You have probably heard the expression “Nothing beats a 1911 trigger.” Many shooters love the 1911 single action only soft, short, and crisp trigger, even describing the trigger “break” as smooth and clean like a glass rod snapping. There is very little or no excess movement, or over travel at the precise moment the sear releases the hammer to fire most 1911s. There usually is a short reset. The amount of pressure typically required to press the 1911 trigger and fire a shot can be anywhere from 2 to 5 pounds, usually around 4 pounds or so. So, less movement is necessary than many other gun designs and triggers to make the “bang switch” efficiently work for accuracy. Without any doubt, a trigger and its required press movement significantly affect any handgun’s accuracy and performance.
Are Today’s Sub-Compact 9mm 1911s Too Finicky?
Some do not like small 1911s in 9mm or any caliber, feel they are too finicky, picky with ammo, and do not feel “safe” with such a light and short trigger. Some say to be a “real” gun it must be a .45 in 1911. Well, this caliber battle has been fought many times, and the “war” continues. Individual preference and personal choice are the optimal answers! Of course, most of the apprehension and reluctance to rely on any mechanical device for safety can be overcome with proper, frequent practice, muscle memory, safety focus, and familiarity and acceptance of the manual of arms for the 1911.
For example, they are designed to be carried “cocked and locked” in condition 1. See my article “Balancing Safety & Readiness: Carrying “Cocked and Locked?” about the balance between readiness and safety. And it is true in the past, 1911s with short 9mm barrels have had some cartridge feeding, extraction, and ejection problems.
Among other things, the AMMO chosen for any particular 1911 is a major factor in performance and reliability. Past problems arose mostly from using flat-nose rounds, short truncated rounds, the type of magazine used and their spacers and followers, light recoil springs, unpolished feed ramps, and the older design of the feed ramp and mechanisms.
However, almost all new 1911 sub-compact (less than 4″ barrel) and compact (4″- less than 5″ barrel) 9mms, mags, and manufactured ammo have corrected or significantly resolved these earlier problems and more than the majority function reliably with proper regular maintenance.
Recent Significant Improvements in Short-Barreled 1911s
There have been recent, significant improvements in ammo for short-barreled small 1911s and other guns. Modern short-barreled ammo is engineered to strict SAAMI specs, and some have low flash and clean-burning powders for maximum performance and shootability, but there is a cost for quality in 1911s and in the ammo.
Today, there are many 1911 manufacturers, and the quality and range of features, options, prices, and reliability vary significantly. Firearm manufacturers have made key changes to older 1911 models and offer 1911s with many options.
I know it is not a fluke that my many newer compact and sub-compact 1911s perform very well, are consistently reliable, and I have honestly not had any feeding or function problems with them in the past seven years. There have been significant 1911 improvements in designs, technologies, customizations, and tweaking, in addition to ammo improvements. I bet my life on the newer 1911s in 9mm.
And, this is not to say that I do not like or appreciate the nice triggers in several of the new striker-fired guns and others, given the improvements. I appreciate both quality 1911s and striker-fired handguns. Really, I like them all, but the 1911 design has special appealing features for me.
In addition to the fine trigger and short reset to help with accuracy and quicker follow-up shots, I like the 1911’s sleek design, thin width and grips, and slim frame for my medium-sized hands for easy concealability.
I think John Moses Browning knew what he was designing in March of 1911. Many consider him to be the genius of modern-day semi-automatic pistols. Over the years, the frame material, sights, hammers, barrel lengths, mainspring housing, grips, rail, extra features, and calibers have transitioned to meet the demand for lighter, smaller, and more compact concealed carry handguns that are accurate and reliable.
And recognize that manufacturers differ in the way they implement these changes. Earlier in 2014, I reviewed Smith-Wesson’s fine SW1911 Pro Series full-size 1911 with a 5-inch barrel. I now know they have a recent 3-inch barrel version of it. I asked them to send me their recent SW1911 Pro Series sub-compact 1911 9mm with the 3-inch barrel, so I could see if it fit in my top 8 sub-compact 1911 9mms for carrying.
