If you are old enough to remember the name Semmerling, a manually operated subcompact .45 ACP “semi-auto” developed in the early 1980s and marketed as the world’s smallest magazine-fed .45 ACP pistol, then you know how long it has taken to develop today’s ultra-compact M1911-style .45 ACP semi-autos—concealed carry pistols scaled down in frame, barrel, and grip dimensions to make them easier to carry without sacrificing ease of use or accuracy.
Sounds simple enough, but it is a tall order to take a gun designed a century ago as a full-size military sidearm weighing 39 ounces and scale it down to a size barely greater than a medium-frame revolver with a 4-inch barrel, an average weight of just 25 ounces and accomplish this without giving up cartridge capacity (6+1 or 7+1 rounds on board) or compromising the gun’s handling characteristics.
Firearms technology has finally caught up with an idea that was just slightly ahead of its time back in the early 1980s—packing big firepower in a small package. And there is a good reason. With more CCW permits and greater personal vigilance, mainstream Americans have come to understand that self-defense is first and foremost about defense, and that generally means first-shot stopping power in a life-threatening confrontation. Very few cartridges in American history have proven themselves better suited to that task than the .45 ACP. Combined with the latest high-velocity defensive ammunition like CorBon 185-grain DPX and Federal Premium 230-grain Hydra-Shok LE loads, you have a compact handgun that can end an armed confrontation with one well-placed shot. In law enforcement this can be critical, but no less so in a home or self-defense situation.
New Carry Options
An ultra-compact .45 Automatic has to be large enough to handle comfortably while small enough to be that very desirable backup gun or everyday concealed carry sidearm. There are now a number of ways to have a .45 ACP with 7+1 capacity in a size that fits comfortably in an inside-the-waistband (IWB) holster, belt holster, shoulder or ankle holster.
Today, Colt offers the Defender SA 1911 with 3-inch barrel and 7-round magazine, but it is only one of more than a dozen ulta-compact .45 Autos on the market that provide a carry weight (empty) of just over 1.5 pounds, a 7-round capacity, and trimmed down dimensions to make holstering a .45 ACP no more problematic than a compact 9mm or a .40 S&W.
Among leading contemporary styles are the Glock 36 with a 6+1 capacity and carry weight of 20.11 ounces; the Taurus Millennium Pro 745, tipping the scales at 20.8 ounces with a 6+1 capacity; and the Kahr PM45 at a modest 17.3 ounces but with a reduced capacity of 5+1 cartridges. Following more traditional 1911 designs and operating features are the Kimber Ultra Carry II, weighing in at 25 ounces with a 7-round capacity, Para’s 24-ounce Stealth and Slim Hawg models with 6+1 capacity, the Springfield Loaded Micro-Compact at 26 ounces and 6+1 capacity, STI’s Shadow and Escort models with a very modest carry weight of 22.8 ounces and 6+1 capacity, and the custom-crafted and Wilson Combat Ultralight Carry Compact at 26 ounces and a 7+1 cartridge capacity.
The latest addition to the field is the new Sig Sauer 1911 Ultra .45 ACP with 7+1 capacity and a carry weight of 28 ounces. Though known for its own uniquely-styled semi-autos dating back to the 1947 P210 chambered in 9mm, Sig began building its own versions of the standard Colt Government Model in 2004, followed in 2007 by a Carry model (Revolution with 4-inch barrel) and a Compact (6+1 capacity) variation. The Ultra has a shorter 3.3-inch barrel, trim profile and custom features that make it one of the more interesting choices among current .45 Auto ultra-compacts.