Glock’s Soft-Shooting .45: The Glock Model 21

All black GLOCK 21 on a white background, barrel pointed to the left

Among instantly recognizable handguns is the Glock. But Glock large-frame guns are often overlooked.

Those include the Glock Model 20 10mm and Glock Model 21 .45 ACP pistol. Introduced in 1990, the Model 21 in .45 ACP competes with other large-caliber pistols in police service. Americans tend to demand more smash in their defensive handguns, and my own views in that regard are four-square American.

The pistol has been well received. Good reliability and accuracy are good selling points. Another strong point is that the magazine holds 13 rounds of .45 ACP cartridges, giving the pistol a total capacity of 14.

A disadvantage of the pistol is its size. Female shooters with small hands and long fingers often do well with the Glock 21, although training and absolute familiarity with the type are essential. While the pistol is large due to the polymer frame, it is light enough.

When you consider the whole picture, the Glock offers considerable firepower in a light package. For example, the original Colt 1911 Government Model in the same caliber weighs 39 ounces. The present service pistol, the 9mm Beretta 92, weighs 35 ounces and offers 15 rounds of the less-effective 9mm cartridge.

Another Glock advantage is simplicity. The safe action design offers only one trigger action to learn in contrast to double-action, first-shot pistols that demand you learn both double-action and single-action fire. There is no manual safety.

Glock Model 21 Specs

  • Caliber: .45 ACP
  • Weight: 26 ounces unloaded
  • Barrel Length: 4.6 inches
  • Overall Length: 7.6 inches

The lever in the trigger is not a true safety; it is a drop safety intended to prevent inertia from moving the trigger if you drop the pistol. The Glock safe-action trigger preps when you rack the slide, with the trigger forward under pressure. The striker, or firing pin, partially cocks at that point. By continuing to press the trigger, the striker presses to the rear, breaks against spring pressure and flies forward, firing the pistol. As the slide recoils, the action partially preps, and you may fire the pistol with another short trigger press.

The Glock safe action has proven reliable in action and offers a trigger that is easily learned quickly. While there is no manual safety, true safety is between the ears, and a Glock shooter must understand to keep the finger off of the trigger until ready to fire.

The Glock Model 21 has proven as reliable as the other Glock pistols, which means reliability is held to a high standard. Compared to other .45 ACP pistols, the Glock Model 21 offers moderately felt recoil. Despite the its light weight, the polymer frame gives a bit in recoil, and the large grip distributes recoil out on the palm. The Glock Model 21 is among the lightest recoiling pistols in .45 ACP caliber.

Coupled with a lower bore axis than many others, the result is a pistol that is controllable and accurate in combat shooting. The Glock Model 21 is also one of the most consistently accurate among Glock pistols. Some Glock types are not noted for good accuracy, and the Model 21 often turns in excellent results.

Black GLOCK 21 with a silver slide, barrel pointed down with a black 10-round magazine on a medium gray background
This Glock was originally purchased with a 10-round magazine—a relic of a terrible law.

Like all quality handguns, the Glock Model 21 works better with one type of ammunition than another, yet the level of accuracy is often high for a service-grade pistol. Cycle reliability is good with all types of ammunition. +P-rated ammunition is not recommended for several reasons.

  • The Glock has a generous barrel/chamber area throating, which relieves the section of the chamber that supports the case head.
  • The result is a feed ramp that feeds practically any bullet design with reliability; however, a +P load may result in a bulged case.
  • Standard .45 ACP ammunition is controllable and effective, and +P loads are not needed for military use or personal defense.

Many will note that the illustrated pistol is one of the first Glock Model 21s. The newer versions have a much-improved grip with finger grooves. The newest handguns have interchangeable grip inserts and are more accurate than my original version.

Just the same, that old Model 21 is still serviceable. I strongly recommend seeking out the new versions; I have never seen a bad M21, and the newer ones are better.


Black GLOCK 21 in a black Don Hume thumbbreak holster, barrel pointed to the left
Note the excellent stitching and attention to detail with Don Hume Leathergoods.

