SIG’s Short, Sweet, Reliable .45

By Bob Campbell published on in Firearms, Reviews

During the past decade, I have tested, evaluated, modified and carried SIG handguns regularly. I have observed them in use on two continents and received positive feedback on the firearms line in English and French.

Black grip/black framed SIG Ultra subcompact, barrel pointed to the left on a white background.

The SIG Ultra is a first-class compact 1911.

The majority of SIG pistols I have seen in service are the P-series, double-action types. My personal service pistol is the 1911A1. After many years of using the 1911 handgun professionally, it takes much to impress me. In my opinion, a credible, service-grade 1911 is the only type worth considering for practical carry. Quality manufacturing and the heart of a handgun count more than accessories and features.

SIG has prospered for decades with the double-action, first-shot P series and entered the field with polymer-frame, double-action-only handguns. SIG also introduced credible, effective and reliable 1911-type handguns. The full-size Government Model came first in the form of the Granite Series Rail gun, then the Commander-length pistols.

SIG’s Newest Subcompact

SIG’s latest is the subcompact type commonly called the 3-inch gun. By reputation and design, the 3-inch pistol has been the least reliable of all 1911-size handguns. However, much depends on the maker and final fit and finish. As a rule, compact handguns take a greater battering from the momentum of a cartridge. There is no changing the basic laws of physics. Magazine and recoil springs must be changed more often, and maintenance is critical, which is true of any compact handgun.

SIG Ultra with the focus on the belled barrel lockup on a light white-to-gray background

The belled-barrel lockup is a praiseworthy design feature.

When the Officer’s Model first appeared several decades ago, the operation modifications included changing the lockup from a barrel bushing to a belled, bull-barrel design and eliminating one locking lug. That allowed the slide to travel a proportionately greater distance to the rear because the barrel more sharply tilted during the feed cycle with the short-slide 1911. The frame is also abbreviated. The original Officer’s Model had a six-round box magazine, while the Modern Officer’s Model magazine holds seven rounds.

Black SIG Ultra, barrel pointed to the right on a white background

The author’s personal SIG Ultra has proven both accurate and reliable.

The SIG 1911 series includes superlative tactical versions and match-grade handguns. The newest is a compact version retaining the distinctive SIG and 1911 design confluence that makes the pistol unique. Its primary advantages over the larger handgun are less area, weight and bulk, making it easier to conceal and carry comfortably. Those are two different aspects of concealed carry.

Most service-grade handguns are concealable, given proper leather gear; comfort in carry is another matter. The greater the advantage in comfort, often the greater the disadvantage in handling, accuracy and power—but not always. The SIG subcompact comes out better than most. When developing the Officer’s Model, SIG made some serious modifications, building on the original while offering extensive improvement.

Personal defense is very important to me. Many look at the issue differently. For example, if an adversary is attacking with a knife, I do not ask myself what the motivation is or why he is doing it. My motivation is to stop the attack. The threat must be stopped—the only ethical, practical and right-minded attitude. Therefore, I use the tool for the job, and believe a self-loader is the most efficient defense platform for those who practice. The .45 ACP offers good wound ballistics while remaining controllable. Putting those attributes in a compact package is the trick.

Gray haired man in red shirt with green ear protection practices with his SIG Ultra, with a wooded area in the background

The SIG handles well and is a great shooter in off-hand fire.

The illustrated SIG is the answer. I just finished an evaluation, giving the SIG subcompact a clean bill of health and place on my belt. The pistol is short, which means it clears leather quicker. That short sight radius may not give me the gilt-edged, practical accuracy I enjoy with a Government Model; however, the pistol has excellent intrinsic accuracy. Most will shoot it well. Those who practice will excel, and the SIG has accuracy potential sufficient to make the compact a 50-yard gun in the right hands; meaning practiced hands.

Gray haired man in red shirt with green ear protection points at black target with results of his tests.

The SIG Ultra gave excellent, almost surprising results.

Subcompact Design

  • The pistol features a positive firing-pin lock. That is important and why I call the Series 80 firing-pin lock a drop safety.
  • It features Novak-design, low-mount sights. It is vital to have good sights on such a short pistol, perhaps even more so than a full-size handgun. The short sight radius works against the shooter, and muscle tremor will exaggerate a slight misalignment. Those are the ideal combat sights.

