Concealed Carry

Review: Rock Island 1911

Rock Island 1911

The Rock Island Armory 1911 is something of an upstart in the firearms world, although it has been around for decades.

The parent company, Armscor, has a long history with firearms, including the famed Squires Bingham shop.

The Armscor Rock Island Armory line has expanded greatly since they first introduced an affordable GI-type 1911 a few decades ago. The Rock has earned a good reputation and some affection among shooters.

It is arguably the least expensive 1911 in the world that offers good reliability. There are higher-grade versions with Novak-type sights, an extended beavertail safety and ambidextrous thumb safety.

The pistol has given working men and women a way to get into the 1911 world. While the Rock Island 1911 isn’t the most accurate or nicely-finished pistol, it serves a real purpose.

As a carry gun or formidable home defender, the Rock Island has many merits. It isn’t a competition pistol or high-end showpiece, but then neither was the original 1911 pistol.

The Rock is a dependable pistol much like the original GI gun.

Rock Island 1911 Features

The Rock, as it is affectionately known, features a manual thumb safety, grip safety, and straight-to-the-rear trigger compression.

The proper way to carry the pistol is with the hammer fully cocked and the thumb safety on. As the pistol is brought to bear on the target, the safety is moved to the off position.

I do not manipulate the safety in the holster or as the pistol is moving, but as the barrel points toward the target.

The pistol is so fast into action and handles so well it isn’t difficult at all to thumb the safety off — and then back on if needed.

If the pistol was to be dropped or the shooter releases his grip, it will not fire because there is a grip safety. This safety springs into action to block the trigger.

Merely holding the pistol in a normal firing grip presses the safety in, activating the trigger. Trigger compression is straight to the rear at about six pounds and is smooth.

The sights are GI types. They are not Novaks, which are probably worth a little extra money in the tactical versions, but the standard Rock sights are precise enough if properly lined up.

There are several departures from the GI-type pistol. The hammer is a modern skeleton type. The ejection port is enlarged, commonly referred to as lowered or scalloped.

The trigger is a target type. The pistol uses the original recoil spring guide rod, without the full-length guide rod. I like the original best, as it makes field stripping much easier.

The grips are checkered rubber. The pistol is supplied with a single magazine. I included several Wilson Combat magazines in this review. A few spares make the going much easier.

Rock Island Armory 1911 Ejection Port
Note the lowered and scalloped ejection port.

The pistol’s grip is like an old friend. I like the handling of the Government Model .45 with its 38-ounce weight and five-inch barrel. I like the .45 ACP cartridge as well.

Despite revisionist history, fuzzy math and a misunderstanding of wound ballistics, the .45 ACP remains among the finest defensive cartridges ever designed. The .45 ACP is a low-pressure number.

The powder charge usually burns completely in the barrel, resulting in little muzzle signature and usually only a warm glow or a few sparks.

A modern loading such as the Remington Golder Saber offers good wound ballistics and excellent practical accuracy. Once mastered, this is a formidable firearm.

When I arm myself, I am well aware of the abrasions, lacerations and scarring I have suffered dealing with criminal sociopaths.

The force they use isn’t proportionate to the need, it is the force that makes them feel better, and that can be very violent. The mindset of personal defense is important.

You must have a good mental attitude. Mental sparring with an aggressive felon isn’t like having tea with Aunt Lucy, it will not make much sense to you.

In this world, addicts, serial killers and prostitutes live in a world of violence. The average American doesn’t. When violence comes, it is unexpected.

If you are willing to engage in training for personal defense, do so all of the way, not halfway. Don’t be the windup monkey that cannot get its cymbals together!

Once learned, there is nothing faster to a first-shot hit than the 1911 pistol.

Rock Island 1911 Muzzle
The fitment of the barrel bushing to the barrel is good on the Rock Island 1911.

Firing the Rock Island 1911

On the firing range, I used a combination of proven loadings. Remington UMC ball, Winchester USA Ready and Winchester Silvertip were among the loads used.

Good old 230-grain ball is accurate, feeds reliably and is accurate enough for most chores. The Rock comes on-target quickly.

Get the sights lined up, squeeze the trigger, control recoil, line the sights up and fire again. At five and seven yards, center hits were easy to come by with real speed.

The Silvertip is a 185-grain load at 1,000 fps. By lowering the bullet weight, recoil is decreased and the increased velocity results in excellent expansion.

A magazine full of these loads gave good results. For felons behind cover or institutional use, the Remington Golden Saber is a good choice.

During some of the testing, I drew from concealed carry using a Galco Stow-N-Go inside-the-waistband holster. The Rock and Galco make a good combination.

Armscor 1911 Rear View
A skeletonized hammer is a modern feature. The sights are small, but are accurate when lined up.