When testing the Glock Model 21 used in this feature, I deployed it in a Don Hume service-grade thumbreak holster. It is an excellent, all-around design that demonstrates a good balance of speed and retention.

  • The holster is molded properly for the Glock.
  • The thumbreak is reinforced to avoid binding.
  • The stitching is professional grade.


The Glock pistol illustrated has fired many thousands of rounds during its service life. For the purposes of this review, I fired it with a variety of service-grade ammunition.

  • I fired five-shot groups from a solid bench rest at the 25-yard mark.
  • The pistol turned in good-to-outstanding accuracy.
  • The Trijicon sights clearly added an advantage because their sight picture is superior to the factory unit.

Accuracy Results

  • Average of three, 5-shot groups
  • 75 feet
Load Group
 CCI Blazer 230-Grain FMJ 3.4 inches
 Speer 230-Grain Gold Dot 2.5 inches
 Federal 230-Grain HST 2.8 inches
 PMC 230-Grain Bronze 4.0 inches
 Wolf 230-Grain FMJ 3.8 inches

Did you have or use the original GLOCK 21? What about the new one? Share your thoughts in the comments 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 (21)

  1. I bought a G21 Gen 3 in 2015. It was used and came with a lasermax laser sight. Took the lasermax out and replaced it with a Lone Wolf titanium guide rod with a factory spring weight and love it. Double tap groups are now much tighter and I get back on target quicker. I have also added an extended slide release. I have shot 200-300 rounds a month since buying this weapon. I had an issue with it not going into full battery but that was a maintenance issue due to a worn out guide rod spring. It is recommended to change the springs or recoil assembly every 5000 rounds. Replaced the spring and it runs like a champ again. Next addition will be Tritium sights!

  2. OK, so Im not the biggest Glock fan- but I picked up a gen3 21 like new in factory packaging, with bright tritium sights. It may have been fired a few times but not much… at $450 out the door maybe I paid too much but it was my first Glock and it was an impulse buy!
    I am a 1911/BHP kinda guy BUT.. I gotta like this blocky, soulless, plastic, 20th century phantastic pistol. It’s incredible for what it is, a well-put together monument to plastic and steel… It aint “fancy”, but it is what it is…
    I will get around to replacing that plastic guide rod with something metal and maybe a standard barrel that will handle lead/reloads.. I am one who prefers an active safety and that’s really my only beef with this Glock 21. A safety installation may be in the cards if I like this well enuff, too.
    I like that it holds 14 rounds of .45ACP, and can dump a mag pretty fast and pretty accurately.. I doubt that it is as amenable to “building” as my steel Colts 1911s but as a carry gun, oh yeah.. Lighter weight, feels better in my hand than a Combat Commander -From me that is HIGH praise indeed!
    Doubtful that I will be getting rid of my 1911s, but IF I can get past the Colorado 15 rnd mag limit here in Colorado, I will be looking at a smaller 9mm Glock…. Im retired now and never carried a Glock on duty, but had I checked into Glock earlier I would have…

  3. I am still a big fan of Glocks Model 30 & 21 both 45 cal I have never gotten into the Gen series of Glocks, why change something when you have such a good weapon/product. I own six Glocks Looking for number seven, so I can Glock around thee clock, everyday of the week.

  4. I am a 1911 guy from way back and around 5 years ago I finally got a Glock 21. I put in a 3.5 lb trigger sear that made the pull much smoother and an extended slide release which I think is mandatory for Glocks. I really do love this gun though. Reliable and accurate with great capacity for 45 acp. It’s grip is too big for my daughter and she prefers her Springfield 1911. ( she learned to shoot with a 1911) I have a Kimber Ultra carry for my concealed carry but would rather have the Glock if SHTF.

  5. Love my 21 , lose to $2000 1911’s in pin shoots with their better triggers but its a better self defense gun then the 1911 with more rounds .My Hi-point $200 first 45 has less recoil and is more useful as a club as well if you run out of ammo but the 21 is easily maintained and spares are everywhere, most ammo works as well .The safety trigger is not crisp anymore and does not snap out in front of the real trigger like it did 2000 rounds ago even after cleaning that area , need a new trigger .

