Range Report: Colt’s Defender — The Short 1911 .45 Auto

Colt Defender with Hornady ammunition box

For over 100 years, the Colt 1911 has been respected as the greatest fighting handgun in the world. The only legitimate gripe concerning the pistol is that it is long and heavy. This has led to various attempts to downsize the pistol into a comfortable and effective concealed carry handgun. The Colt Commander was the first commercial attempt.

Colt Defender with Hornady ammunition box
The Colt Defender has given the author good service for over a decade.

Interestingly, Colt was familiar with the problem of personal defense versus service pistols and had downsized its first service pistol, the Colt 1900, into the Colt 1903 Pocket Hammer in 1903. This is a well-balanced handgun largely obscured by the 1911. The Government Model, with its 5-inch barrel, is regarded as the more reliable handgun in all situations, with all ammunition types. However, a great deal of effort has done into producing a reliable short barrel/short frame 1911.

The Army designed the original General Officer’s Pistol in 1972. A radically shortened 1911 designed for use by Army Generals, this handgun was years in development. The pistol featured a belled barrel because the conventional barrel bushing did not allow the greater tilt needed for the short slide. The locking lugs were modified as well. Colt also introduced an Officer’s Model for civilian use.

The Colt Defender is the smallest Colt 1911 to date relatively new by Colt standards. Introduced in 2000, the pistol features a 3-inch barrel, short slide and frame. The Colt Defender has earned a reputation as a reliable short-slide 1911 with good accuracy. Of course the shooter has to do his part.

Woman carrying 1911 pistol inside the waistband
Sometimes the butt of the 1911 is just too large for concealed carry. The Defender solves the problem.

The pistol demands a solid grip. The shooter cannot allow his thumbs to travel into the slide lock during recoil. The pistol isn’t finicky but due to the design, the pistol simply demands attention to detail. The Defender features a lightweight frame and a weight of less than 25 ounces. The short frame allows a 6-shot magazine. The longer Government Model magazines will go into the frame and lock but protrude below the grip frame.

Colt includes a well-designed beavertail grip safety that helps control the pistol, spreads recoil out on the handgun, and funnels the handgun into the proper grip. There is a rise in the middle of the grip safety that aids in maintaining a good grip on the pistol. It also provides a positive tactile reference point that can be used to develop a consistent grip.

The Colt Defender has a reputation for feeding anything. The feed ramp barrel section features Colt’s new ‘dimple;’ a new design that works well in practice. The pistol is a Series 80 type, which means the pistol features a positive firing pin block. It is stainless steel and supplied from the factory with Hogue rubber grips. I fitted one of mine with Ahrends checkered grips for a slightly smaller footprint.

four 1911s
The Defender, bottom, is compared to 1911 handguns with 4-, 4.25- and 5-inch barrels.

As for the magazines, the 6-round, flush-fitting magazine will always promote a more discreet concealed carry. The popular magazines with rubber pad on the base are great for aiding rapid reloads and make a good spare magazine. If you own several 1911 handguns, it is important not to get the magazines mixed up. The Defender features some of the best sights found on concealed carry handguns.

The pistol is all stainless construction. This alleviates a lot of the worry about carrying a handgun close to the body. The trigger is better than most 1911 handguns. According to the RCBS registering trigger pull gauge, the Colt breaks at 5.5 pounds and clean. There is little take-up and the compression is crisp.

Attention to detail with the Defender will deliver hits at longer ranges than most compact handguns, but the key is attention to detail and faultless trigger compression. The pistol kicks, and the time involved in realigning the sights is greater than with a Commander 1911. If you can carry a Commander you should, however, the Defender may be carried in a more discreet package with a smaller footprint. For this Shooter’s Log review, I loaded my personal Colt Defender with Winchester’s M1911 FMJ loads for the initial evaluation. Firing at man-sized targets at 5, 7 and 10 yards, the pistol stayed on target and gave credible results. I drew from the Don Hume belt slide. There were no malfunctions in firing 50 rounds.

Bob Campbell firing the Colt Defender
The Defender is controllable even in rapid fire from the retention position (extended Government Model magazine).

In a lightweight handgun, you want the best balance of low recoil and terminal effect possible. I have tested the Cor Bon 160-grain DPX load extensively. Accurate, clean burning, and fast, this load consistently breaks 1,000 fps from a 3-inch barrel. The all-copper bullets gave excellent results. The Hornady 185-grain FTX is another good choice. This load breaks about 975 fps from the Government Model. It exhibited about 880 fps from the short defender barrel.

Accuracy, however, was outstanding. At 15 yards the Defender cut a two-inch 5-shot group with this load. That is good enough for any reasonable chore. The hardest kicking load tested was the Winchester 230-grain PDX. I normally prefer the 230-grain load, and this one is proven in law enforcement use. At just over 800 fps this load hits hard and enjoys an excellent reputation for reliability.

When all is said and done, the Defender is an important pistol in the scheme of things. No handgun will give the user a higher degree of ounce-for-ounce protection than the Defender—providing the user is skilled in the use of a compact handgun.

