My daily carry guns have evolved with the times and my needs. While the size and weight have changed, the caliber and action have not. The 1911 remains my choice and the .45 caliber 1911 remains the best choice for my personal needs.
After decades of carrying a handgun and finding myself in the wrong place at the wrong time more than once, I know a little about interpersonal combat. Despite the proliferation of “carry guns” with target features, defense pistols are a breed apart from target guns. Tactical pistols are great for entry teams and soldiers, but my SW1911 TA rail gun is not the best choice for daily carry.
I base my choices on solid selection and historical reference. From the time shooters began to downsize the Colt revolver to a lighter version, the handgun has evolved into a close-quarters defensive tool. That is the mission statement. Personal defense is the goal.
The original 1911 was a great gun, but it was long and heavy. There are lighter concealable self-loaders, such as the Colt 1903, true, yet they chamber ineffectual calibers. The Colt Commander .45 was the first self-loader that is light and powerful. The Officer’s Model is even shorter. With its 3.5-inch barrel and shorter frame, it is a true compact in my estimation.
Appeal of a Short Handgun
Those going in harm’s way have sought short, powerful handguns for more than a hundred years. Today, we have handguns that are the finest ever produced and the best personal defense handguns available. Yet, many shooters tend to approach self-defense with a delusional attitude. Hope and a prayer are good, but careful study also is indicated.
The recent popularity of .380 ACPs is a puzzling phenomenon. They are light and handy, and a very few are reliable, but they are not enough for personal defense.
The .38 Special +P and 9mm +P are little enough. Anyone recommending a .32 or .380 for personal defense is not doing you any favors and does not have experience in personal combat. A far better solution is a big-bore handgun. Too large and heavy? Hardly. They are ideal for personal defense.
That brings us to another subject. You do not need a handgun that cuts a 2-inch group at 25 yards. A quick 2-inch group at 7 yards will save your life. The proper tool must be fast into action, reliable and hit hard. As any boxer will tell you, a single, heavy blow always trumps several light blows.
A .45 or two in the X-ring beats a cluster of 9mm holes. The question might be: if we saw off the grip handle and barrel, reducing sight radius, energy and controllability, what do we gain? The answer is a lot.
A Short Handgun Great for Concealed Carry
A handgun with a shorter grip conceals well. With a short barrel, you can conceal the handgun readily in a proper holster. Concealed carry is the goal, yet you realize another advantage. The short handguns are fast from the holster.
- A shorter handgun clears leather more quickly and gets on target fast.
- The short sight radius lines up quickly at close range.
- There is less travel in the draw. Shoot the elbow to the rear, scoop the piece from the holster and you are on target.
What I like about my carry guns is that very little is compromised. There is no practical compromise in power because the big-bore cartridges do not depend on barrel length for effect. Practical accuracy as far as hitting the target at moderate range is good. They are not as accurate in a practical sense as larger handguns, but they do not need to be.
They are surprisingly accurate, however, in trained hands. Too often, I see shooters who practice on the range with full-size .45 autos or 4-inch-barrel .357 revolvers, then carry compact 9mms or snub nose .38s. They are talking the talk and not walking the walk.
Why the Rock Island Compact
We previously have discussed the Rock Island 1911 GI compact, and then the Tactical II .45. In this installment, I talk about the pistol that is midway between those in terms of features, which is probably the best overall choice for personal defense. That is the Rock Island Tactical, and in this case, the compact version. The 1911 is thinner across the slide than any other handgun chambered in .45 ACP. A lot of thought went in the RIA Tactical.
- The pistol features Novak low-mount sights, the combat sights by which all others are judged.
- The sight picture is markedly superior to the GI sights, yet the sights are snag free and add little, or nothing, to the handgun’s height.
- The pistol features a beaver-tail grip safety with memory groove, a desirable feature that ensures we maintain pressure on the grip safety. The design also spreads the force of recoil on a wider area of the palm.
- Finally, it has a well-designed ambidextrous grip safety.
The Rock Island came out of the box running without a single failure to feed, chamber, fire or eject. The RIA Tactical compact handles differently from the Government Model, and it handles well. The flat, short grip is a little slower on the draw, and the flat automatic is pinned closer to the body in an inside-the-waistband holster, so you have to practice. Rapid repeat hits are just that—fast.
I carry the RIA in an all-leather, inside-the-waistband holster from Wright Leather Works (wrightleatherworks.com). It is as compact a holster as possible for carrying the 1911 .45. Note the well-designed spring-steel belt clip. The holster works the advantages of the short-barrel 1911, a concealable, high-quality combination.
When firing the Rock Island .45, recoil is not excessive with standard-pressure loads. The HPR .45 ACP loads, tested in 185-and 230-grain bullet weight, proved accurate and controllable. The 185-grain load struck to the point of aim and exhibited about 950 fps from the short-barrel .45, which is excellent performance.
Shot placement carries the day, and those loads give the advantage of reliable expansion. While the Tactical Model is a defense gun, not a target gun, I fired several slow-fire groups off of the bench rest at 15 yards. Accuracy is excellent, rivaling many Government Model 5-inch-barrel handguns.
- 5-shot groups
- 15 yards
|HPR 185-Grain JHP||2.0 inches|
|HPR 230-Grain FMJ||2.5 inches|
|HPR 230-Grain JHP||1.9 inches|
|Hornady 185-Grain Critical Defense||2.15 inches|
|200-Grain SWC, Lead, 5.0 Bullseye||1.8 inches|
|HPR 230-Grain FMJ||2.5 inches|
The Rock Island Tactical II .45 is a neat gun, well proportioned and surprisingly accurate. I like it a lot.
For personal defense, and for those who practice, it is a credible lifesaver.
Have you fired the Rock Island Tactical Compact? What were your results? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments 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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