Rock Island Armory Ultra FS 9mm 1911 review

2,074 rounds. That’s how long the Rock Island Armory Ultra FS 9mm 1911 has gone without a malfunction of any type. I’ll get the boring bits out of the way right here and now. The gun passed the 10-8 Function Test, passed the 100 round speed test, passed every single thing I could think to throw at it, and became only the second gun to achieve a perfect 100/100 on the Gun Nuts 1911 Evaluation. The only other gun to achieve a perfect score? Tim’s Wilson Combat.

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Goal based training

“I want to get better at shooting,” said the student to the teacher. That’s awesome, because everyone who carries a gun should want to get better at shooting. But it’s also really broad, and is the sort of thing that can lead to frustration on the part of the shooter when they don’t feel like they’re progressing towards their goal.

Caleb Area 3

This is why I believe it’s incredibly important to set clear, defined goals. I’ve talked about goal setting and training a lot, and I’m going to continue to beat this drum as long as my fingers still work the keyboard. It’s the only way to make true progress, and the best way to measure progress as well. Let’s take that goal of “I want to get better at shooting” and break down into an actual achievable training program.

Right now, I’m an A-class USPSA shooter. I want to get better at shooting. Okay, what’s better? Being a Master class shooter is better. Immediately I change my goal from “I want to get better” to “I want to be a Master class USPSA shooter.” Now that I know where I’m going with this goal, I can look at what performance I need to enhance in order to get there. Because my goal is focused around classification, the best thing I can do is focus on the skills that are tested by classifiers – fundamental marksmanship and gun handling skills, primarily. Draws, transitions, and reloads. Most classifiers don’t have a lot of movement, so I can omit positional drills from my practice for the time being.

Next I want to break that larger goal down into smaller goals. If I want to make Master, I can identify critical performance areas that I can improve in order to meet that goal. For example, something like this:

  • I want to be able to draw and fire two shots to an A-zone in less than a second from my USPSA holster.
  • I want to be able to do a shot-to-shot speed reload to an A-zone hit in less than 1.5 seconds from my USPSA magazine pouches.
  • I want to be able to transition on close targets in less than 0.30 seconds shot-to-shot

Those are all goals that will help achieve my overarching goal of making Master in USPSA. Now that they’re established, I can then look at what training I should implement in order to get there. For all of these goals, the training would be a mix of dry fire and live fire. Working on draws I’d want to practice dry fire draws both with no par time and with a par time. The idea is to use dry fire to eliminate wasted movement on the draw and build a solid, consistent index where the gun arrives in my eyeline on target. Then I’d take that skill to the range and test it in live fire, again off the clock and using a par time.

The same is true for transitions and reloads. Dry fire is used to eliminate wasted movement and build the speed necessary to accomplish my goal; then live fire is used to refine those dry fire skills in a training environment. Performance tracking is key here, because if I’m not keeping track of what I’m doing on each drill, I won’t be able to measure my improvement and progress towards the goal. I can’t just go to the range, whip out my timer and go on the clock hoping for the best, I need to have a progressive, sustainable training plan.

When I eventually reach those training goals, I need to be able to pressure test my skills, which is where matches come into play. Shooting classifiers and matches allow me to see if the training is producing the expected and desired increases in performance on match day. If it’s not, I need to evaluate both my training plan and mental state to see where I’m going wrong. It could be that my plan itself is good, but I’m struggling with mental focus; or my training plan could be totally wrong for the goal I’m trying to accomplish.

The bottom line is that without goals and performance tracking, training is little more than self-gratification. Pick your goals intelligently, and plan your training accordingly.

Rock Island Armory Ultra FS 1911 update: 1800 rounds and ticking

Despite the blog being down, I’ve still be working on testing the now excellent Rock Island Armory Ultra FS 9mm. It’s currently at 1,824 rounds, and here’s the fun part. Zero failures of any type. No failures to feed, no failures to extract, nothing. No parts breakages, and no issues with the build quality of the gun. It just keeps running and running. While the bulk of the ammo I’ve shot through it has been FMJ, it’s also fed 200+ rounds of premium JHP, including Golden Sabers which have an ogive so wide you can serve a martini in there.

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The best drill for concealed carry

None of carry a gun because we’re optimists, that much is a fact. However, it’s taken me years to accept the fact that most people who carry guns aren’t going to invest the time and energy into becoming a proficient shooter. I don’t like that, but there’s nothing I can do about it. Most people would rather dink around with chrome plated Mausers or carry six different guns a week than buy one gun and learn to shoot it really friggin’ well.

So what should those people practice? I’ve longed believed (and still do) that the Bill Drill from concealment is the best choice for the average joe. For the newbs, a Bill Drill is a time 6 shots from the holster at either an 8 inch circle or a USPSA A-zone. The most common distance used is 7 yards, but you can practice them at any distance. I like to shoot 25 yard Bill Drills when I’m training up for Bianchi.