  6. Nick, I agree with you. I’ve had my G21 close to 20 years now, added a guide spring laser sight, and is my go to home defense pistol. Elegance in simplicity.

  7. I have three .45 caliber handguns; the original Glock 21, a Glock 30, as well as a Para Ordnance double stack. All are great weapons, but I carry the Glock 30 because of size. If I were to find a good holster I would definitely make my G21 my daily concealed carry handgun. Over the years I have put thousands of rounds through it with only one issue of it jamming and that was attributed to some low quality re-loads that I purchased against my better judgment. Other than that, I have never had an issue with the G21 jamming, it is approaching 20 years since I purchased it and I would buy another without hesitation. Fortunately I won’t have to since it has proven longevity and it has lost none of its accuracy or performance. Without a doubt it is the best handgun I own!!

    1. No. I’ve got one of the compensated 3rd gen models and it gets back on target faster than the 2nd gen std models!

  8. I have a G26 (9mm), G23C(.40), G42 (380) and G21SF(.45). Out of all those, my preference to shoot is the G21, It’s recoil is surprisingly on par with the G42, with much greater accuracy. I’ve only been shooting since February, but at the same time, I got into reloading so I’ve probably put a couple thousand rounds through each (except the G42, that’s the wife’s). Bottom line, so far the G21SF is my favorite.

  9. I switched to a 21 after my 40 caliber Glock just got to be a pita firing string after string on the range qualifying.

    In my 60’s and can shoot the 21 all day

  10. Have had a Glock 21 Gen 4 for about 1-1/2 years and probably put 1000+ rounds of hand loaded rounds through it, some a little hot and some a little weak, but it takes them all without complaint. Fitted it with Meprolite adjustable night sights and it will shoot as straight as I can hold it. Love that gun.

  11. I have a G21 Gen 4, Love the feel and the simplicity, easy to clean and very accurate. If the grip was about 2-3mm thinner I would love it even more.

  12. Yeah, the Gen 3 is awesome! Impressive skill on the shot grouping at that distance. I did a little research and like you said; that titanium rod seems to be the way to go especially when the G21 starts to get a little warm ; ) I think it’s well worth the extra 100 bucks or so.

  13. I have had my Glock 21 gen 3 for about 2 years. I have put several thousand rounds through it and never had a problem. The only thing I have done is change out the factory guide rod for an after market titanium rod. The few grams difference in weight makes a huge difference in target acquisition. It improved my shot time by about 30% and my 5 shot group to under 3 inches at 50 yards. Of all the hand guns I have, it’s my second favorite.

  14. Extremely smooth and simple teardown for cleaning after every practice. Glock precision at it’s finest. Chugs any 45 ammo 😉

  15. Bob,
    I bought a gen 4 G21 three years ago and have fired about 1000 rounds through it. It consistently shoots 6 ” high at 30 yards. dead on left to right Have you heard of this before? I have a S&W 40 and is dead on. I also have a G27 and it shoots about 3 ” high at 25 yards.

  16. Bob, sometime ago you had a piece about 9 mm ammo ( defense) and showed a round with groves instead of a hollow point. Interested in that but my ‘puter ate all the info. Like to have mfg.’s name if possible. Have fired the G21 and now trying to figure out how to trade my G36 in on it. Thanks for all the great info. Jerry

  17. I have had a Gen 3 Glock 21 for a long time. I bought it used complete with Trijicon night sights. It had probably only one box of shells run through it when I got it. I believe someone bought this as a first gun, and did not like it. Good for me! It was also the firearm I used to defend my home from a potential intruder a couple of years ago.

    1. I’ve got a G21, G30, G36 and three 1911s. The Glocks are my carry guns. I’ve been shooting Glocks for over 20 years. I’ve never had one jam up on me or otherwise not do what it was supposed to do.

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