Absolute accuracy is always interesting. Most 230-grain ball loads will go into four inches at 25 yards for a five-shot group. The easily-controlled Silvertip load is slightly more accurate.

The Golden Saber load was the star of the show, with a five-shot group of  2.9 inches for the best effort at a long 25 yards, with the average on the order of 3.25 inches.

That is more than enough accuracy for a handgun likely to be used at seven yards. The Rock Island Armory 1911 is a pistol that you can afford, but may also save your life.

It is a good buy and one that many Americans trust.

Have you ever tried a Rock Island 1911? Tell us what you thought in the comments section below!

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 (31)

  1. I have 4 Rock Islands, 3 are 1911s. Put tritium sights on my Gov’t 1911 in 38 Super. With the 5″ barrel and 1350-1400 fps with 115 gr JHP loads, the expansion is violent and consistent. Also an FS single stack in 40 S&W and a double stack A2 in 10mm. All three are quite accurate and smooth shooters. The 5″ barrels get excellent performance out of all three cartridges. You can’t go wrong with a 1911, and you don’t need to spend a boat load of cash to get a solid pistol right out of the box. You do get better feed ramps on the 38 Super, 40, 10mm and even the 9mm, due to the smaller diameter round and having more feed ramp built into the barrel structure than is possible with a 45 ACP.

    Also have an M5 12 gauge, silver and black looking like an old trench gun. Very smooth action that is fast and easy to shoot accurately. I would buy another RIA gun in a heartbeat, and expect the same results.

  2. I purchased a Rock Island 9mm Tac Ultra (51679) double stack a few years back. Great looking gun and with 17+1, you aren’t going to run out of ammo. But it repeatedly stovepiped rounds and failure to feed. Sent it back and they polished the feed ramp and that improved things. A couple range outings later, the ejector rod broke so it was back to the factory a second time. Losing confidence in the gun, I sold it and bought a Beretta 92FS which has been flawless. Maybe I should have given the Rock more time, but it was making me nervous if I had to depend on it.

    Not losing confidence in the company, my second Rock Island is their 45ACP 1911, FS matte nickel finish (51448). The gun looked very well machined at the gun shop, which was a big difference from that Tac Ultra. It functioned well out of the box with FMJ but not with hollow points. I replaced the original magazines with Wilson Combat magazines and it works great with Armscor HP, Fiocci Defense Dynamics 200 gr JHP, and Remington Golden Sabres, so I stick with Fiocci and Sabres for self defense and generic FMJ for range practice. The noses of the JHP of those two brands is similar to a round nose, so perhaps that makes life easier for the gun.

  3. I love my Rock
    I was lucky enough to purchase a match model a few years back. I have to agree with the 500 break in rounds, I was kinda embarassed of my targets my first time out. Now 3-4” at 25 yards is doable even with older eyes these days. For me, my reloads work better than factory also. You can spend your money however you want. But I suggest to anyone looking for a 1911to try a Rock.

  4. Mine is a 22 magnum that I have owned for a few years. 5″ barrel 13-14 rounds per magazine. It’s not the most accurate but at short distances it’s fine. It’s all steel and very hefty. It’s a firestarter and extremely noisy!! A real attention getter. Good gun.

  5. Bought a 9mm RIA several years ago.
    Shot it a little over the years. Bought it because I like the way 1911’s feel and shoot.
    Also didn’t want to wear out an old series 70 colt.
    Last time at the range, the RIA had the hammer follow the slide and experienced a hang fire.
    Gun was pointed down range and no one was hurt.
    I contacted RIA customer service and told them that I would like to send in the gun for repair. One of the selling points was that they have a lifetime warranty.
    I got and e-mail back stating that the gun may have been put together wrong by me and they sent me a tutorial regarding how to fix.
    I assured them that I did not work on the trigger the gun and it would not have worked for the two hundred rounds me and my friends shot on the day of the incident.
    Got another e-mail stating that the video I sent shows the gun as being an older gun that I may have bought used. And if I send it in, they will not repair under warranty if it was assembled incorrectly.
    Also was a comment “you take your chances” by sending gun in. I was surprised at their response since gun failed at range with witnesses.
    I feel the company doesn’t trust it’s customers so at this point feel that I can’t trust them.
    They should have accepted the gun for warranty work and this wouldn’t have applied to my gun but if they saw abuse then contact customer and explain what they found and have customer pay for repair and or send back in the same condition that it was recieved..
    But to imply that it was the customer fault before examining the gun is very poor customer service.

