Throwback Thursday — SIG Sauer C3 1911

SIG Sauer C3 with loaded magazine

SIG Sauer’s 1911 C3 provides the knockdown power shooter’s demand in a package size shooters wish for. After all, we all want the accuracy from a full-sized model in an easily concealable, compact-sized package. SIG’s C3 does not go quite that far, but it’s awful close and delivers where it counts most.

To deliver on its promise to offer a discreet, but shootable 1911, SIG built the C3 with Commander-length top including a match length and quality barrel, atop an Officer’s frame. This equates to a 1911 that is 7.7 inches long with a height of 4.75 inches. This makes the C3 easier to carry than a full-size without sacrificing any of the accuracy potential thanks to the 4.25-inch, match-grade barrel. As slight negative to the Officer-model frame is the loss of one round. Sig Sauer’s C3 comes standard with two seven-round magazines.

The C3 is a true workhorse and in SIG style, no corners were cut, no details left unattended. The slide is crafted from stainless steel, the frame from aluminum alloy. This provides the strength where it is needed most and lightens the overall mass weight for carry. At 29.5 ounces, the SIG isn’t the lightest 1911 on the market, but it is very respectable for all it offers.

Accuracy from shot-to-shot demands not only a proper grip, but also a consistent one. The C3 has several features to ensure hand purchase and enhance your grip. The front strap is checkered with 25 LPI and the mainspring housing with 20 LPI. The beavertail safety has a distinctive palm swell to provide a tactile grip marker and promote a repeatable hand positioning. While on the subject, SIG’s C3 is milled in all of the right places to ensure easy purchase when manipulating the slide. Roll it over, and you’ll likely notice SIG opted for an external extractor as well.

Sig Sauer 1911 C3 left side
The controls on the C3 are familiar to anyone who has shot a 1911. Note the look of the stainless controls against the black frame.

SIG’s C3 features a single-side, frame-mounted thumb safety. That’s great for righties, but does not serve the southpaw well. While SIG did not opt for an ambidextrous safety, it did design the C3 with an oval-slotted hammer that makes a left-handed safety a simple affair.

As earlier stated, inside and out the SIG C3 exudes quality. All parts are constructed using nothing but the real deal—no plastic or metal injection molded parts. For the C3, SIG engineers went with a standard recoil spring and plug guide. This is an advantage over a full-length guide rod for most when field stripping the C3 for cleaning or maintenance. For the competition shooter, a full-length guide rod make eke out a critical point that makes the difference between being on the top spot of the podium or being the first loser. However, the C3 is a defensive pistol. Accuracy is certainly important and the long side is appreciated. Nonetheless, target accuracy is not crucial in a defensive situation, but easy maintenance is appreciated.

Standard to every SIG I have ever owned or tested, the C3 features a tight fit. Shoot 25,000 rounds through one and shake it. It will be as tight as the day it rolled off the assembly line. The C3 is no exception. This demonstrates the quality and attention to detail that goes into every part.

SIG Sauer C3 right side fully cocked and locked
Checkering on the grip, frontstrap and main spring housing provide plenty of hand purchase—almost too much for some. Notice the enhanced palm swell on the beavertail safety too.

In putting the C3 through its paces, I tested the trigger. In my hand, it broke crisply with light to moderate pressure. On the trigger gauge, it broke at 5.2 pounds. Anything in the 5- to 6-pound range is ideal by most people’s standards for a defensive pistol. Law enforcement and other professionals in high stress situations are often mandated to use much heavier triggers. Accuracy may suffer, but it significantly reduces the chance of an accidental discharge. However, the C3’s trigger is set for the intended audience and functions just fine.

On top, the C3 sports Novak adjustable sights complete with Tritium inserts to properly adjust the attitude of anything that goes bump in the night. The muted green glow is more than sufficient to index your sights in lowlight situations, without being so bright as to cause a halo effect.


The SIG C3’s two-tone finish presents itself well. Complementing the black frame is stainless controls—a fine touch. I recently came into possession of a set of Crimson Trace grips for the 1911. I really wanted to outfit them on the C3, but the checkered Rosewood grips were just too beautiful. The C3’s loss was a victory for one of my Armscor 1911s instead.

