammed pattern of poppers. (Say that ten times fast.) The plates will either drop automatically when the timer runs out, or when you hit them. After we punched some rounds through paper targets, we worked the pop up lane hard. We laid out a selection of pistols in different calibers with loaded mags to match. Then we started the game. Targets would pop up and we would engage them until we had to reload. Once the gun ran dry a second time, we would transition to a new pistol… sometimes .45 sometimes 9MM. After 50 rounds, you knew you were having fun. Unfortunately the UC was not having any of it. It shot like an enthusiastic jazz band… always jamming. We tried different loads with it, but it just wasn’t wanting to cooperate. This is the first Springfield 1911 style gun that I’ve ever had such a problem with. It jammed on me, it jammed on Steve. And we think it jammed all by itself laying on the bench just for spite.
This was truly disappointing. Especially because this pistol was so precise in its accuracy. The first time I picked it up, dropped the slide on a loaded magazine, and fired this weapon on one of our paper targets; I was rewarded with an exact center punch right through the X ring. The second shot was right next to the first. At that very second I fell in love with this pistol. But as I was saying… this pistol wasn’t having any of it. Evidently it thought it had done enough shooting for the day and wanted to go home. Every other shot after that point resulted in a failure-to-extract jam. Also something I had never experienced with a Springfield 1911. Failures to extract are just about the worst jam you could have in a defensive firearm. Such a jam requires you to drop the mag, cycle the action a few times to make sure the fired brass is finally ejected, and then once ejected you do a reload. It’s slow. Not your normal "Tap, Rack, Bang" clearance drill.
We tried everything we could to resolve the issue there at the range. It just didn’t want to work. Steve told me to take the gun home with me to see if I could get it sorted out. I think he wanted me to take it then because had I not, he would have chucked the thing into the Great Salt Lake. For awhile there, I was tempted to do so myself. Once home I stripped the gun down and went though it in detail. I cleaned it. I lubed it. I inspected each part carefully. Then I went out and shot it… and it still jammed. Again, stripped and cleaned and inspected, and everything looked fine. I was befuddled. I could find no fault. The extractor looked fine, and it seemed to be in proper tension. I wanted to get my gunsmith to take a look at it but he was unavailable. So I called Springfield’s toll free number. Remember when I mentioned that lifetime warranty? Time to put that to the test.
The gal on the phone was a pleasure to speak with. Very courteous and helpful. She gave me an RMA number that authorized me to return the gun to Springfield for their gunsmiths to examine. I would pay for the shipping out to them, and they would reimburse me that fee. They would work on the gun and ship it back to be at no charge. Unfortunately, due to article deadlines, we are only partway through this warranty process. Meaning that Springfield has the gun right now, they are doing their thing with it… but it hasn’t come back yet. I’ll write a follow up on this once it is returned and report on the fix and if it resolved the issue.
Let’s use this as an object lesson. If you have a gun for just plinking with, just to pop off some rounds with… that’s one thing. Buy your gun, a box of ammo, and go have some fun. (don’t forget your cleaning kit) However, if you are going to buy your gun for personal defense, to stake your life on and the lives of your family; you have got to be absolutely certain beyond all doubt that your weapon and your ammunition is reliable and trustworthy. Many professionals advocate a 500 round trial period. Some even say to not even start counting for reliability until after you have broken the gun in with 500 rounds.
I’m not quite that stringent and feel that after ten fifty round boxes of ammo, you pretty much have a good idea if your weapon and ammo is reliable… with that brand and load of ammo. If you switch brands and loads, your trial period starts over. Understand, this is with your chosen carry ammo. Doesn’t matter if you are going to shoot all day long with cheap Winchester bulk pack ammo, but load it up with Golden Sabers to carry with you at your side. Those Golden Sabers might be popular, and they might work fine in your buddy’s pistol. But they remain untested in your pistol. You are betting your life on this. Moreover, you are also betting the lives of those you love. This is something you can’t go cheap or lazy on. You owe it to yourself, and to them, to do your due diligence. This pistol jamming caught us by surprise. We are lucky that it did so in the controlled environment of an indoor shooting range and not out in the real word. Don’t let your weapon surprise you.
Thanks to the United States Concealed Carry Association for this article. To get USCCA tactical emails free just click here and sign up.