Range Reports

Range Report: Colt’s Combat Elite

In 1911, the U.S. Army adopted the finest combat handgun ever fielded. The Colt Government Model of 1911, designed by John Moses Browning, held two more rounds than the previously issued revolver; both unloaded and loaded itself on firing, and offered unprecedented short-range firepower.

Colt Combat Elite on beige background
The Colt Combat Elite is arguably among the finest modern 1911 handguns and a great pistol.

The Army relied upon the rifle for long-range work and the revolver for short-range and cavalry work as a matter of doctrine. At the time, the handgun was more important in its role than today. The handgun also had to be capable of dropping an Indian war pony—or any other belligerent warhorse.

The .45 ACP cartridge was similar in power to the .45 Colt revolver cartridge. With its 230-grain full metal-jacketed cartridge, penetration was superior to the .45 Colt. The .45 ACP used a modest amount of fast burning powder, compared to the previous revolver cartridge, making cleaning and maintenance simpler.

The 1911 Serves Well

The 1911 was a triumph of design and a great handgun in every sense of the word. The 1911 saw action in the trailing days of the war in the Philippines, and soon saw action in Mexico as well. The 1911 served again in both World Wars, Korea and Vietnam. Today, the 1911 is a treasured handgun among our young warriors. Elite units use the 1911, and you can find quite a number still with ground pounders in the combat zone.

  • The 1911 is appreciated for reliability, fast handling, wound potential and features a grip that fits most hands well.
  • The bore axis is low, resulting in little leverage for muzzle flip.
  • The slide lock safety allows cocked-and-locked carry, hammer cocked and safety on.
  • There is no handgun faster to an accurate first shot hit than the 1911.
  • The grip safety locks the trigger until pressed forward when taking the firing grip.
  • Trigger compression is straight to the rear and controllable.

Features of the Colt Combat Elite

Colt Combat Elite and Magazines on a board background
The magazines were lighter on the trip home- the Wilson Combat ETM magazines were used in the greatest number.

This new 1911 has much in common with the original 1911, although with sensible modifications.

  • This handgun features a match grade barrel and bushing.
  • Barrel fitting is a greater aid to absolute accuracy than a light trigger or even tight slide to frame fit.
  • The grip is the half-checkered half-smooth design that custom makers often term the “tactical grip.” While tactical adhesion is excellent, these grips also allow a rapid change in the grip or adjustment as the upper half is smooth.
  • There is a slight indentation in the frame under the trigger guard, among the XSE improvements, and this further lowers the bore axis.
  • The hammer is the lightened custom design.
  • Cocking serrations are well done and crisp.
  • The slightly enlarged beavertail grip safety gives excellent service, funneling the hand into the firing grip. This design releases its hold on the trigger about half way into compression.
  • The pistol also features a full-length guide rod. There are pros and cons of the full-length guide rod, and the rod prevents the pistol from going out of battery if pressed against a support object. The full-length guide rod probably keeps the recoil spring straight when firing +P loads or heavy handloads.
  • The slide features forward cocking serrations; these serrations are handy for gloved hand use and offer greater leverage when racking the slide.
  • The pistol’s slide and frame are forged steel. In this day when most handguns offer cast frames, unless they are a polymer product, this forged construction is expensive and predictably long-lived.
  • The pistol is finished in an attractive two-tone finish, with the top finished in a bright Colt blue and the lower in stainless steel.
  • The slide lock safety is a speed type. It falls short of the competition-style gas pedal type.

And, in other words, this design is excellent for all around personal defense use.

The Value of Novak Low Mount Sights

The final design feature is among the best points of the handgun. The Colt Combat Elite is factory fitted with Novak Low Mount sights. These sights are the standard by which all others are judged. These sights offer an excellent sight picture. The rear sight does not trap shadows offering an excellent, crisp sight picture. The front sight is a bold post.

Novak sights are an excellent addition to any combat handgun and are particularly well suited to the 1911. In long, hard use, the original GI 1911 handgun sometimes lost its staked-in front sight. This doesn’t happen with the Novak design.

Testing the Colt Combat Elite

Colt Combat Elite, right side, gray board background
Tested on an otherwise damp and dreary morning the Colt functioned with a wide variety of ammunition including handloads.

From its blue Colt hard case, I inspected, field stripped and lubricated the pistol, including the long bearing surfaces. Trigger compression was checked and found to be a consistent 5.5 pounds.

I took the pistol to the range with a supply of the original loading, a 230-grain ball. The good thing about purchasing bulk loads with the RN bullet is that if you do not have a hollow point on hand, the FMJ load is still effective. I keep a supply of Fiocchi’s 230-grain FMJ load on hand to proof .45 ACP handguns. If the self-loader will not function with this load, it is in need of some type of repair.

While we may expect a modest break-in period with any 1911 handgun, failures to go into battery should not persist past the first 100 rounds of full power ammunition. The Colt supplied 8-round magazines were loaded as well as a couple of Wilson Combat ETM magazines.

Colt Combat Elite in black Don Hume 721
The Colt Combat Elite was carried in the time proven Don Hume 721.

During the initial drills, the pistol was drawn from a Don Hume #721, one of the finest holsters ever to grace a gun belt.

  • The angle of the draw is ideal and the holster’s thumb break is secure.
  • The pistol came out of the box running, with no failures to feed, chamber, fire or eject.
  • Results were good-to-excellent as I addressed man-sized targets and steel plates at five, seven and 15 yards.

After firing the first 50 rounds of the Fiocchi FMJ loading, I moved to the Fiocchi 230-grain Extrema. This load uses the Extreme Terminal Performance load manufactured by Hornady. The pistol liked these loads as well, with good performance and excellent combat grouping. The advantage of good sights and a smooth trigger with rapid reset were realized in the firing drill. The Fiocchi loading burned clean and gave good results. This isn’t the hottest load going; rather the Extrema line provides  consistent accuracy and modest recoil.

