CONVERTING A COLT COMBAT COMMANDER INTO THE PERFECT CARRY GUN
Converting a Colt Combat Commander into the perfect carry gun
The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) used to (and might still) have the dubious distinction of being the smallest police force relative to the population served of any police force in America. The LAPD also used to have (and might still have) the dubious distinction of serving the largest area in terms of square miles covered of any metropolitan police force in America.
The result of these two distinctions is that the LAPD has had to develop techniques and tactics that make it one of, if not the, greatest and most effective police departments in the world. Other departments from around the nation and around the globe come to learn from the LAPD and particularly from its Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team. They also come to train with Scott Reitz’s International Tactical Training Seminars (ITTS).
There is a reason for that.
THE REAL DEAL
Scott Reitz is a 30-year veteran of the LAPD, specifically of the elite Metro Division’s “D” Platoon—otherwise known as the SWAT team. He served there for 10 years before he was kicked upstairs to become the primary firearms and
tactics instructor for the entire Metro Division and all LAPD advanced in-service firearms and tactics training. He was also in charge of advanced training for all specialized units such as the gangs unit, the Special Investigation Section (SIS), the anti-terrorist division, Internal Affairs follow teams, the L.A. Fire Department arson squad and a host of others.
Additionally, he has trained and worked with the Navy Special Warfare’s Team Six, U.S. Army Delta and the Air Task Force, as well as elite branches of various overseas military and police forces. He is one of only a handful of men across the country considered qualified to testify as an expert witness on the use of deadly force in both Federal and Superior Court. As an officer on the LAPD SWAT team, he prevailed in five officer-involved shootouts, all of which were ruled justifiable. In short, he is the real McCoy and has firsthand knowledge of what works and what doesn’t.
In addition to a wide range of courses for various levels of proficiency with various weapons systems—many of them restricted to law enforcement only—ITTS is the only school I know of that teaches a M1911-only course. There are two reasons for that.
The first reason is that Scott is one of the men who were able to convince LAPD bureaucratic brass to allow SWAT and SIS officers to carry M1911s on duty. Back in those early days of the transfer from revolver to pistol, that meant officers could either buy their own sidearms or scavenge guns and parts of guns from the property division (Scott has some very funny stories of officers ending up with, uh, shall we say, singular items, such as gold-plated slides or ivory grips inlaid with gold longhorn skulls, complete with faux rubies for eyes).
The second reason (which is how the first came to be) is that Scott is the “Old Dope Peddler” of M1911s. It is the only semiauto pistol he carries, likes, trusts or recommends. His own signature model, made for him by the Phoenix, Arizona-based company of Robar on a Kimber platform, is a model intended for real-life hard and dirty use in a hard and dirty world.
Scott believes so ardently in the M1911 that if you are unlucky enough to spend more than about 10 minutes in his presence, he will have you spending money for the M1911 of your dreams that you might otherwise have foolishly squandered on your children’s education. I’m a good example—or a cautionary tale, depending on your point of view.
For those of you lucky enough to live in a civilized state, let me explain that California has some of the most absurd and draconian gun laws anywhere in America. Among other things, there are very strict regulations determining which handguns may be sold—regulations that defy common sense and were never passed with any intention other than to make gun ownership as difficult as possible. For example, I have a full-sized stainless SIG M1911 .45 that is California legal. The exact same model with a blued slide is illegal. Yeah, that will stop those criminals all right!
So, when I decided I wanted a steel-framed M1911 .45-caliber Combat Commander, the only choice I had was a Colt Combat Commander (as opposed to any one of several custom or semicustom companies that are not “California approved”), and I had to buy it immediately, because it was slated for removal from the “approved” list. It has since been removed (clearly making California a much kinder, gentler, safer place ... ).
It has also since been (technically) discontinued by Colt in favor of an upgraded variant. The upgrades include an undercut trigger guard (for a higher grip), slightly different slide cocking serrations, Novak sights, an extreme upswept beavertail, an extended thumb safety and G-10 grips—all modifications that render it illegal in California ( ... don’t ask).
