Found Me a Nugget

Back in May I bloviated about several guns I let get by me, one being the Colt Commander. The Commander debuted in 1950 after the government requested a lightweight 9 mm pistol to consider replacing the all-steel 1911 .45 ACP. Then, as now, bureaucrats with some psychological malady that forces them to worship anything European based, regardless of its inefficiency or lack of efficacy like to make decisions that have others lives hanging in the balance. Europeans simply love pistols that do not work.

Anyway, some intrepid soul at Colt, realized that a slightly smaller, lighter version of John Browning’s finest pistol—sorry, I don’t share the enamoring of the P-35—might be a good seller to the civilians and law enforcement types Colt reluctantly must try to please between government contracts. So the Commander was brought to market.

It hasn’t become the iconic seller that its pappy has, but the Commander has been a steady seller, and with all the various 1911 builders out there, nearly all of them offer a variation of this fine pistol. In my not-so-humble opinion, a lightweight Commander chambered in .45 ACP may very well be the ultimate concealed-carry firearm—or EDC (every day carry) for the tactards who get all gooey over acronyms.

The Commander shaves 19 ounces or about 49 percent off of an unmodified, full-size 1911, according to my postal scale. When I was younger, hanging 2 ½ to 3 pounds on my hip and going about my daily business was no big thing. Now it is a more noticeable burden. After spending a couple of weeks wearing the Ruger LW Commander-style SR 1911 every day I can say with some authority that it makes a big difference on one’s stamina and how worn down one feels at the end of the day. In fact, as I write this that pistol is on my belt, along with a spare pair of loaded magazines. I won’t say that it is unnoticeable, but it by no means is any kind of a burden.

Two ticks against the Commander—at least according to some—is the increased difficulty in handling and shooting the pistol due to its reduced mass and that it doesn’t last as long as an all-steel 1911. If it is any more difficult to handle or shoot than my standard 1911s, that notion has escaped me. Yes, the recoil impulse is noticeably sharper than the old standard 1911, but it is by no means difficult to control. As far as durability, yeah, I’d probably not want to run 500 to a thousand rounds a week through an aluminum-framed pistol, but an everyday carry gun usually isn’t shot that much. I can practice and train with my standard 1911s and reserve the bantam weights for regular daily carry.

Anyway, I have found that I really like this new Ruger iteration of the Commander. It has all the standard 1911 enhancements, plus someone thought to include a titanium insert into the feed ramp to ensure reliable feeding and limiting wear. There are a handful of personal modifications I would—will, if I keep this pistol—make. I do not care for the grip safety on the Ruger. The beavertail has been minimized—probably to keep with the concept of reducing the pistol to just what is needed—but it does not offer any real increase in its concealment, and the reduced footprint does concentrate the recoil impulse over a smaller area of the web of the shooting hand, thus making it slightly more uncomfortable. Too, the cheater pad at the bottom of the grip safety is not proud enough to insure I disengage it during the draw.

The Novak sights are fine, but I prefer tritium inserts. My eyes aren’t what they used to be in low-light situations, and I’ll take all the help I can get. I have short, stumpy fingers—one reason I prefer single-column magazine pistols—so I’d have to replace the standard trigger with the old-style shorter one. And in that same vein, I’d opt for a set of Tactical Oval grip panels which are thinner and allow just a little more of my trigger finger to purchase the trigger.

All this, however, leads to a simple twist of fate. You recall my lament in not getting a Colt Commander back when I should have. Well, a couple of weeks ago I was perusing Gunbroker.com, and lo and behold, I found a 1970’s vintage Commander that was largely stock and wasn’t priced in four figures. It’s in remarkably good shape for a pistol that age, and as can be seen by the lead photo, it shoots pretty well. I will have to get some enhancements—including those just mentioned for the Ruger—done on this new-old Colt. But I now have a wonderful situation on my hands vis-à-vis an everyday carry gun. I’ve got two.

Dave Campbell
Dave Campbell began his hunting career with a spear off the southern California coast in the late 1960s. It did not take long for him to graduate to the gun on land. Campbell is the founding editor in chief of the NRA’s tremendously successful Shooting Illustrated magazine. In 2006 he also edited the iconic book of terminal ballistics, Rifle Bullets for the Hunter—A Definitive Study. He returned to his beloved Wyoming in 2007 as a freelance writer, though he usually refers to himself now as a “recovering editor.”
  1. Peter Caroline Reply

    Gotta love that Commander! I bought the standard weight Ruger CMDR last year at Gunsite, and several months later I bought the Lightweight, which is even nicer. Then I saw the SIG Emperor Scorpion Carry, which is basically a Flat Dark Earth Commander with an Ed Brown bobbed grip, and I had to have that. I have several Commander-size Paras, so it’s getting to be some sort of obsession. I may need professional help.

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