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Summary: Mike Boyle’s review of and rating for the Smith & Wesson (S&W) SW1911 Compact ES, including a range report and S&W’s specs, photo and MSRP. (Click here to see all of Boyle’s gun reviews.)
Unlike double-action and striker-fired pistols, purchasers of 1911’s tend to be individuals rather than agencies. Many of these folks have a need to carry a concealed handgun but find a full-size 1911 beyond the limit of practicality. To fill this niche, S&W has introduced the SW1911 Compact ES, a thinking man’s pistol that is perfect for the law enforcement officer or responsible citizen. The Compact ES successfully incorporates excellent shooting qualities into a lightweight, concealable pistol chambered for the hard hitting .45 ACP.
Truth be told, I’ve long been suspicious about the reliability of shortened or lightweight 1911 pistols. Steel frame, full-size pistols from reputable manufacturers tend to be very reliable as long as quality magazines and ammunition are utilized. Chopped and channeled pistols have often proved as finicky as Morris the Cat.
The SW1911 Compact ES features a Commander-length slide and barrel, mated to a reduced height Officer’s size frame. The frame is rendered from scandium alloy, a relatively new material that was originally used in the aeronautical and aerospace industry. By combining a small amount of scandium with aluminum, S&W engineers have been able to create a frame that rivals the durability of steel, but is significantly lighter.
For better concealment qualities, the grip frame is shortened about .5″. Magazine capacity is reduced by just a single round, and I was able to get all of the fingers of my medium-size hand around the grip. With its 7+1 round capacity, the Compact ES boasts the same total payload as the original 1911.
Without question, the Compact ES is a looker. The black alloy frame is paired off with a stainless steel slide, which is both pleasing to the eye and highly functional. The slide features cocking serrations at both the front and rear and is also outfitted with an external extractor.
Sighting equipment follows a familiar theme and sports the highly popular three-dot pattern. A Novak Low Profile Carry rear compliments a white dot front, which is dovetailed into the slide. Users who prefer aftermarket sights should have no problem adapting them to the slide.
Other qualities include a single-side, frame-mounted safety, a beavertail grip safety with a palm swell, and an oval slotted hammer. On my sample pistol, the long trigger tripped at just over 5 lbs., just right for a defensive 1911 pistol.
A flat, checkered mainspring housing and checkered front strap also represent premium touches. Checkered grip panels bear a double diamond design and are secured by a pair of hex head screws. The magazine well has a slight bevel to facilitate reloads.
For this pistolero, the combination of the short-grip frame and the Commander-size top held considerable appeal. Throwback that I am, I prefer to keep my carry 1911s as simple as possible. Left to my own designs, I would still choose the original plug guide, recoil spring and barrel bushing over the contemporary full-length guide rod and bushing-less barrel used in most subcompact 1911s. The Commander-size top of the Compact ES incorporates all my preferred elements as John Browning intended, which makes takedown and reassembly so much easier.
Any handgun selected for self defense should be ergonomic, totally reliable, reasonably accurate and user friendly. The classic 1911 certainly meets the first criteria with its easily accessible controls and the fact that it’s readily adaptable to a wide variety of hand sizes. I was confident, however, that my sample Compact ES would also be reliable and accurate and a few trips to the range would certainly tell that story. User comfort remains a subjective area. Light guns certainly carry easier, but an increase in felt recoil can compromise user performance.
|Ammo||Avg. Muzzle Velocity
|| Avg. Group Size
185 gr JHP
230 gr JHP
|Federal American Eagle
230 gr FMJ
|Remington Golden Saber
185 gr JHP
|Speer Gold Dot
230 gr GDHP
I have never subscribed to the “carry much, shoot little” school of defensive hand gunning. Quite frankly, if your pistol is so uncomfortable to shoot that you can’t put in a meaningful practice session, it’s unlikely you’ll be at your best at the moment of truth. I was curious to see how this lightweight .45 ACP behaved, particularly when shot at game speed.
At 29.6 oz., the Compact ES is actually a tad heavier than my LW Commander. In live-fire drills, the Compact ES did not prove especially rude, and the checkered grip frame and mainspring housing allowed me to get a firm hold without any shifting in the hand. Recoil and muzzle flip are certainly more than a 9mm or even a steel frame .45 ACP, but are easily managed by any experienced shooter.
I assessed accuracy potential by firing the Compact ES at targets set 25 yards distant. I used a Hornady Delta Rest to help steady the shooting hand, and I ran a representative sample of popular .45 ACP loads through the pistol. Results were indeed first rate with average group size spanning 2.25″–3.25″. My sample pistol displayed a preference for 185 grain hollowpoints. Remington Golden Saber 185 grain JHPs averaged 2.25″, narrowly edging out Black Hills 185 grain offering, which came in at 2.375″.
Throughout the test, the Compact ES proved entirely reliable, right from the box. Ball, hollowpoints and even my lead semi-wadcutter handloads cycled without a problem. That said, I still feel it prudent to run several hundred rounds through any auto pistol before trusting your life to it.
For me anyway, I found little to take issue with. This southpaw, of course, would have preferred an ambidextrous safety. While most shooters would be content with the three-dot combat sights, my middle age eyes call out for something that really grabs your attention.
The bottom line: The Compact ES is reliable, accurate and easy to shoot to a high standard. That’s about all we can ask for in a combat pistol.
All things considered, the SW1911 Compact ES has all the makings of a winner. It completely satisfied all of my requisites and includes features typically found in significantly pricier custom guns.
The short-grip frame, combined with a 4″ barrel, is optimum for concealed carry. In an inside-the-waistband holster, the Compact ES is rendered just about invisible. But one still has the benefit of the longer sighting plane which should translate to better hit potential and external ballistics.
Being both an observer and practitioner of concealed carry for three decades, it’s interesting to see how the pendulum has swung back the other way. Twenty years ago, it was a rare sight in my part of the world to see a law enforcement officer with a single-action pistol. That’s not the case anymore. I’ve noted a marked increase in 1911 usage for tactical ops, concealed carry, and even patrol. For the plainclothes or off duty cop, the Compact ES will not disappoint.
Mike Boyle served as a captain with the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife Bureau of Law Enforcement and recently retired after 27 years of service. Mike remains active, teaching recruit, in-service and instructor level classes at the police academy. He’s also on the board of directors of the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors.
|.45 ACP||7+1||7.8||4.25″||29.6 oz. unloaded|