I appreciate them sending it to me, so I could test and evaluate it and offer my opinions to help you and myself. I have reviewed several sub-compacts and 1911s in depth on this website and others. Some are included in my Top 21 Concealed Carry guns in the second printing of my book “Concealed Carry & Handgun Essentials.”
Now with this recent SW1911 sub-compact, I want to analyze, compare, and rank it among my top 1911 sub-compacts for a recommendation or not.
The 1911 Sub-Compact Review Plan
I want to start my review by giving the specifications and features of the SW1911 Pro Series 3-inch 9mm. Then, I will provide my criteria and range test results for the SW1911 sub-compact to help you analyze your handguns and make the best selection for yourself. You can add or subtract from my criteria to meet your needs and preferences. Below, I’ll suggest a quality, custom leather holster I like for this 1911 sub-compact 9mm.
I was very anxious to shoot the SW1911 and to compare it factor by factor to my other quality sub-compact 1911 9mms, to see if it ranked in my top concealed carry pistols and my top sub-compact 9mm 1911s. Know that I am not on the Smith-Wesson payroll, have not been paid or compensated by them in any form for this review, and not given any gratuities nor influenced to say certain things about the gun. I want to be honest and straight-forward with my opinions and ideas the way I see the pistol to help folks sincerely.
Based on my range test of the gun and my analysis, I want to give you my opinions with pros and cons and issues and concerns that would prevent me from carrying this gun or allow me to carry it.
Is this a gun I would recommend for concealed carry? Would it make it to my top eight list of 1911 Sub-Compact 9mm handguns for concealed carry?
First, here are the SW1911 Pro Series Sub-Compact 9mm specifications and features:
|Barrel Length / Finish||3.00"; Sub-Compact; Stainless Steel; Bull; Armornite Coated for Durability|
|Sights||Front: Dovetail White Dot; Steel|
Rear: Fixed; White 2-Dot; Windage Adjustable; Steel; Night Sights Not Available
|Weight||26.2 oz (empty mag)|
|Frame / Finish||Scandium Alloy; Lightweight; Round Butt (Slight); Matte Black|
|Slide Material||Stainless Steel, Armornite Coated - Durability; Rear Cocking Serrations|
|Trigger||Single Action Only; Crisp|
|Trigger Press||Estimated 4.75 #; To Be Reviewed|
|Trigger Travel||To Be Reviewed|
|Magazines / Capacity||2 Metal 8 Round Magazines; Flush Fitting|
|Safeties||Beavertail Grip Safety; Ambidextrous Manual Thumb Safeties; Series 80 Firing Pin Safety|
|Grips||Black Fully-Stippled Synthetic/Plastic Grips|
|Other||Lifetime Service Warranty|
Smith-Wesson 1911 Pro Series 3-Inch Sub-Compact 9mm Pistol Key Features
- Over-Sized External Extractor
- Full-Length Guide Rod
- Three-Hole Curved Trigger with Overtravel Stop
- Round Butt Frame to Help Concealed Carry
- Finely Checkered Flat Mainspring Housing
- Chamber Port to View Cambered Round
- Easy Takedown; No Barrel Bushing
Holsters for the SW1911 Pro Series Sub-Compact 9mm
Kramer Handgun Leather makes a high-quality horsehide leather In-the- Waistband (IWB) #3 holster custom fit for this Smith-Wesson 1911 Pro Series Sub-Compact 9mm. KHL says that this holster was designed for use by our nation’s premier covert operations teams and has proven so comfortable and effective that it is now available for several popular medium and large frame semi-automatics and used by many shooters. It is designed with a large paddle-type extension of leather that provides better support for larger pistols and places the grip of the handgun closer to the body. The gun is carried at an extreme F.B.I. forward tilt and provides maximum concealment with the butt of the gun hugging the body for a low profile. The mouth of this IWB #3 holster is reinforced with a specially-treated horsehide throat band and will NOT collapse when the gun is drawn or re-holstered. It allows easy one-handed re-holstering and is available in black, mahogany, tan, and shark.
