Some months ago, Para Ordnance introduced the Expert 1911 pistol. The Expert is a quality 1911 meant to compete with foreign produced handguns on an even footing at the price point. Para achieved this not by cutting corners on quality but by using a less labor-intensive finish and eliminating features. The pistol is reliable and accurate but the matte blue finish is not shiny. There are no high profile sights or custom grade cocobolo grips. There is no ambidextrous safety.
For those wishing to own a hard working handgun that will give good service, the Expert pistol is ideal. It is affordable and works as advertised. Like all 1911A1 ‘Government Model’ handguns, the Expert .45 weighs in at about 40 ounces and measures over eight inches long.
During the course of the history of the 1911, one of the few valid complaints raised was that it is heavy. A soldier carrying a backpack, rifle, several hundred rounds of ammunition and entrenching tools did not wish for field a 40-ounce pistol. The handgun isn’t a primary weapon, but a backup for those times when something has gone terribly wrong. Rifles can win a battle or change the course of a war. Pistol fights are important only to those involved.
Colt began experimenting with shortened and lightened 1911 pistol prior to World War II. After the war, advances in aluminum technology made a lightweight frame pistol possible. Although about 8 percent of the earth’s crust is composed of aluminum, it is always in a compound and never exists as a free element.
Aluminum was once a precious metal and prohibitively expensive in industry. Once electricity was available to extract aluminum from compounds it became inexpensive to use. The aluminum pistol frame was many years in the making but once the process was mastered, aluminum use in handguns was inevitable.
The Colt Commander used an aluminum frame. This light metal resulted in a weight reduction of some 30 percent—from 39 to 27 ounces. The barrel and slide were shortened ¾-inch as well. The result was a compact lightweight handgun. Some say the pistol was meant to be carried much and shot little. This may be true. The Commander .45 is light and thin and conceals readily with proper leather.
Over the years there have been various complaints concerning the aluminum construction. In 1970, Colt introduced the first steel frame Commander. The Combat Commander weighs about 35 ounces. A few ounces in weight savings off the ¾-inch barrel may seem pointless; however, the pistol balances well. Aluminum is durable and will take all the shooting you care to give it. However, it will not stand abuse as a steel frame does.
Ten-thumbed handling will wallow out the frame. As an example, prying the safety out when fieldstripping will wallow the frame. Snapping the slide lock in over the plunger tube spring instead of depressing the plunger tube spring may damage the frame. Worse were those that attempted a ‘throating job’ and polished the feed ramp with hand tools. The result after the anodizing was broken was a frame increasingly damaged by each sharp-nosed hollow point or semi wadcutter bullet that took a bite out of the feed ramp. (Evolution Gunworks has designed a feed ramp insert to fix this type of botched ramp.)
Para Ordnance Features
The aluminum frame 1911 is a well-made and durable design but one that must be understood. You do not have to baby the LW .45, it will digest many thousands of rounds of ammunition without compliant, but you must respect the less dense alloy used in the receiver. Another consideration is the increased recoil in a lighter handgun.
When choosing a 1911 handgun you have to consider the many designs available and decide which one suits your needs and level of determination. When choosing a lightweight version of the 1911 you must realize that recoil is greater due to the lighter weight and this must be contended with. The LW frame 1911 requires about 25% more practice to maintain an acceptable skill level than the steel frame 1911. On the plus side, there are special low-recoil loads specifically designed for lightweight frame .45 caliber handguns. That brings us to the pistol in question.
The Para Ordnance Expert Commander is a shortened version of the Expert. The pistol features an aluminum frame. This is good news for serious defensive shooters wishing to own an affordable and reliable 1911. The Expert Commander is as well made as any other Para, it simply isn’t loaded with anything extraneous such as a highly-polished finish. It is all business. The matte finish is non-reflective. Unless your handgun is a safe queen—never carried and never drawn from a properly fitting concealed carry holster—finish wear is inevitable. Practice with the handgun. Wear marks are a badge of pride earned by those who practice.
