Colt Defender 1911 – Where Have You been All my Life?

Colt Defender 1911
Colt Defender 1911

U.S.A. -( The Colt Defender is an accurate and reliable pistol that has been setting the standard for compact 1911s since it's introduction 18 years ago. We had a chance to try one out, finally and were pleased with the results.

One of the first handguns we learned to shoot well was the Colt M1911A1. It may have been a rattling battling, used and abused pistola from the Armory at Parris Island while we were a nasty 17-year-old Marine Recruit, but when our Drill Instructor put one in our hands at the pistol range he told us:

“Searson, I don't want you to shoot that target. I want you to shoot that sign.”

He pointed to an old red sign with a yellow number “1” on it indicating my shooting position on the line.

“Yeah, I hate that f&#*ing sign and your job is to destroy it, is that understood?”

“Sir, yes, sir”

Lining up the vestigal, well worn GI sights on the big number one, I squeezed the trigger and sent a chunk of the wood flying downrange.

“Holy S%*%! I didn't think you'd actually do it. Go ahead and blow the rest of it away.”

I complied and when my sole experience with firearms to this point in time had been paper-punching with an M16A2 at 200-500 yards. I gained an appreciation of seeing what 45 ACP ball ammunition would do against a non paper target and have been a fan of the round and the platform ever since.

The Colt Defender represented a serious upgrade from it's slightly bigger brother, the Officer's ACP.
The Colt Defender represented a serious upgrade from it's slightly bigger brother, the Officer's ACP.

When we first obtained a carry permit, our choice was the Colt Officer's ACP. In the 1990s this was about as compact as you could get with a 1911 without going the custom route. However, that Officer's Model was not exactly an out of the box shooter.

We installed a Hart's Mercury filled guide rod, to keep it shooting level, opened the ejection port for reliability, sanded the rough spots and edges, Turned to Wilson Combat for a titanium hammer, firing pin, hammer strut and mainspring cap and Smith & Alexander for a stainless mainspring housing. Gone were the factory rubber grips as well as the factory magazines. By the time we were done, the only thing left stock on that little blaster was the frame and slide.

It may have been cheaper in the long run to go the full custom route, but as a budding gunsmith, we just upgraded as we could afford the next part. So when the Defender came out a few years after our carry gun was complete, we scoffed at having to pony up for a pistol that was only 1/2″ shorter than our latest masterpiece.

Colt Defender 1911

After shooting the new Defender, we regret that somewhat.

We say that because the Colt Defender represented a serious upgrade from it's slightly bigger brother, the Officer's ACP. According to Gun Guru, Massad Ayoob, Bill Laughridge of Cylinder & Slide supervised initial production and engineering in a consultant role on the Defender. Laughridge had been making cut down 3″ 1911s successfully for a number of years and every nuance of machining and smithing that went into his custom compact 1911s went into the Colt Defender.

When we unboxed the Colt defender that Colt had sent to us, the first thing that caught our eye was the checkered and engraved walnut grips. Then we saw the Novak type sights, and the three-hole trigger, upswept beavertail grip safety and most of the little touches we had put on our own Officer's ACP. Someone was definitely paying attention when they built this one.

Someone was definitely paying attention when they built the Colt Defender.
Someone was definitely paying attention when they built the Colt Defender.

The trigger broke at a little over 5 pounds. This is completely acceptable for a handgun of this nature.

Having learned our lesson for the 20th time about firing a handgun straight from the factory, we cleaned, degreased and lubed the Colt Defender completely.

There is no barrel bushing in the Defender, this is something we have always had mixed emotions about, but there must be a good reason in forgoing this part with a heavier barrel instead.

There is no barrel bushing in the Defender
There is no barrel bushing in the Defender

Our personal history has taught us that the 185 type loads perform best out of these shorter barrelled 45s. The shorter barrels do not allow the loads intended for 5″ pistols to burn off completely is our hypothesis. We base this on running a bowling pin match years ago with 230-grain bullets and watching our Officer's Model hit all the pins without knocking them down. when we switched to a lighter, but faster bullet, we did fine.

