A Low-Recoil Compact .380 Pistol for Carry – The Browning 1911-380 [FIREARM REVIEW]

Browning 1911-380 Black Label Medallion Pro Compact .380.JPG

Browning 1911-380 Black Label Medallion Pro Compact .380.JPG

A thing of “Beauty and Performance.” Some words meant to describe the new for 2017 Browning 1911-380 compact carry pistol. This new offering blends the 1911 design with the .380 caliber and a very lightweight, compact frame for concealed carry purposes. Some of these new 1911-380s are in Browning’s “Limited Availability” category, while others are in current production, so you must shop around for them and be patient.

The words “John Browning,” “Black Label,” and “Medallion” indicate that this gun is in a special class of high-quality defensive pistols. The Browning 1911-380 Black Label Medallion Pro Compact semi-auto pistol is a scaled down version of the John M. Browning designed M1911. We know that John Browning built the 1911 prototype, had several 1911-part patents, and essentially invented the 1911 and the .380 cartridge. Browning company says the Black Label Medallion Pro (BLMP) is 85 percent the size of a Model 1911 in .45 ACP, making it a more compact pistol for concealed carry, yet the grip is long and wide enough to allow much greater shooting control than is offered by smaller .380 ACP pistols. Similar to a full-size 1911, the Browning 1911-380 operates with a locked-breech recoil-operated system, which uses a much lighter recoil spring than the blowback-operated .380 pistols, making manual operation of the slide easy. Felt recoil is also supposedly less. My wife took notice of these things and I like the short and soft single-action trigger press of 1911s anyway. Time for a thorough review to learn things myself and share them.

Let me give you a brief preview of this 1911-380 pistol. The .380 is constructed with a composite mainframe, with machined 7075 aluminum sub-frame and slide rails. Very lightweight. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but this gun “cleans up” very well for appearance. The BLMP comes with a steel barrel, steel 3-dot combat sights dovetailed into the slide or steel night sights (reviewed here), as well as beautiful checkered rosewood grip panels with a gold Buckmark inlay. The stainless steel slide is finished with a blackened top and silver brushed polished flats. The very thin, compact grip features a flared beavertail grip safety with a checkered and raised memory bump. This grip is excellent, especially for those with small to medium-sized hands and fingers, but is wide enough to allow a full purchase. The flat mainspring housing has a non-aggressive textured pattern to aid in providing a sure grip. The extended ambidextrous thumb safety is easy to reach and intuitive to operate with either hand. The nice alloy trigger has a nice  break, like a standard 1911 trigger. Surprisingly, disassembly of the BLMP 1911-380 pistol is also similar (but not exactly) to a full-size 1911. It comes with two 8-round, heat-treated, single-stack steel magazines and a black high-grade polymer (ABS) gun case.

But is it accurate? Does it shoot well? Is it reliable? Is the felt recoil low? Is it too light and too underpowered for concealed carry? Is the slide easy to rack for someone with weak hands? I was anxious to shoot it to decide these things for myself.

To begin, I want to give you the specifications and features for the Browning 1911-380. Then I want to give you my 10 criteria that I use to evaluate all guns. When you are evaluating your carry guns or any gun, determine your goal, purpose, and own criteria, being certain to compare apples with apples and not with oranges, so to speak. Finally, I want to give you my analysis for each of my criteria and present my final recommendation to purchase or not. As always, set your own criteria, identify your purpose, do your own research, compare this gun’s attributes against your criteria, and check my data and information with yours, and shoot it yourself before you buy this or any gun.

SPECS and FEATURES- Browning 1911-380

Browning 1911-380 Grip Safety, Beavertail, Skeletonized Trigger, and Custom Thin Rosewood Grips
Browning 1911-380 Grip Safety, Beavertail, Skeletonized Trigger, and Custom Thin Rosewood Grips

Criteria and Considerations

Here are just 10 of my criteria and factors I use for evaluating any handgun, so I will use them for the BLMP 1911-380. In addition to my criteria, there are other subjective features that may be appealing for some, like a certain style, mag release location, action, caliber, appearance, number of mags included, type of sights/modifications, bore axis, rail, grip angle, non-porting or porting, included extras like a holster and pouch, customer service, etc. So, I combined these into my last Miscellaneous criterion. I must admit that ALL gun-choice decisions involve tradeoffs, but I really want ALL of my criteria to be met. I assigned a total possible point score of 10 points for each of my 10 criteria for a total possible score of 100 points. You can certainly add your own additional criteria and preferences or subtract any of mine.

