Over the years, I’ve received hundreds of e-mails, always asking me if I had to pick just one gun, for the rest of my life, what would it be? Of course, there is no easy answer to this question, and thankfully, I don’t have to make that choice – right now. And, depending on how I’m feeling at the time this question is asked, then my answer has changed over the years. There is no one gun solution , at least not in my mind. I said for years, that I’d pick some kind of 4-inch barrel, stainless steel .357 Magnum revolver of some type for my one and only handgun. However, I’ve also said that maybe a 4-inch barrel, stainless steel .44 Magnum revolver of one brand or another, would be my first choice for a one and only handgun.
The possibilities are endless, when you think about it. I like the .357 Magnum revolver because you can shoot .38 Special loads in it for small game hunting and target practice. And, of course, you can load some pretty hot and heavy .357 Magnum loads in there to take even some pretty big game. It is not the perfect caliber for some bigger game, but it can get the job done. Then we have to look at the .44 Magnum revolver, and you can download it with .44 Special loads for small game, medium sized game and personal protection. Or you can load-up some really heavy and hot .44 Magnum loads for the biggest game and for taking longer shots at game with more power behind the bullet. And, I like stainless steel revolvers because they are better for my local environment – lots of rain – and require less maintenance, and they are almost rustless! Now, with either one of these guns/caliber picks, I’m looking at serious hard-core survival scenarios – in the big city or out in the wilderness.
Okay, just to confuse you all, my all-time favorite handgun is a good ol’ 1911 some some sort, and given a choice, I’ll stick with a “Commander” sized 1911 with a shorter barrel than the full-sized Government Model with the 5-inch barrel. The shorter barrels on the Commander-sized guns just seem to balance and point better for me and I can shoot ’em faster and more accurately, too. No science behind it that I can think of, but it works for me.
Consider the Springfield Armory Operator “Champion” 1911. It has a 4-inch barrel, as opposed to a 4.25-inch barrel on some other similar 1911 “Commander-esque” sized guns. And, I’m not going to quibble about a quarter inch here or there. The Champion Operator has a stainless steel match grade, fully supported ramp bull barrel, too. We are talking about a serious barrel, that can give you some outstanding accuracy, and it adds a little more weight out front, and helps tame the recoil – not that I’ve ever found the recoil of a .45 ACP round that hard to control, and the Operator comes in only .45 ACP.
I want to comment on the slide-to-frame fit on this Operator for just a second. Many aluminum-framed 1911s I’ve had over the years had a bit of a gritty feel when pulling back the steel slide that rides on the aluminum frame, and there was more play than I cared for. Not so with the Operator – the slide-to-frame fit is tight, very tight, but the slide rides extremely smoothly on the aluminum frame – and I’m talking butter-smooth, too. The barrel is also nicely fitted, to the slide, nice and tight and I knew this gun was going to be a good shooter.
We also have fixed, low-profile combat rear and dove-tailed from sights with 3-dot Tritium for low-light shooting and the sights really glowed in the dark and in low light. Springfield advertises the long aluminum match grade trigger pull at 5-6 pounds and my sample was dead-on at 5-pounds with only a hint of take-up. Perhaps because of its length, the trigger pull actually felt lighter than it was. Usually I have to tinker with any 1911 when I get it and I work on the trigger pull – I like mine at around 4-pounds for a street gun. However, I didn’t see any sense in doing anything with the trigger pull on my sample Operator – it was perfect for me.
The Operator came in a nice hard plastic carrying case, with two 7-round magazines. And, it still confounds me today, why so many gun companies only give you one magazine with a gun – like they think you won’t need a reload in a gunfight? Springfield Armory also includes a double magazine pouch and a holster, so you are ready to go when you take the gun out of the case. But you’ll still need to get one more magazine, to fill that double magazine case – not a problem. A nice pair of Cocobolo hardwood grips adorn the gun’s frame with the crossed cannons engraved on them. Okay, nice as these grips looked, I simply had to replace them with a pair of my own designed “Code Zero” 1911 grips. Check out my design – I don’t think there is a better feeling designed grips for a 1911. And, as a disclaimer, I don’t make a cent off the sales of the “Code Zero” 1911 grips. I gave the design to Mil-Tac – I’ve also designed several of the knives they sell, too. Again, I don’t make anything off the sale of the knives or the grips. I helped Mil-Tac Knives & Tools, owner, Craig Sword, get his company up and running with some of my knife designs and the grip designs. They are nice people to deal with and give them your business if you can.
Okay, I had to make one change to the Springfield Operator Champion. I always have to change “something” on any 1911 that I get my hands on – must be a mental issue I have when it comes to 1911s. The slide on the Operator is forged steel with a black Armory Kote that is pretty tough stuff – it holds up well to the elements. The frame is forged aluminum alloy and it has an accessory rail under the dust cover, if you want to put a light or laser on there. I don’t usually hang lights or lasers on the accessory rail on my carry handguns, but I had to try the Crimson Trace CMR-201 laser on the rail to see how it fit and functioned. This particular model of Crimson Trace laser if sort or a universal fit for railed guns, and it fit perfectly on the Operator. Only thing is, it wouldn’t fit in the holster that came with the Operator. Okay, no big deal, you can get a custom-made holster, or go with one of the other Crimson Trace lasers that replace the grips, no a problem.
