By: Austin Knudsen
Apparently I am the only person in the U.S. not impressed by the Springfield Armory Range Officer. I’m a 1911 aficionado, having owned my first 1911A1 at age 18. About a year ago decided I wanted (no, needed) a 9mm target pistol.
I own several 9mm pistols, but nothing that qualifies as a “target” pistol. So, when a friend offered his new-in-the-box Range Officer 9mm for sale, I pounced. We struck a deal and I walked away thinking I had just filled my “target 9mm” niche with the ideal platform: a full-sized, loaded 1911 with target sights.
Turns out I was wrong.
The Springfield Armory Range Officer is an impressive looking package. The pistol comes in a handsome lockable hard case, complete with Springfield Armory polymer paddle holster, polymer double magazine carrier, two 9-round magazines, and a cable lock. The pistol looks great, and comes almost “fully loaded,” to use Springfield’s own terminology.
The Ranger Officer is upgraded from a basic 1911A1 to include a beavertail grip safety, flat mainspring housing, extended single-side thumb safety, skeletonized trigger, flared-and-lowered ejection port, a stainless steel “match” barrel, stainless steel “match” bushing, handsome cocobolo wood double-diamond grips, and excellent adjustable target sights.
Springfield Armory opted for a traditional short recoil spring guide and plug on the Range Officer, as opposed to a full-length guide rod system. The Range Officer comes with a flat matte parkerized finish (more on that below), or it can be had in stainless steel.
Springfield aggressively marketed the Range Officer, and billed it as a competition-ready 1911, without the custom 1911 price tag. From a looks standpoint, SA nailed it with the RO.
Everything about this gun exudes business. It looks like something that the Army Marksmanship Unit turned out for Camp Perry: a no-nonsense, fully set-up target pistol that has everything you need to knock down steel or shoot bullseyes, and no silly additional window dressing.
The Range Officer comes with an excellent adjustable rear sight…
and a crisp, clearly visible front sight.
Note that the latest version of the 9mm 1911 Range Officer has a fiber optic front sight (as well as a rail) and MSRP’s for about $100 more than this one.
As I said, the Range Officer looks impressive. As Springfield bills the gun . . .
When we introduced the 1911 Range Officer® for the competitive shooter, we were surprised at the response. Serious shooters who care about the details welcomed the precision features that made the Range Officer® perform far beyond its price tag.
However, I had some concerns before I ever shot it.
I’m no expert, but I’ve owned and been around enough 1911s that, to paraphrase Jay-Z, I know a little bit. First, my Range Officer’s grip safety was fitted poorly. Not as bad as others I’d seen, and not that it wasn’t functional, but it was quite sloppy laterally.
Second, the sear spring was weak. I could feel this simply by gripping the pistol and depressing the grip safety. Maybe the grip safety “leaf” on the sear spring could be slightly tweaked to put more spring resistance against the grip safety, but it seems to me that a cheap sear spring is not the place to save money on a 1911, especially one that is billed as “competition-ready.”
A quality sear spring from a reputable manufacturer such as Wilson Combat, Ed Brown, Cylinder & Slide, or Wolff can be had for less than eight bucks. And let’s be honest: Springfield Armory makes a lot of 1911s, some quite expensive. I would expect a manufacturer on this level to install properly specified springs.
Third, the parkerized finish. I get that this finish is economical, and is one of the cost-saving measures used by Springfield Armory to keep the Range Officer’s retail price down, so this one can be forgiven. But personally, I am murder on parkerized finishes because I have sweaty hands.
I’ve owned parkerized pistols (notice the past tense), and I’ve resigned myself to the fact that my parkerized guns have to be Cerakoted because I WILL wear that parkerized finish down to the bare steel, after a fairly short amount of time and handling. Your mileage may vary, but this is a fact for me.
Finally, the trigger. My Range Officer’s trigger is quite mediocre. It has two distinct “stages” before reaching the wall, and a fair amount of creep before breaking. Combined with a 5 to 5 ½ pound pull weight, the Range Officer’s trigger was certainly not what I expect out of a target/competition 1911.
I know, target 1911 triggers require hand-fitting, which raises the cost of the pistol. I get it. But I own a stock Kimber Custom, a similarly set up “factory custom” 1911, that has a magnificent factory trigger in it.
If Springfield Armory was serious about a target/competition-ready 1911, they would spend a little more time on that trigger. Bottom line: it’s impossible to fully realize a pistol’s accuracy potential when that pistol has a poor trigger.
Normally, I run a multitude of loads through a pistol when accuracy and function testing. However, I purchased my Range Officer specifically for target shooting, so I opted not to test any hollow point defensive ammunition. This isn’t a pistol that I’m going to carry for self-defense, and I’m not shooting expensive hollow point ammunition at steel and paper targets.
So, I tested four different full metal jacket (FMJ) or plated loads through the Range Officer: 1) American Eagle 147 grain flat point FMJ; 2) PMC Bronze 115 grain FMJ; 3) Blazer Brass 115 grain FMJ; and 4) a hand load consisting of a Rocky Mountain Reloading 115 grain plated bullet propelled by 4.6 grains of Bullseye.