Criteria And Considerations for this SW1911 Pro Sub-Compact 9mm Review
Here are just 10 of my criteria and factors I use for evaluating any handgun, so I will use them for the SW1911. In addition to my criteria, other subjective features may be appealing for some. For example, a particular style, mag release location, action, caliber, appearance, number of mags included, type of sights/modifications, bore axis, rail, grip angle, non-porting or porting, added extras like a holster and pouch, and customer service. So, I combined these into my last Miscellaneous criterion.
I must admit that ALL gun-choice decisions involve tradeoffs, but I want ALL of my criteria to be met. I assigned a total possible point score of 10 points for each of my ten 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.
My General Impressions: Smith-Wesson 1911 Pro Series Sub-Compact 9mm
The SW1911 9mm sub-compact is a quality 1911 gun with very nice ergonomics and reasonable price. The Smith-Wesson Pro Series 1911s represent the quality gun line between the standard model’s production and the next level Performance Center. These firearms are offered with a variety of enhancements yet remain true to “stock.” Smith-Wesson says that the Pro Series brings “competition specifications and features to factory models… while maintaining production line integrity.” These 1911s are wonderful guns with extras not usually found on production guns.
The shorter Officers-size grip of this sub-compact coupled fine with the slide length and felt good in my medium-sized hands and was very comfortable. My pinky finger came close but did not dangle below the magazine well when I gripped it. The lightweight scandium alloy frame with its (slightly) rounded butt helped with concealed carry.
Extras were very nice. The finely-checkered flat and beveled mainspring housing, enlarged external extractor, and full-length guide rod were especially helpful additions. I could easily reach all the controls.
It was easy to takedown this 1911 9mm, and there was no barrel bushing. It has a nice three-hole, curved trigger with an over-travel stop. And there is a skeletonized hammer and trigger and ambidextrous thumb safeties. The slide was easy for me to rack and the felt recoil and muzzle rise was very manageable partially due to the low 26 ounces with unloaded mag weight. My wife could easily rack the slide with her small (but beautiful) hands.
The SW1911 Pro’s frame is made of Scandium, so it is very lightweight for carrying. Scandium is a silver-white, aluminum-alloy rare-earth metal with characteristics that include increased strength, lighter weight, and resistance to corrosion. The beavertail and mag release are extended for a solid high grip and easy operation. The beavertail grip has a memory bump. Metal has been removed from under the trigger guard so you can get a high grip on the pistol and the frontstrap and mainspring housing both feature fine-line checkering.
For me, the frontstrap stippling is a nice plus, since it’s aggressive enough for a positive purchase, but not so rough that it hurts your hand. These contribute to the Pro’s excellent feel and handling. It has a precision-crowned muzzle for optimum accuracy. It does have a hand-polished integral feed ramp. The mag release is checkered, and the slide stop release is standard size and not extended.
Below I will get into more specifics and my opinions for each of my criteria, after my range testing.
Range Test & Results for the SW1911 Pro Series Sub-Compact 9mm Review
I shot high-quality and high-velocity Sig Sauer Elite V-Crown JHP ammo in 115, 124, and 147 grain weights and some in 115 grain FMJ to determine how well the gun cycled and handled different loads. I only fired about 250 rounds total to evaluate this gun (usually I shoot 500 rounds over a couple of days) to decide if I want to carry the weapon or not.
Would this sub-compact 1911 handle the premium hollow-point rounds without any malfunctions or stoppages?
I had the information I needed after shooting it. Below are my evaluations for each of my ten criteria for my concealed carry purpose. I wanted to put the gun through its paces with my Concealed Carry Drill with a magazine change and check it thoroughly for malfunctions, stoppages, and performance with premium, quality JHP ammo, and FMJ rounds. I want to thank Sig Sauer for providing various Elite Performance fine ammo to test and evaluate the SW1911 sub-compact 9mm.
