By Scott Mayer
In a 1911 market that really should be saturated by now and an economy that’s arguably still struggling, Ruger is adding a Commander-size SR1911CMD for the concealed-carry gun owner who wants a quality, American-made 1911 for only $829. It used to be that if you wanted a reliable and accurate 1911, you bought a Colt and then spent more than the cost of the gun on custom gunsmithing. Depending on what you wanted, the sky was the limit. I credit Kimber with changing that in the mid-1990s when it aggressively entered the 1911 market with factory-made guns flush with all the bells and whistles and set off a race to the top that seems to still be going.
Today, there are plenty of amazingly accurate, feature-filled, high-end 1911s from so many makers that it would be impossible to list them here. There are also several companies offering inexpensive, functional 1911s that you can use as a platform for building good 1911s like we used to do with Colts. But with the bulk of the attention, marketing and demand having been on what were essentially “factory custom” guns, little attention has been given to a basic, reliable, accurate, American-made 1911 at a lunch-bucket price that has just enough custom touches to make an exceptional “everyman’s” (or woman’s) pistol. Sure, many high-end 1911 manufacturers carry a basic model in their product lines, but until fairly recently, the economy had been running flush with discretionary income and most consumers were buying top-of-the-line 1911s from those makers—guns with words like “Custom” in their model designations.
Ruger, long known for producing quality guns at middle-class-income prices, entered the 1911 market in 2011—100 years after the 1911 was adopted as the standard U.S. service pistol, and a few years after the rumor of a Ruger 1911 was first floated. While there was probably some clever marketing strategy planned around the 100-year thing, the introduction at the time was a bold and risky move. The U.S. economy was deep in the tank and, really, you’d think that after 100 years, everyone who wanted a 1911 would have one.
In hindsight, conditions for the SR1911 probably couldn’t have been more perfect. For nearly two decades, well-known 1911 makers had earned a perception, right or wrong, of offering expensive guns. With the introduction of the SR1911 (and without existing, expensive 1911 pistols in Ruger’s line to confuse the message), someone who wanted a solid, quality 1911 was no longer faced with the decision of buying a gun or making a mortgage payment.
Concurrently, the “Greatest Gun Sellers On Earth,” United States politicians, touched off an unprecedented buying frenzy the likes of which even a company such as Ruger can hardly keep up with. The SR1911, with an MSRP of $829 was priced right and combined desirable traditional features such as Series 70-like design and short, G.I. guide rod with welcomed modern touches like a beavertail grip safety, Novak LoMount Carry sights, and skeletonized hammer and trigger. To top it off, SR1911s are really well built, and come from a company known for quality and standing behind its products.
Response to the SR1911 was so good that this year Ruger is expanding the model line with the introduction of a Commander-size gun—the SR1911CMD. The CMD is simply a shortened SR1911 with all the same features as the full-size stable mate and with the slide, frame, bushing, plug, recoil spring and guide rod proportionally shortened to work with the abbreviated barrel. Like the SR1911, the CMD has a full-size grip and is a Series 70-like design with enhancements including an adjustable trigger stop, extended thumb safety, extended magazine release, and lowered and flared ejection port.
Generally speaking, “Commander-size” (emphasis on the word “size”) is a 1911 that has a 4 1/4 inch long barrel instead of 5 inches like on a full-size 1911. To Colt students, there are differences other than size between an actual Colt full size and Commander 1911, not the least of which is that an actual Commander has an aluminum frame. The SR1911CMD has a stainless steel frame, so it’s only slightly lighter than the full-size SR1911, but that ¾-inch less length makes a big difference to a lot of smaller-framed shooters in how the gun carries and handles. If there are criticisms of smaller 1911s, it’s that the smaller they get the harder it is to make them function reliably, and as the barrel gets shorter you give up some bullet velocity and some sight radius, which can make aiming more difficult.
Even with the shorter sight radius, this is an easy pistol to aim and shoot. There’s enough heft to the all-steel gun that recoil really isn’t any less manageable than a full-size 1911. The low-profile Novak sights are dark blue and provide a crisp sight picture against a bright background, while the three white dots stand out nicely against a dark background. They’re both dovetailed into the slide and the rear is adjustable only for windage and secured with a setscrew, so it’s unlikely you’ll knock these sights out of alignment if you get into a grapple, or just neglect your gun for years.
When we took the CMD to the range, there wasn’t much .45 ACP ammo available and we were able to shoot only 185-grain standard pressure and 200-grain +P loads. Both shot to point of aim at 15 yards. Since the rear sight isn’t adjustable for elevation, if you find that your CMD shoots a little high or a little low, you’ll have to either change the front or rear sights, but it’s much simpler to choose a heavier or lighter bullet. Heavier bullets hit higher and lighter bullets hit lower and for all practical purposes, higher or lower velocity for the same bullet weight won’t make a difference.
