Concealed carry is sweeping the nation as never before. Besides the uptick in applications for carry permits due to recent events in the country, whole states are instituting “constitutional carry” for its citizens. Constitutional carry is when states enact laws that allow citizens to carry concealed without having to pay for and acquire a carry permit.
This ever-increasing trend has more firearms manufacturers focusing on new models that can be carried concealed and also accommodate an even wider variety of users. One example is the new Colt Defender 1911-style pistol in the 9mm chambering.
In addition to the venerable .45 ACP chambering, the officer-sized Defender now offers a model that employs the 9mm cartridge to offer a higher-capacity firearm—and one that’s somewhat easier to control than its larger-caliber sibling.
In 2014, a report the FBI had completed was leaked online, and it revealed its findings about the efficacy of the 9mm round in comparison to larger calibers such as the .40 S&W, .357 SIG and the .45 ACP.
In its findings, the report declares that the 9mm round loses little in the way of performance and offers other advantages to people who are of smaller stature or who struggle to manage the recoil of the more-powerful calibers.
Due to the technological advances made by ammunition manufacturers in the last 15 years, the playing field has been leveled somewhat between the various calibers. As the report goes into more detail, it’s apparent that the FBI views the results of its tests through the prism of justified trade-offs.
Essentially, the FBI found that the wide range of its agents who participated in the testing were able to control the recoil of a 9mm pistol more effectively and were also able to get quicker follow-up shots.
In addition, there’s the argument the FBI makes for the benefit of higher-capacity magazines that can be had, relative to pistols that use larger-bore ammunition. One last observation was that the move would save the agency money, because 9mm is generally less expensive than the larger rounds.
Based on the caveats that it considered, such as controllability, cost and capacity, the same argument the FBI makes for its move to 9mm pistols makes just as much sense for normal citizens, as well.
Hence, the 9mm offering found in the new Colt Defender.
The Defender is what I would call a “meat-and-potatoes” 1911 variant. The price is fairly low compared to more-tricked-out 1911s, and accordingly, there are very few frills to the overall package.
As mentioned, the Defender is built on an officer’s frame with an overall length of 6.75 inches and a barrel length of just 3 inches. The frame height is reduced, as well, making the grip print less in concealed mode. The weight of the Defender is a scant 25 ounces.
For a carry weapon, the Colt Defender in 9mm would be an excellent choice.
The Defender comes with two stainless magazines that hold eight rounds each; the .45 ACP Defender magazines hold seven rounds. This doesn’t help too much with the capacity argument that was discussed earlier, but for a weapon this size, controllability of the 9mm chambering is a much more important quality.
One feature that’s a decided advantage for the Defender is the incorporation of Novak’s excellent Night Sights. The Defender’s rear sight is a blacked-out affair, with the front post sporting a tritium insert with a white outline. The finish on the frame is black Cerakote, and the slide is blued with a matte finish.
There are serrations at the rear of the slide and at the bottom of the back strap; both sets provide a more secure purchase for the user. Although the Defender is essentially a base model, it does sport an extended beavertail grip safety and aluminum trigger. The pistol is fi nished off with an attractive set of “black cherry” G10 grips that complement the pistol nicely.
HOME ON THE RANGE
Just to lay the cards out on the table: I wasn’t sure what to expect when I tried out the Defender the first time. I’m a traditionalist, and the thought of running 9mm loads through the .45 ACP platform seemed a bit blasphemous on my part. Nevertheless, I’m open to new things, and I tend to get surprised now and then.
Shooting the 9mm Colt Defender turned out to be more satisfying than expected. Even though there was a bit of creep, the trigger consistently broke right at 3.5 pounds—which isn’t too shabby at all—and quick follow-up shots were easy to control, despite the aluminum frame, even with +P loads.
There was a variety of ammunition from different companies on hand to thoroughly evaluate the Colt Defender, including Federal Premium, SIG Elite Performance Ammunition and Speer. Both FMJ rounds and hollowpoint rounds were fired to check for accuracy and reliability.
For such a compact firearm, the Defender turned out to be quite accurate with its preferred loads. I will typically test a firearm this size at shorter distances, but I went ahead with straight-up, 25-yard accuracy testing once I got a feel for its performance. All accuracy testing was done in a standing position off a small shooting rest clamped to a vertical 4×6 building support.
