Over its more than century-long production life, the 1911 pistol has been chambered for a wide variety of cartridges. Best known, of course, is the iconic .45 ACP, the round that John Moses Browning originally designed the pistol for.
As its fans are quick to point out, the 1911 is a very adaptable pistol, and over the years it has been chambered for rounds such as the .455 Webley Auto, .38 Super, .22 LR, 7.65mm Luger and 9mm Steyr (the latter two for sale in countries that restrict ownership of handguns in “current” military calibers). The last two decades have seen the increasing popularity of “Old Slabsides” chambered for the 9mm Parabellum (which still makes many hardcore 1911 fans wince), the 9x23mm Winchester and the .40 S&W. But there is one modern pistol cartridge that has been notably absent in 1911 pistols—the .357 SIG.
.357 SIG Basics
The .357 SIG cartridge is the product of Swiss-German firearms manufacturer Sig Sauer, which worked in cooperation with Federal Premium Ammunition. While it is based on a 10mm case shortened and necked down to accept 0.355/9mm bullets, the .357 SIG case is slightly longer than the .40 S&W, and thus .40 S&W brass should not be used in a gun chambered for the .357 SIG, as it can cause damage to the firearm and/or injury to the shooter.
Developed in 1994, the new cartridge was baptized “.357” to highlight its purpose: to duplicate the performance of a 125-grain .357 Magnum round (the most popular load with U.S. police forces at that time) when fired from a 4-inch-barreled revolver. In other words, you got .357 Magnum performance in a semi-automatic pistol with greater ammunition capacity, a narrower cross-section and less recoil, not to mention that the gun could be reloaded faster. What’s not to like?
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Other than specialized competition cartridges like the 9x25mm Dillon, which necked a 10mm case down to hold a 9mm bullet, the .357 SIG was the first modern bottlenecked commercial handgun cartridge to be created since the early 1960s.
Today, a number of manufacturers offer pistols chambered for the .357 SIG, and it has a modest but devoted following among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, including the Texas Department of Public Safety, North Carolina Highway Patrol, Delaware State Police, Virginia State Police, Federal Air Marshal Service and Tennessee Highway Patrol, to name but a few.
My good friend Jeff Abernathy is one of the most respected gunsmiths in this part of the country. Some of the most beautiful and practical custom 1911s I have ever seen have emanated from his shop, Tommy Guns USA, in Mount Holly, N.C.
Jeff and I often compete at local USPSA matches, and during one post-game bull session, he mentioned that he was working on a single-stack, Commander-style 1911. This did not overly pique my interest until, with a glint in his eye, he added “in .357 SIG.”
“Wait a minute, what did you say?” I asked. He calmly reiterated that a customer had ordered a Commander-sized pistol in .357 SIG for concealed carry. And since Jeff is a wise entrepreneur, what the customer wants, the customer gets. Thankfully, he added, “Would you like to see it when it’s finished?”
While attempting to keep a straight face, I exerted an inordinate degree of self-control and calmly responded, “Yeah, why not?”
A few weeks later, a delivery service deposited a package at my front door that, judging by its size and weight, led me to believe it contained a handgun. When I saw the return address was Jeff’s shop, I wasted no time in opening it. (My wife, Becky, swears I was in such a hurry that I ripped it open with my fingernails!)
While Jeff’s competition pistols feature every “bell and whistle” serious action pistol shooters demand, often with fancy finishes, engraving and other fripperies, his carry guns appear to be quite plain, and this .357 followed in that vein. You might say that his carry guns have every component necessary to their task in life, and nothing else. In other words, if it ain’t necessary, it ain’t there!
The first thing I noticed about the pistol was how black it was. I mean really black. In fact, the black IonBond DLC finish seemed to soak up light, giving the pistol a very subdued appearance. But when you think about it, that is exactly what you want on a handgun that is designed to be carried concealed.
As is Jeff’s SOP, every component used to assemble this pistol was top quality, and I believe it would be best to describe each of the major components used in this build.
Jeff began with a .40-caliber, Commander-length slide from Caspian Arms with a flat top and dovetail cuts at the front and rear holding a Dawson fiber-optic front sight and a Novak LoMount Carry rear sight, with the latter having dual tritium inserts for use in low-light conditions.
