There has been a recent surge in firearms-related gear coming out of Israel. Starting with our readers’ choice as the best new rifle of 2013 (the Tavor) and continuing with some of Robert’s favorite people [insert Israeli supermodel of the day here], Israel has really been pumping out good looking and finely functioning exports lately. One of the latest Israeli products to hit the shores of the United States is the BUL series of handguns, and I was given a 9mm Commander version to test out . . .
The BUL line of handguns has actually been imported into the United States for some time now, but always under someone else’s brand. From Kimber to Charles Daly, the guns have been in circulation for years but never under their own flag. This latest importation arrangement is being undertaken by Battle Ready International, but the product remains the same.
The general design is very recognizably that of a 1911 handgun, but there are some major variations from the original design at work here.
Difference #1 is something you probably already spotted: a polymer frame. Instead of the all-metal construction common to the 1911 platform, the polymer grips allow for a somewhat slimmer design and better texturing on the outside surfaces. I say somewhat slimmer because the total size is smaller compared to what it would be if you had a standard metal frame with grip panels, but the nature of the polymer material means that you need a thicker application compared to a metal frame design. So it’s kind of a trade off, but in the end the polymer frame is about the same overall size as your standard double stack polymer handgun.
Despite the “slim” grip size, the gun is still on the chubby side. Like the Eric Cartman of 1911s — not fat, just big-boned. It makes the gun nice to grip, but will make concealing the thing a little more of a challenge. This specific model is marketed to the concealed carry crowd thanks to the shorter Commander-length barrel, but I gave up on concealing double stack handguns around the time I graduated from college. Some people can pull it off somehow. Robocop style, maybe? Anyway, I can’t do it. Which is why I stick with my single stack 1911.
While the frame is mostly polymer, the parts that matter are all steel. The slide rails and the inner chassis are steel, much like that of a GLOCK or FN USA FNS-9, giving extra rigidity to the gun where it counts. The external safeties are also metal, including both the grip and ambidextrous thumb safeties.
Difference #2 is the barrel. There is no barrel bushing on this “1911,” and instead the outer diameter of the barrel fits flush with the inner diameter of the slide. This arrangement is much more accurate than the barrel bushing method could ever be, which is great for a competition or self defense gun. However it makes field stripping the gun a pain in the butt.
In order to take the gun down, you need to use a paper clip. Yes, a paperclip. When you bring the slide back to the locked position, there’s a small hole in the recoil guide rod. You put the paper clip in there, and it keeps the recoil spring compressed and in place while the gun is disassembled. You could skip this step, but that makes disassembly a little more difficult. Wilson Combat also uses the bushing-free barrel design on their 1911 handguns, but they figured out a way to make it work without needing any tools for takedown. I get the feeling BUL could have done something similar, but they didn’t.
Moving towards the other end of the gun, the fit and finish on the controls is great. The safety feels smooth and rounded, much nicer to handle than the sharp and jagged safeties on Springfield’s down-market 1911 models. Actually, the safeties as well as the hammer all look like Wilson Combat parts — or at least pretty good knock-offs. I ain’t complaining.
Speaking of fit and finish, the trigger is pretty good. There’s a hair of creep that I detect every now and again, but it might just be my mind playing tricks on me. I clock it at a 4 pound pull with my trigger gauge, maybe a smidge more.
The sights on the gun are a set of standard target sights, which makes it great for precision shooting but less than ideal for combat shooting. A nice 3-dot setup would probably be better if you intend to drop some tangos with your new 1911, but it works. Actually, speaking of Wilson Combat, a nice fiber-optic front sight would be a welcome addition to the M-5.
Despite the added girth of a double stack magazine in a polymer frame, the gun feels pretty good in the hand. Some 1911 grips can feel too small, but this was perfect for wrapping my big bear-sized mitts around. People with smaller hands might find it a little large for comfort, though.
Out on the range, the results are good. This six-round group from 10 yards shows one flier outside the otherwise 1-inch group that’s probably more a result of me being a little rusty with my pistol work than a flaw in the firearm itself, so I’m happy with the accuracy.
Firing the gun feels great, too. The added weight of the bull barrel means that there’s more mass at the front of the handgun, and therefore reduced muzzle rise. The size of the grips also allow me to soak up that recoil with ease, not that there’s very much to begin with in 9mm. The end result is an accurate gun with very reasonable recoil. That allows for some quick transitions between targets and great double-tap capabilities with solid A-zone hits.
I do have one complaint: BUL’s magazines. Most mags have witness holes that lets you know how many rounds you have loaded, but these are literally black boxes. You load until you can’t load no more, and that’s right around 18 rounds. Not a dealbreaker, but being able to check that all your magazines are topped up is something that makes moving from stage to stage in a competition much easier.
It looks to me like the BUL handguns are designed and marketed to be a downmarket version of STI’s pistols. Slightly downmarket, that is — the BUL clocks in at $1,475 compared to the nearly identical STI handgun at $2,100+. The problem there is that the market for STI handguns is already relatively small, and getting smaller every year. Everyone from competition shooters to self defense instructors are gradually moving away from the 1911 design and towards the polymer-framed striker-fired handguns that have taken over in almost every application. Those who need the high-speed low-drag awesomeness of a 1911 are willing to pay for the top of the line brand, and everyone else seems content with their GLOCK, M&P or FNS. The M-5 Commander may be a little late to the party and kind of a ‘tweener, but it definitely has some interesting features.
Specifications: BUL M-5 Commander
Magazine: Custom 18+1
Ratings (out of five stars):
Accuracy: * * * *
Good enough for me. Not the most accurate ever, but good enough.
Ergonomics: * * * *
The grip is a little on the large side, but otherwise it works.
Ease of Use: * *
I thought the last handgun to require tools to disassemble was made in the 1990’s. Guess I was wrong. Very retro, and kind of a pain in the butt.
Reliability: * * * * *
Zero complaints. The gun ran fine through a couple hundred rounds of ammo without cleaning.
Custom magazines, custom frame, no attachment points. It fits in some 1911 holsters and uses common sights, but that’s about it.
Overall Rating: * * * 1/2
It’s a cool double stack 1911, but I fear that the double stack 1911 fad has come and gone. Like about three fads ago. I prefer my FNS-9 for competition and a much slimmer gun for concealed carry, but some people might like it. Final rating of 3.5 is (according to our rubric) an okay gun for the money.