    Black SIG Ultra with focus on rear site in a light gray background.

    The SIG features a low-mount rear sight. The sight picture is excellent.

  • The grips are checkered wood, custom quality, with excellent abrasion.
  • The front strap is checkered in a custom-grade pattern that gives good adhesion. You have no excuse for not hanging on to this handgun.
  • Trigger compression breaks at a smooth and controllable 4.5 pounds and is very clean.

I realize dimension is more important than finish in a concealed-carry piece, and it is a very nicely finished handgun.

The SIG Ultra has the features we like on a 1911 handgun.

Black SIG Ultra with focus on the beavertail grip on a white background

The beavertail grip safety is well turned out, with a nicely shaped memory groove.

The sights are good, trigger is smooth, and beavertail grip safety is ideal. The slightly extended safety works properly, with a positive indent and excellent function.

Firing

The proof of a handgun is in the firing, however, and I fired the SIG Ultra extensively for function. It never failed to feed, chamber, fire or eject.

I have high standards for reliability in a personal defense handgun. Only 100 percent function is acceptable. I also have high standards for accuracy; however, that standard is relative to the mission and requirements of a handgun.

I have seen many SIG handguns come through my training classes and have personal experience with dozens. I cannot recall an unqualified malfunction. The SIG Ultra is milder to fire and more controllable than I had imagined. It is light at 28 ounces, although not so light that it is “whippy.” That is practically the ideal weight for a compact .45. I have often thought that part of the recoil impulse, or perhaps I should say momentum, is from the heavy slide of a Government Model stopping short at the end of travel.

Black SIG Ultra, barrel pointed left and 2 silver magazines on a background of wood planks.

The SIG is supplied with two flush-fit magazines.

I may be wrong, and the short-slide Ultra does not kick proportionately as much as you would think. During the initial break-in, I lubricated it and loaded the supplied magazines with Winchester USA 230-grain FMJ loads, supplementing with some Chip McCormick magazines. Throughout the years, I have enjoyed excellent results with those Power Mags.

The full-size Government Model magazine protrudes from the frame and is useful for range work. I would never deploy such a magazine (or one with a bumper pad) in the Ultra because that is pointless. The point of a compact pistol is concealment.

  • The pistol came on target and proved well-regulated for 230-grain loads, with the bullets striking slightly high at 15 yards.

The pistol is tractable and moves well between targets, with good control.

  • I exhausted 100 rounds from the Winchester white box with my grandson’s help (he is 18 years old and more than 6 feet tall).
  • The pistol is a fine shooter, and since it is designed for personal defense, I put the piece through personal defense drills with assorted defense loads. Like most, I have a partial box of this and that left over from previous testing and range sessions because I do not always fire a complete box to evaluate accuracy.
  • The lightest bullet I tested was the Liberty Civil Defense 78-grain load. The pistol spit out a full magazine as fast as I could pull the trigger—with no choking.
  • A magazine of 185-grain Nosler JHP handloads gave good results.
  • I prefer the 230-grain JHP and concentrated on those. Winchester introduced a new line called the Win1911. Specially designed for superior feed and performance in every 1911, including GI guns, it is impressive ammunition in an affordable, 50-round box. The FMJ load features a flat-point, 230-grain bullet. Frankly, knowing what I know about the .45, that load would suit me for carry and service. However, public safety demands an expanding bullet. If you can have expansion, you should take advantage of it. Both loads strike to the same point of aim, allowing practice with the less-expensive FMJ load. The new Winchester loads burn clean and give excellent performance. The SIG Ultra proved reliable with every loading.
Black SIG Ultra Front Post Sight on gray background.

This front post sight is securely mounted and easily picked up in rapid fire.

I often fire quality handguns off a bench rest for 25-yard accuracy, sometimes firing compact handguns at 15 yards. Twenty-five yards is a long distance in a gunfight. The SIG Ultra is more accurate than I can hold. I took my time and settled in to a solid bench-rest firing position to work up a test of accuracy. However, I fired 5-shot groups at 7, 10 and 15 yards as well.

The result? At the 7-yard distance, the Ultra cut one ragged hole with even the least accurate ammunition. The SIG Ultra is among one of the most impressive handguns I have tested, based on performance and fit, finish and overall integrity of design and execution.