We ran Remington 185 Grain Golden Sabre and Hornady Critical Defense for almost 300 rounds without a single malfunction. Accuracy-wise we averaged about 3.25″ at 50 feet with not a single flyer. For a short barrelled pistol at close quarter distance you can do much worse.

As we stated earlier, with the benefit of hindsight, we wished we had held out a few years instead of having to customize that Officer's ACP, we should have gone with the Defender. As much as we love the old warhorse pattern of the 1911, we seldom carry one these days, but if we were to go down that road again, it would be with the Colt Defender.

Colt Defender 45 ACP Specifications:

  • Caliber: 45 ACP
  • Barrel: 3 inches
  • OA Length: 6.75 inches
  • Weight: 24 ounces (empty)
  • Grips: Checkered and Engraved Walnut
  • Sights: Novak Low Mount Carry
  • Action: SAO
  • Capacity: 7+1
  • MSRP: $1,098 ( less $$ online )

About Mike Searson:Mike Searson

Mike Searson's career as a shooter began as a Marine Rifleman at age 17. He has worked in the firearms industry his entire adult life as a Gunsmith, Ballistician, Consultant, Salesman, Author and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1989.

Mike has written over 2000 articles for a number of magazines, websites and newsletters including Blade, RECOIL, OFF-GRID, Tactical Officer, SWAT, Tactical World, Gun Digest, and the US Concealed Carry Association as well as AmmoLand Shooting Sports News.

  • 11 thoughts on “Colt Defender 1911 – Where Have You been All my Life?

    1. I don’t see it mentioned and thought I would – I bought a Kimber guide rod / recoil spring for the Colt Officer with a “bushing” that fills the gap under the Defender’s muzzle. The flat plate of the rod is different than the Colt’s, the spring is a little different, and I think it should be a stronger part. Sort of pricey (in the $40s) but worth it if it lasts longer. Also, the non-wiggly plate at the rear of the guide rod allows reassembly of the pistol without having to shake the gun and cuss to line up the holes. Just FYI.

    2. I owned two defenders back around 2009 or so. Wanted a night defender and could not find one. A week after I go my stainless, found a night defender so bought it. The frame finish was different back then and corroded quickly. Fit and finish was poor and the barrel ramp was not too good. Neither worked out of the box. Long story, but I fixed em both. They shot very accurate for me and were a joy to carry and shoot. But they are high on upkeep. Saw the new defenders this year. Noticed the high bevertail and old night defender carry cut. Decided to get a new one. The frame is ceracote, a cheap spraypaint, but its finish was a smooth matching color and it did keep corrosion off the frame so far. So, an improvement. The beavertail is a little loose, but is serviceable. The thumb safety was tight and loosened with use.Positive click off but mushy and no click to engage. This needed to be fixed. The fit and finish is improved on this stainless 45 defender. the barrel ramp is the newer dimpled feed ramp and was somewhat polished. I polished it more, but is not a requirement. Unlike the older defenders, this defender has the proper gap between the frame ramp and barrel. Only the barrels can be modified if needed because the aluminum feed ramp frame can not be touched as the anodized surface is thin. The new feed ramp and proper clearances yielded a gun that shot 200 rounds out of the box. Only thing I did was strip clean and oil it. I had four brass to face in the first 100 but all fed fired and ejected. I elected to keep shooting the extractor and it did stop kicking me in the noggin. A few things about the defender and all short 1911s. They require constant upkeep or will choke. Semi autos are all about timing and quality ammo. Unlike a 5″ government, they have a MUCH tighter timing range as they are faster. The colt magazines functioned fine. But I use Vigil Tripp 7rnd magazines or Wilson mags. Always start with a mag change if your 3″ does not run. Tripps hve never failed me but one Wilson did. I do use a Wilson 8rd compact as my reload mag and it has never failed. Recoil springs can fail in as few as 500 rounds. The outer primary is the the one that fails. Colt does not supply the outer with the new unit and they do not have em in stock either. That kind of service sucks and that may be why the company goes bankrupt. Yea I bought another one because Colt is the original. kinda like the Harley thing. Wolff does have the outer springs. They run great as long as you keep the poundage stock and you flat grind the spring ends flat to prevent coil bind. Look at your stock one. I buy a dozen or so. Rarely buy the assembly. I replace ever 500 rounds. The 500 rounders go into a range practice bag to be shot to failure. if you dont replace these recoil springs often as described then your gun will fail. I had one go at 511 rounds and that is why I say 500 for carry. Yes< many times the range springs last way longer. But one went 511. Dont be that guy. So, why carry a Defender and not my dan wesson Valkyerie 45 or my WC Commander ? Because the defender is far lighter and smaller. It carrys easy. Its accurate to ranges that are far beyond reasonable self defense distances. Shoot them as well as my Commanders without issue. They are fun to shoot too. Why not be more comfortable and carry a 45 1911. you just must understand the limitations of the highly modified design and understand the upkeep demands. I like mine.