Col Ben’s Concealed Carry Drill
Use my Concealed Carry Drill to test and evaluate your handguns. After initially cleaning the gun and then shooting it at the range for the first time using my standard Col Ben’s Concealed Carry Drill, I easily and quickly landed all 15 rounds (with a magazine change) in the five various-sized circles at 5 yards. I fired rapid fire with the Sig V-Crown 124 grain JHP at 5 yards all hit in their five circle targets and within the 20 seconds time limit… actually in 19 seconds with a magazine change. See above photo.
You can also download and print “Col Ben’s Concealed Carry Drill” and targets by going to my website and clicking on the Download Col Ben’s Concealed Carry Drill link.
It was a challenge for this Mr. Magoo’s declining eyesight with my same drill at 10, 15, and 20 yards. But, I found this Sig 124-grain JHP to be an excellent self-defense round. These hits were acceptable for me for closeup self-defense encounters. But, shoot it for yourself to make your own decisions, based on your abilities, goals, and proficiency.
Use my Drill at various distances, e.g. 3, 5, 10, 15, and 20 yards to challenge yourself. At first, do not time yourself but safely practice, until you feel comfortable and safe with the Drill. Above are my hits for my 15 rounds at 5 yards fired rapid fire with a mag change with the SW1911 sub-compact 9mm. I bypassed 3 yards for more of a challenge. I shot 250 total rounds through it. Hope my drill helps you.
Opinions and Evaluations for Each Criterion
1. Accuracy and Reliability – Score: 10
The accuracy of the Pro 9mm was excellent and effortless for me at close and medium distances of 3, 5, 7, 10, and15 yards. Despite my less than average eyesight and average marksmanship, this senior guy was able to shoot decent groups. But, while my hits at 20 yards with this sub-compact were on target, they were larger 3-3.5″ groups. I wanted smaller groups. But, no problem out to 15 yards, with the gun doing a lot of the work.
All of my groups for my drills of 15 shots each at the various distances were about 2.5 to 3 inches or so, drawing from my Kramer Leather holster. I used my Modified-Isosceles Stance, a two-handed grip, and shot various 115 grain FMJ, 124 grain FMJ, and quality reloads. I had NO problems shooting hollow points. I had no feeding, ejection, or extraction problems at all and the gun functioned flawlessly. Certainly not great marksmanship by me, but it was delightful and fun to shoot the 1911 Pro.
The press was short, soft, and crisp, and the recoil was very minimal for this average shooter. Given my past experiences and my knowledge of 1911 9mms and extraction and feeding problems due to their short cartridges, I was indeed impressed with the Pro’s reliability. I experienced no malfunctions, stoppages, feeding problems, extraction nor ejection issues, with various ammo brands, bullet weights, and magazines.
I used the two included mags, Metalform mags, Wilson Combat 10-round mags, and my 2 Tripp Research Cobra 10-round mags without any problems. This 1911 Pro 9 mm was not at all finicky and digested every round, and even a few reloads smoothly. I used a few on hand Blazer Brass and Federal rounds in 115 & 124 grain FMJ. Accuracy and reliability were both excellent with all ammo used.
2. Trigger Press – Score: 9
The trigger press out of the box averaged about 5.5 pounds without modification for the SW1911 Pro sub-compact 9mm, with ten readings with my Lyman Electronic Trigger Pull Gauge. The trigger uses a Series 80 firing pin safety. All of the readings were close to my desired maximum press range of 5 pounds for this a single-action trigger pistol which is not “broken in” yet. After more rounds downrange, I hope the press lightens.
3. Trigger – Score: 10
The 1911 single-action trigger was crisp, smooth and excellent, with no creep, minimal takeup, no stacking, with a short travel distance and a short reset so that I could get off quick follow-up shots easily. The reset was very definite and identifiable. Many modern pistols are just the opposite, with long takeup, stacking, and long reset. With this 1911, the shooter does not need to apply more pressure to get past the stacking resistance before the break. The single-action trigger was excellent and consistent shooting with pretty much the same press each time. I enjoyed pressing the bang switch.
4. Barrel Length – Score: 9
The 3-inch barrel was stable, and recoil was minimal. I expected the felt recoil to be very noticeable, but it was not, and I had no problem at all managing the recoil. Nor did my wife. The barrel and slide are made from Armornite-coated stainless steel, which helps with their rust resistance.