SIG Elite ammunition with SIG Sauer C3 1911 pistol
Some things were simply made to go together and SIG’s Performance Elite ammunition and the C3 are a match made in heaven.

On the Firing Line

While combining a long slide and shorter grip is not a new concept, 1911 purists will notice the tendency of the C3 to feel “nose heavy.” The longer slide allows for better powder burn and increased velocity. Both are good for accuracy, but perhaps more important to a defensive pistol, the increased speed should aid the expansion efforts of most premium self-defense rounds.

Otherwise, the trigger and controls should all be intimately familiar to other 1911s. The long sight radius should more than compensate though and provide most, if not all, of the accuracy you are used to. However, accuracy is worthy of more discussion. The aluminum frame will transfer more felt-recoil. That is simply a fact of physics between aluminum and steel.

The C3’s recoil was moderate and on par with what you should expect from a .45 ACP. No surprises were noted. Low-recoil rounds offered a faster follow up; hot, self-defense rounds knocked the steel target down better with moderate placement. Perhaps, the best general advice I can give is to shoot ball ammo for practice, and you should find the results on paper you are looking for. When shooting premium self-defense ammunition, focus on your skill-building drills not group size (as much).

Ammo Avg. Muzzle Velocity 5-shot Avg. Group Size
Black Hills
185-gr JHP
939 fps 2.75″
Black Hills
230-gr FMJ
820 fps 3.25″
Federal HST
230-gr +P JHP
931 fps 2.375″
Winchester SXT
230-gr JHP
806 fps 2.625″
SIG Sauer Elite Performance
230-gr FMJ
815 fps 2.5″
SIG Sauer Elite Performance
200-gr JHP
912 fps 2.375″
Winchester USA
230-gr JHP
808 fps 2.625″

During my initial 100 rounds to break in the C3, I did experience one failure to feed. This is not completely unexpected in a new pistol. However, with approximately 1,500 rounds after the break in, I have not experienced a failure to feed or failure to fire.

The handling was as expected and the C3 cleared leather easily. The long sight radius preformed and accurate defensive fire was achieved. Did it shoot as well as full-size competition 1911? It may have shot as well, but certainly a little less accurate. Did it perform as well as other defensive handguns? It not only performed as well, it easily outpaced most both in accuracy and in rate of accurate fire. Although I fired multiple types of different .45 ACP ammunition, for carry, I have it loaded with SIG’s Performance Elite ammunition.

I have never been one who put too much stock in testing pistols from the bench. Rifles from the bench will produce groups at least as good, and likely just a little better, than a solid rest such as a bipod or shooting sticks. That being said, I typically test from the bench because others will, and I want to offer all of the data that may be useful in making a decision of whether or not to purchase a particular firearm.

SIG Sauer C3 1911
Action Semi auto
Barrel Length 4.25 inches
Caliber .45 ACP
Overall Height 4.75 inches
Overall Length 7.7 inches
Overall Width 1.37 inches
Weight Unloaded 29.5 ounces
Sights Novak, adjustable
Stock or Grip Rosewood
Capacity 7+1
Frame Stainless steel

SIG Sauer pistols are known for their “To Hell and Back” reliability, but not known so much for its 1911s. How do you feel the SIG 1911 stacks up to your favorites? Share your thoughts or experiences in the comment section.

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 (12)

  1. Call me a purist or just ‘oldfashioned’, but I read the article until I got to the barrel length and stopped as it has a 4.25 barrel, not a 5 inch. I used to have a Sig 2340 in .40 caliber that I bought used. I loved the decocker, but the pistol had slipped through the cracks when SIG had inspected it. At that time Sig inspected all used weapons of their brand before allowing it to be resold. Mine had extensive holster wear, but it also had extensive wear on the bottom of the barrel and made a 12 circle on a target at 15 feet so I got rid of it along with all of the modified hi-cap magazines that I had accumulated. A shame as although I do not care for short barreled weapons, I do like a decocker.

  2. I bought my C3 about a year ago. It has never been reliable, with failure to feed issues and ejection of unfired cartridges at the 7th round. Some thought it was the type of ammo, however all brands have had the same issues. It’s been back to Sig Sauer twice now, and they claim not to be able to duplicate the issues. I’ve had 5 other shooters fire this gun all with the same jams and miss-feeds, including a couple of gunsmiths. This is my first and last Sig.

