GUN REVIEW: Smith & Wesson 1911SC E-Series
By Warren Wilson
It’s probably been several minutes since you read a review of a 1911 pistol in a gun magazine. This article is here to fill that void. Before you hastily flip the page, I promise to avoid giving a 1911 history lesson, using the term “venerable,” or mentioning John Browning more than once. That being said, a little back story is in order.
The year was 2011 and it was the 100-year anniversary of the 1911 pistol. Sadly, there was a void in my gun safe…not a single 1911. There had been a few in the past, but no long-term residents. I’d been eyeing a Springfield TRP at the local gun shop for some time. The manager took $100 off the asking price, thinking that would sway my decision. Smart gal that she is, I jumped on the deal. I promised myself I wouldn’t switch from my well-tested Smith & Wesson M&P .40 duty gun no matter how much I enjoyed or became comfortable with the new gun. This purchase would be strictly for range use and not for social work. However, I had just been promoted to administration, so there would not be a need to buy new duty gear if I made the switch. My M&P would still serve on SWAT duty.
Two years later and always true to my word, I’d been carrying that 41-ounce TRP steel behemoth on- and off-duty. Resistance had proven futile and another 1911 convert was born. I’m an advocate of carrying the biggest off-duty pistol as is practical and consistent with your on-duty platform. So, the next decision was what to get that would be a little less heavy and bulky for off-duty carry. It would need to have a reasonable sight radius and large enough controls to work with my monkey-like hands. I decided I wanted a pistol with a 4- to 4.25-inch barrel (which would be similar to an M&P full size), a lightweight full-size frame to enhance ease of carry and still utilize standard seven- or eight-round magazines. In other words: a Commander-size pistol. A rounded butt or “bobbed” model would be great, too. This design would allow for familiarity of function with my duty gun while still enhancing concealability for off-duty carry. The primary drawbacks to this panacea pistol would be a decreased service life because of the lightweight frame composition and additional felt recoil resulting from the reduced overall weight. Of course, it should also be considered that more compact 1911-style pistols have a reputation for being less reliable than their full-size brethren.
It seems that most of the pistol manufacturers today offer at least a few 1911-style pistols and many of them met my stated criteria. These pistols vary in quality much like they vary in cost, but some are an excellent value for their respective price point. Smith & Wesson is one company that squeezes a lot of value out of their 1911 line. Reading the candid thoughts of actual customers is invaluable when considering any purchase and after some careful research online, I was encouraged. Even with the negativity so common with Internet gun forums, it’s rare to encounter a dissatisfied Smith & Wesson 1911 owner. Having had great luck with their products in the past, the decision was easy. I chose the Smith & Wesson E-Series 1911SC. The “E” stands for “Enhanced.” It has all of the features that a Commander fan could ask for in a carry pistol
At first blush, the S&W 1911SC seems to be a lot about appearance, but it’s truly a practical carry gun. It weighs just under 30 ounces due in part to the Scandium Alloy frame. The attractive wood laminate grips are smooth enough to be comfortable while carrying concealed, but their partial fish scaling, coupled with aggressive checkering on the front and back straps, allow for a secure grip even during a 95-degree Oklahoma range day. The 1911SC comes from the factory with Trijicon night sights, titanium firing pin, beavertail grip safety, scalloped ejection port, and an ambidextrous oversized safety. It can be purchased in either two-tone (silver slide over matte black frame) or all plain black. Both slide finishes are actually stainless steel in spite of their appearance. The loaded chamber indicator is what many consider to be the most practical variation on the market. It’s a small hole in the rearmost top of the chamber. One only needs to peek down while in the “ready gun” position to know if there is a round ready to be sent. This version is less expensive to manufacture but just as serviceable as any other design.
Forward cocking serrations on 1911s have rarely caused cartoon hearts to gush from my eyes, but I understand their potential uses. On some pistols, these forward serrations can catch on leather holsters during the draw stroke. After some holster work, I found that not to be the case with the 1911SC. Smith & Wesson alleviated that potential problem with a directional fish scale design that, at first, appears to be intended mostly for aesthetics. The serrations don’t catch when clearing leather, but still allow the shooter a positive grasp of the slide during loading, unloading and malfunction drills.
The pistol came out of the box tight. It took some work to lighten up the safety for normal use. It came off just fine, but it took two fingers to re-engage. Before the range session ended, all was good as the parts worked themselves in. The slide-to-frame fit on the S&W 1911SC is impressive. It feels very similar to a custom shop pistol in this regard. The slide moves back and forth very smoothly and there is no discernible play. Out of the box, the trigger broke crisply and consistently at 5.5 pounds with very little creep or overtravel. Reset is positive and audible even with hearing protection in place.