Let’s break this thought process down a bit. Assuming (I know, I know) that the “average” self-defense scenario involves a single assailant surprising their target, a drill that focuses on belting a relatively large number of rounds into their thoracic cavity as fast as possible seems to make sense. 6 rounds of 9mm in the chest is going to change your plans for the rest of your life, and definitely make you rethink whatever it was that made you decide to do crimes. There’s also the shock factor in case bad guy one has friends; which we shouldn’t rely on, but still. If you and Pookie were out doing crimes together and all of a sudden some dude ninja’d a gun into his hands and dumped half a mag into your best friend in 2 seconds, maybe you’d decide you had somewhere else you needed to be, like yesterday.

The real talk though comes down to the fact that Bill Drills focus on one thing: getting a lot of lead on target as fast as possible. There’s no guarantee a badguy is going to stop after the first, second, third, or even fourth shot. That’s the other reason I like the Bill Drill so much, because it trains you out of shooting controlled pairs or double taps or whatever you want to call them all day long. You need to work the trigger to shoot a fast Bill Drill; and to shoot one under 2.00 you need to get everything right, from the draw to your sight tracking and your trigger speed.

What do you think? Is the Bill Drill the best choice for the novice CCWbro to practice?

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Be like Pat Mac

I don’t have trainer goggles – I’ve never really bought into the whole “cult of personality” thing that you see with a lot of “name” trainers. You know what I’m talking about: dudes getting into internet slap fights about how my sensei can beat up your sensei because they’ve decided that one trainer is the be all and end all of trainers.

That being said, if there’s one trainer I absolutely want to take a class from, it’s Pat Macnamara. That’s because while other trainers are busy getting into internet purse fights, he’s off in a corner being a BEAST.

Plus, he always seem to be having fun in his videos, which is nice. But I’ve never seen him get drawn into the silly internecine infighting that seems to be so common in “name” instructor circles. I wish he’d get back to posting more videos of his crazy shooting drill/workout combos.

You keep being awesome, Pat Mac.

The Rock Ultra FS 9mm is better than a Springfield Armory

Okay, so it might be a little early in the test to say that, but last night we kicked off the test of the Rock Island Ultra FS 9mm 1911 by running it through the 10-8 Performance Function Check. Which unlike the Taurus and the Springfield, it passed. With flying colors. Watch the Rock Ultra FS in action here. The Rock Ultra FS is just like the previous two pistols we’ve tested, a fullsize 1911 in 9mm. I has adjustable sights with a fiber optic front, G10 grips, full beavertail, full length guide rod, and unlike our two previous pistols comes from the factory with a magazine funnel (thank god).

For comparison, here’s the Springfield Armory 1911 running through the 10-8 Function Test, you can see it failed on the 2nd round of the “no magazine” portion of the event. Now, that doesn’t make the RO a bad gun, and it doesn’t actually mean that the Rock is objectively better, because the Rock hasn’t completed the test protocol yet. But I do want to point out that the Rock Ultra is the first 9mm 1911 that I’ve had actually pass the 10-8 test. Tim’s Wilson Combat did, but I would expect that from a Wilson.

Rock Ultra FS 9mm six shot group Critical Defense

This is a six shot group from the Rock Ultra at 15 yards, standing unsupported. It’s slightly longer than the OAL of the cartridge. There’s no question that the Rock Island and Hornady Critical Defense make an extremely accurate pairing. Standard FMJ also did pretty well, turning in some strong bullseye strings like this:

Rock Ultra FS 9mm 20 shots timed fire 25 yards

20 shots, timed fire (5 shots in 20 seconds) at 25 yards? I’ll definitely take that. Only two out of the black, and both of those were called shots.

Now before we get further, I need to talk about bias here. I said during the Taurus test that I wanted the Taurus to be good, because I wanted to live in a world where a 500 dollar 1911 could get a better grade than D. I feel the same way about this gun, but even moreso because I’ve had prior positive experience with Rock Island guns; and because the Rock Island/Armscor people I know are genuinely cool people. So I want this gun to be good. I’ll admit that I was wrong in the video about the price point, I can find them only for $650 but nothing like $500. That’s my bad. However, $650 makes it more affordable than the Range Officer by $100-$200 bucks, and that’s no joke.

Initial results? Positive. I’m pretty optimistic about where this test is going to go. We’re 256 rounds in with 1744 to go, and I’m genuinely excited about seeing what happens next.

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FAST Drill with the Springfield Armory Range Officer

The RO is over 1500 rounds now, and after being generously lubed and politely talked to, it made it an entire range session without a malfunction. Although the pin I noticed walking on a previous test continues to wander around, which is quite annoying. Here’s me running the FAST Test with the RO.

