Steel and Polymer Shoot Out

By Bob Campbell published on in Firearms

As time marches on, some become wiser, or at least enjoy some degree of enlightenment. It is odd, I suppose, that I enjoy diverse people and far-flung lands and cling stubbornly to my steel and walnut handguns.

And Ford and Chevy as well, although that is another story.

Dark silver/gray Springfield XDM, barrel pointed to the left on a light brown background

The Springfield XDM is remarkably compact, with the flush-fit magazine- an advantage of polymer.

Just the same, I am not blind to change and, as a professional, I must give every product a thorough test and fair shake. That fair shake means a good workout and comparison of performance. While most handguns have some merit, I deploy a 1911 most often.

I have been blessed to live long enough to enjoy my own contradictions. As one of the children pointed out, I drive a rock-solid 4WD daily, and my avowed favorite ride is a plastic car.

So, why not a plastic handgun? If the plastic car is the greatest American car and I can wrap myself in fiberglass, then why not a polymer pistol on the hip?

I am one who grew when there were few respected gun makers. Smith and Colt were the ones, and Ruger was an upstart. Others came and went. There was a well-defined line between quality handguns and ironmongery. It takes time to accept competing products, much less competing ideas of manufacturing.

Even when something works for other people, it does not always work for me.

Silver 1911 pointed at a target

This is the best shot we know, and he finds the 1911 a good fit.

Steel vs. Polymer Challenge

My assignment was to compare a 1911 .45 to a modern, polymer-frame handgun. Such an assignment is often immensely interesting and leads to personal development. I never believe there is only one gun for everyone, or one gun for every situation.

While effectiveness and speed on the range are important, the day-to-day handling, comfort in carrying, confidence in skill and user friendliness of the handgun are important considerations.

With all these considerations taken into appraisal, the polymer-frame handgun, with its striker-fired action, looks very good.

Features: 1911 Colt Series 80 Commander vs. Springfield XDM

Black Springfield XDM, barrel to the right, with a box of ammo and loose ammo on a weathered board background

The Springfield XDM proved reliable with every type of ammunition tested.

For comparison, I chose a Colt Series 80 Commander, a steel-frame, stainless steel 1911 with a 4.25-inch barrel. The magazine holds eight rounds. Trigger compression is 5 pounds even. I compared it to a Springfield XDM with a 3.8-inch barrel with trigger compression of 6.1 pounds.

The first comparison is inevitable—price. The XDM is several hundred dollars less than the Commander. Then we look at the accessories supplied with each. The Colt comes with a spare magazine; the Springfield includes three. The Springfield box includes one 13-round and three 9-round magazines, along with a plastic range holster and magazine carrier. And it is well-appointed.

The considerable advantage in polymer-frame construction begs to be pointed out. The XDM, when using the 13-round magazine, has about the same grip area as the Commander-size handgun. It may be concealed about as readily, as far as the grip area is concerned. However, insert the flush-fitting, 9-round magazine, and you have a signature about as large as the Officer’s Model 1911. That must give pause to anyone with an open mind.

Depending on the situation, you may deploy the Springfield with either magazine. The Springfield always has 9 rounds on tap, the same as the Commander, although you can deploy it with 13 in the larger magazine. In a home-defense situation, the larger magazine is clearly the better choice. For tactical use, the minimum is three magazines—one in the gun, one on the belt and one resting. You will need to purchase another magazine for the Colt. For value, the Springfield looks good.

Another consideration is that you must carry the Colt cocked and locked for simple readiness. That is fine; I appreciate the combination of a positive manual safety and the additional feature of a grip safety. However, the hammer is more likely to snag covering garments than the Springfield’s smooth, hammerless back design. More on that later.

Range Work Challenge

I took the Springfield and Colt to the range with an assortment of loadings, including

I lubricated each pistol on the long bearing surfaces, barrel hood and cocking block. During the range work, the sights rated equally, with each giving good definition, with the sight pictures good. Trigger compression also rated about equally.