Recognize that there are several features, characteristics, pros and cons, and personal criteria to include and consider and you make your own tradeoffs according to your priorities, preferences, defined needs, and use.

Browning 1911-380 Compact- Notice Thin Profile, Night Sights, & Grip Safety
Browning 1911-380 Compact- Notice Thin Profile, Night Sights, & Grip Safety

1911-380 Black Label Medallion Pro Compact .380 ACP Range Test

I was anxious to shoot the BLMP and wanted to use a variety of ammo to test its reliability and accuracy. I fired about 250 total .380 Auto rounds of various ammo, i.e. Winchester 95 grain FMJ (955 fps Muzzle Velocity, 192 ft lbs Muzzle Energy), Sig Sauer V-Crown 90 grain JHP (980 fps Muzzle Velocity, 192 ft lbs Muzzle Energy), Sig Sauer Elite Performance 100 grain FMJ (910 fps Muzzle Velocity, 184 fl lbs Muzzle Energy), and Federal Premium 99 grain HST JHP (1030 fps Muzzle Velocity, 233 ft lbs Muzzle Energy.)  Thanks to Sig Sauer and Federal Premium for providing the rounds to test and evaluate the BLMP 1911-380 pistol. I bought the Winchester FMJ and the American Eagle FMJ ammo myself for this test.

Shooting all of this various premium ammo really gave me a feel for how this new BLMP 1911-380 could handle different ammo grains, types, and brands. Initially for the field test, I experienced a minor reliability concern  about the slide not locking back on some empty mags, so I wanted to try various ammo to see if that was the reason. It was not. It fed hollow points fine. Usually I shoot 500 rounds over a couple of days to decide if I want to carry the gun or not, but this time I shot only 250 rounds over 2 days, due to time constraints. I want to shoot more rounds and will to deal with my minor concern. Below are my evaluations for each of my 10 criteria for my concealed carry purpose. I wanted to put the gun through its paces and check it thoroughly for malfunctions, stoppages, and performance with different quality JHP and FMJ ammo. I wanted to see how my hands and finger sizes, aging eyesight, and basic techniques affected accuracy, reliability, and slide lockback.

The 1911-380s features that stood out for me were its very light weight of 16 ounces, its thin profile, the slim grips with the beavertail, the low bore axis, the excellent feel in my medium-sized hands, the excellent accuracy at 15 yards and less, the light trigger press in single action, and its similarities to my favored 1911 design. This BLMP felt great in my wife’s small hands and fingers and in mine. Both of us could easily reach the controls. Racking the slide and operating the slide release and mag release were easy for both of us. It honestly is very ease to rack the slide. The beautiful grips with the medallion and the satin polished steel slide exuded quality. Without any doubt, my wife and I experienced much less felt recoil than several other recently reviewed guns. Of course, those guns were in 9mm, while this is a .380 with a 3.63″ barrel. Still, the felt recoil was very mild. I understand why these guns are in demand, have limited availability, are difficult to find… and are priced as they are.

Below, I will present my ideas and evaluations for each of my criteria, after my range testing of the BLMP. I found that the BLMP 1911-380 was accurate at close combat distances of 15 yards and less, had great ergonomics, and had many special features. I did have some concerns about its failure to lock the slide back, after some mags were empty. So I used several different brands and types of JHP and FMJ ammo to further test it. No ammo problem.  At first, I thought it was a magazine problem. As careful as I was with my grip, I did occasionally during rapid fire just barely touch the front of the slide lock lever. This may have contributed some to the slide lock issue. I do want to fire more rounds through it to further evaluate reliability and so should you. Below I’ll share some specifics. Remember, I only fired about 250 rounds in the gun and this gets expensive for me, even with  some provided ammo. Note that during my range testing, I had no malfunctions or failures with any of the FMJ or JHP ammo fired, other than the lock-back issue. All of the FMJ and the JHP ammo shot fine and one brand or type did not aggravate this issue. But, do I recommend it for concealed carry, you test fire it for yourself and see my comments below.

