By April 10, 2009

Rock Island Armory 1911 Compact Officers Model review

I have owned my Rock Island Armory 1911 Government model handgun for about three months now, and I still love it. It feels great in my hand, is accurate, and is built like a truck. I was always curious about 1911s since firing one when I was very young, but now I understand why they still have a cult (Colt?) following almost 100 years later.

The problem with the full-size Government model is that it is, well, full-sized. I am six foot tall and fairly slender. I could conceal the Government model while standing, but as soon as I sat down I literally had the barrel in my pocket. I tried wearing the Government in “appendix carry,” which is inside the pants on the left-hand side. I got a lot of attention from the ladies (and a few dudes, I take what I can get), but it was downright uncomfortable while sitting.

I spent the next twelve weeks trying to track down the shorter 3.5″ barreled Officer’s model. It seems like everyone knows about the Rock Island 1911s and supplies are limited on the budget shooting iron of choice. I checked in with my local gun store several times — I had purchased my other RIA there — and they said it would be nigh impossible to order one or keep it in stock. I tried Bellshire Guns on on the advice of one of my readers, but ran into another problem: my employer was set to lay off 1500 staff, and I wanted to keep as many pennies in the piggy bank as possible.

I wasn’t laid off, but now that I felt good about spending money again the compact Officer model was sold out everywhere. I wrote to Phil over at Bellshire, and he suggested waiting until late March or early April. I scoured the rest the dealers on the Internet — they were either out of stock or were charging up to a $200 premium. Sarco is the main supplier of these, and when I called to place my order they informed me there was a 600 handgun backorder. Looks like I would be waiting until the end of March.

Phil made good on his suggestion, and I picked one up from him via The handgun was easily transferred to my local shooting range, and the next thing you know I was launching ash trays at paper targets.

The majority of my handgunning experience comes from pistols built for concealed carry. My first handgun was a Glock 27, and I’ve been used to shooting uncomfortable “carry” guns ever since. The Government model is a dream in comparison. However, I expected the compact Officers model to shoot just as harshly as my polymer-framed arsenal.

I was in for a big surprise. Yes, there is more recoil and a louder report with the Officer than the Government. Yes, follow-up shots are more difficult with the Officer than the Government. However, by the end of my first 100 rounds I was pretty accurate with the shorter 1911. With more practice I will exceed my accuracy of my Glock 27, which I have carried for well over a decade.
I had warmed up with the red bull’s eye oval, so the “8” was my point of aim. The two rounds to the left are from a different shooting exercise. Distance was ten yards.

So how does the Officer compare to the rest of my carry pieces? Let’s take a look.
From top to bottom: full-sized Rock Island Armory 1911 Government model, 3.5″ barrel Rock Island Armory 1911 Officer model, Glock 27, Kel-tec PF-9.
My well-worn G27 on top of the 1911 CS. The CS slide is a little longer, and the grip is longer. None of that really matters in most concealed carry setups, but the beavertail on the Rock Island has proved to be less comfortable while sitting than the Glock’s flat ass.
The slide on the 1911 is a little thinner than the G27. The big difference is in the grip, which is hard to tell from this picture. The Rock Island compact is a single stack, whereas the Glock 27 is a double-stack. I think the thinner grip is better for my delicate keyboarding fingers. šŸ˜‰
Officer model vs. Kel-tec PF-9. The PF-9 is the ultimate elf gun, much smaller and thinner than the 1911. There is no way I could put my 1911 in my front jeans pocket, but then again the PF-9 doesn’t chuck small planetoids, either!
Notice how much more thin the PF-9 is than the Officer. I really wish the Officer had a huge front blade sight like the PF-9. I don’t intend to win any marksmanship contest with the compact, but a larger front sight would help with target acquisition.
This isn’t a great comparison picture between the Government (top) and Officer (bottom), but it does show the longer grip and slide of the Government model. Some of the parts are interchangeable, but for the most part the compact 1911 has its own recoil springs, barrel bushing, and magazines.

Now for the nasty part: weight.

 Number of roundsLoaded weight
Kel-tec PF-981 lb, 2 oz
Glock 27111 lb, 12 oz
Rock Island Armory Officer compact 191182 lb, 9 oz

Well, the weight of the steel slide and larger .45 Auto rounds have to factor in somewhere. At over double the weight of the PF-9, the 1911 isn’t going to win any awards at Weight Watchers. The weight hasn’t bothered me so far during appendix carry. I will probably try strong-side hip over the next few weeks, but I am concerned about the sharp beavertail snagging on my shirt.

