BACK TO ITS ROOTS: THE ROCK RIVER ARMS 1911 CARRY PISTOL.
The definition of ignorance was brought to mind recently when I picked up the Rock River Arms 1911 Carry Pistol, and someone at the gun store commented, "When did Rock River start making 1911s?" This person was younger, so his memory only went back so far, and as a result, Rock River Arms to him was solely a gun company that made AR-15s.
The truth is, Rock River Arms (RRA) first got name recognition making quality 1911s, and then got into the AR-15-making business, where it saw even greater success. AR-15s have been such big sellers for everyone for so long, many consumers forgot or never learned RRA had a life building 1911s before it started budding black rifles. Now, it has returned to its roots in force, and the Rock River Arms 1911 Carry Pistol is a perfect example of its work.
Let me repeat myself--Rock River Arms isn't a company that has just decided to recently jump into the 1911 market. It had a good reputation making semi-custom 1911s back when I was first getting started in USPSA competition back in the 1990s. Rock River Arms 1911s won a lot of bullseye matches and saw great success at Camp Perry. From its Carry Pistol, it appears RRA hasn't forgotten how to make a quality 1911, and it is one of eight 1911 models RRA offers.
The RRA 1911 Carry Pistol is a full-size, Government Model-sized all-steel 1911. Currently, it is only available in .45 ACP. Rock River starts out with a forged National Match slide and frame. With modern CNC machining, companies are able to get tighter and more consistent slide-to-frame fits than ever before. The best pistols always benefit from extra attention and hand-fitting, and when you start out with tighter-fitting parts, it takes much less work to make a production pistol as tight as a custom gun.
There was no side-to-side movement on my sample whatsoever, and yet the slide cycled smoothly. The barrel locked up tight as well. Rock River Arms guarantees this pistol will shoot 2.5-inch groups at 50 yards with 185-grain Federal Gold Medal Match semi-wadcutter ammo, which is a serious claim. I didn't have any of that specific ammo on hand, or a Ransom Rest, and I haven't shaken my tremor-inducing caffeine addiction (who am I kidding, I haven't even tried), but you'll see that my sample pistol was wonderfully accurate.
You want a definitive sign that Rock River is serious about making a high-quality and accurate 1911? It has equipped the Carry Pistol with a Kart National Match barrel and bushing. While there are a lot of excellent 1911 barrel makers out there, Kart is considered by many custom gunsmiths to make the best.
There is a slight flare at the end of the barrel so it can mate tightly to the match bushing. In the photos, you'll see the slight discoloration on the last half inch of barrel or so, where it is squeezed by the barrel bushing when in battery. Honestly, this pistol is more accurate than me, you, and 99.8% of the people who will pick it up and shoot it. But that's what you want in a pistol or any tool, you want it to be more capable than you are, so when you're a little bit lacking, it picks up the slack. That's not a bad criterion when it comes to picking out a spouse as well.
The feed ramp has been adjusted and polished, the chamber mouth of the barrel throated (beveled) and polished. Polished so bright, you'll blind yourself if you shine a flashlight in there, at least until you put some rounds downrange and dirty it up. Shiny means smooth, and smooth is good on a feeding surface.
Rock River went with old-school angled slide serrations, not the more currently popular flat-bottomed ones, but machined a set at the front of the slide. I don't like the looks of forward cocking serrations on a 1911,1 think they mess up the beautiful lines, but I really appreciate their functionality. Finish on the pistol is simple Parkerizing.
RRA kept the slide markings simple--there's just ROCK RIVER ARMS under the ejection port on the right side, and MODEL 1911-A1 on the left side. Which is almost incorrect--pardon me for a second as we take a little history break.
The first version of the 1911 adopted by the U. S. military was labeled the M1911. It saw some use during and after World War I, and, with user input, in 1924, a slightly modified version was introduced: the M1911 Al. If you look at a modern 1911, in appearance it more closely resembles the original M1911 than the subsequent M1911A1, simply because the original design had a long trigger and flat mainspring housing, and the latter, an arched mainspring housing and short trigger. There were a few other smaller changes as well: the M1911A1 has some cutouts in the frame behind the trigger guard, shortened hammer, bigger grip safety, and wider front sight.
Back to the RRA Carry Pistol. This pistol is equipped with some very nice night sights of Rock River's own design. Originally, this pistol wore Heinie night sights, and that's what is on the pistol displayed on the product webpage of RRA's website as I write this, but these RRA night sights have supplanted them.