Browning 1911-380 - 16 Rapid Fire Hits at 5 Yards
Browning 1911-380 – 16 Rapid Fire Hits at 5 Yards

Range Test Results for each of my 10 Criteria:

1. Accuracy and Reliability – Score: 10

The accuracy of the BLMP was excellent for me at close combat, defensive distances of 3, 5, 7, 10, and 15 yards for this shooter with aging eyes. At distances beyond that I could tell my accuracy was affected by the gun and sights and secondarily by my techniques. I was holding the gun firmly, not limp wristing it, my grip was solid and correct, my stance was fine, my sight picture was very good, I was not flinching, and had good trigger control. My first group of 16 rounds fired rapid fire at 5 yards combat distance with a mag change was fine, as shown above. My other groups at longer distances beyond 15 yards were wider and about 3 to 3.5 inches or so. This compact gun is designed for up-close encounters and is very accurate for this. It is not designed for precision competition shooting and long distances. The soft 4.75 pound trigger press, with a moderate reset, helped me not to have to press the trigger as hard with less movement to get very decent hits. Again, I like 1911s and shoot them often. The comfortable feel and fit in my hand, overall ergonomics, lighter felt recoil, and solid beavertail grip helped me to be accurate. I did my part and the gun really did its part. I enjoyed shooting this fun gun. It was so lightweight and easy to handle to get the very good accurate hits. I left the range feeling good with a smile. But, in the recesses of my mind, I was concerned about its reliability for concealed carry because the slide did not lockback when some mags were empty. Cause? Certainly, this reliability will improve after more rounds down range. In fact, I came back to this paragraph to add that the mags were not the problem. The Browning service department rep told me it was probably mag related and sent me another mag for trial. I discovered that my medium-sized support thumb resting under my strong thumb was just barely touching the front end of the slide lock lever at times, with my 2-thumbs down range grip. My hands and thumbs are not large, but I guess large enough for this small .380 frame and to contribute to the failure for the slide to lock back. So be very aware of this, even if your thumbs and fingers are not large in size. Test its reliability for yourself before you use this gun for personal protection. Under stress, you might accidentally do what I did and possibly hamper function. I want to pursue this for the real cause. SAFETY FIRST ALWAYS! This is a great, fun and accurate gun with several fine attributes. I used my Modified-Isosceles Stance, a two-handed grip, and the center-mass sight picture. I shot mostly Sig Sauer Elite Performance FMJ and JHP and Winchester FMJ ammo, with a few Federal HST. The gun was not picky and digested all ammo easily. The beavertail, lightweight frame, somewhat long barrel, and thin grip allowed me to control for accuracy.

2. Trigger Press – Score: 9

The trigger press averaged from 4.75 pounds with 10 readings from my Lyman Electronic Trigger Pull Gauge. I was expecting a short and soft single-action trigger press and I got it. Like a standard 1911. Yes! It definitely met my press expectations and felt recoil was very negligible. What fun to shoot this gun. If only I could be certain of its reliability for my concealed carry purpose. More time at the range will tell, but the press, control, and accuracy are there. The trigger press was smooth, short, crisp, with a moderate reset.

3. Trigger – Score: 9

The trigger had just a very little creep, but was crisp and smooth. It is a clean-breaking trigger and I could easily identify the tactile and audible click. It had a consistent but moderately short reset. But, I enjoyed the smooth and crisp trigger in firing my 250 rounds. The aluminum trigger was not abrasive and was flat enough for my follow-up shots. The trigger reach for my wife and her shorter fingers was fine.

4. Barrel Length – Score: 10

The 3.62-inch barrel with the gun’s 16 ounce very light weight really helped me control muzzle flip and the felt recoil a lot. The steel barrel had a tight fit to the slide, was of high quality, and will be durable.

