Concealed Carry

Match Grade Pistols for Carry and Home Defense

Maggie Reese shooting a Colt 1911 competition pistol

Many of us use a match grade pistol—the IDPA gun or the IPSC gun—for home defense. The reasons are simple. The pistol is accurate, easy to use well, and one that we are likely most familiar with. The pistol may have fired many thousands of rounds without a failure. When it has needed new guns springs, or a magazine has failed, it has been at a high round count, demonstrating reliability. But then you read that the authorities on personal defense say you should never carry a modified gun for personal defense.

Maggie Reese shooting a Colt 1911 competition pistol
Maggie Reese competes for Colt with a 1911 that is not very different from the author’s holster guns.

On many points I agree, because I have seen so many handguns butchered by 10-thumbed gunsmiths, which seems to be about half of the pistol smiths I have encountered. However, there are many factory match grade guns, some with all of the alternations you need, they are not modified handguns. I have seen pistols rendered useless and unreliable, even dangerous, by the gun butchers but modern, match grade handguns are reliable and accurate straight from the factory.

A good set of sights and a decent trigger action from the factory removes the fear of a modified gun making one look like a person too eager for a fight, I suppose, or to be labeled ‘gun happy.’ Don’t laugh, it is a common phrase. If you have safely used the handgun on the range and in a match, then perhaps it is the best choice for the high stress of combat.

I have been mulling over these considerations recently as I have fired and tested a number of match-grade handguns. In fact, it caused me to break out handguns I have not fired in many months as a comparison. I am reminded of the match-grade guns I carried on duty many years ago. The Colt National Match was originally a very tight and very good 1911 with high visibility match grade sights. Later modifications to the trigger and fragile sights moved it to the match category and made it less of a combat gun.

Ruger .357 revolver silver right profile
Ruger’s target grade .357 revolver might make a fine all around Magnum for hard use.

My personal 1911 with Bomar sights and a well fitted National Match barrel is a match winner and an excellent service pistol. The tight fit reduces eccentric wear and the piece has never failed. In revolvers, the Smith and Wesson Combat Masterpiece revolver was among the finest four-inch barrel target .38 revolvers ever manufactured and a fine service revolver with a high hit probability due to those high visibility sights.

I have recently come to own the Witness Match .45 and the Colt Competition 1911 .45. The ergonomics and accuracy of each are excellent. With a slide that runs inside the frame, the Witness has a lot of bearing surface for accuracy. The Colt is a proven design. The Witness has a 10-round magazine capacity, and it is very easy to use well with its 3.8 pound factory trigger.

Then there is the Glock 35 that shoots so well. Competition-type handguns may be long and heavy, but they absorb recoil well and with some types, concealed carry isn’t out of the question. For home defense, no handgun is too large and the Witness Match is a comfort beside the bed. It is perfectly zeroed for the SIG Sauer Elite 230-grain V Crown duty load and handles very quickly. When hiking or camping, a handgun with a long sight radius is more accurate. And, they are clearly powerful enough for more than paper cutting. Let’s look at the pros and cons of the match handgun for personal defense.

Springfield Range Officer left quartering
The Springfield Range Officer will win a match or save your life.


Weight is good to soak up recoil and bad to carry on the hip. A handgun over 30 ounces is more than many are willing to attempt to conceal, and most target-grade .45s go over 40 ounces loaded. The Witness Match is over 40 ounces unloaded. You may find that a proper holster will allow you to comfortably conceal the larger gun, but in many cases and body types, it isn’t possible to conceal this size handgun. The Government Model .45 is about the limit for a dedicated shooter using the best designed holsters.


Handguns are not fired by feel although some have a better natural point than others. They are held in the hand and aimed. The sights are lined properly and the trigger is pressed. High profile sights make seeing the sights and getting hits easier. The new generation of fiber optic sights makes for excellent hit probability. There are good sights, but in this case, the personal defense handgun should have night sights. So, that is one divergence from the competition pistol.

Trigger Press

Competition guns often have an advantage in design. A single-action trigger may be very smooth. Most factory 1911 handguns, match grade or not, have a useful trigger for personal defense at 5-6 pounds compression. I would not wish to consider a trigger compression less than 4.5 pounds for personal defense. The Ruger Security 9 is right at 4.5 to 4.8 pounds. The Colt Competition 1911 is around 5 pounds. The Glock factory trigger comes in at 5.5 pounds, and the Glock competition trigger is often set at 3.5 pounds.

SIG Sauer Elite ammunition
You do not need match grade loads for match grade accuracy—SIG Elite ammunition provides!

The Witness Match has one of the nicest triggers I have ever fired in a factory gun at 3.8 pounds. Light and short is not always what we want in a personal defense handgun. We need a little take up. Much depends on the shooter’s ability to control this trigger, and if you have used the handgun in matches, you have a good expectation of your ability. At this point, we might say that we do not need to go below 4.5 pounds trigger compression.

