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Range Report: Colt’s Defender — The Short 1911 .45 Auto

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Article first appeared in at Cheaperthandirt.com

Cheaperthandirt – For over 100 years, the Colt 1911 has been respected as the greatest fighting handgun in the world. The only legitimate gripe concerning the pistol is that it is long and heavy. This has led to various attempts to downsize the pistol into a comfortable and effective concealed carry handgun. The Colt Commander was the first commercial attempt.

Interestingly, Colt was familiar with the problem of personal defense versus service pistols and had downsized its first service pistol, the Colt 1900, into the Colt 1903 Pocket Hammer in 1903. This is a well-balanced handgun largely obscured by the 1911. The Government Model, with its 5-inch barrel, is regarded as the more reliable handgun in all situations, with all ammunition types. However, a great deal of effort has done into producing a reliable short barrel/short frame 1911.

The Army designed the original General Officer’s Pistol in 1972. A radically shortened 1911 designed for use by Army Generals, this handgun was years in development. The pistol featured a belled barrel because the conventional barrel bushing did not allow the greater tilt needed for the short slide. The locking lugs were modified as well. Colt also introduced an Officer’s Model for civilian use.

The Colt Defender is the smallest Colt 1911 to date relatively new by Colt standards. Introduced in 2000, the pistol features a 3-inch barrel, short slide and frame. The Colt Defender has earned a reputation as a reliable short-slide 1911 with good accuracy. Of course the shooter has to do his part.

Woman carrying 1911 pistol inside the waistband

Sometimes the butt of the 1911 is just too large for concealed carry. The Defender solves the problem.

The pistol demands a solid grip. The shooter cannot allow his thumbs to travel into the slide lock during recoil. The pistol isn’t finicky but due to the design, the pistol simply demands attention to detail. The Defender features a lightweight frame and a weight of less than 25 ounces. The short frame allows a 6-shot magazine. The longer Government Model magazines will go into the frame and lock but protrude below the grip frame.

Colt includes a well-designed beavertail grip safety that helps control the pistol, spreads recoil out on the handgun, and funnels the handgun into the proper grip. There is a rise in the middle of the grip safety that aids in maintaining a good grip on the pistol. It also provides a positive tactile reference point that can be used to develop a consistent grip.

The Colt Defender has a reputation for feeding anything. The feed ramp barrel section features Colt’s new ‘dimple;’ a new design that works well in practice. The pistol is a Series 80 type, which means the pistol features a positive firing pin block. It is stainless steel and supplied from the factory with Hogue rubber grips. I fitted one of mine with Ahrends checkered grips for a slightly smaller footprint.

four 1911s

The Defender, bottom, is compared to 1911 handguns with 4-, 4.25- and 5-inch barrels.

As for the magazines, the 6-round, flush-fitting magazine will always promote a more discreet concealed carry. The popular magazines with rubber pad on the base are great for aiding rapid reloads and make a good spare magazine. If you own several 1911 handguns, it is important not to get the magazines mixed up. The Defender features some of the best sights found on concealed carry handguns.

The pistol is all stainless construction. This alleviates a lot of the worry about carrying a handgun close to the body. The trigger is better than most 1911 handguns. According to the RCBS registering trigger pull gauge, the Colt breaks at 5.5 pounds and clean. There is little take-up and the compression is crisp.

Attention to detail with the Defender will deliver hits at longer ranges than most compact handguns, but the key is attention to detail and faultless trigger compression. The pistol kicks, and the time involved in realigning the sights is greater than with a Commander 1911. If you can carry a Commander you should, however, the Defender may be carried in a more discreet package with a smaller footprint. For this Shooter’s Log review, I loaded my personal Colt Defender with Winchester’s M1911 FMJ loads for the initial evaluation. Firing at man-sized targets at 5, 7 and 10 yards, the pistol stayed on target and gave credible results. I drew from the Don Hume belt slide. There were no malfunctions in firing 50 rounds.

Bob Campbell firing the Colt Defender

The Defender is controllable even in rapid fire from the retention position (extended Government Model magazine).

In a lightweight handgun, you want the best balance of low recoil and terminal effect possible. I have tested the Cor Bon 160-grain DPX load extensively. Accurate, clean burning, and fast, this load consistently breaks 1,000 fps from a 3-inch barrel. The all-copper bullets gave excellent results. The Hornady 185-grain FTX is another good choice. This load breaks about 975 fps from the Government Model. It exhibited about 880 fps from the short defender barrel.

Accuracy, however, was outstanding. At 15 yards the Defender cut a two-inch 5-shot group with this load. That is good enough for any reasonable chore. The hardest kicking load tested was theWinchester 230-grain PDX. I normally prefer the 230-grain load, and this one is proven in law enforcement use. At just over 800 fps this load hits hard and enjoys an excellent reputation for reliability.

When all is said and done, the Defender is an important pistol in the scheme of things. No handgun will give the user a higher degree of ounce-for-ounce protection than the Defender—providing the user is skilled in the use of a compact handgun.

Are you a fan of the 1911? How does the Defender stack up in your experience? Share your thoughts in the comment section.



Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.


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