Carrying

Brown Jason Winnie Inside-the-Waistband Holster with Black SIG Ultra on white-to-gray background

This inside-the-waistband holster from Jason Winnie (Jasonwinnie.com) is a first-class design with much to recommend.

The Jason Winnie Leathergoods (jasonwinnie.com) inside-the-waistband holster is ideal for the lightweight .45. Well made of good material, properly dyed and with a reinforced holstering welt and dual belt loops, it is the ideal design for the 1911 compact. The draw is sharp, and the holster is as comfortable as any load-bearing device carrying a life-saving .45 can be.

Features and Specifications

  • Overall Length: 6.8 in
  • Overall Height: 4.8 in
  • Overall Width: 1.4 in
  • Barrel Length: 3.3 in
  • Sight Radius: 4.7 in
  • Weight w/Mag: 28.0 oz
  • Mag Capacity: 7 rounds
  • Sights: Low-profile SIGLITE® night sights
  • Grips: Custom rosewood grips
  • Frame Finish: Black, hard anodized
  • Slide Finish: Natural stainless
  • Accessory Rail: No
  • Features: Custom rosewood grips, checkered front strap, beavertail frame and grip safety
Gray haired man in red shirt with green ear protection practices with his SIG Ultra, with a wooded area in the background

In fast-moving magazine-change drills, the SIG proved as fast as a full-size pistol in practical terms.

Are you a SIG aficionado? Ready to be one with this subcompact? Share in the comments 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 (8)

  • James Edwards

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    My Sig “Ultra, Two Tone” is the smallest of my 1911 type pistols. I’ve fired over 1000 rounds of ammo from four different brands (including one “remanufactured” supplier – MBI) without a single malfunction. From 15 yards in, it will group just about as well as my Ed Brown Kobra Carry (4.25 inch) and my Colt Rail Gun (5 inch) pistols. The recoil factor is less than I expected it to be. However, I’m an old fart who grew up with the 1911 and don’t think the .45 ACP is all that hard to manage if you shoot it on a regular basis. My only “nit picks” with the Sig are that its checkering on the front and rear straps is a bit more aggressive than it needs to be and I would have liked the rear of the grip to be “bobbed” or rounded a bit. My Kobra Carry is just as easily concealed as the Sig (in most cases) as the Ultra because of this. In summary, if you want (and can handle) a short-barreled .45 ACP, the Sig Ultra is a very well made and reliable choice.

    Reply

  • Secundius

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    I stand corrected, I was responding to a person about the inaccuracies of certain weapons I don’t know my answer got posted onto this website.

    Reply

  • MK

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    I have an AMT 45 Back-Up and it is dead on even @ 50 yards so I know a Sig will kick some Ass.

    Reply

  • Secundius

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    In WW2, the OSS produced, a small, cheaply-produced, stamped-sheet metal, semi-reliable, .45ACP gun called the Defender for use against the Germans for various under-ground movements in Occupied Europe. It chambered only one round and was so inaccurate, that you literally had make physical contact with the victim you intended to kill.

    This gun was so poorly made, it made the WW1 French Man-Portable Light Machine gun “The Chauchat” look State-of-the-Art by comparison.

    Reply

    • A.T.730

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      I don’t want to be “that guy,” but the weapon you are talking about is the Liberator. Just curious, what does your comment have to do with this review of Sig’s 1911?

      Reply

  • Barry Behrle

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    I have a Sig 1911 compact 45 and planned on getting a second for my wife. That was until after 200 rounds of Winchester White Box ammo, the recoil spring plug broke out. Even though Sig did send me a replacement, I discovered through other web sites that this is an ongoing problem. They apparently need to beef up the plug or redesign the recoil system. I instead put the Sig away and now have a new Ruger 1911CMD.

    Reply

  • Flick

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    Im not much of a “compact” style carrier.I do,however, have 2 Sigs,a 220 .45 and a 230 .380…… both are top quality firearms and my 220 is my primary off-duty weapon and the 230 rides my ankle on and off duty….If a compact version of a full size frame is ur chouce, any Sig can not be a wrong choice.JMO

    Reply

    • Secundius

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      Like you, I have a P226 in .45ACP, a P229 in .40S&W and a P239 in .40S&W. All three are sweet guns, with reliable actions, and an all-around nice feel too them. Need to check out the new kid on the block, and possible add to my collection.

      Reply

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