The Operator weighs in at 31 ounces, with a height of 5.5-inches and an overall length of 7.5-inches. A bit heavier than some other light-weight guns of similar size, but still lighter than an all-steel gun. The bull barrel adds to the weight. There is also a beavertail grip safety and ambidextrous thumb safeties – I can live with or without a ambi safeties these days, but the off-side safety is there if you’re a southpaw or just need and want it. The ejection port is flared and lowered for positive ejection, too. I had zero malfunctions with the Operator in more than 500 rounds of testing. There is also a dual recoil spring with a full-length guide rod, which aid is smooth functioning.
For my testing, I had a good selection of .45ACP ammo on-hand. From Black Hills Ammunition, I had their steel cased 230-grain FMJ load, as well as their steel cased 185-grain JHP load. Additionally, I had their 185-grain Barnes all-copper hollow point which is rated at +P. From Buffalo Bore Ammunition, I had their 185-grain Barnes all-copper hollow point that is +P rated, the 185-grain JHP +P, 200-grain, 230-grain FMJ FN and their 255-grain hard Cast FN loadings. From Winchester Ammunition I had their ever popular USA brand 230-grain FMJ load, which I use for function testing for starters whenever shooting .45 ACP caliber handguns. So, I had a good selection of ammo to run through the Operator. And, as mentioned, I had zero malfunctions of any type. All shooting was done from 25 yards.
On average, the Operator would group about 2 to 2-1/2 inches from a rest, over the hood of my car – and I don’t use mechanical rests, I use a rolled-up sleeping bag or a jacket. Was there a winner in the accuracy department? Yes, and it surprised me, the Buffalo Bore 255-grain hard Cast FN load was giving me groups under 2-inches, but I think the gun can do even better than that. On several outings, we had rain, lots of rain, and I know I wasn’t doing my best shooting because of it. In this part of Oregon, we have two seasons: Four months of beautiful summer sunshine and moderate temps and eight months of mostly rain. I shoot in all kinds of weather, and I don’t pick just nice days with nice weather to do my shooting. I want real-life results, and shooting in all types of weather is like what you’d expect in a real-life self-defense scenario – you can’t pick the weather or lighting conditions and more than likely, it will be bad weather and poor lighting – that’s where the Tritium night sights can help you.
I honestly believe, with more shooting, in better weather, and on a better day (for me) I think this gun is capable of groups around an inch and a half with the right ammo. I like the 185-grain Barnes +P loads with the all-copper hollow point bullets, I’ve done a lot of testing with them, from Black Hills and Buffalo Bore and I’m impressed with the penetration, as well as how nicely the all-copper bullets expand and stay together…and these loads are both lower-recoiling than you think they would be, considering they are +P loads. Okay, the Buffalo Bore 255-grain Hard Cast FN rounds that are +P – those kicked a bit, and in the lighter-framed Operator, it caught my attention. I wouldn’t want to spend a day shooting these loads. (Ouch!) However, it would be my load of choice if I were out in the wilderness where I might encounter dangerous game – it penetrates a lot. I’ve yet to recover one of these slugs in water-filled milk jugs that I’ve lined up one behind the other – this bullet penetrates, and that’s what you need against big game, thick-skinned game – you need penetration. For street work, one of the 185-grain Barnes all-copper +P loads is what I carry in my .45 ACP caliber handguns. But you know, it’s not a bad idea to have one of your spare mags loaded with the 255-grain Hard Cast FN rounds – just in case you have to shoot through cover to get a bad guy. Tim Sundles, who owns Buffalo Bore brought this to my mind.
The Black Hills steel cased ammo – no problems at all through the Operator. I know some gun companies specifically state that you shouldn’t shoot steel cased ammo through their guns, but I had no problems with the Black Hills loads. Plus, unlike the Russian-made steel cased ammo, the Black Hills steel cased ammo isn’t dirty shooting – not in the least. This is a good load in either the JHP or the FMJ for target practice or hunting. And I wouldn’t hesitate to use it for self-defense, either.
Alright, now that I burned-up more than 500 rounds of .45 ACP ammo in my testing, I’m regretting shooting so much. We are in a very serious ammo drought right now, thanks to the gun, magazine and ammo bans that DC and some states are proposing – and that some states have already passed. Now, I’ve got to get to work on building up my ammo reserves for more articles. And, all of my ammo sources tell me they are pumping out ammo as fast as they can, and they don’t have their shelves stocked with “extra” ammo – everything they produce is shipped right out the door as fast as they produce it.
If you’re in the market for a 1911, then take a close look at the Springfield Armory Operator Champion model, that is, if you can find one these days. As with the ammo drought, we are also in a serious firearm drought – guns are simply hard to find. And, I’m not even going to give you a suggested retail price on the Operator – because they are probably selling for more than that these days – as are most guns. Then again, Springfield Armory 1911s are always in short supply.
I can usually find more than a few things I want to change on any 1911, but in the case of the Operator, I only changed the grips to my own design, and that wasn’t necessary. (But I had to do “something” its in my blood) – SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor Pat Cascio