5. Sights – Score: 8

The front and rear night sights were made of metal and glowed in my dark-closet trial very well. At the range I shot black center splatter targets and had some trouble seeing them for my sight picture in daylight. The small, front night sight did NOT stick out hardly at all in the daylight and against the black target. Disappointing. The front night sight had a very small dot and with my aging colorblind eyes, I could not see the bullseye against the black and could not place the front sight dot on the target. I was glad it had night sights, but the very small front sight did not work for my sight alignment and sight picture in daytime. For the extra charge for the night sights, I would want a larger front dot and maybe even a tritium yellow ring. Maybe the standard sights would be better or get a big dot or fiber optic front sight. After about 200 rounds, the rear sight fell off and I had to realign it and locktite it in place. Hope it stays put.

6. Proper Gun Weight – Score: 10

The overall 16 ounce unloaded weight was very light and great for everyday concealed carry or toting it to the range. It did meet my general criterion and it certainly felt solid in my hand. Of course, there are several lighter and smaller polymer guns on the market now. Some prefer them and others do not. Your call. This gun is very thin and light in your hands, but added weight does help hold a gun steady. But there was not that much recoil and muzzle flip at all with the BLMP. Weight is not a concern at all. This will probably not be my carry gun until I shoot more rounds thru it, see if the rear sight stays in place, and resolve my reliability concern. It most certainly makes a fun range plinking and a fine backup gun, maybe even for concealed carry for folks with weak hand strength and medical concerns, etc.

7. Caliber – Score: 9

While I prefer the 9mm caliber, used with appropriate ammo with the right ballistics and grain weight, the same could be said of this .380.  It was easy and comfortable for me to shoot the BLMP 1911-380. Felt recoil was low and easy for me to control. It digested the various .380 JHP and FMJ ammo easily without a single malfunction or stoppage. It remains a .380 caliber… an accurate .380.

"Every gun has Beauty, but not everyone sees it."
“Every gun has Beauty, but not everyone sees it.”

8. Capacity – Score:8

Only two magazines were included and this is always a concern for me. For any gun, I want 3 mags to be included, to save from having additional expenditures and as a minimal necessity. The standard capacity of 8 was nice for this 1911-380, but other .380 guns have that capacity also and some with more. Wish a third magazine was included, especially so I could expand my mag tests for my reliability concern about the slide not locking back after an empty mag. The mags were high quality & made of metal with witness holes. My medium-sized hands were comfortable with the mags. There is a magazine disconnect safety, which I generally do not like, especially in a defensive gun.

Browning 1911-380 Compact Component Parts- Similar to Standard 1911
Browning 1911-380 Compact Component Parts- Similar to Standard 1911

9. Ergonomics – Score: 10

Overall, the ergonomics of the BLMP are excellent. The 1911-380’s nice matte stainless steel luster and beautiful and flawless finish will make any owner proud. It felt great in my hands, pointed naturally, and the grip angle and bore axis were just right. The grip felt very comfortable with its just-right texturing and finger reach distance to the trigger. I easily had a firm and secure grip with no cuts and no abrasions from the texturing. The long skeletonized hammer spur and tang by the beavertail were just right for my medium-sized hands. The slide release lever is extended a little and I like it. The mag release button was small, but stuck out from the frame so you can make solid contact. ALL of my mags did drop freely and quickly. The mags were solidly made of steel, looked good, and had witness holes to indicate how many rounds were loaded. But, I wish that three mags were included. There is no rail and only rear cocking serrations, adding to the sleek and smooth profile. The felt recoil by me was very manageable. There are ambidextrous thumb safeties. There is a half-cock safety position.

Nice Hard Plastic Case with 1911-380 Pistol, cable lock & keys, 2 mags, & Owner's Manual Included
Nice Hard Plastic Case with 1911-380 Pistol, cable lock & keys, 2 mags, & Owner’s Manual Included

10. Miscellaneous – Score: 9

As always before shooting any new gun, I disassembled, lubed and cleaned, and re-assembled the BLMP before I shot it. I did not have to press the trigger to disassemble it and it was very easy and quick to field strip, like my 1911s. The slide racked so very easily with very little resistance at all. A “piece of cake” even for my wife and her concerns. The price of the gun is somewhat high compared to competing and current striker-fired polymer guns, but consider what you get. You usually do get what you pay for. Some question the .380 caliber for concealed carry and I have to admit I have some hesitation as well. But, recognize that some .380s have trouble with hollow points, studies show the .380 is really close in performance to other calibers (but less powerful than 9mm for example), controllability of felt recoil and muzzle flip are important for less movement and accuracy advantages, and getting accurate hits on target as fast as you can are what really matter. This gun did not have trouble with hollow points at all, some ammo that it uses is designed for short barrels and lower calibers, felt recoil was mild and controllable by me and my wife, and I was accurate with it. But, what about you? Strictly your call!

