By Jason Bayne
As a 1911 fan and daily carrier, when Browning first introduced the 1911-380 and 1911-22 a few years back I was intrigued. I wasn’t sure if these were practical guns or more of a novelty. I did a little research and read the reviews I could find about them, but the price seemed a little much for something that may be nothing more than a novelty for me.
Browning sells quality firearms, which is why their firearms are generally on the more expensive side compared to similar models from other manufacturers. For the premium you pay for a Browning firearm there is no doubt you can expect to get a gun that is very nicely machined with excellent fit and finish.
Over the last few months I have started to see what I consider very good deals on many of the Browning 1911 variants in both .22LR and .380 Auto. When I saw I could pick up a 1911-22 for around $350, I decided it was finally time to see if one of these mini 1911 pistols were worth adding to my collection. So, I ordered the 1911-.22 pictured below. It’s the compact version of the 1911-22 with the 3.6” barrel.
My 1911-22 originally came with a standard non-threaded barrel. I contacted Browning’s parts department and found out I could buy a threaded barrel directly from them for around $150 delivered.
While I have many .22LR hosts for my several .22 suppressors, I couldn’t resist being able to see how well the Browning would do with a can.
Let’s just say it did well enough to inspire me to order one of Browning’s center-fire .380 ACP pistols for around $100 more than I paid for the rimfire .22LR version.
Though scaled down to 85% of the size of the original 1911, other than the polymer frame, Browning’s 1911 pistols designed for the .380 ACP cartridge are true clones of John Browning’s iconic 1911 .45 ACP pistol right down to the internal extractor and leaf spring in the trigger system.
I was very impressed that Browning stayed true to the original design because I know they could have easily cut corners and simplified the manufacturing process by using an external extractor or a simplified trigger system; but, they didn’t.
Like the .22LR model, the .380 ACP pistol is available in two barrel lengths; the compact has a 3.6” barrel and the full-size has a 4.25” barrel. I decided to go with the full-size 1911-380 Black Label Pro Speed model.
Though the grip of the Browning 1911 is 85% smaller than JMB’s 1911 grip, it feels great in my hand. The grip angle is 100% the same as the original, so the pistol points and handles just as naturally as its big brother.
Those with smaller hands will probably find that the lighter and more svelte Browning 1911 handle feels better in their hand than the original. At a mere 18 ounces, the 1911-380 weighs about half of the typical full-sized 1911 .45 ACP. (The .22lr version weighs a scant 14 ounces).
I suspect had Browning made these diminutive 1911s out of all steel parts (frame, grip safety, thumb safety, mainspring housing) it would probably weigh close to 30 ounces. Part of me wishes they did make an all steel version.
While I have no doubt the polymer frame and the cast, MIM, and aluminum small parts are of good quality and can handle whatever stress they endure during firing, the 1911 purist in me would love an all-steel version. One can always dream.
Like most modern 1911 .45 ACP magazines, the 1911-380 single-stack steel magazine holds 8 rounds. The pistol comes with two mags from the factory. That’s a good thing because factory replacement magazines are fairly pricey with an MSRP of $45.99. Fortunately, it seems they can easily be found online in the twenty-dollar range. I paid $22 each for the spare mags I bought when I ordered my pistol online.
The Browning webstore not only sells spare magazines for their 1911 pistols, they have a few solid holster options for these pistols as well, including a nice leather IWB holster, and a compact Kydex OWB holster with a Tek-Loc adapter to attach the holster to your belt.
I ordered the leather IWB ($79.99) holster and can attest it’s a very well-made, quality unit. I also had Tucker Gunleather make one of their excellent DC-2 Holsters for the pistol. I’m partial to the Tucker DC-2 or Cover-Up Plus for all my carry guns because it’s the only IWB holster I know that is easily adjustable for both cant and ride height.
The one thing Browning doesn’t offer are replacement sights for the 1911 series of pistols. Unfortunately, no one else seems to offer them for these pistols either. The factory sights are actually quite nice. They’re modern, all steel, three-dot combat sights.
The rear sight has a tactical ledge so you can rack the steel buckmark-stamped steel slide on almost any surface one-handed. Both the front and rear sights are inserted into the slide via the dovetails that are machined into the slide. That makes sight removal and installation fairly simple.
