By January 15, 2009

Rock Island Armory 1911 Government Model Pistol Review

There are few pistols that are as recognizable, or have such a distinct place in world history, as the Colt Model 1911 handgun. It was the first handgun I ever fired (my uncle’s). When I turned 21 and bought my first handgun, my mind was on concealment. The 1911 was heavy, large, and expensive. I wound up with a Glock 27 — a very dependable pistol that I’ve carried ever since.

I purchased quite a few other handguns in the meantime: a North American Arms Guardian .32ACP, a Kel-Tec PF-9, two Tokarev TT-33s, and a CZ-52. No matter what, my mind always drifted back to the 1911. I think, for the most part, 1911s have a mystique about them that often pushes high-tech variants into the hands of true handgun aficionados. Extremely well-suited and extensively modified 1911s find their way into shooting tournaments and SWAT units a like. Accessory rails, improved sights, different frame sizes, triggers, grips, finishes, and manufacturers all combine to make owning a 1911 a very personal experience. And an expensive one. My friend Bond owned a VERY nice 1911 made by Kimber. I think the handgun now sells for about $800+.

I always thought a 1911 would be beyond my budget … until I discovered Rock Island Armory.

Here’s the most important thing to know about the Rock Island Armory 1911 series. They are pretty bare-bone. They represent your grand-father’s, or for some of you, your great-grand-father’s 1911. Their Government model is the barest of the bare. No skeletonized hammer or trigger. Standard grips. Standard beavertail. No stippling on the front of the grip. No accessory/tactical rail. Old school sights.

What does have, however, is a very low (comparatively) price tag. I paid about $400 out the door from my local gun dealer, and that included a holster and a box of Federal Hydra-Shok ammunition. It comes with an eight round magazine. Everything about the handgun is super macho and provides excellent feedback. The magazine catch clicks loudly and latches securely. The slide lock lever is firm; the slide rockets forward like a freight train when the lever is released. The thumb safety moves purposefully with a “snikt” up and a “snikt” down. Everything about the pistol is giant sized in comparison to my carry pieces, but the 1911 is the quintessential example of a combat firearm. Like my SAR-2 semi-automatic AK-47 clone, the over-sized controls are easier to manipulate under stressful conditions.

The Rock Island Government model is very heavy. It’s solid steel, and the .45 ACP rounds add even more weight when the handgun is fully loaded. The pistol is also very long, measuring almost nine inches from the tip of the barrel to the end of the beavertail grip. It is not very comfortable to carry concealed, and the slide is so long that the barrel sticks in the back pocket of my jeans. I found the best way to carry it is appendix carry on my weak side; meaning that the pistol is worn to the left of my belt buckle, with the handle pointing towards the right. Sitting down with a full-framed 1911 down your pants sure makes you sit up straight. Mom would be proud.

Here’s the 1911, my Glock 27, and my Kel-Tec PF-9 in a size comparison.

The 1911 is more thin than the Glock 27:

but is thicker than the Kel-tec PF-9:

I appendix carry my Glock 27, weak side. You can really see the difference in size between the two handguns here. It’s possible but uncomfortable to carry the 1911 in the same fashion:

The Kel-Tec PF-9 is the smallest pistol of the bunch:

So anyway, how does it shoot? Pretty well, and I’m sure it would do better in the hands of a qualified operator. The heavy weight of the pistol keeps recoil to a minimum as it the Rock Island spits out bowling ball after bowling ball at my paper target. The full-sized frame makes the handgun fun to shoot, although the trigger did hurt my finger after about fifty rounds. Here are my opening shots at ten yards:

Like I said, the pistol needs a qualified operator. I need more practice, but was still happy with my initial results. I was also pleased that the Rock Island Government model did not have a single failure to feed, and my two aftermarket Chip McCormick magazines. If ammunition prices weren’t so high (about $22 a box for 50 rounds at the range) I would shoot this pistol every day. It’s a lot of fun, and reminds me of shooting with my uncle almost two dozen years ago.

The Rock Island Armory1911 Government model is a great value and is very serviceable. You could use it as a base for future customizations, or use it as a good shooter right out of the box. Sure, it doesn’t come with all the bells and whistles, but you can upgrade the weapon as you please. It’s too big and too heavy for use as a concealed carry piece, but it is now my #1 tool if I ever need to fight my way to my shotgun at home. I love shooting the .45 ACP cartridge and am looking for Rock Island’s compact model or a similar “carry-able” handgun to take over my Glock’s job.

