Some days, a single-stack 9 just won’t do. Don’t get me wrong — I carry my share of skinny 9s, and their shootability, cartridge and size make them some of the most effective solutions for concealed carry. But, some days, I prefer a cartridge known by Imperial measurements over metric, a cartridge with an American legacy. In other words, the .45 ACP. And I like that cartridge on a 1911 platform — an Officer-sized 1911 platform with a 3-inch barrel, to be exact.
Perhaps you’ve clicked through one too many tales of woe about how 3-inch-barreled 1911s aren’t reliable, and how John Moses Browning would be turning in his grave if he heard his beloved design was now being rendered in such a compact form. As for the former, manufacturers have gotten very good at perfecting this design, making it a reliable option for concealed carry. As for the latter, I think Browning would approve, mainly since he designed other subcompact guns, such as the Colt 1908 Vest Pocket and FN 1900.
I like the classic GI thumb safety, which is more of a nub than a lever, as it stays out of the way but clicks on and off very positively.
A dozen or so years ago, 3-inch-barreled 1911s were all the rage as the concealed carry movement was ramping up. Anecdotally, as I visited local gun stores, I found many of the old-school sales staff had replaced their beloved Commander models with Officer models because they were just as good but easier to carry.
Fast forward to today and 3-inch-barreled 1911s are not only still around but more manufacturers have gotten into the game. Credit the ongoing “rediscovery” of JMB’s 100-plus-year-old brilliant design, yes, but credit modern manufacturers with improving it as well, making these guns more shootable and reliable in a bigger caliber.
A word of clarification: We’re tossing around the term “3-inch-barreled” as if it’s an exact measurement. It’s not. In fact, the Taylor’s Compact 1911 Black Rock, Iver Johnson Thrasher and Kimber Stainless Ultra Carry II you’re reading about here have barrel lengths of 3.625, 3.125 and 3 inches, respectively. So, while “3-inch-barreled 1911” isn’t less than 3 inches, in some cases, it is more. In any case, each of these 3s gets it right when it comes to shootability and reliability in .45 ACP.
Taylor’s Compact 1911 Black Rock
With its 3.625-inch barrel, the Taylor’s & Company Compact 1911 Black Rock made by Armscor is sort of a new/old variation on the compact 1911 idea. The longer barrel, of course, not only helps with accuracy and velocity — it also looks better. With a capacity of seven rounds, an overall length of 7.37 inches and an overall weight of 2.43 pounds, the Taylor also seems most true to the 1911 function and feel. I like the classic GI thumb safety, which is more of a nub than a lever, as it stays out of the way but clicks on and off very positively. The checkered walnut stocks over the Black Rock Nitride finish underscore the gun’s classic roots, but some of the other features are very good modern upgrades.
One of the first things you’ll notice is the skeletonized trigger and hammer. And then you’ll notice the adjustable rear Novak-style sights with dovetail front blade sight. The upswept beavertail grip safety and magazine base that just shows a bit beyond the stocks are the only other clues that this is not one of the older designs.
The Compact Black Rock retails for $786. This is the gun you choose not only for reliable compact carry but also for some fun on the range.
Iver Johnson Thrasher
With a 3.125-inch barrel, the Iver Johnson Thrasher measures 6.93 inches overall — almost a half-inch shorter than the Taylor. The reduction in length correlates with less overall weight: The Thrasher is a 1.9-pound gun, just more than a half-pound lighter than the Taylor. Other than those specs, the two guns are very similar. In its matte-blued finish, it retails for $636, making it a veritable bargain in the 1911 world.
Firing a .45 ACP 1911, especially in these smaller variants, creates a lot of drama. A lot of bark. A lot of recoil. It’s not unmanageable by any stretch, because the 1911 platform — with its grip angle and high hold — is eminently shootable after you grow accustomed to it. So, don’t let the name intimidate you. That said, the Thrasher has a few sharp edges, so don’t plan on putting dozens and dozens of rounds downrange. Your thumb will take a beating as you manipulate the safety on and off, and you’ll feel the hot pricks of exhaust gas getting thrown back in your face every now and then. But this is the gun you choose to carry because it is a workhorse and because it can take a beating; your end of the deal might involve a little of the same.
Kimber Stainless Ultra Carry II
With a relatively short 3-inch barrel, Kimber’s Stainless Ultra Carry II measures 6.8 inches overall — the shortest of the three, if only by .13 inches. Even better, this aluminum-framed 1911 weighs only 25 ounces unloaded — lighter than the Thrasher by 5.4 ounces, which I’ll argue is significant in a carry gun. Also, the Kimber literally does one better than both of the other guns with its eight-round magazine capacity.
Retailing for $912, we have the most expensive of the three-gun lot, but included in that price is the satin silver finish of the stainless slide, a match-grade barrel and aluminum trigger and, in current models, very well-appointed rosewood grips.
The Stainless Ultra Carry II wears rubber grips that are some of the best I’ve ever used on a 1911. They don’t look as good as rosewood, but I’ll give up some aesthetics in favor of increased purchase. This particular Kimber has been around a few years and has been one of the most accurate and reliable guns I’ve had the privilege of shooting. Its 16-pound recoil spring and full-length guide rod contribute to not only a manageable shooting experience but a pleasurable one. Equally importantly, it is as much a joy to carry as it is to manipulate its butter-smooth operations. This is the gun you choose because you want a concealable, accurate, incredibly reliable and refined .45 ACP/1911 experience.
Lots of positives in this three for three, but it’s not all roses. While any one of them can serve well as a concealed carry piece, they have varying weaknesses. The Taylor 1911 is relatively large and heavy, which is good for shooting but adds a challenge for all-day carry. The Thrasher is a bit more hideable and it’ll get the job done, but it lacks refinement and has the most bark. And, for the Kimber, while the price is higher, you can argue that you get what you pay for. I’ll add that the smooth front strap leaves a bit to be desired when it comes to overall grip; that’s another reason why the rubber scales win over just about anything else. Finally, none of these come equipped with night sights. The Kimber’s fiber-optic front sight and fixed, low-profile rear provide the best sight picture.
Concealed Carry Holsters
Favorite holsters for these guns are the ones that’ll put them inside the waistband at 4 or 5 o’clock, with a forward cant offering a combat grip. Lots of holsters do this, but my favorites include CrossBreed’s SuperTuck Deluxe, Galco’s Royal Guard and High Noon’s Public Secret. The SuperTuck Deluxe is most comfortable but takes longer to install. The Royal Guard is decently comfortable and installs with two snapped loops, and the Public Secret is on and off in an instant and can manage appendix carry if you’re so inclined. Sure, with the right holsters, you can carry outside the waistband with the skinny frames of these 1911s — and well! But the skinniness is why they belong inside the waistband. It’s just better.
Other accessories I like for these guns include Wilson Combat magazines, mainly because they’re so smooth and reliable. For the record, the stock magazines are fine, but not quite as refined as the Wilsons. Sometimes, I carry a spare Wilson mag in a weak-side belt holster, but, more often than not, I just carry it in my weak-side front pocket. With 7+1 (Taylor, Iver Johnson) or 8+1 (Kimber) on board and another eight rounds in a magazine, that’s 16 or 17 rounds of .45 ACP on tap, which should suffice for normal private citizen concealed carry.
To be sure, all of these pistols are generally larger and heavier than most single-stack 9s. And, as single-action guns with external manual safeties, they’re also more complex to operate. But that’s the tradeoff when you want to fire a .45 ACP cartridge from a 1911 platform. If you’re willing to put in the time to learn and master such a beast, you’ll be rewarded with a unique and effective carry solution.