The front sight is a serrated ramp .120" wide, according to my calipers, dovetailed into the slide. The rear sight is serrated to cut reflection and features a hook front designed so you can rack the pistol one-handedly on an edge or hard surface. There are no colored outlines around the tritium inserts, so technically, these are "plain black sights," but the inserts themselves, with their crystal faces and stainless-steel cylinder edges, are pretty reflective, and the end result is very similar to a three-dot sight setup in daylight. At night, of course, you have three brightly glowing green dots, thanks to the tritium.
Internally, the pistol comes equipped with an extended ejector, tuned extractor, and a standard GI-type recoil system.
The trigger is an extended aluminum three-hole model. The advertised trigger pull on this model is 3.5 pounds. Trigger pull on my sample was 3.75 pounds and nicely crisp--one more reminder that the 1911 has the trigger pull against which all other handguns are judged. FYI, in my experience, after 2,000 rounds or so, the trigger pull on a 1911 will drop by a quarter pound, as the mating surfaces of the trigger components wear together and smooth out.
For those of you who are wailing and gnashing your teeth and tearing at your clothes because the idea of a carry gun with a trigger pull under the Gospelized weight of four pounds is blasphemy and dangerous and whatever other evil adjective you can think of, stop it. Four pounds is a nice, round number, but it was not reached after a ten-year Congressional investigation into defensive shootings. There is ho reference to a "minimum four-pound trigger pull on a carry gun" standard in the Bible or any other religious tome.
The RRA Carry Pistol has a grip safety and a thumb safety, and if you keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target and you're ready to shoot, the trigger pull is a non-issue on this or any handgun--unless it's too heavy and causes you to miss. I carried a 1911 very similar to this pistol, with a crisp, 3.25-pound trigger pull for the better part of a decade, and you know what it did? It gave me peace of mind, because I knew the trigger pull would allow me to shoot up to the capability of the pistol.
Finding 1911s these days with light trigger pulls isn't hard, but many of those are reached through the use of a reduced-power mainspring. All the springs on this pistol are full power. What has changed over time is the quality of the steel used in the fire-control parts in 1911s. Thirty years ago, it was hard to get a consistent sub-four-pound trigger pull on a 1911, as the steel used in most hammers and sears couldn't hold the proper angles. These days, that is not an issue, and the Carry Pistol sports a match sear and Commander-style hammer.
Remember how I mentioned ignorance at the beginning of this article? All the people who were horrified and disgusted at the discovery that the newish SIG P320 pistol can fire if dropped are apparently ignorant of the fact that many firearms are not drop-safe, including the original 1911.
With the SIG, it doesn't like to be dropped on the beavertail. With a 1911 in the original "Series '70" configuration, if you drop it directly muzzle-down on a hard surface from a substantial height, there is a chance the pistol will discharge. The chance of this happening is so low, however, that dozens of companies are still making this pistol after a century, but at least now, those of you who were unaware of this can make fully informed decisions.
This pistol sports a single-sided thumb safety with very positive clicks up and down. It is my preferred style of safety, where the lever starts all the way at the back. There are no corners or sharp edges to the rear of the safety. This is important for comfort when shooting an all-metal pistol chambered in .45 ACP with an aggressive thumb high hold.
Another sign the people at Rock River have spent some quality time not just making but shooting 191 Is, is the fact that they've rounded off the sharp corner on the bottom of the slide. In fact, every sharp comer on the slide is no longer sharp. "Dehorned" is the technical gun-writer term for that. On the original GI pistols, the lower edge of the slide could be sharp enough to draw blood if you choked up properly on the gun, and I'm happy to see more and more manufacturers blunting this corner in their pistols.
The frame features a Wilson frame cut and a Wilson-style beavertail. It has a raised portion at the bottom to ensure deactivation. The pistol also has a high cut trigger guard--notice I did not say "undercut." The term "undercut trigger guard" is almost criminally misused. When used correctly, it means a trigger guard that curves upward at the rear, by the frame. The trigger guard on this pistol goes straight back until it hits the front of the frame.
It was at the same gun store where I picked up the Carry Pistol that I was reminded that everyone who builds 1911s does not have the same depth of knowledge. There, in the counter, was a Nighthawk Custom 1911 for sale. Even though it was a used gun, it was priced at nearly twice the cost of the RRA, but I noticed that the first-generation Nighthawk featured a standard GI curve between the trigger guard and the frame. The trigger guard wasn't undercut, and it didn't even go straight back, as with the RRA Carry Pistol.