Are you a fan of the 1911? How does the Defender stack up in your experience? Share your thoughts in the comment section.


About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (28)

  1. More of a question. Is it safe to fire the Defender with full loads – since the slide has been cut short and the impact of the slide being thrown back might crack that small piece of metal that houses the recoil spring plug. In fact someone told me has heard of catastrophic failures.

  2. LOL, retreat law! So at 20′ I must retreat? At 250lbs, 51 hard years, bad knees and sore joints, there is not going to be much retreating. I will take my chances in court.

    1. No, but unless the person has a gun, they are not a threat to your life. Virginia law use to state, not sure if still current, if your house is invaded you must “retreat” to the furthest part of your from the burglar before using deadly force. Texas you can drop them dead, but your life still needs to be threatened. It’s like shooting someone in the back, your going to jail regardless. It’s a good idea to know the laws of your state or you might end up spending you last even harder 20 years in prison.

  3. A Colt is a Colt is a Colt. I have yet to own a bad one in any size or configuration…pistol or revolver…they’re all good IMHO.

  4. So an Officer’s is the same pistol just with a 1/2″ longer barrel-being 3-1/2″? I see the size comparison picture left out the officers 45. Looks like they have the same frame. Seems like a little concealed carry marketing when we can choose a 1/2″ difference in barrel length. The Colt website lists the defender as having a 7 round mag same as officers model.

  5. Bought my Colt defender years ago. Bought it for carry and carried it a lot, but never practiced with it much. Decided to increase practice with it dramatically after attending Practical Pistol at the NRA Whittington Center. Failure to feed, stovepipes, failure to return to battery, all made me use one of the backups. Brought it home and sent it to a 1911 pro gunsmith. At one point, he was suggesting I send it back to Colt and see if they could do something with it. He kept it, and kept messing with it for almost 4 months. He finally “thinks” he has it fixed. I have not put 50 rounds through it since he sent it back, so I reserve judgement. I have great faith in my XDS with Powder River Precision upgrades and it has never failed. I have just hesitated to go back to something that I do not have full confidence in and I consistently carry concealed.. My secondaries are a Baby Desert Eagle in 45 ACP or a Ruger SR40c, both of which have had several thousand rounds through them and have yet to let me down.

  6. I purchased a Defender last year, swapped the grips with a set of Crimson Trace grips, and love the HELL out of it. I have been collecting and shooting for 35 yrs., and this pistol is dead on #1.

  7. Interesting, my experience with the Cor Bon ammunition was a bit different. From a single box of twenty, I had several fte and ftf issues. Maybe it was because my pistol still wasn’t broken in (less than 500 rounds), but the cone of the Cor Bon seemed to often hang up on the feed ramp. Never had any issues with any other ammo and I’ve tried a bunch.

    Don’t know if it makes any difference, but mine is a series 90. Otherwise, I totally agree that it’s a fantastic carry peace and as long as you’re familiar with the operation of your carry pistol, and how it responds with various types of ammo, this is a great choice.

    1. My Defender does have a problem with the 185 grain JHP Cor Bon, but none with the DPX. I have since decided to stick with more traditional 230 grain and the PDX1. I’ve been meaning to test out the Cor Bon +P 230 JHP, but haven’t gotten around to it. Did you ever try that one?

  8. I have had my Gold Cup since 1980 & have used it for everything from plinking to Bullseye competition. I put Hogue grips on it years ago so when I recently purchased my Defender, it was a natural & easy transition to the compact 1911. At 36 feet, it’s accuracy is right there with a Colt Commander or Kimber Pro Carry. The only modification I have made is installation of an extended magazine release. If you prefer a 1911 & looking for a concealed carry, I highly recommend the Colt Defender.

  9. I never cared for Colt or 1911s. I shot a buddy’s defender and had to get one for myself. I use to carry an H&K USP compact 40 S&W, but now I never leave home without my Colt. I don’t wear baggy clothes and have no major issues concealing it, as I don’t want anybody (especially the badguys) knowing I’m carrying. It feeds Winchester 230 grain pdx and Con Bon 185 grain dpx with no issues. I have a Colt 7 round mag that sits flush with the bottom of grips. I sometimes carry an extra mag, but figure if I need more than 15 rounds of 45 acp I went to a place I never should have gone to in the first place, like the ghetto of ghettos. I feel it is extremely accurate, more so than my H&K. Most cases of self defense happen within 5 feet, and if you engage anyone at more than 20 feet away from you the police and prosecutor are going to question your actions, especially if you are in a state with retreat laws. I’m 6 ft tall and 165 lbs with 7.5 inch hands and I feel the gun fits me almost perfectly. It has a little bit of a kick though, and more so with +p ammo. Overall I think it is an excellent carry weapon and would recommend it to anyone looking to buy a 45 acp for conceal carry.

  10. I purchased my Colt Officers ACP in 1986. I’ve carried it for 30 years. It feeds ball ammo flawlessly and even likes Winchester Silvertips. I’ve tried carrying others, but I always come back to the Colt. It is my constant, reliable companion.