The problem is three-dot sights don’t work well for me…there are two dots too many as far as I’m concerned. I prefer a blacked out rear sight and a fiber optic front sight on my defensive pistols. I will even settle for a tritium front sight, or a set of Straight 8s.
I will never understand how the firearms industry settled on the three-dot set up as the industry standard. Bottom-line, if you like 3-dot sights, you’ll be very happy with the factory sights. If you prefer night sights, Browning offers 3-dot tritium night sights as an option on some of their production 1911-380 pistols.
The one concern I had before shooting the 1911-380 was the same concern I have with all .380 auto pistols; what kind of recoil experience would I be in for? Straight blowback .380 semi-automatic pistols usually have relatively harsh recoil (Walther PPK), while locked-breech .380 pistols tend to have fairly mild recoil (GLOCK 42).
In my .380 experience, the difference between blowback and locked-breech operation is so pronounced that it’s hard to believe I’m shooting two guns in the same caliber. Since the 1911 fires from a locked-breech, and the Browning is a 1911 clone, I was hoping the recoil would be fairly tame. Because less recoil means faster, more accurate follow-up shots.
Right after I picked up the pistol from my local FFL dealer, I took it out of the box and bag it came in, field-stripped, cleaned and lubed it the same way I clean and lube all of my 1911 pistols. I reassembled the pistol, grabbed a bunch of Remington UMC 95gr FMJ and some Hornady Critical Defense 95gr and headed to the range.
Not only did I find the recoil of this little 18 oz. pistol to be mild, it was surprisingly mild.
I very easily could have packed my bag after firing the first 16 rounds from the mini .380 1911 and been very satisfied with the performance of the pistol. But I continued to test it with a variety of ammo to see what it would do.
The 1911-380’s super-mild recoil combined with the naturally excellent ergonomics of the 1911 design makes the 1911-380 an absolute joy to shoot. The single action only pistol‘s trigger is exactly what you’d expect from 1911…light and crisp. It’s incredibly easy to produce nice, tight groups with this gun within 10 yards. It’s fired all the rounds I’ve fed it flawlessly, without incident.
I’m not a fan of tiny guns, and the 1911-380 is not a tiny gun. In my experience the tiny pocket .380 Autos currently available on the market are unpleasant to shoot, difficult to manipulate because the controls are so small, and hard to shoot consistently well from shot to shot. As a result, they don’t make good range guns because they are not that much fun to practice with. That’s why I personally have no interest in owning a defensive pistol any smaller in size than the 1911-380.
Simply, the Browning 1911-380 semi-auto pistol is a lot of fun and extremely easy to shoot well. I know I can consistently hit what I’m aiming at from shot to shot, no matter how quickly I have to pull the trigger.
While I generally don’t like to carry a gun chambered in a round smaller than a 9mm, in certain situations it’s necessary. In those situations, I wouldn’t hesitate to strap on my 1911-380 and head out the door. This pistol would be a great option for those with smaller hands looking for a lighter weight, easier-recoiling handgun.
Note that my 1911-380 Black Label Pro Speed was a limited run model that is no longer in production. But Browning makes a dozen similar models in both compact and full-length version with various combinations of features.
Specifications: Browning 1911-380 Black Label Pro Speed
Caliber: .380 ACP
Capacity: 8 rounds
Overall Length: 7.5″
Barrel Length: 4.25″
Weight: 18 oz.
Finish: ATACS-AU camo frame and grips, matte black receiver and slide
MSRP: $700 (about $600 retail)
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style and Appearance * * * * *
Come on, it’s a 1911. Is there a better looking handgun? Anywhere?
Customization * *
Other than grips, there isn’t a huge aftermarket for parts and accessories.
Reliability * * * * *
Accuracy * * * *
I had no problem shooting 2” and smaller groups within 10 yards unsupported. I would imagine with more practice I can cut group size noticeably. I’m certainly going to try.
Overall * * * *
Whether you’re a fan of 1911 pistols or not, this gun is a joy to shoot and very easy to carry concealed. Its light recoil and excellent trigger make it a great option for those who don’t want to carry something bigger and heavier for self-defense. You can’t go wrong with any of the Browning 1911 pistols.