All in all, I am exceptionally pleased with my Rock Island Armory Officer model. My total cost was $431, including the transfer fee. I highly recommend Phil over at Bellshire Guns. He stocks plenty of the Rock Islands, as well as other firearms.

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33 Comments on "Rock Island Armory 1911 Compact Officers Model review"

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  1. Gremlin says:

    How do you feel about the safety? I’ve got an unreasonable fear of single action firearms and depending on that safety. To much time with long pull double actions I guess.

  2. Eric says:

    I regularly carry concealed either a Taurus PT145 or a Springfield XD45ACP. I do have to say that it weighs you down. I’m on the hunt for a 1911 style 9mm. Any ideas?

  3. Spectre says:

    I carry my 1911 every day cocked and locked either strong side hip, small of the back or strong side IWB. I love the extra weight because it helps to tone down the recoil. It’s also my most accurate fire arm pistol I own with the low profile gov’t style sights.

    Congrats on the Officers model. I’ve been wanting one for a while but can’t seem to track one down.

  4. drfaulken says:

    Hey Gremlin,

    Sorry for the delay. Getting used to the safety has been … interesting. As with your experience, all three of my carry pistols until now have been double action only, with no external safety (Glock 27, North American Arms Guardian, Kel-tec PF-9).

    I have been practicing disengaging and re-engaging the safety while practicing at the range.

    I don’t have any safety concerns (as it were) with the safety. I am just trying to make disengaging the safety my second nature.

    Spectre, Bellshire Guns had several until the last day or so. Phil is a good guy and if you email him he can give you a rough timeline when he expects more in stock.

  5. mlmaynard says:

    “I regularly carry concealed either a Taurus PT145 or a Springfield XD45ACP. I do have to say that it weighs you down. Iā€™m on the hunt for a 1911 style 9mm. Any ideas?”

    Try the Springfield Armory EMP. A super small 1911 style pistol that comes in 9mm and .40S&W.

  6. Eric says:

    “ā€œI regularly carry concealed either a Taurus PT145 or a Springfield XD45ACP. I do have to say that it weighs you down. Iā€™m on the hunt for a 1911 style 9mm. Any ideas?ā€

    Try the Springfield Armory EMP. A super small 1911 style pistol that comes in 9mm and .40S&W.”

    I actually ended up getting a taurus 24/7 titanium in 9mm. Lighter and it even fits the holsters I have for the PT145 and the springfield. I do have to say though that I would not go polymer/titanium on anything above 9mm. Oh 17+1 is also nice.

  7. michael says:

    i have rockisland 1911a 45 and keltec pf9.i carry both gun they are heavy. both gun shot great 1911a is heavy but shot very good.

  8. Wayne McCullough says:

    I just bought a 1911a1 officer’s model at a gunshow (Houston, TX). Problem is, the field-stripping instructions are for the full-size model, and far as I can tell, don’t apply to the officer’s model. Any help here?

  9. Paul says:

    If you want a great compact .45 Auto. Try the citadel compact 1911. It is a great pistol, holds 8 rounds in the mag and one in the chamber. I just got one and they are easily concealed and shoot great.

  10. Moon says:

    Wayne, when field stripping the RIA CS, I have found that by using an empty shell casing to compress the recoil spring and reverse plug, it is much easier to remove the guide rod and spring. I have since acquired a small piece of steel tubing and cut a slot in it so I can use it to compress the spring and insert a piece of wire in the hole in the guide rod to retain the spring in its compressed state for field stripping.

  11. Ed says:

    I recently was introduced to these lil cannons by my son who just returned home from Iraq. I am a former LEO, State firearms instructor and certified armorer for several weapons systems. At a recent range outing with my aforementioned son, I was introduced to the RIA compact. It only took about 3 rounds to get where she wanted to shoot. An amazing lil handgun to say the least. One word of caution. Upon disassembly of the weapon, it became apparent that this is indeed a true 1911 spin off. This is a true inertia type firing pin on this weapon! Holster selection will be paramount when carrying this lil beast “cocked and locked.” If the safety is accidentally disengaged you could wind up with a nasty leg wound (or worse!)Dropping this weapon on it’s muzzle most definately could wind up in an AD. Shoot the bad guys, not yourself!

