Pat Cascio’s Product Review: Springfield Armory EMP 4

When the first Springfield Armory EMP series of shrunk down 1911s came out, I took a wait and see attitude before requesting a sample for an article on SurvivalBlog.com. I was really impressed with that little gun. It was darn near the perfect packin’ pistol, as my long-time friend and fellow gun writer, John Taffin, has been searching for all his life. The little EMP sample I had was in .40 S&W, and it was a very snappy pistol in the recoil department, very snappy! There wasn’t much I didn’t like about it.

Last December, my super-secret contact at Springfield Armory sent me the newest list of firearms for 2016, and I was under threat of torture and/or death not to reveal it to anyone until their newest guns were revealed at The SHOT Show. I went over that list several times and requested some samples of the newest handguns from Springfield Armory, and we’ll have reports on some of those guns on SurvivalBlog.com coming along soon. However, going over that list numerous times, I failed to pay attention to the new EMP 4 model. My eyes just skipped over it. I thought it was just the original EMP model that got included on the list by mistake. You see, I’m smart, just not all of the time!

Just prior to The SHOT Show 2016, I was going over the new Springfield Armory newest product list and looked closely at the EMP. My eyes were opened! The EMP that I thought was an older model wasn’t! The newest EMP is called the EMP 4, and it comes with a 4” Bbl; the originals came with a 3” Bbl. Here’s the skinny and specs on the newest EMP that you can find on the Springfield Armory website; I don’t like boring our readers with a rehash of specs that they can read for themselves, so direct them to the specs at the gun company’s website.

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When the original EMP came out, it really shook up the 1911 industry. The EMP isn’t just a cut-down, compact version of the full-sized 1911. Nope! Instead, what we have is a 1911 that appears to have been tossed in a hot dryer and shrunk down in all dimensions in size. It isn’t just a simple cut down 1911; it’s an entirely different creature. There are no less than 17 different parts in the EMP that will not fit into the original 1911. They are proprietary parts that only fit in the EMP, and the corresponding parts from an full-sized 1911 won’t fit into the EMP.

Springfield Armory designers, under the guidance of Dave Williams who runs their Custom Shop, came out with a smaller and much more comfortable 1911 that is much easier to conceal and is available in 9mm or .40 S&W. It came in slightly different models, too. The 9mm and .40 S&W are smaller rounds than the grand ol’ .45 ACP. As such, they don’t require a platform the size of a 1911 that shoots .45 ACP in order to fit into it. Yes, there are full-sized 1911s that shoot 9mm and .45 ACP ammo as well as other calibers. However, there is that “wasted” space in a full-sized 1911 that a 9mm or .40 S&W doesn’t need. Hmm?

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I anxiously awaited my EMP 4 for testing. Unfortunately, I placed my order just prior to The SHOT Show and had to wait for everyone to get back and start shipping the guns out. It was a long, long week to wait for my sample.

Once again, SurvivalBlog.com doesn’t run our articles based on a press release, and many blogs and even some gun magazines were quick to report online about the new EMP 4 without ever shooting one. We don’t do that at SurvivalBlog.com and never will. If we don’t have a product in hand to actually test, we aren’t going to report what a press release says. I believe that we have once again got the jump on most blogs and are giving our readers a first-hand report, a first look, based on actually shooting the EMP 4.

What we have with the EMP 4 in 9mm is a slightly longer sight radius, because of the 4” Bbl, and the gun comes with three 10-rd mags with slam pads. The original EMP 9mm only holds 9-rds in the mags. The EMP 4 is slightly longer, front to back and top to bottom, than the original EMP, and I don’t have a problem with that added length and height at all. Plus, with the 4” Bbl, you can wring out a little more velocity from the 9mm round, compared to the original 3” Bbl.

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The barrel is a ramped bull barrel, which is heavy, and that also helps accuracy and velocity. The frame is black anodized, forged aluminum, and the slide is a brushed stainless steel that is forged, of course. The gun comes in at 31 oz unloaded. We also have some nice, thin Cocobolo wood grips with the Springfield Armory logo on them; I love the look. The trigger is a match-grade one that is perfectly fit with no slop. There is an ambidextrous thumb safety, and this is my only minor complaint. I could live with a single-side thumb safety; it’s just my druthers. We have a nice “beaver tail” grip safety with a memory bump and a checkered, flat mainspring housing. We also have the speed, Delta hammer for fast lock-up.

