Back when I was a blue-green horn, with a few minutes on the job, a buddy let me shoot his 1911. It wasn’t what I expected. The smooth action, precision and control, were nothing I expected out of that pistol, nor did I know much about it. But I loved it, and told myself that someday I will own one. But with an average price tag of $1200, and more than that for the custom super low drag tactical model my buddy had, I resigned myself to looking at 1911 magazines – the printed type that is. So when I was asked if there was any interest in doing a review on 1911, I was a little exited.
1911 customers and users are more than just a fan club. They are a following of a legacy, of a weapon which has few if any comparisons, and which is truly in a class of its own. In some ways the qualities of this weapon and its historical significance almost remind me of an AK, the original Kalashnikov variety. This reputation was earned with years of design, combat-proven effectiveness, and reliability. This is precisely the reason that Marine Corps Expert Qualification badge has a pair of crossed 1911’s, and to why in 2012 to a large measure the USMC decided of a modern 1911 as their replacement for the M9. Of course most good things start with SOCOM, so MARSOC were the first recipients of the new pistol.
It is important to note some of the history of this weapon system. John Moses Browning is considered the father of 1911. Based on the Army’s request for more stopping power, the vetting for an upgraded firearm started in 1906, with the final selection going to colt, in 1911. Some of the tests of the selection committee included a 6000 round fire, with a cool down period of 5 minutes, every 100 rounds. This included firing deformed cartridges, with basically staged malfunctions. The weapon would also be rusted in acid or submerged in sand (que 1990’s HK Navy SEAL commercial), and tested again. (www.m1911.org)
The weapon would undergo significant improvement over the years, and become the subject of very high-end custom work. So for any manufacturer to undertake a production of 1911 is already an attempt to fill some big shoes. But when a manufacturer focuses their entire line on 1911 exclusively, you expect that the outcome is worthy of this focus and dedication. And that’s what you get with the Rock Island Armory weapons. In business since 1905 as a trading outfit, the manufacturer end of the company was developed in the 1980’s, as Arms Corporation of Philippines.
The history of the company is pretty fascinating, and I will leave it up to their website to tell it. Including the fact that US presence in the Philippines is historically significant. In 1985 functioning as Armscor Precision International, the company opened their Nevada location, where it remains presently, and “Acquired the Rock Island Armory brand.” Probably the next most exciting step for the company is the opening of a US plant, with the first US made batch of weapons planned for first quarter of 2018. This seems like a natural move for a manufacturer which has proven a progressive and customer-oriented approach to a production of an iconic American firearm.
Part of the RIA’s mission is to make the 1911 within reach of affordability. In a market saturated with high-end customized 1911’s, it is easy for someone to assume that they could never afford one. RIA was an eye opener for me. But price was only one aspect of it. What was even more impressive to me, that at the lower price, they have not sacrificed quality. In fact, they included improvements and fine details which make the weapon more functional, and are often found in the high-end market. Rock Island sent us 2 weapons. A Parkerized 9mm (51623) and a matte nickel-coated .45 (51448). A Cerakote option is also available.
Both are made of 4140 carbon steel, and made to MIL SPEC. Specifically, the barrel and bushing. Our 9mm had high visibility fiber optic sights, while the .45 offered the classic blade design. RIA reps promised there would be no math, but I still attempted to count the number of options they offer for this weapon system. From the classic GI series, to versatile TAC, my estimate was 55 options, in 4 different calibers. The options also include grips, sights, rails, barrel lengths and overall firearm frame sizes. I am not easily impressed, but before getting to the range (ok, even at the range), my buddy and I just looked at the pistols.
The craftsmanship, attention to detail, and finish are beautiful. From finger grooves on the grip, to slightly dove-tailed mag wells and tuned ejection port, and skeletonized trigger, the ecstatic appeal of the weapon alone suggest a higher price tag. Our model in 9mm has an MSRP of 722, and the .45 an MSRP of $729. While some may call this an entry-level 1911, I would rate it a solid foundation for any future upgrades, and one suitable for a beginner 1911 shooter, or an experienced competitor. Speaking of competitors, team RIA includes JJ Racaza, Athena Lee – World Speed Shooting Open Women’s Champion, John Mcclain, and Eric Grauffel.
But, I’m not competitor. I am your average grunt who enjoys range time and tacos. And since my Detective buddy said “no food at the range”, our focus was entirely on weapon performance. And it performed flawlessly. I used ammunition provided by T1, Armscor, and various stuff we could scrape up. Yes, Armscor also makes their own ammunition, which kind of makes it a one source fulfillment source. T1 is a veteran ammunition manufacturer, owned by one of the nicest guys you would ever not want to mess with – Gary Silverthorn. You can find a detailed review of T1 Ammo on www.spotterup.com .
Overall we used a variety of grain in the two calibers, and I tried hard to get a malfunction. Try as I might, the only malfunctions I had were user-induced. As a single action weapon which requires a bit of an adjustment to grip and grip safety, I had to get a little accustomed to proper grip and weapon manipulation. I had zero malfunctions otherwise, but simulating one or two on my own resulted in smooth clearing. The trigger squeeze is smooth, with the resulting accuracy of an easy 1-2” group out of the box, at 15 yards.