Just to clarify, while different companies use different variations of the name, “Commander,” from a strictly technical and historical point of view, the name, “Commander,” as manufactured by Colt, originally meant an M1911 with a 4¾-inch barrel and an aluminum alloy frame, and it was first introduced in the early 1950s. A “Combat Commander” referred to an M1911 with a 4¾-inch barrel and an all-steel frame. That model wasn’t manufactured until sometime in the 1970s.
I also wanted to have some custom work done on it with an eye to making it my daily carry weapon. The work included a shorter trigger, thin grips, an Ed Brown memory-bump grip safety, checkering on the front strap to accommodate my hands, Novakcut Trijicon front and rear sights with an oversized, orange fiberoptic front sight to accommodate my aging eyes, an ambidextrous thumb safety, de-burring and a lowered ejection port.
Because I had had an opportunity to shoot Robar’s Scott Reitz ITTS model M1911 and had been impressed with the company’s work, I sent my Commander off to Robar and promptly got talked into having it coated with one of its proprietary coatings. (After all, how much education do children need these days, anyway?)
Robar is a Nadcap-accredited coating technology company. Putting it in baby talk, this means it provides various coatings (primarily electroless or autocatalytic, for those of you interested in such things) applied to metals for the purposes of corrosion resistance and increased hardness to protect and improve the base metal. The technology has a wide range of applications, but the phrase, “Nadcap-accredited,” refers to the National Aerospace and Defense Contractors Accreditation Program. The Robar Companies are Nadcapaccredited because they coat critical parts for products such as Boeing jets and Blackhawk helicopters, among others.
Why should this be of any significance to someone looking for custom work on a firearm?
Because, due to various federal regulations governing the aerospace industry, the Robar Companies may not separate their aerospace operation from their firearms operation. As a result, this means any firearm treated by the Robar
Companies is done to aerospace specifications.
Robbie Barkman, Robar’s founder, was a former instructor and gunsmith at Jeff Cooper’s famed Gunsite Academy. He built sniper rifles (the SR-60) for the LAPD, so when Scott decided to create his signature M1911, Robar was the logical place for him to go. It is also the logical place for anyone who wants extremely high-quality work done on any firearm—from pistol to tactical precision rifle, from that old M1-Garand to a weatherproof hunting rifle and from tactical shotguns to semi-auto rifles.
ITTS has a perfect safety record, something for you to consider when looking for a shooting school, and after sitting through Scott’s safety lecture that precedes every class, you’ll know why. He is an excellent teacher: tough, demanding, very funny, very entertaining, with an unbelievable eye for detail and zero tolerance for mistakes. He also, at least in his M1911 class, breaks things up in a way that keeps you on your toes.
We started at 7 yards on stationary targets with the basics: the basics of drawing; the basics of shooting (Scott’s mantra is “Front sight, trigger press, follow through,” which you hear again and again and yet never often enough); and the basics of re-holstering. Then, over the next two days came a course I found absolutely fascinating:
… SCOTT’S MANTRA
IS, “FRONT SIGHT, TRIGGER PRESS, FOLLOW THROUGH,” WHICH YOU HEAR AGAIN AND AGAIN AND YET NEVER OFTEN ENOUGH …
25 yards, then 50 yards, then back to basics;
Multiple targets in varying sequences, then back to basics; Moving targets (left to right and right to left), then back to basics;
Shooting at night with a flashlight and shooting at night using only night sights, then back to basics;
Shooting from a moving vehicle, then back to basics; Shooting off hand at a 175-yard target, then back to basics; Hostage resolution (i.e., a small, moving “bad guy” target behind a stationary “good guy” target), then back to basics; Shooting prone, then back to basics;
Shooting at a fleeing target (yes, there are times when that is justified under the law), shooting at an oncoming, knifewielding attacker, and shooting and reloading under pressure from an oncoming attacker, then back to basics; and
Shooting one-handed and with the weak hand, then back to basics.