Highly recommended.

Posted in: guns

30 Comments on "Rock Island Armory 1911 Government Model Pistol Review"

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  1. Spectre says:

    Did you get this from Dominion?

    I love to carry a 1911 concealed. When I did conceal it it was in the 3 oclock position on my hip in a IWB. When I open carried it was in the same spot just in a OWB Black Hawk Serpa.

    You made an excellent purchase, and I’ve been wanting to get one of the RIA 1911’s for a while, but have never been able to find them outside of a gun show.

  2. Starbuck says:

    I actually liked shooting that gun and I had pretty good aim with it. But it does hurt your trigger finger a bit.

  3. drfaulken says:

    Hey Spectre, sorry for the late reply. I actually bought it from Bob Moates Sport Shop. Bob’s was one of the targets of NYC mayor Bloomberg’s illegal lawsuits of firearms dealers in 2007.

    I have had good luck with Bob’s and hard-to-find handguns; I also bought my Keltec PF-9 from them. Bob’s charged me retail (or even a little less) for both pistols. I think this is notable because other dealers are selling both at a premium. One of the larger sporting goods stores offered to get me a PF-9 on a three months wait and $200 more than sticker. Pass.

    Anyway, good luck trying to find a Rock Island. They are VERY popular right now. You might even want to try to buy one online from Sarco or J&G Sales and have it transferred to a store.

  4. Dan says:

    You can find the Rock Island on under “specials”. It’s going for $429 I believe. Of course, if you’re not in the San Diego, Ca area, you’ll have to get it transferred.

  5. Bill says:

    Check on for the seller Bellshire. He has many Rock Islands for sale. It takes a simple FFL transfer, and is still cheap. I live in Nashville, so I was out the door with the Rock Island Tactical 5in for under 480.

    There is now a Compact/Officers model that is perfect for HCP/CCW. I plan on picking one up here in the next few weeks.

  6. drfaulken says:

    Hi Dan and Bill, thanks for the comments. Bill, funny you mention both the 1911 “CS” compact model and Bellshire from I’ve been looking at their sales for a few days. I am arguing with myself over being financially responsible and getting the smaller-framed 1911.

    Maybe next paycheck 😉

  7. dlg says:

    I gotta 45 officers model (colt) several years ago when they were still basically affordable. It makes a great concealed carry weapon. It shoots like a charm, and I have only had it jam once and that was due to bad ammo.

  8. Spectre says:

    I was able to get my RIA GI government model *WOOHOO* and a set of Pachmayer Legend Series grips a couple weeks ago from Dominion for a steal. It’s used but I know I put more rounds through the gun on my first day of ownership then the previous owner did in his history of owning the pistol.

    I love it to death and can connect the holes with it at 25 yards. Not bad at all for a bare bones government model 1911.

  9. wilfnpg06 says:

    I pick up a RIA 1911 today, I was lucky a guy was in line asking for the same gun. Shot it at 25 yds great gun. It like love at first sight.

  10. vlad says:

    I just picked up my 1911 RIA. Love at first sight. The beavers tail upgrade with a taktical rubber handle, makes the gun a lot more fun and more comftorable to shoot. I think tonight am sleeping with it under my pillow. Lol

  11. andrew sizenbach says:

    i have had a ria 1911 for about a year now, i have spent alot of money upgrading it with the high ride beaver tail, 3 dot sights, and i have used scores of mags in from kimbers,colts,metalforms. but it still pushes the bullet in the caseing. i dont know whats up with it, i found it did it less once the full length guide rod was taken out.

  12. steve shaW says:

    I used to own a Colt 45acp series 70 mk4 handgun and alas pawned it. bad move. My opinions of the conceal carry phenomenon are simple. Why worry about the weight? I think of a pistol as something that if needed will take out an opponent. 45acp, nuff said. As for how to carry it. I am a big guy, 330# and tall, I have an older, (30 yr old rig )Galco ‘Jackass shoulder holster, and under my leather coat you would never know I am packing. an extra clip or two and you are good to go. I dont understand the folks who carry the glock and other plastic guns. I have seen the Rock Island and I too agree it is very well made and for the money a steal. get a good set of pachmayr rubberized grips and some good ammo and dont worry about the weight factor, what is 10oz anyway, less than you might think. carry a real pistol not some piece of plastic…ok I will get off the soapbox. Old dudes do have opinions…thanks steve