    3. Never tried the defender and probably never will. Surely wouldn’t spend my money on one! I’ve got what I consider a better ,looking lighter weight, extremely accurate Kimber ” ultra carry” that suites me perfectly for a small1911. Reliable, eats everything I feed it, accurate, feels good in my hand, and American made, still uses 7 rd mags and I’ve got several1911 s but defer to this for c.c.. I m looking to get a customized insert to protect the frame now! Thanks fot the informative article.

    4. I also fired my first 1911 at Paris Island as a recruit, My DI asked had I shot yet and I said the magazine was empty, he looked at the target and all my shots were close, he did not believe it and handed me another magazine and watched and I did the same. He said he could not believe that worn out pistol could do that. Big fan of all 1911’s.

    5. Great story, love the third person.

      Switched over to the 1911 platform myself in 9mm. Not going back. A Glock is a great hammer, but a 1911 is a calculator.

    6. I really liked this story. Clear, concise and filled with personal observations & experience. Great job Mike!

    7. I had to chuckle a little bit considering I bought my first Star PD in 1976 and another several years later. Colt was late coming to the party. Better late than never I guess.

    8. Facts are the Defender was designed or conceived by the editor of Modern Gun Magazine for a subsequent article in early 1990 by combining a couple of existing Colt models (aluminum frame) –he even named it the Defender. Idea being a light, reasonably shorter no bushing barrel pistol for easy carry and fast draw use yet a full size 7 round magazine and grip so it can be held firmly and controlled easily for accurate rapid shots with 230 grain rounds. It still is the fastest handling repeat accurate reduced size .45 around.

    9. Never tried the Defender, but like you fell in love with the 1911. Although Dad being a cop I shot my first 1911 when I was 10 / 11, that was 50 years ago. Colt came out with the New Agent awhile back got one love it..Out of the box after cleaning it ate everything I put in it, no FTFs. It’s my EDC, many do not care fire the trench sights but I love it, itself not designed for long rang shooting but it gets the job done. I was at one time a 17 year old Submarine Sailor, who became the small arms petty officer, we had 1911s, M1 Garands, and shotguns, I was in heaven. Later we swapped the M1s for M14s. Marine rifle range was a blast, that old Gunny kicked out asses all that week for fam fire, 3 of us shot well enough to shoot for qualifications. I shot expert Gunny said It was acceptable for a squid.
      Have a good one.

    10. This 1911 configuration does not make much sense. I carry a 5″ barrel 1911 concealed without any problems. There is not any reason to shorten a barrel on a 1911 to enhance concealibility and carry comfort unless the grip and magazine is shortened also. Go to a double stack magazine to maintain ammo capacity if desired

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