I love taking folks out shooting who have never shot a gun before in their lives. I especially love taking anti-gunners out shooting for the first time. I was working as the Youth Minister for the Salvation Army down in Klamath Falls, Oregon back in 1988-1989 and also ran their Youth Center. The Officer (Pastor) there was a fairly young fellow, younger than me, and just out of training school. He was totally against “assault rifles” of any kind and had never shot any type of gun in his life. I took him out to my brother-in-law’s ranch and introduced him to a Colt AR-15 rifle, and he had the time of his life. He burned up a lot of ammo. When we were done for the day, he commented, “I don’t know if there is a legitimate purpose for owning one of these guns, but it sure is fun to shoot.” That’s the end of that story. He answered his own question. You don’t have to have a legit reason to own any kind of gun. You can just own one because!
The local Mexican restaurant in one of the small towns near us was recently purchased by a nice couple, and we frequent it often, all too often I would say. My wife, our oldest daughter, and I have become good friends with the new owners. We often take them some meals to eat. My wife makes the best Italian meatballs in the world, and I’m a good cook myself. As we got to know the new owners, the conversation turned to what we do for a living– my wife is an elementary grade teacher, my daughter is head of security at the local Walmart, and I’m a writer who is always testing firearms, knives, and camping/survival gear.
Both Jovita and Julio asked me if I would take them out and teach them to shoot. I was more than happy to comply with that request. Jovita is a tiny little gal, standing about 4’11” and weighing about a hundred pounds. Julio is about my size but weighs less than I do. We sometimes have a communication problem, since my Spanish is a bit rusty and Jovita’s English is sometimes lacking, but we managed to set a time to meet and go shooting.
I took a number of handguns and rifles when I took this nice couple out to go shooting for the very first time. Jovita has always had a fear of guns, so we started her on a .22 pistol, and she loved it. The only other gun she was willing to try was a .22 LR rifle. Julio, on the other hand, was willing to try anything, and that brings us to the subject of this particular gun article– the Springfield Armory Range Officer Light-weight Champion 1911.
The new Range Officer from Springfield Armory sports a 4” stainless steel heavy bull barrel. The gun has a new full length recoil guide dual recoil spring setup that is in the process of being changed to something different. The slide is forged steel, parkerized, and the frame is forged aluminum, anodized black/gray. The front sight is a red fiber optic that can also be changed to a green one. Springfield provides spare fiber optic material for this. The rear sight is the popular Novak combat sight with two white dots. The gun only weighs 30 ounces, thanks to the aluminum frame. The grip panels are Cocobolo with a double diamond pattern. Two 7-rd mags come with each gun, as well as a paddle holster, double magazine pouch, cleaning brush, and instruction manual. The Range Officer also has a combat speed hammer, wide beaver tail grip safety with speed bump, and single side safety, which is on the left side of the gun. The trigger is a match light-weight model, and the magazine well is slightly beveled for a faster reload. The flat mainspring housing is checkered for a sure hold on the gun. The front strap is smooth. I added some skate board friction tape to the front strap, which is something I do on many 1911s for a more secure grip. While there was nothing wrong with the Cocobolo grips that came on the gun, I swapped them out for my “Code Zero” 1911 grips, which I designed and are sold through Mil-Tac Knives & Tools.
I shoot a lot of +P .45 ACP through 1911s when testing them, to see how well the gun will handle them and as part of my accuracy testing. So, I routinely change to a heavier recoil spring. It wasn’t possible with the Range Office, because of the new dual-recoil spring setup. However, I’m hoping with the upcoming change that I can install a heavier recoil spring.
After explaining the different operation procedures, different types of guns, and gun safety to Julio and Jovita, we started Julio out shooting the Range Officer. He absolutely loved the crisp single action trigger pull on my sample. It is right at 4.5 lbs, which is just about perfect for a gun meant for self defense use. No matter which guns Julio fired, he always went back to the Range Officer. Jovita stuck to the .22 LR pistol and rifle.
On another outing, Julio brought his sister along. She also owns a Mexican Restaurant and was new to shooting. She loved the Range Officer and kept going back to it again and again. The one thing that surprised me though was that she also loved a .357 Mag revolver I took out that day. Go figure?