  13. morgansjc says:

    A Rock Armory Tac .45, which does have some bells and whistles such a skeleton trigger, hammer, upswept dovetail, and better sights (if you use sights) can be had here
    for $419 and about $16 shipping if you need it. Reminds me much of my built Springfield. A very nice pistol at an old school price. It cost me this much to build my Springfield, which tells you how long I’ve had it. 🙂

  14. Keith says:

    To all with the RIA…excellent choice. I love mine. I have upgraded the trigger and sights from Fusion Firearms, and Hogue wrap around grips. Soon will be the drop in beavertail from Wilson Combat. The first time at the range, every other shot was failure to feed. I performed a “fluff & buff” with the same result. I quit using the factory mag, purchased both the Chip McCormick PowerMag & PowerMag+. Both work flawlessly EVERY shot. So, anyone with feeding issues, my suggestion is Chip McCormick!!! I have yet to attempt JHP ammo, but hardball works great. As far as carry, I too carry at 3 o’clock on strong side IWB. Works well. This pistol is great for add-ons as well, it’s near Mil-Spec and most parts for the Colt Gov’t will work with the RIA.

  15. morgansjc says:

    Keith- I picked bup the ‘built’ version for $419, which came with lots of goodies. I had the same problem with factory mag, and it’s out of the lineup. Mine is ramped and throated, and I have no problem feeding anything from hardball to semi-wadcutter. Just as information, medically semi-wadcuttes are one of the worst loads you can be shot with. Terrible wounds to treat. Since they are designed to print round, clear, visible holes in paper, they do the same the human body. They chop through rather than push things aside as round bullets do. If you like hollowpoint ammo, a good choice is Keith style HPs. They are hollowpint ammo in an SW configuration. When I was on duty, we had a choice of 9 mil or .45. the 9 mil was issue, the .45 was a personal purchase, including ammo for work and qualifying. I spent the money. I carried a custom Springfield armory that was built to my specs by a Marine Corps armorer. I wouldn’t hesitate to carry the RIA .45. Out of the box I tested the RIA using a hostage target. Head shots and shots against the targets weapon hand were simply perfection. Every shot went into the target’s head or weapon. Never once did I shoot the hostage. Lucky girl. 🙂 We had holster restrictions, so I had to carry in a holster didn’t like. Off duty, I used a skeleton holster, and carried ammo in a open screw retention mag holder. My backup weapon was an SP 101 loaded with semi-wadcutters. As all pistol shooters know, the key is practice. I was trained ‘point and shoot’, both eyes open, targeting center of mass. The only time we ‘aimed’ was critical shots. Even that was both eyes open, using the correct one of the two images you will see. Counter-intuitive at first, but second nature with practice. Congrats on your purchase!

  16. RW says:

    Bought a Rock Island last year and finally fired it recently- fired like the 1911A that I used in the military – many years ago.

    The only drawback is when I cleaned it I found wear areas that should not be on the gun, indicative of poor metalurgy. The biggest concern was with the lands and grooves in the barrel, there is pitting on one side of each lands, again indicative of poor metalurgy.

    With safety a major concern, I’m shedding this weapon for one that I’ll feel confident won’t have an exploding barrel.

  17. DrFaulken says:

    RW, sorry to hear about your issue with the Rock Island. Do you have pictures of the problem with the barrel?

  18. Nomo7 says:

    Also take a look at American tatical imports, American classic and bersa 1911s . Thy make fine 1911s and sell for low cost. Ati and American classic gives you all the bells and whistles for around 500.00. I was gonna get a rock island like you have for 400.00. But I wanted all the bells and whistles so I went with Ati Titan tatical ss for 500.00

  19. morgansjc says:

    I paid $417 for my RIA .45 with everything I wanted but three dot sights. I had to add those. It came with the extended skeleton trigger, skeleton hammer, upswept beaver-tail safety, and extended ambi safety. It shoots as well as anything I’ve ever owned, both Colts and Springfields. It’s very accurate, I wouldn’t hesitate to take a take a head shot in a hostage situation if warranted. I did change the grips to something more comforatable for my large hands. With my .357 for backup (as with any automatic), I wouldn’t worry about this as an on-duty weapon.

