There is little doubt when it comes to concealed-carry weapons that smaller is better, or at least more popular. Every major manufacturer is producing a compact pistol with a 3-inch barrel, and 4-inch barrels have become the standard for “full-sized” models. For most duty and self-defense applications, a 4-inch barrel is plenty. Coupled with advances in bullet and ammunition technology, these short pistols perform as well as or better than longer barrels outside of a hunting environment. For many years, revolvers and Commander-style 1911s with 4- and 4.25-inch barrels, respectively, were the norm for concealed carry. Their shorter barrels resulted in effective yet lighter guns, especially when alloy frames were added to the mix.
Still, for decades now, many have considered a 3-inch barrel ideal for concealment. Even revolvers were fitted with 3-inch barrels for optimal concealment without compromising effectiveness. The venerable 1911 was no exception, taking the form of the Officer’s Model. Introduced in 1975, its 3.5-inch barrel met with mixed success; shorter barrels on 1911s, especially chambered in .45 ACP, have traditionally posed problems. Some work, others really don’t. Early lightweight Commanders in 9mm and .38 Super helped, but until manufacturing processes improved, it was still hit or miss with shorter barrels in most any caliber.
Compact 1911s chambered in .45 ACP are pretty popular. The Colt Defender, introduced in 2000, is one of the more reliable options. Having owned three of them over the years, I can say that they all ran well. Later versions had solid carry sights and better features but were missing checkering on their grip frames. Kimber offers several Ultra compacts in .45 ACP — in fact, just about every company producing 1911s offers one. They are small, short and easy to conceal. For years, one sat in my Galco Ankle Glove holster while I was a patrol sergeant and then an administrator. Smith & Wesson started offering its Pro Series in this barrel length in 2010, and it was well received. The company chambered most of these guns in .45 ACP until the 9mm started to surge in popularity.
One can attribute this 9mm revival in part to the increased effectiveness of ammunition and better bullet designs. The 3-inch-barreled 1911 also deals with one of the major complaints regarding .45s: capacity. Most 9mm 1911s in this arena use eight-round magazines, giving you a nine-round starting point, and 10-round magazines work, too. Better return springs and overall design have made them increasingly reliable, and the new 9mm Smith & Wesson Performance Center Pro Series SW1911 has proven to be a solid entry.
Most of what has made the Pro Series in .45 ACP popular has carried over to the 9mm. The stainless steel slide has fine rear serrations and three-white-dot sights with a carry profile. Within the slide is a stainless steel, fully supported bull barrel, and you’ll also notice a heavy-duty external extractor. The frame is made of scandium, helping the pistol weigh just 26.2 ounces unloaded. Loaded with nine Sig Sauer 115-grain V-Crown JHPs, my test gun weighed in at 29 ounces.
Speaking of the frame, the synthetic grips have subtle stippling, and the triggerguard is undercut, pairing with the extended beavertail to provide a high hold on the gun. It proved comfortable even for my large hands. The company beveled and checkered the mainspring housing at the bottom for carry. Also, the gun comes with a slightly extended magazine release, and the thumb safety is slim and ambidextrous. My test model’s operated with a satisfying snap.
The curved, aluminum, three-hole trigger on my sample broke cleanly and consistently at 4 pounds using a Series 80 firing pin safety. Finally, my gun came with two 8-round, flush-fit magazines without basepads, both made by Metalform.
Smith & Wesson Performance Center Pro Series SW1911 Performance
Over the course of a month, I carried the Pro Series SW1911 using three different holsters: the Galco Ankle Glove, the Milt Sparks Versa Max 2 most of the time and an RDR Kydex holster for range duty. I used the Galco rig for a week-long course at Gunsite Academy, where the setup was very solid. After that, I attended the Athlon Outdoors Rendezvous, again with the SW1911. The 9mm carried so well that no one knew I had it on my ankle.
My initial range testing was pretty simple. I loaded up the two provided magazines along with three other Metalform 10-rounders with Sig 115-grain V-Crown JHPs, then emptied them as fast as I could pull the trigger — essentially “Bill Drills” at 7 yards. After another 50 or so rounds to confirm my point of aim, I tucked the SW1911 in my Galco Ankle Glove as a secondary pistol for Gunsite.
While there, I fired the gun a bit outside the class and carried it every day on my ankle. As a rather large man, carrying a 3-inch-barreled 1911 isn’t much of an issue; I did it for years, and this pistol concealed well, never shifting. At the end of each day, I was able to test the SW1911 at a few of Gunsite’s ranges. Along with the Sig ammo, I also ran the pistol with loads from Barnes, Remington and Speer. They all functioned without issue — something that isn’t common among 9mm 1911s, let alone those with 3-inch barrels. The extraction was flawless, and the ejection patterns were consistent and positive. And despite the SW1911’s light weight, the recoil was very manageable. I had no trouble running several hundred rounds through the gun.
Back at my home range, I tested the SW1911 for accuracy and velocity, firing from a bench using a bag as a rest. Sig rounds provided the best group, measuring about 2 inches at 25 yards. Most everything else came in at the 2.5-inch range at this distance. At more practical ranges — 15 yards and in — the gun was as accurate as any quality 1911 without regard to barrel length. Using Remington’s 115-grain FMJs, the gun was incredibly soft to shoot yet cycled perfectly and was as accurate as I could manage. My entire hand just barely fit on the grip, but that didn’t hinder my control. Even DoubleTap’s 115-grain Bonded load, which came out of the barrel at close to 1,300 fps, was controllable — snappy for sure, but very controllable.
My only issue is the same gripe I have with most Pro Series SW1911 pistols: the front sight’s proprietary dovetail. I know they’re fine for most people, but at my age, three-white-dot sights are problematic. However, with the S&W design, standard Novak and Heinie sights won’t fit, limiting your replacement options. Then again, this isn’t a big issue given the pistol’s intended use. If I needed the utmost precision, I would probably use a different gun. The company built this 1911 for up-close-and-personal use.
Carrying this Pro Series SW1911 was a joy because of its light weight. It’s just a hair lighter than a Commander, but it is noticeably easier to conceal. It can be carried inside the waistband and concealed very well with just a T-shirt. It also rides well in a car without digging a hole in the seat, and it fit in various spots around my truck.
Concealment really is the sweet spot for this 1911. If your back is sensitive to weight or you are unable to conceal larger pistols, it is just about perfect — and you won’t give up any real effectiveness, especially loaded with hotter ammo. So if you are looking for a lightweight, reliable and concealable 1911, this is a solid choice. Smith & Wesson’s external extractor is a big boon for reliability, as the gun shot everything well, including high-velocity rounds. In short, S&W’s 3-inch-barreled, 9mm Pro Series SW1911 offers yet another excellent choice for a concealed-carry pistol. So, if you are in the market, make sure you give it a very close look. For more information about the Performance Center SW1911 Pro Series Pistol, please visit smith-wesson.com.
Smith & Wesson Performance Center SW1911 Pro Series Pistol
- Caliber: 9mm
- Barrel: 3 inches
- OA Length: 6.9 inches
- Weight: 26.2 ounces (empty)
- Grips: Synthetic
- Sights: Three-dot
- Action: SA
- Finish: Black
- Capacity: 8+1
- MSRP: $1,330
This article was originally published in Gun Buyer’s Annual 2019. To order a copy, please visit outdoorgroupstore.com.
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