5. Sights – Score: 8
The factory 3-dot white sights were not the best for me. The dots were smaller than my failing eyes wanted. I like larger dots and a fiber optic or tritium front sight. I requested tritium night sights, but the SW representative told me that tritium and fiber optic sights were not available factory options. This would be my strong preference for this 1911 sub-compact for concealed carry, and if I buy it, I would quickly search for and purchase fiber optic or night sights, especially a fiber optic front, to speed up my front sight access. I might put a Dawson .100″ wide fiber optic front sight on or tritiums. For concealed carry, I consider night sights almost a MANDATORY accessory and my eyes need a bright, easy-to-pickup front sight.
6. Proper Gun Weight – Score: 10
The stainless steel Pro weighed 26.2 ounces and was a nice weight gun, even lightweight for concealed carry. There was much less felt recoil and more stability than I expected from this sub-compact.
7. Caliber – Score: 10
The SW1911 Pro in 9mm caliber was a joy to shoot, and I managed the recoil well. Of course, shooting 9mm ammo is much less expensive, and modern ammo with improved ballistics gets the job done.
8. Capacity – Score: 9
I liked the 8+1 capacity of the Pro sub-compact 9mm. Two 8-round flush-fit stainless steel mags were included, although I prefer three to be included. My 9mm Metalform 10-round, Tripp Research, Wilson Combat, and included mags all worked well.
9. Ergonomics – Score: 10
The ergonomics of the SW1911 Pro 9 mm were excellent, and I was quickly able to easily and comfortably reach all controls like the thumb safety, slide lever, and magazine release. It felt like it was custom-made for my medium-sized hands, like most 1911s. I had no slide nor hammer bites, and it felt terrific to hold the thin profile pistol. The grip safety with its beavertail and memory bump was natural and comfortable to use. The slide-to-frame fit was very solid, and it was easy for me to rack the slide.
10. Miscellaneous – Score: 9
I easily disassembled and re-assembled it before I shot it. The guide rod is “full length,” and no tools are required for takedown. To field strip this 1911 sub-compact, merely remove the magazine (then check the chamber to ensure it is unloaded) and pull the slide back until the takedown notch is above the slide stop lever. Next, remove the slide stop. Now the slide, recoil spring, guide rod, and barrel will easily slide right off. The recoil spring and guide rod lift right out and no tools are required. The nice hard plastic case included two mags, a lock, bore flag, Instruction Manual, and fired casing. The matte-black finished gun looks very nice, but I also like the classy silver matte finish. This is a high-quality, accurate handgun and I probably will add it to my concealed carry arsenal.
Total Points = 94 out of 100 Possible
I highly recommend this Smith and Wesson 1911 Pro Series sub-compact 9 mm pistol, for concealed carry, home defense, fun plinking, and even competitive shooting. This 1911 9mm is now ranked in my top 8 sub-compact 1911 9mms for carrying. I was very impressed with its accuracy and its very controllable recoil for a sub-compact 9mm. My aging eyes wanted bigger dots and brighter sights (e.g., Fiber Optic front.) I wish it came standard with night sights or even if there was an available factory night sight or fiber optic front sight option, but they are not available for my review. Its many great features and especially the Accuracy and Reliability are there.
As always, these are my opinions, and you should try it for yourself. I hope this review of the Smith and Wesson 1911 Pro Series sub-compact 9 mm has helped you gain some information for YOUR decision. Consider that this is just my point of view with limited live-range fire and using only 250 rounds of mostly premium ammo. 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’s important to you ahead of your range live-fire time. Then critically evaluate the firearm YOURSELF per your criteria and purpose, with various ammo types and brands, different magazines, over an extended break-in period of about 500 rounds.
Smith & Wesson
Springfield, MA 01104
Kramer Handgun Leather
Tacoma, WA 98411
Sig Sauer for Elite V-Crown 9mm JHP-FMJ Ammo
Newington, NH 03801
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.
© 2018 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].