By Justin Opinion
Say “Magnum Research” to a gun enthusiast, and you’ve just conjured up the image of the .50 caliber handgun that has become almost folklore. But the truth is that Magnum Research has been diversifying its offerings for some time, and now that continues with the ownership and backing of Kahr Arms. In 2014, the product line expands with a new 1911 offering called the 1911U, or Undercover. This small 3” 1911 is clearly intended for the personal protection and concealed carry markets.
There are those that hate 1911’s and there are those that think anything designed from 1912 onward is not a real gun… I fall somewhere in between. As a firearms enthusiast, I think that every town square in America should have a bronze statue of John Moses Browning. I adore the 1911 for its beauty, its design and its longevity, and I love to shoot them. But I’ve never been able to take the “cocked and locked” plunge and consider one for a carry gun. But I said all that, to say this—for the purposes of this review, this gun is a carry gun. Unless you are an avid collector of 1911’s, of which there are many thousands, of course, there is no practical value to a 3” 1911 in .45 ACP except to carry it for personal protection. From the moment I first picked up the DE1911U, I have thought of it first and foremost as a concealed carry pistol, and that is how I evaluated it.
The quality of the DE1911U is apparent at first glance and touch. The aircraft grade aluminum frame marries to the 4140 carbon steel slide beautifully, with a snug fit. The quality of the finish, lettering and mill work is very good. Adding some contrast and jewelry to the pistol, the trigger is a skeletonized aluminum, and the grip safety is a beautiful satin nickel. Add a skeletonized hammer and small touches like stainless steel grip screws, and the Desert Eagle 1911 Undercover is an attention getter.The sights on the Undercover remind me of target sights. That’s probably because they pretty much are target sights. The rear sight is large and adjustable for windage and elevation. It has horizontal serrations and a matte finish to eliminate glare.
The front sight is also matte finished with a serrated blade face. The sight fitment of front blade to rear notch is very nice, with just a little bit of air space. But the problem is this—there are no markings on the sights for the shooter. Good as the sights are, I feel that they don’t belong on this gun. For a self-defense gun, I would prefer a nice set of Novak’s or similar – preferably a night sight option with Tritium dots.
It’s a 1911. Looks like one, holds like one, feels like one. About the only things a gun maker can do to alter the ergonomics of a 1911 platform pistol are: Grips, Checkering, Beavertail/grip safety, Thumb safety, and Mag release.
- The grip safety is in contrasting nickel plating and has the ubiquitous ‘memory bump’ configuration. Its beavertail extension is generous in length and curves nicely to cup the cocked hammer. It is otherwise smooth, and really becomes invisible to your grip—or at least it did to mine.
The checkering of the aluminum mainspring cover (backstrap) is deep and tight, with aggressive points. It serves well to offer a firm grip and prevent slippage. It is only bested by the checkering on the front strap—which is amazing. It was actually the first thing that impressed me when I picked up this pistol for the first time. I thought it had grabbed ahold of me, instead of me grabbing it. Aluminum always seems “grippier” to me than carbon steel anyway, and this ultra-fine and deep checkering is second to none. Specifications are not listed for the checkering, but I would estimate 30 lines per inch.
- Grips—wider than I’d like, by a little bit. The grips are nice wood, with a honey-walnut colored finish and the traditional double-diamond pattern. Slightly thicker than some other 1911’s, this will not only relate to the shooter’s hand size, but also to how well the gun will conceal. Width is one of the crucial dimensions for concealed carry, and every fraction of an inch matters. If it were mine, I’d swap these out for a nice thin set of G10 grips.
- The thumb safety (right handers only) is the now-standard “extended” size. I find the safety to be just right.
- The magazine release is slightly extended and well checkered. It is on the stiff side, but it functions fine and I had no complaints with it.
- The cocking serrations on the slide are very good. Visually subtle and ordinary, they are cut deep and provide an exceptional grip. Your hand won’t slip on this slide.
Function and design
Instead of a barrel bushing, the DE 1911U incorporates an 11-degree muzzle crown on the 3” bull barrel for a precision barrel-to-slide fit. A full-length guide rod is also used, with a dual spring combo of a captured and a free spring—held by a bushing at the muzzle. This pistol is a relatively light 25.8 oz. empty. It stands 5” tall from the seated magazine baseplate to the top of the rear sight. Overall length is 6.85” – and much of that is the extended beavertail.
The Undercover is a Series 70 1911, and as such it does not have a firing pin block. Without the additional mechanical friction, this adds to the smooth and crisp feel of the trigger.
And speaking of the trigger: Even by 1911 standards, which can be excruciating, the trigger on the 1911 Undercover is one of the best I’ve ever shot. Observed trigger pull averaged less than 3 ½ lbs.
Reset is very short (I measured it at .050”), which can allow a skilled shooter to empty a magazine in under a couple of seconds. The trigger on my copy of the Undercover had zero over-travel, indicating a good fitment and adjustment at the factory. But there is a set screw for fine tuning it, if needed.
Shooting and Accuracy
I remember sliding that first loaded magazine of 6 rounds of .45 ACP into the Undercover, and thinking to myself, “this is going to be brutal”. A 3” barreled .45 ACP 1911 is bound to be, by anyone’s standards, snappy. And it is—I won’t fool you. But the gun shoots much better than I anticipated, and the recoil is controlled more than I expected. I think the fantastic checkering on the front strap and back strap have a great deal to do with that. Also contributing is the dual recoil spring assembly with very tight springs.
When it comes to expectations of accuracy with a 3” barrel, I grade on a curve. Not too much ammo is engineered to have optimum performance from such a short gun. At 15 yards rested on a bag, my results with five different brands and types of ammo were pretty good. No group exceeded 3 inches by much, and there were indications that one could reasonably expect 1.5” groups. I found it encouraging that Hornady Critical Defense achieved the best group. The worst group was a tie between Speer Lawman hardball and PMC Bronze 185 grain hollow point. The latter usually gives me very good results, but no two holes touched when shot from the Undercover. For the intended purpose of a defensive handgun, I was satisfied with the accuracy.
Less satisfying however, was the reliability of the pistol to feed and eject. During multiple sessions at the range, using a wide variety of ammo, I had several (maybe half dozen) instances where the DE1911U would not extract and eject the spent cartridge. I would not be able to place reliance on it as a self-defense option until I’d had a gunsmith work on that extractor and I’d fired at least 500 failure-free rounds afterwards.
That aside, for all the other reasons to add another 1911 to the collection, the Desert Eagle 1911U has many fine qualities, and it is a remarkably nice shooter. It seems to be struggling to find its identity though, as the thick grip panels and blackout target sights belie its implied purpose as a carry gun.
The 1911 has been a concealed carry choice for more years than I’ve been alive (I’m proud to be able to say that on rare occasions), and there is no indication that it will not continue to be for many decades to come. I think the Desert Eagle 1911 Undercover could be an ideal self-defense handgun to carry concealed—but not until a few key issues are addressed—the primary being the extraction problems. The 3” barrel length allows you to even carry outside the waistband with a top quality holster, like the BLACKHAWK! ® shown. Longer barrel models move quickly into the “must wear inside the waistband” category if you don’t plan to always have a long cover garment. The Undercover would be easily concealed outside the waistband and under a light windbreaker or vest – even with just a sweatshirt pulled over it.
The Magnum Research Desert Eagle 1911 Undercover has an MSRP of $946. That puts it well below most of the competition.