Just like “Commander” is a generality when discussing the Ruger SR1911CMD, so is the reference to its “Series 70” design. On new-production 1911 pistols, shooters often concern themselves with whether a gun is Series 70 or 80 design. Again, at the Colt-student level, there are several differences between the two, but the generally recognized main difference is that Series 80 1911s have a firing pin block and Series 70 do not. A firing pin block is intended to reduce the chances of a gun firing if it’s dropped on its muzzle. If dropped on the muzzle hard enough, some guns with inertial firing pins (like on a 1911) will fire when the pin shifts forward and hits the primer. The Series 80 has a little plunger in the slide that physically blocks the firing pin from moving forward, but a series of levers activated by the trigger pushes the plunger out of the way. Some shooters believe you can’t get a good trigger pull with a Series 80 design because of all that extra business going on via the trigger.
There are work-arounds to that trigger pull/firing pin block problem. One is to change the levers so that instead of working off of the trigger pull, they work off of depressing the grip safety. Another is the one Ruger takes on the CMD, and that’s to not have the block at all and instead use a titanium firing pin and an extra heavy firing pin return spring to help hold the firing pin back.
As strong as titanium is, it’s very light. By itself, the firing pin probably lacks the mass to set off a primer if dropped, and the extra-heavy return spring holding it is added insurance. There’s a thing called the “Drop Test” described in ANSI/SAAMI Z299.5-1996 “Abusive Mishandling” standards that gun makers use to check gun designs to see if they’ll go off when dropped. Ruger subjects its handguns to that test, and the CMD with its titanium pin and heavy spring passes.
There are, of course other safety features on the CMD. One is the beavertail grip safety in the back of the grip that has to be depressed or the gun won’t fire. The “beavertail” moniker comes from the part’s shape and it’s shaped that way to prevent “hammer bite,” which is when the tip of the hammer digs into the web of the hand as the slide reciprocates and recocks the hammer. It’s not so much of a problem unless you have really big hands, are going to shoot a lot, or have a spur-type hammer, so for most shooters the practical purpose of the beavertail is going to be that it does a better job of guiding your hand into the right place when you grasp the gun, and it’s larger surface area makes it more likely that it gets depressed so you can fire the gun. Ruger also puts a nice hump on the CMD’s beavertail, which makes it even more likely that, even with a poor grip, you’ll fully depress the grip safety.
There’s a conventional thumb safety on the CMD. It’s extended so it’s easier to snap in and out of the safe position, but from the factory it’s a right-hand only proposition. If you shoot lefty, or just want an ambidextrous safety, an aftermarket one will set you back $60 to $90 bucks and it’s a part that anyone with a little mechanical aptitude can change and shouldn’t require much, if any, fitting. Another safety feature Ruger includes is a little port cut into the back of the barrel that’s just big enough to look into the chamber and see the rim of a chambered round.
There are several really nice touches unexpected on a gun in this price range. One is that the flat mainspring housing is steel. We’ve seen (and own) more expensive 1911 pistols that have a plastic mainspring housing. From a practical standpoint, it’s probably not going to make a difference if that part is steel or plastic, but the 1911 generally appeals to the “guns should be made of wood and steel” crowd, so it’s a feature that’s going to be appreciated by potential buyers.
Another unexpected feature is the adjustable trigger stop. This is a little Allen-head screw in the trigger blade that shooters can adjust to remove any overtravel from the trigger. You can turn it in or out so that as soon as the trigger releases the sear, the trigger can’t be pulled any farther backward, and you can reset the trigger for a faster follow-up shot.
Ruger went with the short “G.I.” guide rod, which was especially appreciated on the range when we got into a batch of handloads where some weren’t crimped well and wouldn’t let the slide close all the way. Being a short semi-automatic, the spring on the CMD is fairly powerful and when a cartridge stuck just short of chambering, it was completely impossible to retract the slide by hand to extract it. Instead, to open the gun the front of the slide at the plug was pressed against the shooting bench and a little weight was put behind it. That’s also a technique for racking the slide if you have one hand disabled and it is something you can’t do on a gun with a full-length guide rod.
Accuracy from the CMD is nothing short of excellent. This gun was tested from a Ransom Rest and, with three different loads, was banging out one-inch groups at 15 yards as fast as the Rest could be reset and the trigger arm slapped. The best single group was from Hornady’s 185-grain Critical Defense load that came in at an honest 0.5 inch and the worst group was with the aforementioned handload and even it was a respectable 1.55 inches.
The Ruger SR1911CMD is 7.75 inches long, 5.45 inches tall and 1.34 inches wide. The 4.25 inch barrel has six-groove rifling with a one-in-16-inch right-hand twist. Magazine capacity is seven and the gun weighs 36.4 ounces.
Judging from the quality, accuracy and company reputation, Ruger’s SR1911CMD is about as good buy as you’re going to get if you’re looking for a basic, American-made 1911 with the essential custom touches. For what you’re getting, this gun is an absolutely great price. If you’re just looking for an semi-automatic pistol, you will easily find polymer-framed guns for less money and you can find cheaper 1911s. Just remember that while many less expensive polymer-frame “wonderpistols” are good and have their place, they’re simply not 1911s and that many of the cheaper 1911s are still cheap. The couple of hundred bucks you save going cheap is going to be spent and then some on a trigger job, accurizing, better sights, maybe a beavertail grip safety and more, just to bring a cheaper 1911 up the where the Ruger starts.