The Smith comes with an oversize external extractor. Many knickers have been inextricably twisted over external extractors on 1911s. This particular model showed no hint of any extraction or ejection drama. The 1911SC slung spent brass far enough that this reloader had to spend a bit of extra time searching a grassy range area four shooting lanes away just to salvage the shiny cases.
Takedown and assembly are similar to other 1911s with a full-length guide rod. After ensuring the pistol is unloaded, the barrel bushing is depressed and rotated clockwise 90 degrees. This pistol doesn’t exactly require the included barrel bushing tool for field stripping. The bushing does have a sharp edge, so utilizing the tool is advisable for those of us who don’t work for a living. After removing the barrel bushing, the recoil spring and plug are pulled out the front. The spring is under pressure and occasionally launches out the muzzle area, so be sure to capture it with your hand upon its release. Rotate the bushing back counterclockwise to about the 4-o’-clock position and remove. The slide is moved to the disassembly position and the slide stop lever can then be pushed out the left side of the frame. The slide can now be moved forward off the frame. The full-length guide rod is then able to be removed from the slide. Reassembly is simply the reverse of this process, while being certain to line up the barrel link prior to inserting the slide stop.
The range session began with 100 rounds of Federal American Eagle 230-grain full-metal jacket ammo. There wasn’t a great difference in recoil between the 30-ounce Scandium frame pistol and a 41-ounce full-size gun. However, when comparing Federal 230-grain HST +P ammunition in the two pistols, there was a noticeable difference. The cause of the disparity became apparent during chronograph testing. A five-shot string of the American Eagle averaged only about 834 feet per second, which is normal for practice ammunition fired from this Commander length of barrel. The HST loading averaged 887 fps with two of the shots exceeding 900 fps. That’s impressive out of a 4.25-inch barrel. In fact, there’s only a slight loss in velocity that one would expect from a 5-inch barrel. This particular load has garnered a lot of respect in the law enforcement community for its effectiveness in actual shootings and will be worth the extra recoil to some. It functioned well in the 1911SC during the range session and will be my carry load for this pistol. It should be noted that many manufacturers, including S&W, discourage long-term use of +P rounds in their pistols because it shortens service life. That point is made more emphatically when speaking of lightweight frames. Beyond initial function testing, there’s really no reason to regularly shoot quality defensive ammunition in a carry gun, anyway. Find a solid carry load and give it an honest test with your carry magazines. Then, relax and practice with non- +P ammo. Re-test when something new is added to the equation like a pistol light
The 1911SC pistol received a hundred rounds of practice ammunition for its “break-in.” With the first few magazines of HST ammo, I tried to induce malfunctions by using the weakest grip I could muster and still hold onto the pistol. The last round of the first magazine went nose up into the barrel hood. That was the only stoppage of any kind with the American Eagle or the HST. The 1911SC comes with a seven-round magazine and an eight-round magazine. They both performed well during function testing as did a few Wilson 47Ds, Chip McCormick Power Mags, and Chip McCormick Power 10s.
One of the police department’s firearm instructors, Det. Greg Liebl, came to the shooting range during this review. He was drafted to shoot a group from the prone position with the Federal HST. His five-shot group measured 2.5 inches at 25 yards. The group was perfectly elevated and about an inch and a half to the right of point of aim at that distance. One could hardly ask any more of a defensive pistol, ammunition or shooter without a mechanical rest on a hot day. K-9 Officer Ryan Fuxa also shot the pistol during this review. Both he and Liebl commented positively about the pistol’s solid build, ease of handling and accuracy.
The Smith & Wesson 1911SC looks the part of a barbecue gun (in the Southwest, you wear your finest pistol to a barbeque) but functions like a defensive pistol. With an MSRP of $1,369, the 1911SC is right in line with the other quality production 1911s in price. The gun used in this review was purchased for $1,239 from a reputable online dealer. In a market where the consumer can easily spend $2,000 or more for a handgun with similar features and performance, that’s a bargain. Coupling that with Smith & Wesson’s reputation for quality and customer service, one can hardly lose. Anyone thinking of purchasing a concealed-carry pistol on the 1911 platform should consider the Smith & Wesson 1911 SC E-Series. PM
Warren Wilson is a Lieutenant with a municipal police department in Oklahoma. He is a SWAT team member/leader and has been in law enforcement for over 17 years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .