While Colt remains the most famous name in the M1911 pistol market, it is no longer the market share leader. Makers such as Springfield Armory and Kimber have given it plenty of competition, and the space got especially crowded once Smith & Wesson (S&W) decided to jump in.
For the benefit of readers relatively new to firearms, Colt, Sturm, Ruger & Co., and S&W are the American firearms industry’s “Big Three.” All three are long recognized for producing quality double-action revolvers. Colts are known for their aesthetic beauty, Rugers for sheer ruggedness, and Smiths for their smoothness. Colt is typically associated with 1911 pistols and with the M16/AR-15/M4 rifle, while Ruger is known for their 10/22 rifle and 22 LR autopistol, and Smith for their traditional double-action autopistols geared toward domestic U.S. law enforcement.
Smith & Wesson SW1911: History & Specifications
S&W took their plunge into the 1911 pistol market in 2003, dubbing it simply the Smith & Wesson SW1911. It is pretty faithful to legendary gunmaker John Moses Browning’s original design, right down to the 5-inch barrel. According to a September 2010 Guns & Ammo Handguns article, “The only significant change from the original design is that the SW1911 comes with a Smith & Wesson-style external extractor, a popular custom modification that increases functional reliability.”
It also comes with a slew of desirable features straight out of the box that used to require extra time and money for customization by a reputable gunsmith like Bill Wilson or T.J. Jimakas. These include the extended thumb safety and the high-visibility sight, throating for jacketed hollowpoint ammunition, a bobbed hammer, and a beavertail grip safety that reduces the risk of hammer bite. It also features cocking serrations near the front of the slide for shooters who prefer to rack the slide in that direction – traditional cocking grooves are at the rear of the slide.
The SW1911 has a stainless steel finish and fancy wood grips, and it comes from the factory with two 8-round magazines, Empty weight is 38 ounces, overall length is 8.75 inches, height is 5.3125 inches, width is 0.9375 inches, and trigger pull weight is 6 pounds, 8 ounces.
So how does the Smith & Wesson SW1911 feel and shoot compared to 1911s such as my WWI-vintage Colt M1911 and my Springfield Armory mil-spec M1911-A1?
To find out, I invited my old USC classmate Nic to the Silver Eagle Group indoor range in Ashburn, Virginia.
For my evaluation, I purchased 50 rounds of CCI Speer Lawman Total Metal Jacket 230-grain ammunition. In addition, Nic and her husband brought along 100 rounds of the same manufacturer’s 230-grain Blazer aluminum case full metal jacket ammo.
The gun functioned flawlessly with all ammunition. The factory custom trigger was crisp, and the magazine release button had a very positive and hearty ejection. And while I’ve never had any hammer bite issues with the old-school grip safety tang, the beavertail definitely added an extra degree of shooting comfort.
As for accuracy – the crisp trigger and the high-visibility Novak sights gave it a distinct practical advantage over my beloved Springfield and Colt. My WWI gun in particular has a vestigial front sight that makes proper sight alignment at 15 yards and beyond extremely challenging.
I divvied my accuracy test as follows: 15 rounds of head shots at 7 yards, 10 rounds of torso shots at 15 yards, 15 rounds of head shots at 25 yards, and 10 rounds of torso shots at 15 yards, all fired from the Classic Weaver stance and using the ICE-QT paper target.
At 7 yards, the rounds gave me a delightfully tight cluster, with only a single black sheep straying from the flock of a one-hole shot group. One thing that stood out was that the rounds were veering slightly left into the target’s eye socket, rather than the bridge of the nose, which was my actual aim point.
At 15 yards, the leftward drift became more noticeable, but all of the shots still stayed within the 5-zone, with seven of those striking the tiebreaking 5x ring. (For what it’s worth, Nic informed me that the gun pulled slightly left for her too.)
At 25 yards, four shots missed the head altogether, four were peripheral hits to the ear and hairline, and seven were solid head strikes. At 50 yards, I landed only two hits to the 5 ring and two more in the 4 ring – the rest were total whiffs. I blame this on my old Rx glasses, not on the gun itself.
Smith & Wesson SW1911: Want Your Own?
I can definitely recommend the Smith & Wesson SW1911 to any gun enthusiast and self-defense-conscious citizen, especially one who desires a 1911 pistol with all the modern bells & whistles. The manufacturer’s official info page lists an MSRP of $1,089.
Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.