With regards to training, I’ve been focusing lately on working from my actual concealment rig; which means AIWB with a closed front garment. I’m ashamed to say I haven’t practiced with this set up nearly as often as I should, and it shows in my training. My draws are nothing spectacular, pretty pedestrain 1.50s to a headshot, but oh my lord my reloads are ass. Just hot, wretched ass for days and days. The best reload I pulled today was a 2.26. Mind you, with an open front concealment garment, I could get sub-2.00 reloads all day long and when I was hot could even get in the 1.5s. But this closed front thing? It’s the worst. Yes, it doesn’t help that I’m trying to reload a single stack without a magazine funnel on it, trust me I know.

I’ve wanted a FAST Coin for a long time. The last time I had a whack at one, I turned in a decent time in the mid-sixes, good enough for the Wall, but not good enough for a coin. Then it slipped from my focus for a while, and then I took all of last year off from shooting. Now I’m back behind the gun and training hard again, and it feels good. I’ve pushed my raw shooting skills back to where they were around 2011-2012 when I was at the peak of my game. With some more work I should be able to get consistent with my reloads from concealment again. Since Ernie Langdon has taken over the FAST torch from Todd, I might even have a chance.

9mm is the best caliber for the 1911

The 1911 is probably the most iconic handgun design ever. No pistol in history has done more – from battlefield to CCW to every single flavor of competition, there are 1911s. It’s just a great gun. It’s also at its finest when it’s chambered in a cartridge it wasn’t originally designed for: 9mm. Now, before you come burn my house down, hear me out because there’s a method to my madness. Yes, I know that it’s harder to make a 9mm 1911 run right than a .45. Yes, I know that the 1911 was originally designed for the .45 ACP cartridge, and that saying it’s better when chambered in 9mm is tantamount to heresy. But it’s heresy like Galileo’s heresy, because I’m actually right.

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Let’s look at defensive uses first: we know for a fact that there’s no difference in terminal performance between .45 ACP and 9mm (cue the ballistards), so there’s no point in giving up 2-3 rounds of ammunition capacity, right? If you can carry more, do it. A 1911 with 11 rounds of 9mm on tap has 122% of the firepower of a .45 ACP with 9 rounds in it, and if that kind of made up number doesn’t change your mind, try this: 8 rounds of 185 grain JHP weighs 1480 grains, but 11 rounds of 147 grain 9mm JHP weighs 1617 grains. THAT’S MORE GRAINS! ALL ABOARD THE GRAIN TRAIN!

To bring things back to reality, consider ease of shooting. Everyone regards 1911s as being wonderfully easy to shoot, thanks to what are still some of the finest ergonomics ever found on a handgun. So what happens when you dump that uneccessarily large cartridge that doesn’t offer any performance advantages in favor of a light weight, soft shooting 9mm that works just as well? You get a gun that’s so stupid easy to shoot well it’s almost criminal. Honestly, one of my favorite things about testing all these 9mm 1911s is how easy they are to shoot. They’re heavy, they soak up what little recoil there is; and it’s really just a good old time.

Lastly, consider the following: in every single other platform, 9mm is better. 9mm Glocks? Best Glocks. 9mm sub-guns? Best sub-guns. So why not 1911s? Besides, think about this. When John Moses Browning designed his next pistol, he designed the gun that he would have made if the Army hadn’t insisted on certain design parameters. What was the result? A double stack 9mm pistol. Sure, the Belgians gayed it up with that magazine disconnect, but otherwise it’s perfect. Just like the 1911 in 9mm.

Springfield Armory RO 9mm 1911 malfunction

The 100 round challenge is a function test I came up with a while ago to see how well a gun would operate if you got it, well pretty hot. Shooting 100 rounds through a pistol as fast as you can load is a good way to do that, and it can also be a fun test of your endurance. Here’s video of the me running the Springfield Armory Range Officer through the 100 round challenge…which it failed.

At 3 minutes into the video I experienced an unusual malfunction, where the gun returned partially to battery, but not all the way. When the trigger was pulled, the hammer fell to the half-cock notch, causing me to believe I’d had a light primer hit. It wasn’t attended I attempted to clear the gun and it was locked up tight that I realized I had something else entirely. The round in question had the correct dimensions, and successfully chambered and fired after clearing the gun. This was the second time that range session I’d had issues with the gun not returning to battery. After conferring with a well known 1911 expert, he let me know that this problem is commonly caused by a slide stop that isn’t quite correct, and the best fix is to replace it immediately. I’ve ordered a new slide stop from Brownells, and as a precaution some additional recoil springs as well.

However, because this is part that needs to be replaced at the armorer level; it is a -5 deduction for the gun. That brings the 1911 RO’s current score down to 78/100, which is still a respectable C+. With just a bit over 500 rounds left in the test, we’ll see where things go from here.