Range Report: The ‘1911 Commander’ Way

Colt Commander with three different boxes of ammunition

The Colt 1911 Government Model served law enforcement well for many decades. The only legitimate complaint concerning the 1911 was that it was large and heavy. Colt had experimented with shorter and lighter pistols prior to World War II, but it was the maturity of aluminum technology that made the Commander pistol possible. The original Colt Commander featured an aluminum frame and a barrel and slide 0.75 inches shorter than the Government Model. The result was among the best-balanced and fastest handling pistols ever developed. The 28-ounce Commander kicks more than the 39-ounce Government Model, but also carries much easier.

Colt Commander with three different boxes of ammunition
The Colt proves reliable with a variety of ammunition.

In 1970, with the advent of the Series 70 pistols, Colt introduced the ‘Combat Commander.’ This is the Commander with a steel frame. Even better balanced than the original, this pistol is also easier to use well. Today, all Commander-marked Colt 1911 handguns are steel frame guns. The aluminum frame Colt 1911s are marked LW Commander. I recently acquired a new model steel-frame Commander. It is an ideal carry 1911.

Specifications and Features

The first thing I noticed was the very nicely done blue finish—evenly applied and well polished. The grips are nicely checkered Cocobolo. The pistol features several important improvements made in the Series 80 line, including high profile sights, a positive firing pin block or drop safety, and a well-polished feed ramp that ensures the pistol will feed everything from lead semi-wadcutter to exotic bullet styles.

Colt Commander next to 1911 Government model
The Commander is this much shorter than the Government Model- just enough to be truly handy.

The ejection port is larger than the GI pistol. This allows sure ejection of a spent case and the removal of a loaded cartridge during handling. The barrel plug features a dimple preventing the plug from taking flight during disassembly. The trigger action is smooth at five pounds even with minimal take up.

A self-loading pistol trigger must have some take up or creep, and a noticeable reset for safety. This is a good trigger action for personal defense—both tight and smooth. A straight to the rear trigger compression, a low-bore centerline, and a grip that fits most hands well makes the Colt Commander a formidable defensive handgun. The low bore axis limits muzzle flip—there simply isn’t any leverage for the muzzle to rise.

Rowel hammer on Colt Commander pistol
The rear sight is just right for combat use. Note ‘rowel’ hammer, an iconic Commander feature.

Prior to firing, the Colt was disassembled and lubricated along the long bearing surfaces, barrel hood, barrel bushing and loading block. There was an overall impression of good fit and finish with no visible tool marks.

Shots Fired

I loaded several Chip McCormick magazines with HPR Ammo’s 230-grain FMJ loading. This is the traditional .45 ACP ‘break in load.’ If the pistol doesn’t function with hard ball, it will not function at all.

Some pistols require a modest break in period; however, the Colt came out of the box running. Drawing from a long-serving Don Hume belt slide holster, I familiarized myself with the pistol by firing at man-sized targets at 5, 7 and 10 yards. The pistol’s sights are well regulated for 230-grain ball ammunition. The bullet struck the target above the point of aim at 10 yards for the 6 o’ clock hold. Later, I discovered the 200-grain loads struck slightly high and 185-grain loads dead on the bead—ideal for personal defense. The Colt’s 3-dot white beads are a good touch for accurate shooting.

lettering on a Colt Commander slide
A classic? Sure it is, but things become classic, even iconic, because they work.

During the initial firing tests, there were no failures to feed, chamber, fire or eject. The Colt is reliable and brilliantly fast on target. There is no handgun faster to an accurate first-shot hit than the Colt 1911 when properly carried cocked and locked. During the test, I added a few magazines of HPR 230-grain JHP. Accurate and mild to fire, this load gave good results. I also fired a quantity of my personal lead bullet loads. For economy, the pistol must be both reliable and accurate with handloads, and the Colt passed the test. At this point, the Commander was taken home, cleaned and lubricated for another range session.

During the second range session, I explored both absolute accuracy and the pistol’s reliability with JHP defense loads. I was not disappointed. The Federal ‘Classic’ line offers an affordable high quality combination with bullet weights of 185 grains and 230 grains. The 185-grain load proved particularly accurate. At 920 fps, the Federal Classic 185-grain JHP delivered a 2-inch 5-shot group from a solid bench rest at 15 yards. I also fired a few of the Federal 230-grain HST, a popular law enforcement load. The powder burn was clean and the load exhibited a five-shot group of just over two inches.

Moving to the Hornady 185-grain Critical Defense, the FTX load broke 974 fps from the Colt’s 4.25-inch barrel—solid performance. A 15-yard group initially printed a 4-shot cloverleaf with the fifth shot opening the dispersion to 1.5 inches. This dog will run. The Hornady 200-grain XTP is a loading preferred by many professionals based on reliable expansion and a balance that favoring penetration. This load settled into 1.9 inches.

The Commander is reliable with a good mix of ammunition and accurate enough for personal defense with any load. At seven yards, any of these loads will cut a single ragged hole. The Commander is an excellent concealed carry handgun and a good service pistol as well. It is compact, short enough for concealment, and fast on target. This pistol is among the best Colt 1911 handguns to date.

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Do you have a favorite Commander-length 1911? Share your experiences with it in the comment section.


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Comments (49)

  1. Was issued a colt .45 in Nam. Loved that weapon. Friend has a commander that he claims is all stainless steel. Can’t find anything on a stainless commander. Did colt ever make one or is my friend mistaken. Thx for any info you can give me on this.

    1. Series 80 stainless Combat Commander. Shot one that performed flawlessly that belonged to a friend years ago. Ended up with that pistols twin years later, and it shoots as well as I remember my friends shooting 20 plus years ago!

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