As always I believe the BEST Concealed Carry PISTOL is:

  1. The one with the highest CALIBER,
  2. That you are most ACCURATE with,
  3. That feels the most COMFORTABLE,
  4. Is the most CONTROLLABLE by you, A-N-D
  5. Are willing to CARRY with you every day.

Included in the high-impact ABS plastic case with the 1911-380 BLMP pistol are 2 magazines, owner’s manual, lock and keys. It does not include accessories like some have, e.g. a holster, mag pouch, loader or other accessories… or the third mag. But, there are several nice features for this very quality gun. Again, there is a magazine disconnect safety on standard models. There is no written warranty, but a limited implied warranty for manufacturer’s defects.

Browning 1911-380 in Browning Lock-Pro Polymer (Optional) Holster with Tek-Lok Belt Clip-MSRP $44.99
Browning 1911-380 in Browning Lock-Pro Polymer (Optional) Holster with Tek-Lok Belt Clip-MSRP $44.99

Total Points = 92 out of 100 Possible.

I certainly RECOMMEND this beautiful and quality Black Label Medallion Pro Compact 1911-380 for your serious consideration. Consider it for your fun range and plinking gun, home defense backup, as an investment with the gun’s limited availability and demand, and even for concealed carry, AFTER you shoot it more and match it to your preferences, conditions, and shooting abilities and factors.

If you are a new shooter or getting ready to train new shooters and need a gun for that, or for your children or others with smaller hands and fingers, then this is a very good gun for those situations. Or, if you have medical conditions and are averse to strong recoil or have trouble racking a slide, this is an option. This single-action compact gun is very accurate and lightweight with excellent ergonomics, but I believe its reliability needs to be confirmed BY YOU by putting more rounds down range for concealed carry use and for self defense considerations.

Again, it is a .380 ACP caliber and I usually recommend a minimum of 9mm caliber for personal protection. But, any gun is better than no gun or the one you leave at home in your safe and do not have access to. And apply my 5 “Best Concealed Carry Pistol” factors above to yourself. Since the slide did not lock back sometimes for me and my big thumbs, you should try it to see if your physical and medical profiles match it for your carry or personal protection gun. This gun definitely needs at least 500 rounds through it before I would feel comfortable and safe carrying it everyday. Now please understand that this is a quality and accurate gun and a very good candidate for concealed carry, but only after you shoot it for yourself with a minimum of 500 rounds and make your reliability decision

Given the many competing guns in the market now, their lower prices, the 9mm options, and with improvements in certain features, you must make a decision that is best for you and your requirements, preferences, medical conditions and limitations, and wallet. Its accuracy, fit and finish, low felt recoil, easy slide racking, and overall ergonomics are there, but there are other considerations for your particular use and standards. So it is up to you to consider my opinions and try it for yourself and assess it relative to your own criteria, preferences, and reliability trials.

I hope my review of the Browning 1911-380 Compact .380 single-action pistol has helped you gain some information you did not previously have. Consider that these are just my opinions with limited live-range fire and shooting myself only about 250 rounds of ammo. Like always, I recommend that you shoot any handgun yourself before you purchase it. Decide on your criteria, how you will primarily use the gun, and what features are important to you and you are willing to pay for ahead of your range time. Then critically evaluate the gun YOURSELF per your criteria and purpose, with standard drills (several mentioned in my book), with various ammo types and brands, over an extended break-in period of about 500 rounds. Remember, Safety First Always.

Continued Success!


Morgan, UT, 84050

Sig Sauer Elite V-Crown & Performance JHP-FMJ Ammo
Newington, NH 03801

Federal HST Personal Defense JHP Ammo
Anoka, MN 55303

Photos by Author.

* This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense and concealed carry. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.

© 2017 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at [email protected].