All groups were fired by me at 20 yards, sitting with the pistol resting on a sandbag. A sixth round was loaded into each magazine, to maintain consistent pressure on the bottom of the chamber (if you believe in such things). The results, from best to worst:
- American Eagle 147 grain flat point FMJ. This heavy-bullet target load put up a 2 7/8-inch five-shot group at 20 yards.
- Handload consisting of a RMR 115 grain plated bullet, 4.6 grains Bullseye. A near tie with the top spot, the author’s bulk reload put up a 3-inch five-shot group at 20 yards.
- PMC Bronze 115 grain FMJ. This usually well-performing factory practice load put up a disappointing nearly 4-inch group.
- Bringing up the rear (as it does in EVERY accuracy test I use it in) is the Blazer Brass 115 grain FMJ, with a 6-inch five-shot group. I’ve literally never seen this load shoot a good group, in seven different 9mm pistol tests.
So, in four different practice/target loads, the Range Officer 9mm could barely shoot a sub-three-inch group. This is unacceptable to me for a target/bullseye competition gun, particularly when it’s advertised as such. I’d hardly be happy with this kind of accuracy performance from a duty/service pistol.
I really hoped to see neat, tight sub-two inch (or better) groups out of the Range Officer, a pistol billed as having a “match” barrel and bushing. But I’m pretty sure I could beat these groups with my GLOCK 19.
Accuracy testing pistols is all relative, and you have to compare apples to apples. I’m willing to accept 3-4 inch groups at 20 yards from a defensive or duty pistol. Those types of pistols are mass-produced and designed for reliability, often at the expense of tack-driving accuracy.
Generally speaking, service pistols only need to shoot minute-of-bad-guy at longer distances.
But I’m not willing to accept such performance from a pistol that bills itself as a competition/target pistol, as the Range Officer does. It was foolish of me to expect tack-driving accuracy from a sub-$1,000 1911. I know better. That kind of performance requires hours of hand-fitting, which adds to the cost of the pistol.
I give Springfield Armory credit: they hit a home run in marketing the Range Officer, and they sell a boatload of them. But don’t kid yourself: you’re not going to buy a Range Officer and be competitive at a bullseye competition (assuming you have the requisite skill).
I’ll use a car analogy: if a Wilson Combat/Ed Brown/Les Baer/Nighthawk 1911 is a Ford Mustang Shelby GT350, the Range Officer is the Ford Pony. From the outside, the Pony may look like the Shelby, but that V-6 under the Pony’s hood simply can’t compete with the Shelby’s big V-8.
SPECIFICATIONS: Springfield Armory 1911 Range Officer
Sights: Fully adjustable black target front and rear
Weight: (with empty magazine) 41 oz.
Slide: Forged carbon steel
Frame: Forged carbon steel
Barrel: 5″ stainless steel match grade, fully supported ramp
Grips: double diamond cocobolo
Magazines: two 9-round
MSRP: $945 (about $899 retail)
Ratings (out of five stars):
Ergonomics * * * * *
Nothing feels more natural in my hand than a 1911. All controls are where I want them, and they are completely second nature to me. Some users prefer ambidextrous thumb safeties; I’ve carried a 1911 enough that I’m not one of those users. I would prefer front strap checkering and an undercut trigger guard, however both of those are niceties that would add to the price tag.
Cosmetics * * * *
The Range Officer looks great. The rollmarks on the slide aren’t too “billboard-y”, and there is nothing to upset the sublime lines of John Moses Browning’s masterpiece. The nicely-executed wood grips compliment the gun. I only deduct a star because of the dull, flat, parkerized finish.
Again, accuracy is relative. Were this a service pistol, I probably would have been more forgiving and given it more stars. But I’ve shot multiple 9mm service pistols that deliver better accuracy than the Range Officer. I also own a few other similarly priced 1911s from competitors, chambered in .45ACP, that outshoot the Range Officer. To me, if you are going to market a pistol as a target and competition pistol, it had damned well better be accurate. And 3 to 6-inch groups don’t cut it. I’m at a stage in my handgunning career where I know I can shoot better than my Range Officer is capable of delivering. And that makes shooting the Range Officer no fun.
Trigger * *
Again, were I reviewing a 1911 intended for defense or service duty, I’d be more lenient. But for a pistol advertised for competition, the Range Officer’s trigger is sadly lacking. Stagey, creepy, and a heavier pull weight than should be in a target 1911 make shooting this pistol accurately difficult. Aside from the barrel build and lockup, the trigger is the most important ingredient in a firearm’s accuracy. Bottom line: if the trigger sucks, you can’t shoot it accurately.
Reliability * * * * *
I had no reliability issues with the Range Officer at all. Granted, I have only put a few hundred rounds through it, and no hollowpoints. I have no notion of how/if the original owner broke the gun in, but from the looks of the pistol and discussions with him, I would say not.
Overall: * * * ½ Stars
I was disappointed in my Range Officer 9mm. I had really hoped Springfield Armory would deliver on its promise of a no-frills, all business, full-size 1911 ready for competition and target shooting out of the box. But the Range Officer is not that pistol. Colonel Townsend Whelen said that “only accurate rifles are interesting.” That goes for pistols too. And the Springfield Armory Range Officer is definitely not interesting.