Moving to other loads to proof the pistol further, I fired the Winchester White Box 230-grain JHP. This is a wide mouth hollow point that expands rapidly. This 230-grain bullet fired to the point of aim and offered good accuracy. The Winchester PDX 230-grain load features a bonded core bullet. For those facing felons behind cover or intervening obstacles, the PDX load is the preferred load.

Winchester PDX ammo cross section
The modern design of the Winchester PDX gives every advantage in personal defense.

For most of us, the USA 230-grain JHP is a good choice. The PDX loads are preferred in a worst-case scenario. Remember, the .45 ACP cartridge has the advantages of a .451-inch bullet and bullet mass. The .45 ACP also operates at low operating pressure. So, choose a comfortable loading that is easy to use well.

After firing the Colt professionally in order to gauge its performance, I find this is a reliable and accurate handgun. There simply is little to be desired in its performance.

This is a solid, reliable handgun that challenges the shooter to be all they can be.

So what about you? Ready to give the Combat Elite a range test? Already tried it out? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

About the Author:

Wilburn Roberts

When Wilburn Roberts was a young peace officer, he adopted his present pen name at the suggestion of his chief, as some of the brass was leery of what he might write. This was also adopted out of respect for families of both victims and criminals. The pen name is the same and the man remains an outspoken proponent of using enough gun for the job.

He has been on the hit list of a well-known hate group, traveled in a dozen countries and written on many subjects, including investigating hate crimes and adopting the patrol carbine. He graduated second in his class with a degree in Police Science. It took him 20 years to work himself from Lieutenant to Sergeant and he calls it as he sees it.
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 (14)

  1. I’ll tell you one thing there is nothing finer than a Colt combat elite 45acp the all American knock power. That your life can depend on every time.

  2. Well, thanks loads boys– but I was career Navy. Chief Gunners Mate as a matter of fact. Worked with the Marines all my 20+ tho-and got to say there ain’t a finer line outfit on the planet. Semper Fi …..INDEED!

    Yes-there ARE some things about that 1911 that we used to love. Back in the day, I got to tell you..I won more dang bar-bets on that gun. There’s always some guy that considered himself as a 1911 guru, and I’d always bet him he couldn’t name all the safeties on it. They almost always forgot the “out-of battery” or disconnect safety. Kind of a “trick” question because actually it might be considered a “safety feature”. According to my old Navy Bluejackets Manual, ONLY the Thumb Safety is the true “safety” on that rascal. Half-cock and the Grip Safety also being considered “features”. I peed out quite a few San Miguels and Singha beers compliments of 1911 trivia. Best one tho has to be a $50 bet from my late father-in-law while up deer hunting back in the 60’s. He saw me strapping on my Colt Commander before heading out to hunt (with my .30-06 too of course), and just HAD to snort and tell me how useless that piece of crap .45 was. Then he told me he’d stand 50 foot away and let me shoot at him “all damned day”. Well Jack was a decorated WW2 combat vet, and I loved him dearly-but NOBODY talks about a 1911 like that-so I told him “I bet you $10 that I can change your mind about that”. He upped that to $50 so we took our 55 gallon burn barrel, spray painted a torso on it, and I moved back to 25 yards and promptly put 2 in the head and 6 more in the “center mass”. I wish you’d have seen his face when I said “Still wanna’ let me ding at ya’ Jack?” Anyway-I got my $50, and never again heard him badmouthin’ my 1911. He was ex-Army tho, so I gave him some slack!

    Merry Christmas fella’s !!

  3. I will be buried someday with my Les Baers ,Wilsons and Nighthawk.If there is a shooting range in heaven I will be there practicing.

  4. Some historical facts were missing — the .45ACP caliber was requested, because in combat the .38 special was not stopping some of the drugged enemies from still killing G.I.’s ! More stopping power was needed.
    This pistol represents a blend of the original 1911 design and the A-1 version, with other up dates.
    I have switched from my original 1911A1 to a S&W version of the the Commander, which is lighter and easier to carry. It is almost identical to this gun shown.

    1. I don’t think it was replacing the .38 special. I was told it was the .38 S&W. Can anyone, who knows for sure, comment, please.

  5. It looks very familiar. I bought my Combat Elite in December—-1985!
    and it still shoots like new.
    Another Navy spook, from the 60s.

  6. The problem with the John Browning’s Model 1911 Colt .45ACP pistol, is. It’s no longer a Colt’s all exclusive model anymore, weather it’s a licensed production copy, reproduction copy, counterfeited, or 3D produced in somebodies garage. It like the “Spoon”, somebody invented the spoon, but now you can go anywhere and get a spoon, and the same is try with the M1911 too…

  7. What a sweet looking rig with that Don Hume leather. I’ve had a 1911 .45 in my arsenal since I was 17. I’m 72 now, and at present still have 3 of them. I just love the damned things-and John Browning was a genius. Did a stint as a CH46 Door Gunner, and loved ol’ Mother Deuce just as much.

    1. Larry, first and foremost — thanks for your service. Some of my best friends in the Navy were Marines, heh.

      I cut my teeth in the navy on a 1911, and it’s still the most fun to shoot. I’ve shot .22s, .25s, .32s, .380s, 9mms, .38s, .357s and .40’s, and none of them comare. There’s just something about the feel of the grip that’s unlike anything else.

    2. 1911 rocks. 23rd Div.(Americal)11th LIB. Alpha Co. pointman & later half M-60 gunner carried 1911 entire time, can’t be beat since I shot it since 9 years old & still carry it today @ 65 years old, my back up is 1911 Commander. Primary is M1 Garand.

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