  12. Brian says:

    For the guy looking for a 1911 style 9mm, I bought a Sig P238. It’s a .380, rather than 9mm, but boy is it a beaut!

  13. Chris H says:

    Dr. F,

    Do you know what the recoil spring is rated in lbs.? Or how I can go about getting a new spring for my RIA compact? Do you know if I use the spring out of a Colt officer? These are fantastic guns as far as I can tell.

  14. drfaulken says:

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for writing. I believe the stock spring is 16#.

    I attempted to buy an aftermarket Wolff spring #12110 (Colt Officer’s model) but it didn’t fit right. I researched this on the Web a little and some people were cutting a few coils off. I didn’t want to mess with that, so I went back to my stock spring.

    I’m sorry this isn’t a great answer, but it’s as far as I’ve pursued upgrading the spring on a Rock Island Officer compact.

  15. Moon says:

    The stock recoil spring on the RIA 1911CS is 18#. The stock Colt Officer’s model will not work by itself, you will need to change the plug and spring guide and alter the spring itself. If you are not a competent gunsmith, I would not recommend trying to do so. I’m not sure where to get a replacement spring or a stiffer one, but I will research this subject some more and post my findings here.

  16. Bryan says:

    I believe the stock RIA Compact recoil spring is 22#. You can get them from Wolff but you need to get the one for a full diameter guide rod part #49022

  17. michael coffey says:

    I have both the glock 27, taurus PT145, and RIA 1911MS and they all are great as for conceled carry it’s having the right holster as for shooting i would not give up any one of them.

  18. Moon says:

    The Wolff part no 49022 is the correct spring. I ordered the 24# spring from them and it has eliminated the failure to chamber problem I was having with my CS. My stock spring was the 18# rate. I had recently purchased a Springfield XD in .40 S&W, traded it for another RIA. It was a good gun, just didn’t like it as much as I do the 1911. I did recently replace the sights on the new RIA and a Regent that I purchased with MGW 3-dot sights from Brownells. They look good, but I haven’t fired the guns since the sight change. I’ll let ya’ll know how I like them when I do. Oh, yeah, I won’t be changing the sights on my carry CS, they are considerably taller than the stock sights.

  19. Brian says:

    I took my RI CS Officers 1911 out, fired it against my Glock 22 and my HK USP45 Compact. I was surprised that the RI is more accurate that the Glock or the HK, but holds roughly half the rounds of either. Over-all, it’s a great highly under-rated weapon.

  20. mister says:

    hey…..just pick up my RI compact size today..bought some winchester jhp 230 gr….just need some tips on what kind of ammo should i use first..i heard it’s best to fire a few hundred of fmj first before loading up jhp..gonna go to the range so just what some info. first……thanks….i bought the jhp cause that’s all they have….i’ll use it for home defense cuz don’t want to waste it shooting through papers…

    • Vic says:

      Bought a new RIA Compact, didn’t feed JHP very well. Took Drimmel Tool Cloth wheel and polishing rouge for soft metal (do not want to remove any metal) just polish the bullet ramp on the frame and the barrel throat. Polished smooth as glass, shot any & all JHP weights / loads.

  21. mister says:

    also….will it be ok to fire metal casting through a RI ?….thanks….

  22. DrFaulken says:

    Hi mister!

    Congratulations on your purchase. Rock Island armorer Ivan Walcott does not recommend shooting Wolf metal cased ammunition in their handguns. I think this would go for all metal cased ammunition.

    I would definitely shoot at least 500 rounds through your compact before being confident with it mechanically. I would also just use FMJ as you suggested, as the hollow points are very expensive in comparison.

    I had a problem with my RIA Officer and its magazine release latch:

    Even though Rock Island provided a replacement part for free I had doubts about my particular handgun and sold it to someone for their 1911 collection. I don’t know if they carry it or if it or not.

    Good luck with your RIA, just make sure you break it in first in case you have a problem like mine.

  23. mister says:

    hi…thanks for replying officer model looks just like yours, but the wood grip looks a little lighter in color..i’m sorry about what happened to ur officer model..did u ever find out how it happended so i can prevent it from happening..i am really tempted to go to the range, but really want to play it safe as this is my first handgun.i am tight with money on everything that’s going to be my first..any other suggestons? i’ll try to only fire winchester fmj “white box”..also, my gun came with an extra 8 round mag. will that put any effect on the gun as it does stick out a little from the well..thanks again ..