The Commander size .45 has proven itself in every type of tactical environment. The 1911 pistol is presently riding an unprecedented wave of popularity and the Para Commander is sure to be another popular idiom. Like all 1911 handguns, the Para is a single-action design. That means trigger compression is straight to the rear and that the trigger does only one thing, break the sear and drop the hammer. The pistol must be carried cocked-and-locked, hammer to the rear, safety on. This makes the 1911 ready for use in an instant. No pistol is faster to an accurate first shot than a properly carried, cocked-and-locked 1911.
The LW Commander size .45 is the fastest from leather of any 1911 pistol. Not only that, the 1911 has consistently demonstrated excellent reliability under the worst conditions in warfare. When the adrenaline is pumping, and you are confronted with an armed and determined adversary, no gun is as capable as the 1911 .45. The controls are a model of human engineering, falling under the hand quickly and with ideal placement. The grip frame fits most hands well and the bore axis is low, limiting rise during recoil.
The Para Commander has all of the attributes of the Government Model .45. It is simply lighter. And the recoil isn’t something to fear, it is merely a sharper rise in the muzzle and a little greater push to the rear. It isn’t a slap in the palm, and the Commander .45 is far more comfortable to fire than a Magnum revolver. When firing 50 rounds on the range, the steel frame .45 is more pleasant; at the hundred-round mark, the pounding on the wrist becomes noticeable with a lightweight 1911. Much depends upon the loading used.
When first examining the Para Commander, I took note of the good features. The lightweight trigger is a nice touch in an affordable pistol. The sights are good if not custom grade. A true advantage in combat use is the fiber optic front sight. A visible front sight that is quickly acquired in a maximum speed drill is an advantage. Trigger compression is smooth and free of creep, breaking at 4.25 pounds clean.
Expert Commander Firing Features
The pistol seems well fitted and the slide runs smoothly on the frame rails. The barrel and frame portions of the feed ramp mate properly—with the requisite 1/32-inch gap between the two portions of the feedramp necessary for good feeding. A skeletonized hammer is attractive. The grips in this example are checkered wood. I have seen the pistol supplied with rubber grips. Either offers good adhesion, but frankly the wooden grips are a nice contrast. The modern, tactical, all-black crowd may prefer the black rubber grip. The pistol uses the standard barrel bushing rather than the popular bull barrel bushingless design found on four-inch barrel handguns. This is a true 4.25-inch barrel Commander.
When it came to range testing we had no misconceptions concerning ammunition. For comfort, light loads were the standard fare. There is no reason to run premium hollow point ammunition for practice and general range use. Lead bullet handloads or inexpensive jacketed factory loads work fine for practice. In offhand fire you cannot tell the difference in accuracy between generic loads and premium loads to 25 yards.
No human is a machine rest. The original load for the 1911 was ‘hardball’ a 230-grain full-metal jacket bullet at about 850 fps. This load has demonstrated its effect on targets for over 100 years. However, it is unnecessarily penetrative for defense use in an urban or heavily populated environment. For practice, a handload using a 200-grain SWC and enough Titegroup powder for 850 fps is both mild and accurate. This loading takes the sting out of the lightweight .45 and makes the beast downright docile. For a factory practice load, a 230-grain FMJ is accurate enough for meaningful practice or service use, inexpensive, and reliable.
The Para Commander proved fast from leather just as I surmised it would be. What is truly important is that the pistol was just as fast on target. Properly executed, the presentation leads into the firing grip and sight acquisition. The Para Ordnance Expert Commander is as fast to an accurate first-shot hit as any 1911 ever made and faster than many. The combination of a good trigger action and good sights makes for a brilliantly fast and accurate handgun.