The action is crisp, and muzzle is easy to get back on target. Rapid fire was, in no uncertain terms – fun. The felt recoil, to me, felt no more significant than Beretta M9 or Glock 22. In fact, giving a new woman shooter a lesson some time later, I brought the 51623. She had no issues with the grip or firing, and truly enjoyed it. This speaks volumes for the internal design quality of the weapon. Even in chambered in a .45 ACP the full length guide rod and spring work to make the recoil manageable, while the checkered combat polymer grips and dove tail ensure proper seated and controlled weapon.
The safety ambidextrous safety lever is smooth, but if you’re not quite used to it, requires more manipulation and practice. Doesn’t everything? Trigger pull on the 51448 is 4-6 pounds, and the full firearm weighs 2.87, according to the manufacturer. Field stripping and disassembly is similar to a classic 1911. Once the notch is lined up, slide stop is pushed out and the slide comes off. My recommendation is find a video featuring RIA’s lead gunsmith Shawn, and make sure you follow directions.
Our .9mm also came with Mec Gar magazines. They have a variety of replacement mags for different handguns, and are based in Connecticut. Our mags were Italian made. While they function very closely to RIA factory mags, I found that the follower and base plates appear more sturdy on the ones which were Rock Island factory-made. The first round in the stack seemed less likely to move or angle out when the magazine was drawn rapidly. They are a good option for replacement or additional magazines, but make sure you order ones with a full base plate if you’re going with 1911. This not only assures the magazine is properly seated, but also helps with gripping and reloading.
The Rock Island Armory series of 1911’s offers incredible bang for the buck, and comes with quality of manufacturing and years of expertise. What’s almost as important, especially for a new 1911 owner, is that the weapon comes with quality customer service. This means knowledgeable, prompt responses, and technical expertise. Information and support available directly from the people who made your firearm. This is how customer loyalty is accomplished.
Funny thing, is that when shooting this classically-styled weapon, I found a classic holster. A leather shoulder rig issued to me not that long ago actually, by Uncle Sam. But while shoulder holsters may be cool for Hunter and Kojak, I thought a more modern approach. Mark from Squared Away Customs made an offer impossible to resist, and built us a custom Kydex holster and double mag holder, called Oscar and Delta. We at Spotter Up love stories of people who make thing better, and find a way to do so outside the box, and usually out of necessity. Squared Away started exactly this way. You can read more about Mark and his business at www.squaredawaycustoms.com
There seems to be some talk in professional circles about major Kydex gear manufacturers. Who’s better, who endorsed them, and more importantly – why are they so freaking expensive. But some people want to quietly build awesome holsters, and be good at it. Mark’s passion for his craft is evident from start. He answers the phones, manages the web traffic and oh, he builds all your gear. Quality of that gear is evident from the start. Ours came in Carbon Fiber Coyote. A color which would make even a Bengal Tiger blush. The Kydex Mark uses is .080 inches in thickness, and it’s evident when you hold the product.
I have seen some Kydex holsters where light almost comes through the plastic, because of the desired cost savings. When you’re bargaining with weapon retention, that should not be an option. The Oscar is solid. It doesn’t bend or give, which is nice to know before you even insert the weapon. Mark bases his designs off actual weapons, not plastic replicas of them. The resulting fit is perfect. Snug, with just a little force required on the draw.
Running and rolling with the holster on still leaves the weapon secured. Even flipping it upside down is not going to make dislodge it. The combination of screws and rivets securing the holster looks great, and achieves the right amount of retention, but still allows for the draw to be smooth. I also appreciate the fact that there is no extra or unnecessary plastic and corners. Even with a full size 1911 I had a fit that was close to the body, and minimized the outward imprint. The Oscar is an Outside-The-Belt model, and ours came with full belt loops. I am a big fan of that option.
While paddle or open loops may allow for a faster removal of the whole rig, if you’re using it for 8 hours plus, the last thing you should worry about is if the entire rig is secure enough on your belt. Squared Away offer a countless array of options. Aside from some unique colors, you can request different speed clips, MOLLE clips, or Inside the Waistband loops. Another great thing of dealing directly with the guy who makes your gear, is that you can ask for customization, and know that it gets done right. Our Oscar has a slight cant forward, which makes for a beautiful draw of the Rock Island Armory 1911.
I love the fact that the weapon doesn’t just slide into the holster, it snaps into it. I see a lot of guy use battle belts with these types of holsters in full kit. If I wasn’t sure the weapon was positively seated, I would second-guess myself during certain evolutions, when you can’t necessarily feel your secondary weapon system. Squared Away can also make you a custom holster for fixed blades, AR magazines and Electronic Control Devices.
Our double mag holster has a low profile, and retains the single stacks securely yet quietly. There is no free play, and the magazines are easily indexed in and out. Even if utilized with another belt accessory, the integration of Oscar and Delta are seamless. Cost is always a factor when buying and comparing gear, and I usually refer to it in the reviews. I think to the end-user it makes a lot of difference when comparing options. So when I see the quality offered by Squared Away Customs at 1/3 less that the big name competitor, and I know it’s made by a guy I can shake hands with rather than a machine, here in the US of A, I will always bring it up.
A couple of tips to the end-user, regardless of where you order. Research your options, and figure out where and how you will use your holster. The fit and environment will determine what options you will need, and one size will not fit all. Be patient. I was very impressed with a few week’s turnaround time from Squared Away. A holster for your weapon is not like a pair of pants for you. You shouldn’t have to deal with extra loose, when you wanted a straight fit. But sometime its hard to know what you’re getting, until you have it in hand. This will not be a problem when buying from Squared Away Customs. Stay tuned for a video on Oscar and Delta.