  20. RW says:

    Went to the range recently and again used the Rock Island. The slack in the trigger is very hard to get used to. While the RI 1911 feels like the guns I used in the military – I don’t remember as much slack in the trigger.

    After disassembling the parts and cleaning the barrel, I couldn’t find the chatter that was on each of the Lands described in my October post. A gunsmith friend and I cleaned and cleaned and cleaned the barrel in December and still the whatever remained at each lands.

    One of lifes mysterys, otherwise the metal wear is still there on the slide and other areas.

    P.S. Even with the low profile sights, the gun in dead on the paper bull at 40 yds.

  21. i had my rock 45 for a year now and i can say it is a good gun for the money no its not a glock but when you need it it going to do just as good as a glock and as all the 45 out there i think the rockisland is up there with all the other 45 cal

  22. glock /i love a clock.and i think the glock 30/45acp is is the best glock they make i like the size and the big 45acp vere vere good gun and for the ccw/carry best way to go.

  23. Jeff says:

    I just bought my first sidearm and it was the RIA m1911. I love it. It’s smooth, comfortable and a lot better overall feel than the M9 I used while in the Navy.

    I was wondering though. While I was in the Gulf, I injured my shoulder and have a hard time pulling from the hip. Is there a shoulder holster for concealment that I can get that would be an easier draw? I’m a right handed shooter.

    Thanks, Jeff

  24. Loren says:

    I owned RIA 1911A1 4 5 or 6 years and loved at. I paid lil over 500 with 3 xtra mags 2 boxes of ammo and 2 different holsters. ! coneceled 1 not. Shot 100s if not thousands of rounds through it ifn not more. I LOVED MY 1911. Selling it was 1 of my WORST dumb decisions made in my life!!!!!!!

  25. athertonian says:

    I’m giving my RIA 1911 to a friend today. I’ve had it 2 1/2 years and put a couple thousand rounds through it. It’s very reliable, and handles cheap ammo (esp. crappy aluminum) better than my Glock 36 .45 ACP does. The iron front sight has come a little loose. I have learned that the RIA front sight has dimensions peculiar to RIA, meaning a gunsmith would have to change it for me. Still, it’s been a great gun for me. I took great satisfaction in the smoothness the action acquired as it broke in with use. My friend fly fishes in bear country. I figure he’s better off with 8 rounds of .45ACP than shooting a bear 18 times with his 9mm and running. 🙂

  26. somerandomNRAface says:

    I bought my RIA 1911 Government in April 2011. I always wanted a 1911 & finally found 1 at a good price. It’s a heavy gun, but I like that. I don’t get along well with feather weight platforms cuz I can’t hit anything with them. I’ve had nothing but enjoyment with it. The factory mag “Act Mag” in this case works flawlessly. Cycles perfectly with Hornady’s Critical Defense. I absolutely adore how easy it is strip & clean the 1911 platform. One thing I can’t figure out, Why are there no other single-stack pistol platforms beside the 1911? You may not have as many shots, but you know it will function the 1st time, every time.

  27. JC MULLIS says:

    I just bought my 2nd RIA gov models, and love them both. the 1st saved my life. the perp was on oxycontin, xanex, vodka, and other drugs. i had to shoot this 6ft 275pound man 3 time center mass ie. the heart to stop his forward momentum. i blame that on the ammo, which was 185gr hydrashock. way back around 1911 these weapons were designed for their stopping power, and i believe they were designed to shoot 230gn ball ammo, but i may be wrong.
    that said i now go with the 230gn ball, but i know that if i had been using a 9mm i would be dead. so i swear by RIA 45acp’s. they are by far the best bang for the buck.

  28. john says:

    The only problem I had was the mag release. It freezed up only once but after 2-3 thousand rds. Had it replaced for 15 bucks. Best 45 for 350$ bar none.

  29. Jim says:

    This is my daily carry. Solid piece, shoots nice groups, very reliable, never had a issue. If you think you need a match grade weapon go for it and pay the price, I trained with 1911’s in the Marines and will carry this every time with full confidence.

  30. William Woodward says:

    This past week I purchased a RIA 1911 GI model. I took it out yesterday and put 60+ rounds thru it. I really like Everything about this gun, nice to handle, mild recoil and dead on accurate. I see no reason to spend the extra money just for a Brand Name when you can get a quality gun for a very reasonable price. Thank you RIAs.