I had the Springfield Armory Range Officer Champion for several months and have put at least a thousand rounds of various ammo through it, and it was totally broken-in. I had no feeding or functioning problems with the gun. Julio, on the other hand, refused to understand that you can’t “ride” the slide forward instead of retracting the slide and letting it go forward on its own. He’s watched too many Hollywood movies where they do this. Julio had many problems with the first round not fully chambering because he was riding the slide forward instead of releasing it. He finally understood what I was trying to tell him. After that, he had no more feeding problems.
Many new shooters love the single-action trigger pull on a 1911, but it isn’t for everyone. It takes dedicated training to learn the operating manual of arms with a 1911. First is the short and light trigger pull, and secondly carrying a round in the chamber with the safety in the “on” position. Plus, there is the recoil factor. Many new shooters don’t like the recoil of full-power 230-gr .45 ACP loads. In more than 25 years as an NRA firearms instructor, more often than not many new shooters gravitate to a double-action only semiauto handgun, and I have no problem with that at all, so long as they train with the gun they’ve selected for carry and self defense.
Now, with the above said, it has been my experience that new shooters will usually hit the target they are aiming at with a 1911, with the short and light trigger pull, more often than with a double-action only semiauto. That says a lot about the John Moses Browning 1911, which was designed more than a hundred years ago. He was a very gifted gun designer. The 1911 is more popular today than ever before.
I really took to the Range Officer Champion. I love that it only weighs 30 ounces unloaded, and the red fiber optic front sight is fast to pick up, even under low light conditions, and is very bright under sunny skies. The gun was easy to pack in a Blackhawk Products SERPA holster, using the belt attachment, not the paddle. I don’t like paddle holsters for some reason. I tested the gun for more than three months at this writing and have had no problems with it. Even my wife shot it and liked it.
During my testing period, I had ammo from Buffalo Bore Ammunition and Black Hills Ammunition. From Buffalo Bore, I had their 160-gr Low Recoil, Barnes TAC-XP all-copper hollow point, 185-gr FMJ FN–another low recoil load, 255-gr Hard Cast Outdoorsman load +P, 230-gr FMJ FN +P, 185-gr Barnes TAC-XP all-copper hollow point +P and their 200-gr JHP +P. From Black Hills, I had their outstanding 200-gr Match Semi Wadcutter load, 230-gr FMJ, 185-gr JHP, 230-gr JHP, 230-gr JHP +P and their 185-gr Barnes TAC-XP all-copper hollow point +P load. So, I had an outstanding assortment of ammo to run through the R.O. Champion. And, as mentioned, I had zero malfunctions of any type. The only problem was with Julio riding the slide forward, which was not the fault of the gun. It was an operator error, and he finally understood what I was trying to tell him about it.
I “killed” a lot of rocks and pieces of wood during my function testing, as well as paper targets. Accuracy testing was done at 25yards, over the hood of my pickup, using a rolled up sleeping bag as a rest. None of the ammo tested shot groups over four inches, and many shot groups in the 3-inch area, if I was on my game. I had a couple groups below three inches; that was with the Black Hills 200-gr Match Semi Wadcutter load, which is always an accurate load for me, and the Buffalo Bore 160-gr Low Recoil Barnes TAC-XP load. Anytime you can get a combat handgun to shoot groups of four inches or less at 25 yards, that’s a keeper in my book. But when you get groups, many groups, around the 3-inch mark, that is a for sure keeper in my book.
Springfield Armory also has the Range Officer in a full-sized Government 5” Bbl model, as well as one in the Compact 4” Bbl with a shortened grip frame, and I’ve tested them all. You can’t go wrong with any of them. You can also get one in 9mm, as well as in stainless steel, and even some models have a Picatinny rail for lights or lasers. For everyday carry though, I think I’d stick with the light-weight Champion Range Officer. It has everything I need and nothing I don’t need. What’s not to like here? Full retail on my sample is $899, and you can pay more for other similar guns, but why?
– Senior Product Review Editor, Pat Cascio