As we move up the slide, there are angled grasping grooves on the rear of the slide, for a sure grip. The ejection port is lowered and flared for positive ejection of empty brass and live rounds. The rear sight is a genuine Novak combat sight, with two white dots. Then we move to the front sight that has a red fiber optic in it, which is great for combat and speed shooting. It’s very fast to pick up this combination of white dots on the rear sight and the red fiber optic front sight. Plus, Springfield also includes some additional fiber optic material– another red one and a bright green one, if you choose to change out the front sight or if it happens to break. For the record, I’ve never had a fiber optic front sight break on me. It is quick and easy to change the front sight to a different color if you choose to.

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With the heavy bull barrel, there is no traditional barrel bushing. Instead, the recoil spring set-up is a captured unit, and Springfield supplies the special tool for field stripping the gun. Yeah, it takes a little more effort, but I’ve yet to have a competition during a gun fight to see who could take their 1911 apart faster for cleaning and maintenance!

A note on the EMP magazines: they are proprietary to the EMP; they won’t fit or function in any other 1911s. They are smaller than regular 1911 mags, and regular 1911 mags, even 9mm mags, won’t fit and function in the EMP. The mags are made by Mec-Gar in Italy, who manufacturers mags for many of the big name firearms makers. They make some of the best mags to be had.

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The front strap has something that looks like tiny squares or diamonds in it, instead of the traditional cross checkering that many people object too for some reason. My own wife says that most front strap checkering is too aggressive on her hand. It’s not so with the “checkering” on the EMP 4. It is a gentle type of pattern that still allows a sure grip on the gun, under any weather conditions. I like it, a lot!

The EMP 4 also comes in a great dark gray polymer carrying case, with a holster, a dual magazine pouch, the three magazines, the gun, a gun lock, fiber optic material, instruction manual, and other goodies. It is always a problem when gun companies come out with a new gun model to try finding a holster; it’s difficult at best. So, Springfield gives you a holster and dual mag pouch to start with. What’s not to like here? The gun is ready to go out of the box. Just strap on the dual mag pouch and slide the paddle holster onto your trousers and you’re ready for concealed carry. Only thing is, I don’t care for paddle holsters. However, the EMP 4 will fit in many (not all) 1911 holsters. I tried my EMP 4 sample in several various holsters made for 1911s from Black Hawk Products and the gun fit nicely, thank you! The frame and slide on the EMP line are slightly thinner than that found on the “regular” 1911s. It’s something to keep in mind if you are looking at some leather holsters. The EMP might be a sloppy fit in some loosely molded leather holsters.

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When my gun shop sent me a text that my EMP 4 sample arrived, I was in my pickup truck before texting them back that I was on my way. The 12-minute drive seemed to take an hour for some reason, in a pouring rain no less. I made sure that all the parts for my new EMP 4 were there and the paper work was done. You have to understand that the guys at the gun shop I haunt take great pride in sometimes taking my gun samples apart, completely apart on me, or “forgetting” to put some of the parts back in the gun, like a firing pin. More than once I’ve had a new gun sample go “click” instead of “bang” on me, thanks to these jokers. A cell phone call to them will tell me where they hid the firing pin in the box on me.

I grabbed two boxes of 9mm ammo off my work bench, before heading out to pick up the EMP 4. The two I grabbed couldn’t be much different from one another if I tried. I had a box of Black Hills Ammunition 100-gr frangible ammo that is used by some police departments for indoor range training because they don’t ricochet or damage the steel backstop; they break apart. I also grabbed a box of Buffalo Bore Ammunition 124-gr JHP +P+ ammo. This was just what was on my work bench, as I wanted to run a few rounds through the gun before taking it home.

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The first three 10-rd mags were loaded with the Black Hills 100-gr frangible ammo. In the first three mags, I had four failures to fire with the EMP 4. This is not uncommon with this type of range ammo. Many brands have a really hard primer because of the primer compound that keeps the air cleaner on indoor ranges. I examined the four rounds that didn’t fire, and there was a good hit on the primers. When I put them back through the EMP 4, they all fired. The Buffalo Bore 124-gr JHP +P+ was then loaded into the magazines, and there were no problems at all. They all fired. By this time, it was pouring down rain again! So, I headed home to inspect the new EMP 4 and give it a good cleaning and lube with Italian Gun Grease, Tactical Oil– my favorite gun lube, period!