During the initial firing session, we supplemented the supplied pair of magazines with Wilson Combat eight-round magazines. These magazines butt the nose of the bullet more into the chamber than the feed ramp with a higher feed angle. This is the gold standard for a modern magazine. The magazines supplied with the Para, however, featured very strong springs and never gave any sign of trouble. They rate high among factory products. The Commander showed a high level of practical accuracy firing at targets at known and unknown ranges.
Moving to defensive loadings, I carefully chose a number of premium loads to proof in this pistol. Among these was the Buffalo Bore 160-grain reduced recoil load. Breaking about 950 fps and using the Barnes X bullet, it is designed for low recoil in the typical lightweight .45 while retaining a good balance of expansion and penetration. This is accomplished handily. Testing has confirmed this load offers good expansion. This is as good a load as exists for use in the Commander .45.
Next, I moved to the Buffalo Bore 160-grain full power load. This number breaks over 1100 fps. Recoil is noticeably heavier, but the 160-grain bullet makes for a relatively controllable loading. We all want the most wound potential we can get, but in the end the light-recoil load is probably the most intelligent choice. Had I a need for defense against feral dogs or felons behind cover, I would lean toward the heavier load. Recoil isn’t unpleasant, but you know you have fired something special. Choose based upon your own ability and likely use.
Another load well worth consideration uses the conventional 230-grain bullet weight. This is the Speer 230-grain Short Barrel load. This load uses a specially engineered bullet designed to expand at lower velocity. The Gold Dot bullet offers a good balance of expansion and penetration at just less than 800 fps. This is a controllable loading. I have often stated you do not need high velocity with the .45 ACP. The bullet does the business by means of frontal diameter and bullet mass. This load is accurate enough and exhibits a full powder burn.
Finally, I proofed the pistol with a TAC load using a 185-grain Barnes X bullet. The Para Commander was surprisingly controllable with every load tested and this loading was no exception. Try to find this one in a 50-round box for best economy. The X bullet offers penetration on the level with a 230-grain JHP, but with higher velocity and less recoil, making it a good choice and superior to the 185-grain loads of the previous generation.
Some consideration must be given to quality concealment leather. The handgun must be carried in a balance of access and retention. During the winter months, a shoulder holster can be a good choice. The shoulder holster is accessible when seated and when driving, and makes an excellent carry companion. A poorly made shoulder holster is a chafing nuisance while a good holster is a trusted friend. I find this load bearing device spreads the weight of the gun about well by balancing the gun with two magazines in the off side magazine carrier. The draw is good even when seated or driving. You may unbutton a jacket and have the handgun at your fingertips. Pride of ownership is an undeniable component of this holster. If you choose a shoulder holster obtain a good one.
In warm weather you really need an inside the waistband holster. The IWB keeps the handgun inside the trousers. The covering garment need not drape over the handgun and holster but only over the belt line. This is a tremendous advantage in concealed carry. A quality IWB holster will not collapse after the handgun is drawn; it will protect the wearer from the sharp edges of the handgun and the handgun from perspiration. Holster design is very important when wearing the handgun close to the body. The personal defense system is just that a system, and the combination of a good holster and a good handgun are important. This holster fills an important niche in concealed carry.
I like the term expert as referenced with the new Para Commander. Whether you become an expert shot or not, the term may make you wish to practice. That is the bottom line. Practice, go to the range diligently, and practice intelligently. Do not simply repeat drills that you have achieved some proficiency at. Reach for more and better skills and understand tactics. Good survival gear isn’t inexpensive, but proficiency at arms is purchased with a different coin.
Para Commander .45
15-yards—average of two groups. Groups are measured from the inside of each of the furthest spaced bullet holes.
|Buffalo Bore 160-grain Reduced Recoil||1.5|
|Buffalo Bore 160-grain Full Power||1.9|
|Speer 230-grain Gold Dot Short Barrel||2.25|
|CCI Blazer 230-grain FMJ||3.0|
|Black Hills 230-grain FMJ||2.0|
|Black Hills 185-grain TAC +P||1.65|
What do you want in a 1911? Tell us in the comment section.
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 Shooters 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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