This may not seem like a big deal, but if you've spent serious time behind a 1911 chambered in .45 ACP, you know it is. The combination of a properly undercut (or high cut) frame and a frame cut to accept a modem beavertail allows your hand to sit as much as a quarter-inch higher on the gun than on a standard GI 1911, and that makes a huge difference in controllability and rapid follow-up shots. The frames of current Nighthawk guns are cut high, but that is something Nighthawk apparently learned after Rock River had been doing it with its pistols.
The frontstrap of the frame sports sharp 25-lines-perinch (lpi) checkering. The checkering on the front of the frame perfectly matches that found on the mainspring housing, which tells me it was done on the same machine. So many companies machine checker the fronts of their frames, then grab an aftermarket mainspring housing whose checkering technically has the same lpi, but in truth, they don't quite match.
Let's talk about the flat mainspring housing. The original M1911A1, as mentioned above, came with an arched mainspring housing, but I think many freshman gun-owners are unaware that they are still available today. So are the short triggers of that gun. Factory guns of today are so close to the custom guns of the '80s and '90s, that new consumers aren't aware they have certain options if they ever choose to customize their guns. There are arched mainspring housings and short and/or solid triggers. Now you know.
This Carry Pistol is equipped with what RRA is calling a "tactical mag catch," but what I'd call an extended magazine release, but it is only slightly extended. It does not protrude even as far as the grip panels and has a full-power spring.
I am at least pleased and perhaps borderline ecstatic that Rock River chose to secure the rosewood grips to the frame using simple slot-head screws. I have railed in the very recent past in these same pages about manufacturers using (insert profanity here) Torx screws to secure 1911 grips simply because they look cool, although they might try to argue that it's because Torx screws are harder to strip out. Nobody is going to take his grip panels on and off so much that he strips out the screws, and nobody has Torx wrenches at home. Everyone has a screwdriver set.
The magazine well of the frame has been nicely beveled to smooth your reloads. Rock River supplies one seven round magazine with the pistol. I think any magazine-fed firearm should be sold with two magazines, but I understand RRA's reasoning, that every 1911 fan has his favorite brand magazine. However, Rock River people, eight-round magazines are the modern standard for 1911 magazines and have been for almost 30 years. This is not 1924. It's not even 1984.
The magazine supplied with my pistol came in a separate box, and while my test pistol was brand new, the magazine looked like it had been abused by orangutans with anger-management issues (i.e. gun writers) for the better part of a year. The magazine seemed to be stainless steel with a black coating that was starting to come off.
The magazine had a Metalform-style follower, but I didn't recognize the logo on the magazine body itself, and had to do some internet research to discover it was produced by Killeen Machine and Tool, a company I'd never heard of before. Despite the Texas-sounding name, it's located in Worchester, Massachusetts, near several major firearms manufacturers, and I'd be surprised if it didn't manufacture additional OEM parts.
The weak point on any auto-loading firearm is the magazine. To that end, when it came time for testing, not only did I bring the janky-looking KMT magazine Rock River sent with the gun, but many of my preferred magazines as well, including some vintage eight-round MagPaks. Mag-Pak magazines were THE standard in aftermarket 1911 magazines in the early--to mid-1990s, and were so good, Jeff Cooper specified them for inclusion with his Gunsite Service Pistols. Mag-Paks are unfortunately no longer made, but the PSI ACT magazines currently on the market seem to be a very close equivalent.
While 1911s chambered in .45 ACP have significant recoil, an accurate 1911 with a good trigger is always a joy to shoot, and I had a good time perforating cardboard USPSA and IDPA targets and running plate racks with the Carry Pistol. While I brought additional magazines, my plan was to only use them if I had issues with the provided magazine. I did not. I had no malfunctions of any kind, and fired most of my rounds through the KMT magazine.
Rock River Arms spent so much time not making 1911s that I think its name recognition in the handgun market has suffered. As a result, I think many people might look at the cost and think its pistols are overpriced. Especially--here's some brutal honesty--when looking at its subpar website, which does not reflect the quality of the guns it produces (and that is the very nicest way I could say that).
While these are "production" guns, the truth is that RRA 1911s straddle the line between production and custom, much the same way Dan Wesson 191 Is do. This Carry Pistol strongly reminds me of many of the custom 1911s I used to see in the 1990s--it is just as tight and well-thought-out as those custom guns, only less expensive, because the checkering wasn't done by hand, and all the better-than-GI parts were installed at the factory.
I've spec-ed out and had custom 1911s built and carried them for about a decade--full-size, all-steel .45 Government Model 1911s like this pistol. So, don't tell me this gun is too big and heavy to carry, I've done it. I still carry a gun this big (Glock 34) every day. You just have to get a good holster and belt and learn how to dress around the gun, but knowing you're wearing a gun capable of solving any problem capable of being solved with a pistol gives you real peace of mind.