Over the course of the next two days, with rain and shine, I put about 500 rounds of various 9mm ammo through the little EMP 4. From Buffalo Bore, I had their 147-gr JHP sub sonic load, as well as their 147-gr FMJ FN sub sonic load, 147-gr Hard Cast FN Outdoorsman load that is rated +P, 124-gr JHP +P, and their 115-gr Barnes TAC XP all copper hollow point that is +P+ on top of the first 124-gr JHP +P+ load I fired the first day. From Black Hills Ammunition, I had their outstanding 115-gr JHP +P, 124-gr JHP +P, 115-gr Barnes TAC XP all-copper hollow point that is rated +P, and their 115-gr FMJ load. Plus, the 100-gr frangible load I fired the first day.

There were zero malfunction of any sort, after those first few frangible loads that failed to fire. Again, this happens sometimes with this type of range ammo, so I wasn’t concerned about the EMP 4 having misfires. However, I did send a note to Dave Williams at Springfield Armory and mentioned this.

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My wife accompanied me on one shooting session. When she emptied the first magazine full of ammo, there was this great big smile on her face. She commented on the crisp trigger pull, which measured exactly at 5 lbs on my trigger pull scale. She loved the trigger pull, and before she could say anything I said “No, you can’t have my gun, and I can’t afford to buy another one for you…” In the past, I’ve lost more than one handgun sample to the wife.

Accuracy testing was conducted over a rolled up sleeping bag over the hood of my pickup truck at 25 yards. Hands down, the little EMP 4 liked the Black Hills 124-gr JHP +P the best. If I did my part, I could get groups down to slightly over two inches, which is outstanding accuracy from a little 9mm handgun. Very hot on the heels in the accuracy department was the Buffalo Bore 147-gr JHP sub sonic load. No loads went over 3½ inches, if I did my part.

The EMP 4 was a real pleasure to shoot, even with the hotter +P+ loads, and keep in mind that no gun maker recommends that you fire +P+ loads through their firearms for liability purposes, for sure! It’s understandable! I wouldn’t feed any 9mm handgun a steady diet of +P+ loads. It just accelerates the wear and tear on a handgun to run this really hot ammo through them. For practice, I use standard velocity loads. For carry, I stoke my 9mm handguns with +P JHP loads. I always run a good bit of +P JHP loads through any carry gun, to make sure the gun will function 100% with those hotter loads.

In the past, the 9mm hasn’t been my first choice for a self-defense handgun. However, there have been major advances in the 9mm ammo field. Even the FBI is now swapping out their .40 S&W GLOCKs for handguns chambered in 9mm, and they are loading their guns with +P ammo, not that regular non-+P JHP, which won’t get the job done. Studies show that today’s crop of good 9mm +P JHP ammo is just as good a stopper as .40 S&W and right on the heels of .45ACP loads. Still, I’m a skeptic! I’m not saying the FBI testing is flawed by any means. I’d feel confident carrying a handgun stoked with good +P JHP ammo for self-defense these days, but I don’t believe that the 9mm is hot on the heels of a .45 ACP stoked with a good JHP load. That’s just me!

Now, with the above stated, I’m very confident in this little EMP 4 and will begin carrying it as my everyday carry gun, stoked with 9mm JHP +P loads. I don’t know if my buddy, John Taffin, will ever find his perfect packin’ pistol, but it’s fun to keep looking. I think, if you like the 1911 platform and want it chambered in 9mm, then it would be extremely hard to pass up the Springfield Armory EMP 4 as an outstanding choice for everyday carry!

Guns of the quality of the Springfield EMP 4 don’t come cheap. Then again, I’ve owned custom 1911s that cost me more than $3,000 that weren’t any better than this EMP 4 and some that weren’t nearly as good as this gun. Full retail on the EMP 4 is $1,179, but it is worth every penny, if you ask me. Of course, it is newly released and they are a bit hard to find right now, but it’s worth the search if you ask me. Now, once again, I have to convince the wife that I “need” to keep this sample. I keep using the same excuse “I only need one more gun…”, and it is as true today as it was years ago, and it will be in the future. “I just ‘need’ one more gun.”

– Senior Product Review Editor, Pat Cascio

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