Always, again and again, this course returns to the basics— without which you’d be better off throwing rocks.
For the knife attack, Scott has targets set up on railroad track with which he can simulate an oncoming attacker coming at you almost as fast as a man (a young stuntman was on hand to demonstrate how fast he could cover the maximum distance, and he was faster than the targets) moving toward you from 25, 21 or 15 feet. There were eight of us in the class, including two law enforcement officers, and not one of us was able to draw and hit the knife-wielding target at a distance that would have stopped him before his momentum could have carried him onto the shooter if he had been a man and not a target hitting a stop. That’s worth remembering the next time you hear people screaming because a police officer shot someone armed with “only” a knife.
I personally came away secure in the knowledge that if I am ever attacked by a knife-wielding octogenarian grandmother with a walker, I might—might—be able to save myself ... that is, if the walker has tennis balls and no wheels.
Due to some health issues, I had been unable to fire my Robar-customized Colt, so I decided to make the class part
of the testing and breaking-in of a new gun. My thinking was that if anything were to go wrong, it would go wrong under the stresses of hard, fast-paced use; and if anything did go wrong, ITTS keeps two gunsmiths present at the classes precisely for that reason. The only modification I had made to the Colt after I got it back from Robar was to install a 20-pound spring to mitigate any pounding on the frame.
I went through more than 500 rounds of three different brands of 230-grain hardball FMJ in two days without so much as a wipe-down of the gun and didn’t have a single hiccup. Kudos to Colt; kudos to Robar.
There was no opportunity within the construct of the class to test for accuracy from a rest or sandbag. However, Scott likes to break up his basics, asking sometimes for double-taps or Mozambique drills and sometimes for slow, measured shots specifically geared for tight groups. With that caveat, the accuracy was every bit as good as my full-sized M1911, which is excellent.
WERE THERE ANY NEGATIVES?
One. But it had nothing to do with either Colt’s manufacturing or Robar’s conversion. Scott is a confirmed believer in ambidextrous safeties. His thinking, which is a result of his experience and observations in real-life situations, is that if you are compelled to shoot with your weak hand, you will need that ambi.
He’s right, but I did find that after 300 or 400 rounds, the ambidextrous safety was wearing away significant amounts of my hide where the large knuckle of my trigger finger touched it. Would this be of any consequence in a real-life encounter? No. Would it be of any consequence in a day at the range? No. But in terms of prolonged shooting over two days, it did show the advantage of the good, aggressive checkering on my front strap to keep the gun securely anchored while my hand was slippery with blood. Since this is intended as a carry gun, it is of no consequence. If I intended to compete with it, I would remove the ambi. GW
Note the extremely dark olive drab finish. The exterior of the author’s gun has Robar’s Poly T2 finish for maximum corrosion protection, which was impervious to the author’s blood. Not so the stainless thumb safety, which required ammonia to remove the stains.
The 20-pound spring helped keep recoil to a comfortable minimum. The NP3 finish on the barrel is designed to add lubricity for longer firing and ease of cleaning.
The large, orange front sight was specifically chosen to help aging eyes in all light conditions. It worked beautifully.
Commander has always been popular as a concealed-carry weapon, even though it is only slightly smaller and slightly lighter than the full-sized M1911.
The ambidextrous safety made shooting with the off hand much easier, but it did eventually take a toll on the author’s stronghand finger joint.
The dovetailed rear sight is both large and wide to accommodate a large front sight.
Scott Reitz of ITTS at work with his own M1911 Think you can’t hit a target off hand at 175 yards with an M1911? Think again! And look closely at how far away some of those targets are.
The moving targets are challenging by themselves, but they are made even more so by placing them close together. Skeet shooters might have an advantage here.
From the author’s point of view, the Combat Commander offers the best possible compromise between full-size performance and reduced-size concealability in the M1911.
Holster, belt, magazine holder and knife were all made by Dave and Nichole Ferry of Horsewright Clothing and Tack.