The Match/Competition handgun has many advantages. It is easy to shoot well, reliable, accurate in the mechanical sense, and recoil is modest due to its weight. The grip is well designed to help the shooter direct the handgun. The sights and trigger are excellent. Let it be a standard by which you judge other handguns.

Perhaps, the best all-around handgun is still the service-grade handgun with rugged, adjustable, high visibility sights and a good, but not light, trigger. That means the Springfield Range Officer to some, to others the Colt Competition pistol. Give it some thought and be certain your ability matches that of the handgun.

Would you consider, or do you use, a match grade handgun for home defense? Share your answer 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 (20)

  1. I only want one handgun that I can use for competition, at the range for fun, for defense at home, or for defense anywhere out in the community. My plan is to use and carry a CZ Shadow 2 OR firearm, and not keep a round chambered due to the safety issue. If a life or death situation comes up, hopefully I can chamber one quick enough.

  2. If I was a defense attorney the FIRST thing I would do would be to EMPHASIZE the fact that the gun used for self defense IS a target pistol specially designed for that purpose, and that it was ONLY used because of the threat to the owner. Essentially this is the same defense someone would use when defending themselves with a hunting weapon.

  3. I am a retired police officer and have seen many cases of officer involved shootings. Individuals who are competition shooters constantly check and maintain their firearms to keep them in top notch performance, so I don’t believe it is a question of the firearm not functioning in a combat situation at all! However any modifications to the gun always come into play when it is actually involved in a shooting. This happens in court and prosecutors as well as civil attorneys attempt to make the shooter appear to be a killing hungry monster who did everything they could to make their firearm the perfect killing machine. It is my opinion that if you want a match quality firearm, purchase a factory produced match quality firearm and never modify them in any way to avoid this issue! Replace all parts needed at the factory by their personnel with original manufacture parts. This takes the entire liability of firearm alteration out Ii play! Never, I repeat Never engrave anything on your weapon that may be construed as indicating you are anxious to kill anyone. Examples: skulls,sayings like too late, smile your on target or last thing you will ever see! Leave it 100% factory original! You have to remember there are people out there that view those with firearms as people who are just waiting for the chance to pull the trigger on someone else! This is also true for those sitting on the jury.

    1. As a fellow retired police officer (and training officer), I completely agree. However, there are a few things that can be done, if needed, that will help ensure functional reliability that shouldn’t be a problem in court (mostly because they are not overtly obvious), such as: polishing the feed ramp, throating, bevel the magazine well, et. al., done by a competent gunsmith of course. Fortunately, many of the better handguns today don’t even need that, and are good-to-go right out of the box. Then there is the question of what ammo to use. Obviously it needs to be reliable and effective, but even that can be called into question and used against you in court. The bottom line is, always make sure that if you use deadly force the situation was unavoidable and it was self defense (or the defense of another). In police jargon, a “righteous” shooting.

    2. Sorry, I don’t agree with your analysis.Any improvements made to your carry gun, that make you more accurate with it, automatically make you a safer shooter. Triggers, sights, spring weights, recoil guide rods all can make the gun more accurate and run smoother. I will take my chances explaining that to the judge, and have a good attorney as well.

  4. For 26 years I carried a Colt 1911 always configured to National Match shape but with a ported mag well courtesy of A O Swenson fame. The trigger stop screw was backed all the way back against the front to the trigger. Not good if it gets a flake of powder in there. I switched when I came across the Colt Government Combat 1911. Longer trigger, flat housing ported mag well beveled and nice high solid sights. Came from the factory with everything I felt I needed. I’m 76 now and carried it concealed up till a year ago when Children bought me a Springfield Armory EMP 1911 9mm but a sweet little pistol for me. Everybody is different and has different needs and feelings about what fits them. I have trained lots of Police to Shoot over the years and that became evident. What is right for one is not for another.

  5. For me, the most important thing in a handgun used for home defense, as well as for carry, is it must be functionally reliable. If it doesn’t “go bang” when you want it to then it is virtually useless – an expensive paperweight. Therefore, I opt for a pair of .357 magnum revolvers (one S&W & one Kimber), with good sights, and charged with appropriately effective ammo – for things that go bump in the night. Supporting those are a couple of fine-tuned Colt 1911 pistols (one in .45 ACP & one in 10mm Auto). If things get really serious, then it’s time for the 12 gauge or even an appropriate rifle (.223 or .308). The ones I’ve trained with the most, and as a result feel the most comfortable with, are the .45, the 10mm, and the 12 gauge (Remington 870). It’s good to have tried and true choices.

  6. A Gold Cup National Match since 71 with Pachmayr grips, a twenty six pound recoil spring, a thirty two pound spring buffer guide, and both total reliability and accuracy as good as the average 30-30 deer rifle.

    Yes, the barrel bushing needed to be replaced, and a few years ago one kind person explained to me that there just wasn’t any rifling left in the barrel, well, if you tilted it just right, you could see a trace–

    Then he put five rounds touching at thirty yards, handed it back, and told me that was the best barrel he had ever seen.

    Bunch of time with it helps, too.

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