Black Springfield XDM with 3 silver magazines on a weathered board background

The Springfield .45 offers excellent ammunition capacity.

The Springfield is lighter than the Commander, and recoil more noticeable, although not uncomfortable. Trigger reset was fast with either handgun. No handgun is faster to a first shot hit than the 1911, and none is faster in rapid fire. The Springfield gave up little to the 1911. With a larger magazine and its hand-filling grip, the Springfield was particularly comfortable to fire. There are no sharp edges, and the recoil spreads around your hand. That made us rethink our ideas on recoil. While the Springfield exhibited more recoil force and muzzle flip, the end result of the design seems to offer less discomfort in firing. The pistol is fast on target.

Gray haired man in dark sweater, sunglasses and ear protection tests a Springfield XDM at the range, gun pointed toward the reader

The 1911 is the gun to beat, although there are other good choices.

Both pistols’ sights were well-regulated for 230-grain ball ammunition. Each fired slightly high with the 230-grain ball loads. The XDM was dead on the bull’s eye at 15 yards with the 200-grain SIG SAUER load. The Colt was still a little high, although dead on with the Federal 165-grain Guard Dog. In rapid fire runs on the target, the two performed well.

It is better to slow down and take care in aiming than to make a fast miss. Each pistol complimented a skilled user. The 13-round capacity of the Springfield XDM is an asset, I believe, in personal defense. Both handguns proved completely reliable, which was not a surprise, even considering the Colt is a long-serving service pistol, whereas the XDM is new to me.

The XDM is the simpler handgun to use and fire. Load, holster, draw, fire. Each handgun groups 5 rounds into 3 inches at 25 yards, with the Colt more accurate with an occasional 2.5-inch group. That is not significant in personal defense. At 7 yards, each handgun cuts a single, ragged hold in the target.

Safety Features

As for carry modes, I demand safety features in a concealed carry gun. I like a manual safety and, particularly, the cocked-and-locked 1911. However, there are other types I like as much.

  • The Heckler and Koch P7M8 is a long-time favorite. That handgun is not cocked until the lever is pressed—with both the striker and trigger are not engaged when carrying the P7M8. If dropped, the spring-loaded cocking lever deactivates the striker and trigger.
  • The XDM features a grip safety that prevents it from firing unless pressed. The grip safety also locks the slide. I like that because the slide locks as you holster the pistol.
  • A tight-fitting holster often allows the slide of a DAO pistol to move to the rear; the XDM’s grip safety locks the slide.
  • Also, when attempting to measure the trigger press with my RCBS-registering trigger-pull gauge, I could not move the trigger, even with the grip safety engaged. The trigger features a hinged component you must press to fire the pistol.
  • In common with the 1911, the Springfield has good safety features and it is instantly ready for action.
  • During administrative handling, the grip safety must be pressed to open the slide, a slight extra action appreciated when carrying the handgun.

A Final Note

Each handgun has a good combination of features. The Springfield XDM is the new gun on the block, although the design has been around for some time and is proven in hard use and competition. The trigger is good, with a straight-to-the-rear press, little take-up, no backlash and a linear press that makes it a great combat trigger.

Gray haired man in navy blue t-shirt and red ear protection tests a Springfield XDM at the range.

In rapid fire and aimed fire, the Springfield XDM gave excellent results.

The XDM is wider and lighter than the 1911, which is simply a tradeoff. The XDM is a good counterpoint to the 1911, and in some cases, for many shooters, it is the best choice.

What are your thoughts on the Springfield XDM? Are you ready to give it a try? Share your pros and cons with us in the comment section.

SLRule

Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

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Comments (42)

  • Martin Pierce

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    Me too–the right winnings and I would buy everything in the catalog–I would be in HEAVEN on EARTH. When I first met my girlfriend then, now wife for a long time I told her that to go to sleep I had to Jump through the air from the door to reach the bed because of guns all over floor.