  24. TG says:

    I addded Hogue grips and a Clipdraw ( clip for concealed carry…the clip beats a holster or just sticking it in your trousers…you almost forget it’s there. I like the Hogue grips over the wood that comes with the pistol…

  25. Ben says:

    What Hogue grips did you get? I really want to put some good grips on my RIA CS, but am not sure which ones will fit!

  26. thomas says:

    can you advise were I can get a slide for my rock island 1911 a1 cs. It has a fixed front sight and I want to put night sites on it to carry on duty

  27. Doug Plank says:

    Guys, the rock Island’s a great guns no doubt. I have been gunsmithing for 40+ years and I have customized a ton of RIA’s. The sweetest setup for concealed carry is the plain Jane compact..switch the front sight to a nite-site, Do a complete melt down, bevel the mag well, remove the lettering from the slide, smooth and polish the trigger track, bob the hammer and grip safety, a nice set of sticky grips, lighter sear spring, Wilson sear/disconnector, and a nice tactical finish. I have been building tac-bobs since the compacts came out. You can start with an in-expensive firearm and wind up with something that “knocks your socks off!” Go RIA

  28. Isaiah says:

    I have all the handguns you compared in this article, except the Glock is a 26 not a 27. I just picked up the RIA 1911 compact a few days ago and went to the range yesterday. WOW! I have to say it was more accurate than my full size RIA 1911A1 and my full size Glock 21 SF. It did not like the 185 grain Hornady XTP. It failed to return to battery every time. It did like the slightly hotter 185 grain Hornady FTX Critical Defense. It also did not like Corbon 230+P HP. FTFeed every time. No problems with Corbon 200+P HP, Federal 230 HST, Hornady 230+P TAP, Hornady 200+P XTP, or Speer 200+P GDHP. Of course it fired Winchester 230 grain ball with no problems. I carried it concealed today for the first time in a Blackhawk leather belt slide/inside-the-waist holster. Not bad. Not as concealable as the Kel Tec PF9…but the Kel Tec is now a backup carry piece. The RIA 1911CS is now my main carry gun. I put Hogue wrap around, finger groove, rubber grips on it and replaced the stock mag with a pair of Kimber Pro Tac mags. Considering putting some night sights on it, although the Novak style raised sights aren’t that bad.

  29. weasle94 says:

    I find that if you use too light a bullet (under 185 gr) that the timing cycle on most 1911’s get out of kilter and the gun usually fails to feed all the time. I would stick with a 200 gr bullet or more. after all ,that is what the 45 was made for .heavy knock down power.Remove the man from your foxhole if he jumps in.

  30. Doug Plank says:

    The RIA compact is a great little weapon. I have gunsmithed many of them into super nice carry guns. There is the weight though. Depending on what matters the absolute most…the Kel Tec PF9 is a dynamite weapon as long as you use decent bullets and put them where they need to be. I suffer from a brokem back (motorcycle racing) and weight is my biggest concern. I carry a pf9 with laserlyte laser and I have never felt “unprotected” A step up is the Star Firestar in any caliber 9 to 45, Little more weight but still an excellent weapon. I do a melt down and action job on them and they make super carry weapons, single action. Star PD in 45 is good and also one of the very finest are the Kahr line in all calibers, differant weights and all double action. Lots to choose from. For the fellow looking for a 1911 style in 9mm, try a Star Firestar. You get accuracy, ambi-safety, switchable mag release, reasonable weight, adjustable rear sight, and with a melt down..a super easy carry piece. Opinions from an old skool gunsmith. CROSSFIRE CUSTOM

    • 1rowdy1 says:

      I ATTENDED GUNSMITHING at Lassen Jr. College under Mr. John Wise, IN SUSANVILLE, CA back in the 1960’s & 1970’s and that is an unfamiliar expression to me; “meltdown.”

      Just curious… roger

  31. Brian says:

    Awesome review man. Might be the best one I’ve come across. Super thorough and very straight forward info about the important info. Thanks also for the comparisons. I only comment on that because I been searching for some competent info for quite a while. I just ordered the compact 3.5 RIA and my main question is what type of mags are compatible. And I am trying to find the cheapest mags(that function somewhat reliably)but mainly low priced. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated.. Thanks