  11. Not being flush with a wad of cash, when I was able to purchase a Citadel 1911 Compact (CIT45CSP) on sale for right at $400, I jumped at it. It has never failed me, and like the Defender and some other 1911’s, doesn’t like hollow points. After lugging an issue government 1911 around for years in the service with nothing but ball ammo, that’s what I’m shooting. I found early on that the Citadel shot a little to the left, so I simply compensated, and at up to 30 yards have no problem making tight groups in terminal areas.. I’d recommend it as both a range gun and for defensive use. I do have and carry a Colt though – it’s a 1908 .380 that my dad carried throughout WW II and the Korean War.

  12. If this Defender is as good as my 23 year old first issue LW Officer’s ACP, it is a winner. The finish is better for sure when carried near a sweaty part of the body. My LW Officers ACP served me well, to include protection details in suits, alongside Secret Service agents. It was carried hip-forward strong side so it could be drawn while seated in a vehicle. I’m retired from a CA Sheriff’s Department and have carried Colt .45 pistols for 47 years, condition one. Sometimes simple is better.

  13. Much like this Colt, my preferred carry is a S&W 1911 Pro Series Compact. I like the 1911 for it’s heavy ballistics, beaver tail and thumb safeties, and single action. Carrying full cocked with the thumb safety disengaged gives me the quickest draw and fire. I don’t feel the need for thirty rounds as long as I’m the one landing the first one. I feel safe carrying in this manner due to the grip (beaver tail) safety combined with the fact the holster’s retention strap covers the firing pin from the hammer. Using a 95 grain Civil Defense HP round reduces recoil and double muzzle velocity. I’ll put two of those into a pie sized target at 7 yards while most people are halfway through their first round of double action. I’ve never experienced any failure to feeds regardless of what I put through it. Yeah the gun is expensive at about a grand, but face it, the $500 you’ll save buying something less expensive you’re just gonna waste on something else anyway.

    1. Training or extra ammunition is rarely a waste, but I see your basic point.

      Buying a 1911 is a lot like buying a sports car or a brand-name Swiss watch – you’re doing it because you have money to burn anyway, so value is not a significant concern.

  14. The Colt Defender 1911 is a waste of money and not a good defensive weapon at all. Don’t get me wrong, I like 1911’s…I have 2, both in .38 Superauto. One is from the 1930’s and the other is a PARA chrome/stainless full size I bought last year. Both work well with round nosed (ball) ammo, but the pre-war model hates hollow-points. Great to shoot at a range, but I would NEVER consider either one as a carry weapon. Why? Because of their limited ammo capacity and their weight. Today I conceal carry a Springfield Armory XD-9 Mod.2 with 13+1 rounds of Win PDX-1 +P JHPs…and an additional 16-round mag loaded with the same. 30 ROUNDS. I would have to carry 3 spare mags to achieve the same firepower with a 1911 full size…nevermind the pint-sized 3″ barrel job. When I carry open, I sport a Sarsilmaz (Turkey) SA/DA SAR K2 .45ACP with 14+1 rounds of bad ass Hornaday +P HPs. The 1911’s stay in the safe.

  15. I’d consider “poor magazine capacity” to be a third legitimate gripe about the 1911 (the full-sized models, anyway).

    Some would also add “overpriced” to that list. Consider the Springfield XD(S), which offers the same caliber and magazine capacity for substantially less than a 1911 from Colt, SIG Sauer, or Kimber.

    You also get the added durability of a Melonite finish versus Parkerized, Blued, or Stainless Steel and a thinner grip to aid concealment.

  16. Roger,

    The C3 is well worth the extra inch of barrel. It is a better shooter than most 1911 handguns. The Defender is shorter but the C 3 is really the better shooter in most hands. The Defender is simply among the smallest truly reliable 1911s.
    Bob Campbell

  17. Quite likely, the Colt defender is the best 1911 platform 45 for concealed carry. However, for MORE compact (only 1.0″ wide, etc) and 4oz lighter, My kinda’ concealed carry 45 says “XDs 3.3 in the side of it. Extremely accurate too! I do wish it were made in the USA, but perhaps one day a PM45 will be in order.

  18. Colt is a great old American name. However, they stopped being innovators years ag0 (before I was born). They bet on government contracts and gave up on us civilians and now they’ve lost most of the contracts.
    Give me a Remington, Ruger, Kimber, Sig, Dan Wesson or just about any other manufacturer. Colt has lost all the considerable credibility the name once had. I’ll be surprised if we don’t start to see the name on grills, coolers and import pocket knives. Oh, I guess that’s already started too.

  19. I carry a compact rock island 1911,3.5″. Polished the feed ramp a bit,all new wolf springs, and crimson laser grips. It really likes 230gr golden saber & wilson mags .took a little tlc but it works every time.

  20. I have recently purchased a Sig C-3 ultra two tone in 45ACP and had a trigger job done on it. After shooting it a few times I know I’m not going to pour thousands of rounds through it. But it is extremely accurate and will be a great self defense piece.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.

Discover more from The Shooter's Log

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading