Gun Review: Detonics Combat Master

Salt Lake City, Utah has a nice, quiet, little boutique mall over on the east side called Trolley Square. When I lived in the Sugar House area of SLC on 700 East, my family and I used to go there on an almost regular basis. We lived just down the street. My boys liked it because of the arcade upstairs, and I liked it because of the Brazilian grill. There used to be a neat little Celtic shop there with music, art and jewelry. My wife loved that store; it was one of her favorites.


I was planning on going out there to buy my wife some of that jewelry for a special occasion. I was gassed up and ready to head out when I learned that the little shop was no longer there. Well, crap! So much for that. It was time for a plan B. I got my wife something else.

About 3 hours later, the news reported something dreadful…a shooting right there at Trolley Square. Three hours is about the amount of time that it would have taken me to get there, driving a tick above the speed limit like I do. Had I gone, I would have been there right when the peace and calmness of Trolley Square was blasted apart by a maniac with a shotgun. I would have been in the thick of it. I always park in the corner parking lot where he fired at people. He entered the mall at the entrance where my destination used to be and where I would have entered. Had I gone, I’d have very likely come face to face with this monster, and it would not have ended well. The gun hidden on my hip was a compact 9mm. The maniac wielded a pump-action 12 gauge. Those are not odds that I would want to roll the dice on. I am glad that I made the last minute decision not to go.

An off-duty police officer from Ogden, about an hour’s drive north of Salt Lake, did go. He packed his trusty .45 and went on his way, not expecting an ugly event, but he was prepared for it, not just with hardware, but with mental conditioning. When the shooting started, this man, this hero, kept his head. He identified himself to responding uniform police, he coordinated with them, and when they made the move, he had the self-confidence and self-control to focus on what had to be done to save the lives of hundred of people.

The exact details of what the off-duty police officer did have not been publicly disclosed. All we know is that he used his concealed carry weapon to engage and neutralize the shooter. Though there were 5 deaths from the rampage, if it wasn’t for this man with a concealed carry handgun, the body count would have been enormous. The shooter had hundreds of people trapped in small shops just waiting to be executed.


It boggles my mind to think of the possible outcomes of going to Trolley Square that day. It shook me up a bit and taught me a good, hard lesson. Don’t think that your part of the world is immune to ugliness and violence. Don’t say to yourself, "It can’t happen here." At the same time, we can’t live in fear. We are not a paranoid people that expect goblins to spring upon us at any given second. But we have to be prepared for violence, just in case. This is why we carry concealed weapons. This is why you are reading this magazine. This is why we try to learn and improve the skills that could save our lives and the lives of our loved ones. My 13-year-old son would have been with me. He would have been in the line of fire just like I would have been. The thought that I might have let him down haunts me to the core. What if I was taken by surprise, my reaction was too slow, my aim was off, or my shot ineffective? I kid you not. I wasn’t able to sleep for weeks. I’ve made an oath to myself: I will strive harder to better prepare myself for such dark hours. I will train harder and practice harder. And should the time come that I am tested again, I will hit harder. I’m even trying to get myself back into fighting shape. I’m at 50 push-ups on the Army PT test. I used to be able to do 75. I’m working on getting that back. I’ve been out for a long time now, but at least I’m doing something. What are you doing?

I am not the only person to have such thoughts. Since the Trolley Square shooting, I’ve been selling a lot of compact handguns. A good portion of those have been concealable .45s. Most of those have been made by Kimber, the rumored brand of our Ogden hero. (I don’t use that word lightly.) People want guns that can disappear in polite company, while being capable of delivering as much firepower as possible if the need should arise. Big boom taking up little room.


This is where the Detonics Combat Master comes in…the king of the compact .45 pistols, which is imitated, but never duplicated. I’ve reviewed the Detonics Combat Master before. Long time readers might recall my review of the Combat Master from the old Detonics Company. Remember the one with the wood grips that split in my hand when firing test shots? Good times. Detonics, as a company, is not a Cinderella story. It’s more like the mythological story of the Pheonix. It lives for a time, burns up and dies, and then rises again from the ashes. I will not go into the history of the company. If you want to read that, go to and read it there.

I’ve always believed that Detonics was ahead of the game, ahead of its time. Look at everything Detonics developed for the 1911 type pistol that is now the norm. Bushingless barrels, captive recoil springs, multiple recoil springs together, lowered ejection ports, 3 dot sights…This is just the short list, pretty much all of the best things we enjoy in our 1911s. Heck, Detonics was even able to fix the problem of galling in stainless steel guns. Jerry "I liked it so much I bought the company" Ahern is not a guy to let things coast along. The guy is an idea man, a writer. He’s made his living coming up with new things. I’m looking forward to seeing what is coming next from such mad scientists.

Even though the gun is so small, it shoots very well. The sight radius is short and even more abbreviated, thanks to the DCM’s unique profile. This makes accurate shooting more of a challenge to the under-practiced. If you apply yourself, you can make good hits with it. With a smidgen of dedication, making hits becomes instinctive. Recoil is perfectly manageable, thanks to the well engineered recoil springs. It recoils less than a Kimber Ultra Carry. The only gun of this type that has less recoil is the Springfield V-10, which sports 5 compensating ports on each side of the top of the barrel, but it is longer by half of an inch.