  6. Just got my first ria. 3.3 bbl. I have a 3 in kimber that was my favorite carry , now its a toss up. Very accurate , perfect slide to frame fit, even the trigger was ok, I cleaned that up a bit. Very cool rod guide. Maybe its not a show piece but its a perfect carry

  7. Bought the RIA 1911, MS, 4.25.
    Love the weapon, still breaking it in. Accurate, fun to shoot.
    Disappointed in RIA, gun arrived with wrong owners manual. Contacted them twice. Was promised the manual 2 weeks ago. Nothing.
    Hope they honor their warranty

  8. just got the gun of my dreams my uncle brought home a 1911 from WWII and when is was 16 he let me shoot it. now at 57 I now have the rock island GI 1911 and I FREAKING LOVE IT. the feel of the grip, the trigger pull and the sexy look ( wich I dont think John Browning was going for but its sexy. dont tell my other pistols its now my favorite.

  9. I have 2 Rock Island 1911’s in my collection, a 4′ barrel Commander, and a full size one marketed under the brand of High Standard but manufactured by Rock Island Armory. Both are excellent pistols, reliable and accurate as any other 1911’s brands,

  10. I have the RIA .45 ACP compact 3.5″ barrel for years now. It takes all type of full metal jacket ammo. But selective to hallow point ammo for self defense. I suggest you select the one that will not jammed on you when you needed most. I agree it is accurate on 5 meters & 7 meters. It’s my favorite CC. I also have the 9mm 35 gen S&W & .40 S&W but I like my .45ACP by RIA better.

  11. I had a couple rock islands and their quality control in my opinion is shoddy the first one I bought was the tactical style and retailer for about 700 but when it arrived it was out of specs the first time I took it to the range I dropped the slide to load it and the hammer dropped with it and fired without the trigger being pulled. They sent me a new one but that ruined rock island for me.

  12. I’ve owned a RI 1911 for several years. I love it! As far as accuracy, I have no problem hitting silhouettes at 50 yards, and with some luck, I have hit a few at a hundred yards. Im not a professional shooter, maybe a little better than average. As far as beauty, it looks great to me. It’s a two tone stainless steel frame and blacked slide. I’ve put walnut grips on it and it impresses everyone that sees it. It has never jammed. It has shot every cheap target ammo I’ve purchased as well as the expensive critical defense ammo. I grew up pour, so this is an expensive pistol for me.

  13. I have the 1911 Rock. It is easy to manage and rounds are on target where I want them to go. I changed my 1911 sights out for adjustable rear sight. I have green, red, green optic line up. This pistol is very similar to my EAA Witness .45 I bought in the 80’s. Right out of the box it puts the rounds where you want them. I like the slim single stack magazine and the fact I don’t need special magazines from a specific provider. Any 1911 magazine works. Highly recommend this pistol.

  14. I own 3 Rocks, a 22 TCM/9mm combo, a 10mm and a 9mm. I also have a Kimber 9mm and Sig Sauer 10mm. I love my Rocks. I have never had any issues and they feel great in the hand. Being left handed a lot of mag releases would jamb me in the hand, not the Rock. I am not a competitive shooter. Great guns, great price what more do you need. And by the way the 22TCM is a flat shooting, easy to control, fire breathing dragon.

  15. The guys at the club talked me into shooting pistol. the fellow at the shop showed me a Rock Govt mdl. Replaced the sights with a set of Trajic-Con, nite sites. Later I added the full-length guide rod with two spring deal. I’m still deciding on grips though. But having fun all the way.

  16. I have both a .45 cal, and a .38 Super, drop them in the mud, drop them on the floor, drop them in the snow. Pick them up and fire, no problem. Disassemble, wipe off, run a patch through the barrel, wipe on some CLP, reassemble, works every time. After 30 years service, both Active Duty and National Guard, these are the most trustworthy firearms I’ve every used…

  17. I’ve got a Rock Officer with the 3.5″ barrel. Accuracy is good at 7-10 yards, and it eats every type of ammo I’ve fed through it. I’ve had it for about 8 months, and just passing 1,000 rounds. Zero malfunctions. Decent trigger that keeps getting better with every range session. Nice compact carry package. My only nit pick is the need for a paper clip to disassemble/reassemble the gun…I much prefer the bushing used on the full size and Commander-length barrels.

  18. @ RANDY JONES You just destroyed your comment by saying your EDC is 9MM If you go to the expense of purchasing the RI why not be a big boy and carry a big boy caliber??? For me the
    caliber for EDC must start no less then . be 40 Just my personal preference I like making sure my adversary stays down!!!

  19. Rock Island is the best… got a 1911 in 45acp GI series of course… then the same in 9mm… then got the “baby rock” in 380acp… all perform flawlessly !!