Wider-than-usual front and rear grasping grooves were machined with sharp edges to allow for non-slip cocking with a variety of grips, while a lowered and flared ejection port ensures that spent cases are removed reliably courtesy of an Aftec extractor. The right side of the slide bears the Tommy Guns logo that adorns all of Jeff’s pistols in memory of his father, mentor, teacher and gunsmith extraordinaire, the late Tommy Abernathy.
The slide’s “innards” consist of a bushing-less Infinity Ultimatch .357 SIG bull barrel positioned by the same company’s reverse plug and a Wolff #16 Commander recoil spring surrounding an EGW guide rod. The cartridge igniting device—a Dawson firing pin—is held in position by an EGW firing pin stop.
The full-sized Caspian frame was cut to accommodate the Commander-length slide. So as to reduce its “signature” when carried concealed, the grip’s heel was beveled to allow for the installation of an Ed Brown Bobtail mainspring housing.
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The remainder of the parts Jeff used almost sound like an EGW catalog; the ejector, pin kit, skeletonized hammer, sear, disconnector and sear spring; barrel link slide stop, magazine catch, ambidextrous thumb safety, grip bushings and screws all came from EGW. But he broke from the herd with an STI beavertail grip safety and a skeletonized trigger that is adjustable for overtravel, which he set to trip the sear crisply with exactly 4 pounds of pressure.
The frontstrap and mainspring housing received 20- and 25-lpi checkering, respectively, which, when paired up with a set of VZ Operator II grips, dramatically improve the gun’s overall handling, pointability and control. You’d have to tear the skin from the palms of my hand before you could take this pistol away from me. Lastly, the magazine well was beveled to smooth out reloads with the 10-round Tripp Research magazines that the pistol’s owner intends to use.
Finally, the entire pistol, including the barrel, was finished with the aforementioned black IonBond DLC finish that not only protects it from wear, abuse and the vagaries of Mother Nature, but also enhances the pure, practicality of this combat pistol.
While the previous detailed description no doubt pleases the technojunkies reading this article, I’m sure the majority of you want to know how this .357 SIG 1911 shoots. So, I quickly gathered a supply of .357 SIG ammunition from Remington, Speer, Hornady and Federal to that end.
My wife, Becky, and I took advantage of a warm afternoon to escape from the house and head out to our gun club to see how Jeff’s pistol performed. After placing a series of targets on the 25-yard backstop, I unlimbered my MTM K-Zone rest and proceeded to fire three 5-shot groups with each brand of ammunition. If you know anything about Jeff’s 1911s, you won’t be surprised when I say that this Commander shot to the point of aim with five different .357 SIG loads, creating a series of groups in the 2-inch range.
It was now time to judge the pistol’s off-hand handling qualities and have some real run. We set up a combat target, and I belted on a Dara OWB holster and ran the .357 through the following drills. At 5 yards, I drew the gun and fired a double-tap, then reholstered and repeated four more times for a total of 10 rounds. Then I did the same drill again but firing with just one hand. At 10 yards, I drew and fired five rounds, performed a combat reload and repeated. At 15 yards, I drew and fired 10 rounds with slow, aimed fire.
Over the years, I have fired a number of pistols chambered for the .357 SIG, and in general their recoil was pretty stiff. But thanks to this 1911’s weight and the aggressive checkering of the frame and grips, the recoil was extremely controllable, allowing me to make fast, accurate follow-up shots. Of the 50 rounds expended during the off-hand drills, only five wandered outside of the X and 9 rings, and three of those occurred when I was firing the pistol with an unsupported grip.
Early on, I experienced two failures to feed, one each with the Federal 150-grain JHP and Speer 125-grain Gold Dot loads. But after that the custom pistol ate up whatever I stuffed in the Tripp Research magazines and spat out the empty cases with boring regularity. As you can see, I really enjoyed running Jeff Abernathy’s newest creation through its paces and believe that his client is going to be very pleased with it.
Caliber .357 SIG
Barrel 4.5 inches
OA Length 7.75 inches
Weight 39 ounces (empty)
Grips VZ Operator II
Sights Fiber-optic front,
Novak LoMount Carry rear
Finish Black IonBond DLC
For more information, visit tommygunsusa.com.