    Reply

    • Secundius

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      @ Martin Pierce.

      I know what you mean. Wound Center Day for me, this morning. Because they were closed today, is going too be like Feeding-Time at the National Zoo and The Springfield Morning-Rush Hour, neatly rolled into one. Gut Schlafen, Herr. Non-Reply required. Sorry about that, I erased the last message by accident.

      Reply

  • Secundius

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    @ Martin Pierce.

    Yeah, I know. That where I got the Idea from, I con’t afford the asking or bidding price for the Lugar Artillery Pistol. Just a wee-bit out of my league. Need to win the Uber-Mega Power Ball Jack-Pot, too get that one.

    Reply

  • Martin Pierce

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    The barrel thing is OK. But it is as Fed statutes that you can’t have a stock on a handgun unless it was origonally sold that way. The interesting thing about the .45 acp is that the barrel length–short or long doesn’t show any major adv. in improved ballistics other than giving you a longer sight radius. I have a .45 acp Mac 10 thats been through every mod possible has a maybe 3″ barrel not counting the throad and threads to screw on the barrel extension. It eats ammo faster than people across the border. I just got a new Auction date from Rock Island Armory Auction that has a Luger Artillery piece with buttstock and everything else in a Presentation box as presented to the president of Mexico during WW I. I could buy a casino in Las vegas with the procedes. Others as Mauser Broomhandle pistol in case with all and President presentation grade winchesters for Presidents

    Reply

  • Martin Pierce

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    I have a glock mod. 20 in 10mm since 1990’s. Wanted high capacity fire power then and qualified as major cal. then for the steel & bowling pin comps. Already had series 70 1911 but not enough for bowling pins unless you were Bill Chapman back then (Who?) was that?. His picture has been found on cave paintings in New Mexico and Arizona a long while back.

    Reply

    • Secundius

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      @ Martin Pierce.

      Have you ever considered converting it, into a “Artillery Pistol”. Extending the Barrel to 16 to 20-inches, adding a butt stock, and acquiring a few 21-round magazines. I did that with my Colt 1911 Government, that I had purchased, back around 1989/90.

      Reply

  • Secundius

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    @ Martin Pierce.

    I was just putting my iPad on the charger, and saw your message, then after see what your were talking about. I did a fast search, and found they were more or less, still on sale at Aspect Solar. Then took my laptop, off its charger and contacted you about the EnergyBar 250 Power Cell/Inverter. And that’s, that. Sorry about any misspelling’s, but my fingers move faster then my brain.

    Reply

  • Martin Pierce

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    Its all subjective. Persuiant as in who, how & why.

    Reply

  • Martin Pierce

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    Buy yourself a Baretta 92f variant. You can have one up the spout and drop the hammer on a live round with the hammer drop safety. It’s DA, so you can crank off a fast first shot. Only thing–You have to get used to the long trigger pull like a Revolver. Some never get the hang of it. I bought my wife a full sized 92f when I bought myself a gock model 20 years ago; she loves it. Acquired conditioning over a long period of time. She had to do Spring Gripper exercises to make her hands more able to handle that big pistol.

    Reply

  • Martin Pierce

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    My 1911 series ’70 has a deactivated grip safety. My Pachmyer mags. don’t hold the slide back on the last shot with comp. stainless steel followers. I only carry it one way, Cocked and Locked with one up the spout. After40 yrs. of shooting it I still have 12 toes and two feet. Not bragging, its just a fact.

    Reply

  • Martin Pierce

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    For some unknown reason– the 1911 and the Glock pistol seem to shoot to the same point of aim for me. Naturally, I Notice the diff. in widthof grip. Like John Wayne Said “Fill Your Hand”.

    Reply

  • Martin Pierce

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    Yeah–Just daydreaming the other day. I’m with you. Same as you said “ditto, ditto, ditto”.

    Reply

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