  3. I have owned the SIG C3 for about a year now and it is absolutely an awesome handgun ! It’s a beautiful design with no flaws. It is very accurate and a great gun to shoot ! It may be the right carry for some and not for others but it’s always just a matter of opinion . I will say this,..I have no plans on ever getting rid of mine ! It is one if not the best handgun I have ever purchased . Using the phrase KNOCK DOWN POWER doesn’t bother me because I know that it’s just an expression when shooting a 1911. So BIG DADDY ?,.. Mello out because everyone uses expressions to describe one thing or another at times as you have with your screen name lol !

  4. Knockdown power, it’s really time to take that phrase out of the vernacular of the gun community once and for all, permanently. Was it used to play to the mentality of the 1911 crowd? If so even worse on your part as a writer.

    All the modern ballistic science as well as basic physics disproves the idea of knockdown power. It doesn’t exist. Like the Hollywood 12 gauge shotgun sending people back 10 feet after a center mass hit with buckshot. It doesn’t happen, we all know that.

    The perpetuation of ignorance in the USA is amazing. I cannot believe some of the things I see at the range from shooters, no excuse. I am by no means a professional but I know the difference between reality and fantasy.

    Knockdown power is pure fantasy. You put it in the first sentence, I can only think it was there for a reason. To play to the.45ACP 1911 bigger is better crowd. If you write a quality review of the gun you do not have to revert to those tricks.

    Just stop, stop already, enough. I’m seeing a lot of miss-information and outright incorrect information on these articles on “The Shooters Log”……..It’s just plain ignorant.

    1. A .45ACP will certainly knock down a steel target faster than a 9mm will; so “knockdown power” exists and can be relevant. Just not in the way a lot of people may think

  5. SIG’s are said to be great weapons and have certainly found their niche over the years, but I have never been a fan. This C3 comes along with an aluminum frame with a steel side. Am I the only one that sees the wear potential by placing a hard metal over a soft metal? The same lightness could have been obtained with titanium. Also, when it comes to a .45 cal., who wants light weight? The beauty of an all steel pistol is that the weight absorbs a great deal of the recoil. Sorry, folks, with keep my all steel .45. I have tried light weight pistols in the past, in 9 mm and in .380. Don’t like the ‘felt’ recoil of these light weights in either caliber.

    1. Kimber has been matching steel slides to aluminum frames for years. Haven’t heard of any problems with it.

    2. Dave,

      I, of course, applaud the idea but must protest that it has much in the way of originality. Some years ago, a custom full race pistolsmith named Don Olson, doing business as Cascade Bluing and Arms, Inc. built just such a pistol for me — but it differed in a few respects.
      First, it was an all steel gun produced from a Caspian Arms upper and lower in Damascus stainless steel patterns. It has a Colt Commander length upper and an officer’s model lower. It uses Colt Officer’s Model magazines. It has tritium 3 dot sights and Pachmyer rubber checkered grips in Officer’s Model length. It is a heavy gun being all steel, but recoil is virtually non-existent.
      It came with two different recoil springs, one at 18 pounds and one at 21 pounds for shooting +P defensive rounds. I can shoot regular hardball for practice and hot Buffalo Bore +P defensive rounds with no fears of damaging the gun.
      It has a Bar Sto barrel and the accuracy is equal to or better than my Wilson. It has a fitted barrel bushing and a two piece full length guide rod. The two piece guide rod makes disassembly a snap. Just a quarter turn of the Allen wrench and the guide rod can be easily unscrewed into two pieces. That was done to make changing the recoil springs easier for switching from practice to defensive rounds.
      This pistol, being Damascus stainless is a thing of beauty but heavier than a dead preacher. I have to wear a 511 nylon lined belt to carry the weight.
      To top it off, it has as a serial number my initials. Shoots like a dream for a .45 and is deadly accurate. It is just too heavy for general concealed carry but has no other discernible faults.

  6. i own the C3 and its a very sweet, accurate, and reliable shooter.mine has the crimson trace laser grips . beautifull piece of machinery!

    1. you doubting the power of the .45 go ahead and “protect” your family with a 380 or 9 milimeter. hope you’re spot on with shot placement. even then-hope you live thru the gunfight

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