Smith & Wesson SW1911TA E-Series Pistol
Tom McHale 06.17.14
There’s always something appealing about a nice 1911. While carrying a full-size, all-steel .45 ACP 1911 isn’t always fun, shooting one sure is. The particular SW1911TA E-Series model I’ve had the pleasure to review is a blend of traditional and modern innovation. Like the original Government model, it’s got a five-inch barrel, single-stack magazine, and single-action trigger. Unlike the original, it features Tritium night sights, a tactical rail, and other internal design changes that we’ll discuss later.
Let’s start with the most noticeable features. With that criteria in mind, I have to mention the grips first. They’re gorgeous. The specs say the grips are wood laminate, but it’s sure hard to tell. The grain pattern is beautiful and the finish is well-polished. There is a small diamond with the E-Series “E” logo. Surrounding this is a traditional diamond checkered pattern. Above and below the diamond pattern area you’ll see a fish-scale pattern that matches the scallop pattern carved into the slide. The grips are not only really attractive, but functional. They won’t rub your hands raw, but do provide a positive grip when shooting.
The slide also falls into the “cool looking” category. The cocking serrations at the rear are cut in a scale pattern similar to that of the grips. There are matching scale serrations on the front. Some people don’t like texture on the front of 1911 slides, but I find them handy for press checks. Even if I grab the front of the slide overhand, I can still easily see the chamber. The top of the slide is flattened and has full-length grooves. Whether or not you think this “looks” cool is not really the issue—their practical purpose is to reduce glare that can interfere with your sight picture. Another thing to mention while we’re talking about the slide is that there are horizontal serrations at the rear also on both sides of the hammer cutout. Again, the purpose is to minimize glare.
The extractor is an external design, so that varies from the “purist” 1911. Personally, I don’t favor internal or external, as long as it works. You’ll also notice that the ejection port features a scooped cutout at the front to assist with easy ejection with a wide variety of load types.
The SW1911TA ships with two eight-round magazines, so the total carry load is nine including one in the chamber. The magazine release button is aggressively checkered and .145 inches of it is exposed above frame level. It’s easy to reach with your firing hand thumb if you’re right handed. When shooting left handed, I was able to operate the magazine release with my trigger finger without breaking my normal firing grip. Magazines easily fall free of the magazine well when empty.
Both sides of the frame behind the trigger are beveled to allow an unhindered reach to the trigger. The front of the grip is contoured and recessed to allow a high grip and secure resting place for your firing hand’s middle finger.
The front and back of the grip area are checkered with good, but not sharp texture. I counted a 17 or 18 lines per inch pattern, but all those dots kept getting blurry when counting, so let’s call it 17.5 lines per inch. I’ll schedule a visit with my eye doc before the next time I have to count checkering patterns.
The SW1911TA uses a full-length guide rod. I’ll dodge the philosophical war as I don’t care one way or the other between this and a traditional design. It works, and that’s all I really care about. Be aware it’s there in case you care about such things.
The thumb safety is ambidextrous. The left-side lever is grooved and measures .25 inches wide at the back. The overall length of the curved lever is one inch, so it’s easy to find and secure to switch on or off, not like some of the stubby versions found on compact 1911s. The right-hand side thumb safety is still just about one inch long and uses the same texture and curve, although it’s only about .14 inches wide. This helps to keep it out of the way of holster thumb straps, assuming a right-handed shooter.
The grip safety uses a memory bump at the base to help ensure easy engagement, but it’s a little different than the memory bumps on other 1911s. It’s very well rounded, so there is no “sharp” angle that drives into your palm. This is a subtle design feature that I didn’t even notice for a long time, but it makes a big difference in comfort. I did notice that the grip safety does not release until it’s very close to fully depressed. This is just something to be aware of if you prefer a thumbs-on-top-of-the-safety-lever grip. If you place your thumbs below the safety, it’s a non-issue.
While I like that most 1911s are .45 caliber, that’s actually not the biggest reason I like them. I like them because I’m confident I can hit whatever I’m aiming at. Part of the reason for that is the overall ergonomics. A full-size handgun made of steel gives you weight stability and a long sight radius. The grip angle of a 1911 points naturally for me. If I raise a gun with my eyes closed, it will end up pointed about where I want. But the biggest factor for me is the quality of the trigger on most 1911s.
There are two reasons for this. First, the single action design requires less force to operate the trigger. As the only function of a single-action trigger is to release the sear, the press is usually crisp and smooth. Second, a standard 1911 has a trigger movement that travels straight backwards. It doesn’t operate on a top hinge like many other trigger designs. The net result is a trigger that you can easily press without pulling the sights off-target. The gun itself is not more accurate than other designs, it’s just easier to for me to shoot it more accurately.
The trigger on the SW1911TA is crisp with just the slightest bit of take-up. It features an adjustable overtravel stop screw so you can set that to your preference. Out of the box, my model had no detectable overtravel after the trigger break. I used a Wheeler Engineering trigger-pull scale to measure the weight from the center of the trigger. It consistently required 4-1/2 pounds of press to break—just right for a carry 1911.
Remember the days when you never really knew if a 1911 would feed all sorts of ammunition types without custom work? Fortunately, I have not run into that in a while with today’s offerings. The SW1911TA is no different. I shot about a dozen different types of ammo through it (for a total of about 400 rounds), ranging from lead semi-wadcutter handloads to premium self-defense ammunition, using a variety of projectile weights from 165 to 230 grains. I’m still waiting on the first malfunction, even though it’s never been cleaned.
Given the steel frame and steel slide, this Government-sized model weighs 41.5 ounces unloaded. That really helps soak up the recoil, so it’s a pussycat to shoot. The hammer spring feels stronger than other 1911s I have, so racking the slide is just a bit tighter. It’s perfectly manageable, though, given the grip offered by the scallop serrations.
In terms of accuracy, I’ll take the position that testing accuracy is irrelevant in practical terms. I’ve got a pet peeve about people talking about the “mechanical accuracy” of a gun when they shoot it from a two-hand hold or sandbag. Human eyes are still aligning iron sights with a target 25 yards away and a human finger is still applying pressure to the gun, so in my view, you simply cannot talk about “mechanical accuracy” unless the accuracy testing apparatus is also mechanical, meaning bolted to the bench with a Ransom or similar rest. A fraction of a millimeter difference in sight alignment completely blows any “mechanical” measure of a group 25 yards downrange, so I prefer to talk about “ease of shooting accurately.”
With a gun in this class, you don’t have to worry too much—it will shoot far more accurately than most shooters’ capabilities. The factory sights were dead-on for point of impact with a six o’clock hold on four-inch targets 25 yards downrange, but that will vary a bit with each shooter. The factory sight configuration worked fine for me. The crisp trigger made maintaining sight alignment easy and hitting tennis balls and tin cans at 25 yards was surprisingly simple.
This SW1911TA E-Series is a fine gun—I bought it and am glad I did. The model I tested has an MSRP of $1,399, but you can find it on the street for significantly less. My son is buying one, based on my experiences with it, for his first concealed carry gun. I’m comfortable recommending it to him as a reliable self-defense gun, so I have no reservations about recommending it to anyone comfortable with a 1911 design.
Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon.
Images by Tom McHale