My pinky swings freely under the magazine floor plate. This used to be annoying to me and is probably annoying to most shooters. After examining and shooting small handguns on a regular basis, I’ve grown used to this. It’s not that I am going to start holding up my pinky while sipping tea or anything, but when I fire a handgun that has the room for a full-hand grip, it feels like I’m driving a luxury car, like a new Cadillac STS. Still, with only a two-fingered grip, and firing full-power .45 loads such as the Winchester SXT round, the DCM remains fully controllable and confidence-inspiring.


When I showed the DCM to a group of shooters, I was asked how much the DCM retails for. I answered, "Twelve hundred." You would have thought I said, "The keys to your house," by the reactions. Really, twelve is not that bad when you consider what you are getting, which is a solid stainless, custom featured, compact 1911 with no metal injection molded (MIM) parts. MIM means that the parts are made by squirting liquid metal into a mold the same way plastic parts are made. The upshot to this is that the parts can be made cheaper and faster. The downside is that they can contain voids internally that you don’t know about until the parts break. MIM parts are also a touch more prone to shearing and breaking than other metal parts. I know that thousands of MIM parts are in thousands of guns that get shot every day and are just fine. Yet, I’ve seen several MIM parts that look like they just cracked and crumbled. You should be just fine, but I’d rather not have MIM parts in my handguns. My youngest son’s toy gun? Fine. My gun that I might one day have to use to defend my boy’s life with? No thank you. I’ve had gunsmiths replace the MIM parts in my other 1911s. It is nice to not to have to do that on this one. I don’t mind paying a premium for this. I feel like I am getting a better gun for my money.


The DCM really has only one peer at this level in the game, and that is the Kimber CDP. The Detonics brings to the game a long, historically interesting pedigree, while the CDP brings with it a snappy, two-tone finish and night sights. Really, the only advantage the CDP has is those night sights. Luckily, tritium is not reserved for Kimber alone. Both pistols have a similar MSRP. The CDP is $1255, while the DCM is a straight-up $1200. The CDP is also longer gripped and therefore much more difficult to conceal.

Yes, these are more than many production 1911 type guns, but so what? Are you going to cheap-out on your parachute, or are you going to buy the one most likely to keep you from getting splattered? To me, in something like this, price is not a consideration. Firearms are those things that justify the expression, "You get what you pay for." Save your money by buying cheap things like mayonnaise and ketchup, but get a good defensive firearm. Many gun shops have a layaway program. Save your spare change, or start a swear jar; but please, don’t be cheap when it comes to your personal defensive weapon.

While I don’t mind paying extra for a nice gun, I do feel that the Combat Master could use some upgrades. Back in the 80s, no one had night sights. This is now a new century, and a gun with this purpose needs night sights. It could also use a carry bevel or have a melt job done to it to slick up all of the edges. That has become a common trait of higher-end CCW guns, and it should be standard here. The Combat Master started all this. It should be the final word; one should want for nothing with this pistol. Yet without these things, the gun remains fantastic. Another thing that might work out very well on the DCM is an LDA type trigger, such as Para’s Light Double Action. I know several shooters who love the DCM, but would never buy one or carry one because it is a single-action-only that doesn’t have a grip safety. Yes, I remind them of the Browning High Power, but they are not convinced. They remain turned off by the lack of a grip safety or the fact that you carry this with the hammer down on a hot chamber. That is too "old school" for them. Maybe the DCM isn’t for everyone. That’s fine. There is no accounting for taste. But Detonics as a company might want to look at addressing these issues to bring in new customers who do not remember the 80s. More customers couldn’t hurt.


I’ve not mentioned the grips yet. For such small pieces of lumber, these grips are gorgeous. The photos do not do it justice. The deep red tones and flawless checkering…man. The clean lines of the stainless steel with these red wood grips…sexy. Forgive me for sounding crass, but this is like a hot blond in a little red dress. It makes the Combat Master look like it was named wrong. This is like Scarlett Johanson winning an Ultimate Fighter Championship. It is a shame that such a good looking handgun has to be worn concealed. I wish society was still like the 1800s, and we could walk around town with open holsters to show off guns like this.

In shooting the gun, I am reminded of just how good such a small gun can be. It is perfectly reliable with all ammunition fired and easy on the hands. Jerry warned me that the new DCM is not fully reliable with the old DCM magazines. I heeded his warning for only a little while and of course, ended up using an old one too. It still didn’t jam on me. I fired what I thought was a nice shot group. In my previous review, I said, "These new Detonics guns should be just as good if not better than the old, and if that is the case, I would recommend getting one at the first opportunity." Guys, there is no question about this any more. The new ones are every bit as good, if not better than the older ones. Better yet, Detonics also makes a bunch of other 1911 type guns, in case the Combat Master is just not your thing. The line forms to the right.

Thanks to our friends at the United States Concealed Carry Association for this article.

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