I don’t know about you, but I tire rapidly from all the “opinion” battles we gun people have on the internet. You know, things like what’s better for pocket carry, 9mm or .600 Nitro Express? Given what I do for a living, sometimes I can finagle a project where I actually test the subjects of these debates, just to get a handle on what information is legit and what’s not.
One that folks argue involves the ballistic tradeoffs between the various sizes of 1911 pistols. On paper, there are three types of 1911 handguns: Government, Commander, and Officer models. While every manufacturer takes liberties on exact dimensions, those classes basically boil down to 5-inch, 4.25-inch, and 3.5-inch barrels.
The question of the real impact of barrel length comes up frequently, so I decided to do some ballistic measurement from all three classes. You know, look at things like velocity and performance in gelatin from all three types of pistols to see if there are really significant differences.
I rounded up three different 1911 pistols, all from Smith & Wesson. I figured this would minimize variables like barrel construction and type of rifling. Besides, they were nice enough to loan these guns for this article.
This eSeries model is a Government model complete with a five-inch barrel. It’s got a rail, but for purposes of ballistic testing, that’s irrelevant.
This model is the Scandium lighter-weight carry mode. It’s got a 4.25-inch barrel. It’s optimized for concealed carry due to the lighter weight and rounded butt profile. For ballistic purposes, though, it’s a classic representation of the Commander class.
Smith & Wesson SW1911 Pro Series
I chose this compact model to represent the Officer model class even though it has a three-inch barrel. The original Colt Officers model actually had a 3.5-inch barrel, but I figured dropping all the way to a three-inch model would be more enlightening since we’re looking at velocity differences and potential performance impacts on expansion and penetration.
The first step in the process was to measure the velocity of a variety of .45 ACP ammo types and bullet weights. I set up my trusty Shooting Chrony Beta Master Chronograph, which has only been shot to pieces a few times, 15-feet down range. For each of the ammo types below, I fired strings from each of the three pistols and calculated the average velocity for each specific pistol and ammunition combination.
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