Bear with me for a paragraph. Back in the day, I speced out my ideal .45 ACP Government Model, and it was almost indistinguishable from the RRA Carry Pistol. I carried that custom-built, designed-by-me 1911 for years, and it was virtually identical to the Carry Pistol. My gun had an undercut and squared trigger guard with a checkered front, as I think it looks better, and I shoot with a finger-forward hold. It had an Ed Brown frame cut on my beavertail, as it puts the hand a fraction of an inch higher, and Heinie night sights very similar to the RRA units. My gun, however, didn't have forward cocking serrations, which I like, and I couldn't afford a Kart barrel, so the RRA Carry Pistol is actually more accurate than my custom 1911.
The above custom gun cost me more than what the RRA Carry Pistol does, and I had to spend a lot of time and effort collecting the aftermarket parts I wanted before delivering them and the gun to my gunsmith and waiting for several months while he did the work. The fact that the Rock River Arms Carry Pistol almost perfectly mimics what I, back in my 1911 fanboy day, considered to be the ideal defensive 1911, only at a cheaper price, should tell you all you need to know about how I feel about this gun.
James Tarr is a longtime contributor to Firearms News and other firearms publications. He is also the author of several books, including CARNIVORE, which was featured on The O'Reilly Factor. His current novel, WHORL, is available now through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Caption: The lines of this pistol were clean, beautiful and a bit old-school, between the wood grips and the angle-cut slide serrations.
Caption: A sure sign Rock River takes its 1911 building seriously is the Kart National Match barrel inside. Kart is considered by many to make the best 1911 barrels, period.
Caption: The Kart NM barrel is mated to a Kart bushing. The lockup was tight with absolutely no play between barrel/slide/frame, yet the slide was easy to cycle by hand.
Caption: At the front of the Kart barrel, you'll see about half an inch of discoloration--there the barrel is slightly flared and mates tightly with the Kart bushing for excellent accuracy.
Caption: Tarr actually prefers the look of 1911s without forward cocking serrations, but loves their functionality.
Caption: With the RRA Carry Pistol, you get a bit of the old (round-topped slide, angled slide serrations, wood grips) and a bit of the new (custom sights, checkering) for a well-rounded package.
Caption: The rear sight is Rock River's own design. There are tritium inserts on either side of the notch, and the front of the sight, as seen here, has a slight hook to allow you to rack it one handedly on a hard surface.
Caption: The thumb and grip safeties were perfectly fitted, with no corners or sharp edges to be found. Tarr loves the fact that the grips were secured using simple slot-head screws, so when you want to take them off or tighten the screws, you don't have to go searching for some arcane tool.
Caption: The magazine release is slightly extended, but does not protrude behind the grips. Note how the underside of the trigger guard goes straight back to the frame--this is good, but does not technically make it an "undercut" trigger guard.
Caption: The 25 lpi machine checkering on the frame was nicely aggressive.
Caption: The 25 lpi checkering on the mainspring housing perfectly matched the checkering on the front-strap, which is not always the case on some 1911s. The raised surface on the bottom of the grip safety ensures deactivation, even if your grip is less than ideal.
Caption: The magazine-well opening in the frame is nicely beveled to smooth reloads.
Caption: The softest-shooting and most accurate load in this pistol was the Hornady American Gunner 185-grain XTP. The magazine provided by Rock River was a much-abused seven-rounder made by KMT.
Caption: 1911s are still popular over a century later, because they have excellent triggers, are chambered in a powerful pistol cartridge, can be made to be very reliable, and point naturally.
RRA 1911 CARRY PISTOL ACCURACY AND VELOCITY CHART Load Bullet Velocity SD Avg. Weight Group (in.) Hornady XTP 185 981 8 1.7 SIG Elite FMJ 230 840 18 2.3 SIG Elite JHP 185 966 23 2.1 Wilson Combat XTP 230 837 14 2.0 Black Hills FMJ 230 852 10 1.9 RRA 1911 CARRY PISTOL SPECIFICATIONS Caliber: .45 ACP Capacity: 7+1 Barrel Length: 5.0" Overall Length: 8.5" Height: 5.5" Width: 1.34" Weight 37 oz. (unloaded, no magazine): Slide Material: Steel Frame Material: Steel Safeties: Grip safety, thumb safety Sights: Serrated ramp front, notch rear, tritium inserts Trigger: 3.75 lbs. (as tested) Accessories: One 7-round magazine, trigger lock MSRP: $1,650.00 Manufacturer: Rock River Arms www.rockriverarms.com
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|Date:||Dec 10, 2017|
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