A Commanding Commander


The Harpers Ferry 1911 Proves Accurate And Reliable

Without fear of repeating myself (which I never do), GUNS provided much inspiration and information especially in my formative shooting years. I was a teenager in high school when it first appeared and when I graduated two years later and went to work I bought my first firearms.

This was about the same time Colt came up with the first Commander. They shortened the barrel of the 1911 to 4-1/4 inches, replaced the steel frame with one of an aluminum alloy, and chambered it in 9mm. They were hoping to get a government contract as the word was the United States Military wanted a new pistol chambered in the same caliber as our NATO allies. The powers-that-be decided to stay with the proven .45 ACP 1911 so Colt offered the Commander in both .45 and 9mm to the general public. John Browning’s 1911 had been around for nearly 50 years by this time.

With the arrival of Jeff Cooper on the scene in the 1960s not only did shooters discover the 1911 but also several other manufacturers began to appear. Over the past 60 years dozens upon dozens of companies have supplied 1911s to a market showing little sign of shrinking. The latest manufacturer to take to the playing field is Harpers Ferry Armory. As the name implies this young company is located in the same area as the original Armory.

Today Harpers Ferry Armory supplies both .38 Special and .357 Magnum Pocket Pistols as well as both full-size 1911s and Commander-style .45s. My test gun was the latter. It was obvious to me when I first looked at this .45 ACP it was a quality pistol, and handling and shooting it just added to my first impression.

The Harpers Ferry Armory Commander-style 1911 .45 ACP.

Barranti Leather provides an excellent holster and belt combination for
carrying the Harpers Ferry Armory .45.

Weighing in at 37 ounces this pistol has a 4-1/4-inch Match Grade barrel and comes with an 8-round magazine with a polymer base plate. I normally prefer standard flat bottomed 7-round magazines, however I appreciate the fact magazine peep holes on both sides are numbered from 1 to 8 allowing me to know at a glance how many rounds are in place. This is an all steel .45 and both the slide and frame are forged 4140 steel with a black nitride finish.

Sights are excellent and Harpers Ferry Armory uses genuine Novak sights with the low riding rear sight having a white dot on each side of the rear sight blade matched with a white dot in the front sight blade. Both sights are set in a dovetail and locked in place with a screw and the rear face of both of them are slanted to reduce glare. They are very easy to see and a sight picture acquires quickly. The thumb safety is striated while the slide stop/release is checkered with both being easy to operate.

This .45 has the now-mandatory hand-saving beavertail. I also appreciate the memory bump which I also find for my hands very helpful for depressing the safety. This is especially important when gripping the pistol in a hurry in a bad situation. It’s one thing to be able to put the 1911 solidly in the shooting hand with the offhand, take a high grip, and then get ready to shoot paper. It is quite another matter when in a hurry in a serious situation. I’ll take both the beavertail grip safety and the memory bump on any 1911 model used for every day carry and/or self-defense.

The trigger is a match-grade steel bow with an aluminum shoe drilled with three holes. The front of the trigger, as with their .38 and .357 pocket pistols is grooved and the steel, hammer is Commander-style. The mainspring housing, which is steel, has 25 LPI checkering and matched with the aggressive pattern on the carbon fiber grips result in a very secure hold while shooting. The left grip panel is dished out behind the magazine release to allow quick access.

This .45 also performed very well with the Black Hills HoneyBadger ammunition.

The Commander-style .45 from Harpers Ferry Armory was tested with a variety of factory ammunition.

It is obvious this is not an assembly line pistol but rather one much closer to a custom built .45. The barrel is tapered, wider at the front, and matches up with a fitted bushing and this .45 pistol is also fitted with a guide rod. Cocking serrations are found on both sides of the slide in front of the rear sight and the left side of the slide is marked “HARPERS FERRY ARMORY” with the Harpers Ferry logo found on both sides of the slide below the rear sight. Harpers Ferry says of this pistol: “Rail cuts are held at a 0.0005-inch tolerance with each gun being hand-built and test-fired. Wolfe Springs are used throughout.” Retail of this high quality .45 is $1,695.

The Harpers Ferry was test-fired with a lucky 13 factory loads. Some of the loads that proved to be good choices for self-defense were the Black Hills 230-grain JHP +P clocking out at 900 fps and placing five shots 1-1/4 inches at 20 yards. Hornady’s 200 XTP shot exceptionally well at 880 fps and a 7/8-inch group for five shots at 20 yards. I found the 185 JHP from HPR to be an exceptional load clocking out at 950 fps and giving a 1-inch group.

Shooters still argue over whether or not hardball is a good choice for self-defense. All we have to do is look at the record over the past century. It definitely has an impressive reputation for stopping fights. If you choose hardball, two excellent choices are the HPR 230-grain FMJ at 850 fps and 7/8-inch accuracy while the Remington 230 FMJ is right behind it at 790 fps while grouping five shots in 1-3/8.

Targets fired at 20 yards show the gun’s potential.

Polymer bullets are the latest innovation in self-defense ammunition. Black Hills offers the Phillips screwdriver-shaped polymer bullet in a 135-grain version that clocks out at 1,300 fps and groups five shots in 1-5/8 inches, while the Ruger ATX 130 polymer bullet clocks out at 1,400 fps and groups in 1-3/8 for four shots at 20 yards. Surprisingly both of these high-speed loads not only shoot well but to point of aim. Pictures I have seen of tests using ballistic gelatin are quite impressive.

If you’re looking for a virtually hand-built 1911 this company can fill the bill.

Barranti Leather
(412) 860-4804

Harpers Ferry Armory
(304) 535-3110

Subscribe To GUNS Magazine

Purchase A PDF Download Of The GUNS Magazine May 2018 Issue Now!