Smith & Wesson SW1911 Pro Series Subcompact


I have this near-irresistible urge to make a wisecrack about the mouse that roared, but I’d be hard pressed to call a subcompact .45 ACP handgun a “mouse” gun.

A mouse gun? I don't think so...
A mouse gun? I don’t think so…

In fact, the Smith & Wesson SW1911 Pro Series Subcompact is even a tad smaller than the original Colt Officer’s model released back in 1985. That one sported a 3.5-inch barrel and an overall length of 7.5 inches. The SW1911 Subcompact has a three-inch barrel and overall length of just 6.9 inches. Oh, and it’s significantly lighter. The original Officer’s model weighed in at 34 ounces, while this carry model is just 26.5 ounces.

Clearly, its ideal purpose is concealed carry. It’s small enough to hide and light enough to tote around for extended periods of time. Just to put size into perspective, I decided to compare it against some other well-known, comparable pistols.

Smith & Wesson SW1911 Pro Series size comparison

Consider these comparisons as a size indicator only, and not the beginning of an endless debate on which size, weight, caliber, and capacity combination is better-er than another.

The net result of the size discussion is that this gun is compact, yet big enough to fill the hand. I had no trouble getting all fingers comfortably on the grip.

A quick tour

First, here are some additional specs from the Smith & Wesson website:

  • MSRP: $1,229
  • Front Sight: Dovetail White Dot
  • Rear Sight: Fixed White 2-Dot
  • Grip: Synthetic
  • Material: Scandium Alloy Frame
  • Slide: Stainless Steel
  • Barrel Material: Stainless Steel
  • Finish: Black

As you already know, it’s a .45 ACP 1911 design. Capacity out of the box with its two identical included magazines is 7+1. The magazine is standard, so if you want to carry a slightly longer magazine either in the gun or as a spare, go for it. I used eight-rounders from other 1911s, and everything seemed to work hunky dory, except a little bit of the magazine sticks out the bottom.

Like many modern 1911s, there are some minor differences between this S&W iteration and the original John Moses Browning version. A couple of the more notable differences are the external extractor, just like on other Smith & Wesson 1911s, and the bushing-less barrel fit.

The 3-inch bull barrel requires no bushing and mates directly to the slide.
The three-inch bull barrel requires no bushing and mates directly to the slide.

The three-inch bull barrel locks to the slide just like any other 1911, but uses no barrel bushing. There is a “half bushing” for the guide rod. Technically, I guess the guide rod is “full length” but that’s not any big deal as no tools are required for takedown. To field strip this gun, just remove the magazine (everything is unloaded, right?) and pull the slide back until the takedown notch is above the slide stop lever. Now the slide stop can be removed. Once that’s done, the slide, recoil spring, guide rod, barrel, and half-bushing will slide right off. The recoil spring and guide rod lift right out, and you can slide the barrel out of the frame. No tools required.

The front and rear sight are mounted with dovetails. The base model comes with standard low-profile, three-dot sights, but you can easily upgrade both front and rear. With this gun, I’d have a hankering to swap out the factory sights for some night sights. I’d also add some Crimson Trace Lasergrips.

The grip texture is aggressive, and with good reason. Simple physics dictate that this little guy is going to jump around more than its full-sized Government model cousin. The back of the mainspring housing has an aggressively checkered pattern while the front has a series of vertical cuts only.

The generous safety is easy to engage, not like those "little nub" safeties on many compact guns.
The generous safety is easy to engage, not like those “little nub” safeties on many compact guns.

The other features are classic higher-end 1911. There’s a generous beavertail that prevents hammer bite, even with this compact package. The grip safety has a solid memory bump, so it engages positively with no conscious effort.

The slide features vertical cocking serrations on the back only—there’s not much room for a front set anyway!

The safety is large enough to get reliable activation. It’s also large enough to ride your firing-hand thumb on, if you prefer that style. It’s not one of those little nubby things that you find on so many scaled down guns. It’s on the left side only.

Shooting the pro series

I expected this pisol to be a handful to shoot, but was pleasantly surprised. Yes, physics always wins, so it has more recoil than a Government Model 1911 that weighs almost twice as much, but I found it far more comfortable to shoot than many comparable polymer 9x19mm and .40 S&W handguns. I tested a huge variety of mostly self-defense .45 ACP ammo ranging in weight from 185 grains to 230 grains, and while snappy, this pistol was perfectly controllable.

The SW1911 Pro Series comes with two (7) round magazines.
The SW1911 Pro Series Subcompact comes with two seven-round magazines.

One other thing to note: I expected to have at least some malfunctions. I did not have any. Testing for malfunctions in compact and subcompact guns is largely an issue more related to shooting technique than gun design. With that said, if you provide a reasonably stable grip and shooting platform, this one will work. I fired it two-handed, strong-hand-only, and weak-hand-only with no trouble.

As this is a subcompact gun, you’ll want to choose your carry ammo carefully. With its three-inch barrel, it’s going to generate lower velocity than its five-inch barrel siblings, so be sure that your preferred carry ammo is designed to expand and penetrate properly in the velocity range. To give you an idea of actual velocities from this gun, I fired a bunch of strings through a Shooting Chrony Beta Master Chronograph placed 15 feet downrange and calculated average velocities. Here’s what I found.

Smith & Wesson SW1911 Pro Series velocities

The trigger is all 1911. It’s got a tiny bit of effortless take-up, followed by a fraction of an inch of pressure, then a clean break at 5.25 pounds. It’s crisp, and for a deep concealment gun like this one, I like the extra trigger weight. There’s an adjustable overtravel screw, but I didn’t have to make any changes to that.

For all practical purposes, it's about the same size as a snubbie revolver. 8 shots of .45 ACP vs. 5 shots of .357 Magnum? Hmmm.
For all practical purposes, it’s about the same size as a snubbie revolver. Eight shots of .45 ACP vs. five shots of .357 Magnum? Hmmm.

Spoiled rotten

I really like carrying a 1911. For me, it’s an easy gun to control, and I have great confidence that I can hit my target accurately and with reasonable speed. As such, I’m accustomed to packing a full-size Government model. In comparison, this one virtually disappears in an IWB holster. I’ve been carrying it in a Galco KingTuk, and it’s an exceptionally comfortable combination. The height is shorter than a full-size model, so the grip doesn’t stick out the back every time you lean forward.

With an MSRP of $1,229, you can find this one for a little over a grand if you shop. Can you buy a polymer gun for less? Yes. Unlike those plastic fantastic guns, this one is milled from stuff dug out of the ground, and acts accordingly. It’s a fair price considering what you get. My only gripe is that this gun, more than any other due to its carry suitability, should include night sights out of the box.

All in all, it’s a nice carry gun. It’s easy to hide, but more importantly, easy to shoot.

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.

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