With the rear sight blacked out, the front sight of the Novak Night Sight system was very easy to pick up. For a close-range defensive weapon such as this, the ability to focus just on the front sight makes acquiring the target faster and easier to re-acquire for fast follow-up shots.
The main accuracy issue most people will have with a pistol of this size is the short sight radius, although, as mentioned, this is intended for close encounters of the personal kind. Even so, the Defender did rather well at 25 yards, especially with a couple of particular loads.
The best group during the different range sessions turned out to be shot with SIG’s Elite Performance Ammunition’s 147-grain V-Crown load. It measured 2.13 inches, with a three-group average of just 2.85 inches. Federal’s 135-grain Tactical Bonded LE didn’t do too badly, either, with a best group of 2.38 inches and an average of 2.92 inches. The Defender’s accuracy really impressed me, given its diminutive size.
THE RELIABILITY FACTOR
I was enjoying my time with the Defender—but everything was not peaches and cream.
During the first 100 rounds, I was shooting both hollow points and FMJ ammunition. The FMJ ammunition ran fine, but there were several failures to feed with the heavier hollow-point rounds. During this same period, the Defender had no issues digesting the Speer 124-grain and 124-grain +P rounds.
I know some people are shaking their heads and saying, “You should have broken it in with a few hundred rounds of ball ammo first.” Yeah, I’ve heard that and practiced it before, but this test was intentional: to just gauge the Defender’s performance straight out of the box.
That said, I did take a break from the hollow points and ran a couple hundred more rounds of FMJ ammunition through it, including SIG’s 115-grain FMJ loads and Federal Premium’s 115-grain FMJ rounds. Once this process was completed, I only experienced two more failure to feed in the next 150 rounds of hollow points.
It needs to be broken in a bit more, or it needs a little TLC from a competent smith. Either way, it’s a relatively cheap and easy fix, especially if one takes the time to find a defensive load they like and that feeds reliably in the pistol. My definition of “reliably” is no malfunctions in at least 300 rounds, although I’d feel much more comfortable with none in 500 instead.
Despite my obsessive nature with reliable function, I actually grew pretty fond of the 9mm Colt Defender during the time I had it—much more so than I would have first thought. It handled well, had a great pair of sights and a simple (but attractive) appearance, and it was very accurate for such a compact pistol.
As for the feeding issues, that’s the nature of 1911s, which is a 100-yearold design, and the Defender is a pretty bare-bones 1911 at that. With a suggested retail price of $949, the street price is a good amount lower. I have seen more than a few semi-custom or “tuned” 1911s that cost quite a bit more yet have similar issues.
It’s a simple matter to isolate the issue and correct it; it usually costs no more than $100. More than likely, this is something Colt would correct at no cost to the user.
For a carry weapon, the Colt Defender in 9mm would be an excellent choice. Despite the aluminum frame, the recoil was easy to control, even with +P loads. The safety responded positively, providing a tactile acknowledgment when going in the “safe” or “fire” positions. Also, the trigger break was excellent, allowing for almost surgical shot placement.
With a little tweak here and there and with a quality holster, the Colt Defender would not only serve well as a concealed-carry pistol, its light weight would also allow it to ride on the hip all day without the user really noticing it.
On balance, the package is a strong value overall. It has many points in its favor, and if you take care of it, it will take care of you. With a little practice on the range, not only will it impress, it could quickly become your companion … and possibly your defender, as well.
BARREL LENGTH: 3 inches
WEIGHT: 25 ounces
OVERALL LENGTH: 6.75 inches
OVERALL HEIGHT: 5.13 inches
SLIDE MATERIAL: Carbon steel
SLIDE FINISH: Blued (matte)
FRAME MATERIAL: Aluminum alloy
FRAME FINISH: Cerakote, black
RATE OF TWIST: 1:16
LH MAGAZINE: (2) eight-round
GRIPS: “black cherry”
G10 SIGHTS: Novak Night Sights
COLT’S MANUFACTURING COMPANY LLC
(800) 962-COLT (2658)
Velocity was measured in feet per second 15 feet from the muzzle; accuracy was measured in inches with three five-shot groups at 25 yards.
|Federal Premium 124-grain +P HST||1132||3.32||2.88|
|Federal Premium 135-grain Tactical Bonded||1001||2.92||2.38|
|SIG Elite Performance 147-grain V-Crown||862||2.75||2.13|
|Speer 124-grain Gold Dot||1033||3.25||2.32|
|Speer 124-grain +P Gold Dot||1108||3.44||3.13|
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the January 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.