  20. I have a Rock Island in 10 mm. It has a fiber optic front sight and an adjustable rear sight. The hammer is skeletonized. It has a skeletonized adjustable trigger that is set at about 3 lbs. It has a 5” bull barrel so when the slide returns it locks the barrel back in the exact same spot. With the bull barrel the firearm breaks down different than a regular 1911. My grandson fired it at a steel target set at 30 yards and recorded a 5” group. He was in a standing position. At 71 with hands that shake, I was lucky to hit the target. The magazine that came with it hangs up when it is inserted every now and then. I bought 2 Wilson magazines. Problem solved. I purchased the firearm new for under $600.00. I carry it in our motor home and when I’m on the tractor. I fire Sig Sauer 180 gr FMJ. They move at 1250 FPS with 624 ft lbs. Great firearm!

  21. I own two 1911’s, a Colt Government Competition model and a Rock Island Tactical II Midsize (Commander, 4.25″ barrel) The Rock Island is every bit as accurate as the Colt, and the adjustable rear sight is easier to adjust than the Novak on the Colt. The Rock Island out of the box shot 1″ left. Two clicks and it was dead on at 10 yards. I wouldn’t hesitate to take it into battle, which I daresay my be coming sooner than any of us would like.

  22. I found a RIA 1911, in 10mm for $550, IIRC. Upgraded rear two dot sight and fiber front sight. Ambi safety, which i removed for carry, full length guide rod.
    It shot well out of the box, but some minor polishing, the addition of the mentioned WC magazines and changing red to green fiber makes this RIA a fine shooter.
    My carry load are 155 grain xtp at 1410fps.
    I am looking at a RIA in 45acp once the current stupid dissapates somewhat.

  23. People forget that the 1911 was designed to be a battle weapon. It is a true “weapon of war”. After seeing a number of 1911s, and owning an early series ’70 Colt, almost all of them can use a little of TLC (break-in period). Bet that for a first time 1911 shooter, the Rock Island would be an ideal “Learner” model. Once you learn how to strip it down, and how to do some simple DIY polishing of key parts, you may find you have a 1911 you don’t need to “upgrade”. Note – Even my Colt had small machining marks that I had to polish out. #400 grit sandpaper and numerous dis-assemblies/re-assemblies (to test action) latter, I had an action that was as smooth as anyone would ever want.

  24. I have a Rock Island officer model (4” barrel) matte black with rosewood grips. It was remarkably inexpensive when purchased new (around $450 if I recall) I have a mild 1911 addiction and the Rock is in good company. I also have a Para GI and a Springfield Armory A1 with significant upgrades and at well over $2,000.
    The Rock Island is not as accurate as the big money guns, but it’s off by fractions at distances it’ll never be used in a defensive situation.
    It has exceptional mechanics, a full guide rod and is very smooth. All in all a joy to shoot.

  25. The Rock Island 1911’s are more like the 1911’s that G.I.s carried into conflicts. I have no love for those boutique 1911’s costing a butt load of cash. I like the flat matt finish. It is my belief that a 1911 should be as simple and straightforward as possible. It is my belief that it is the most comfortable shooter there is and ever was. I will not carry one due to weight and capacity, and if it does have the capacity (double stack) then the weight is out of my comfort level. I like the safety features for a home defense pistol. At my favorite range the rental Rock Island 1911’s take a beating and just run like raped apes. And the accuracy is pretty right on. I said this before on a prior thread. I have seen people in competitions destroy competitors with a Ruger, a Rock Island, and even a Taurus. Bravo to the Armscor Rock Island 1911.

  26. The article is quite accurate. I own two Rock Island 1911s 5″. Both were purchased on line at an auction site. I bought them because; first, I like 1911s, second, my local GunSmith recommended them, he cleaned up the action of several for a shooting team, and third, It’s hard to beat the price.

    I have shot and carried the 1911 since 1983, one was under $200 and others were over $1,000, most were in between at $500 plus. I can honestly say the finish on a Kimber or Para looks nicer, but I’d also say the Rocks will shoot just as nice a group out to 25 yards. (Mostly limited by me.) The matte black finish is nice and you don’t think twice about stashing it under the seat of your truck when you need to walk into a police station, courthouse or voting precinct.

    Both of my Rocks are double stacks, that’s nice as well. They have eaten everything from my EDC ammo to just about anything else you can think of, brand or shape. Never a miss fire, burp or issue. The alloy frame’s weight savings is off set by the extra ammo. Both have Novac sights, the 45 is a fully loaded model. The 9mm/22TCM doesn’t have the ambi-safety, rail or magwell. Both are accurate, aim and felt just like every other 1911. The 22TCM should be put on your bucket list. It’s an awesome, flat shooting little puppy with the punch of a 9mm, thunder and lightening of a .357 and almost no recoil.

    The only drawbacks was I added an extended slide stop/release and wrap around Hogue grips (I wear size 4x gloves). I currently carry the Rock 9mm/22TCM in the 9mm set-up as an EDC.

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