The Rock Island Armory Tac Ultra Series 1911 is a unicorn: an affordable well-made handgun in an attractive package. I took me several years to get my hands on one, and now I can’t put it down. It is my ideal carry gun in .45 ACP.
I carried a full sized Para Ordnance for many years so larger guns don’t bother me providing that I have a high quality belt and holster. But this thing is a monster of a handgun. When I compared it to my beloved P-14 it is actually not bigger in its overall dimensions, but it feels bigger. It has a full length rail system under the barrel, and an extended magazine well to facilitate faster reloads. Those little details make the 2011 feel significantly larger. The full length rail system does make for another problem though; I have not found a quality holster to fit it but I am having a custom concealment holster made at a local shop, that is a tale for another day.
Now to be blunt, I expected to get this pistol and have it be a project gun due to the price point, and I was simply shocked when I unboxed it. It is built like a tank and the small parts on it are actually very good. In the day and age when many manufacturers (even upper end manufacturers) are going to MIM parts to save a few pennies I was thrilled to see that the safeties and slide lock were all machined steel. Now I was sitting there with a box of some of the best 1911 parts available made by Greider Precision, but when I did an armorers level take down on it I was happy to see that I really didn’t need to replace anything for the sake of reliability and so those parts went back in the bin for another project.
The G10 Grips on the Tac Ultra are quite aggressive. They are also VERY thin so as not to make the grip any bigger than it absolutely needs to be. I found the grips to be quite strong though when I took them off the gun and have no concerns about them breaking in the future with hard use. The front strap is serrated but not checkered which would have been a nice touch and something I may add in the future if I begin to customize it. The main spring housing is not arched and is aggressively checkered with 20 lines per inch. Topping that off is an extended beaver tail safety. Finally, there is a beveled mag well to facilitate faster and smoother reloads.
The trigger is a skeletonized aluminum trigger and is adjustable. When the trigger breaks it is crisp and clean with no over travel. The trigger breaks at 4.5lbs with my ancient trigger weights, and the reset distance is a whopping 1/16th of an inch.
The sights on the front are a red fiber optic which makes picking it up quite fast. The rear sights are adjustable for elevation and windage and have two white dots. I will eventually replace them with night sights and a tritium and fiber optic front eventually for carry.
The slide has cocking serrations front and rear to facilitate a press check and releasing the slide to chamber a new round when reloading. The slide stop is normal sized and checkered, but since it is an administrative tool for locking the slide open or take down, it doesn’t need to be any bigger. The RIA logo is small and located at the very rear on the left side..
The Tac Ultra has an extended and serrated ambidextrous safety which is also quite beefy and aggressive. I have no concerns with these breaking off as I have seen with MIM safeties on guns costing more than twice as much. The mag release is slightly over sized to make mag releases a bit easier on a gun this size.
The most distinctive feature on this pistol, and the one that is causing problems for finding a holster for it is the full length rail system. My P-14 has a half-length rail and that always worked fine for mounting a light, but this looks so much better. And it opens up the variety of light systems you can mount to it.
As I said, I was pretty surprised when I opened the box and when I cleaned the shipping lube off of it and cycled the slide I was really impressed. The slide to frame fit is nice and tight with very little play between the two. And it is smooth as glass when you cycle the slide. The barrel locks into the slide firmly and cleanly, and is nice and tight in the slide and barrel bushing. I simply could not wait to shoot it!
I did not do anything to prep it for a trip to the range, I just grabbed a bunch of ammo and loaded it up. I shot everything from Wolf steel cased to all manner of hollow points and ball ammo on my initial trip to the range but it was only about 200 rounds. For an extended session, Armscor was kind enough to send me a few hundred rounds of their ball and JHP ammo and the gun had no issues with feeding either type, though I did get two failures to ejects with the ball ammo. The Armscor ammo shoots well for practice and it was surprisingly clean, so shooting lots of it in practice or during a class will make for an easy cleanup. Overall, we put about 500 rounds of Armscor and other miscellaneous through the gun with zero issues other than the two FTE I mentioned. I am anxiously awaiting the local contact to buy more of this ammo as I think it will be my ammo of choice for range tests and personal stockpiles.
The small issues I noticed during shooting it the first time were the hard edges one the safeties and where the frame meets the beaver tail and they became more pronounced issues the second time. Now I love the extended beaver tail because I have meaty hands and always get “hammer bite” with government models, but there are some pretty sharp edges back there that seem to meet the joints of my fingers perfectly. On the other hand, the main spring housing and its aggressive checkering really do a fine job of keeping the gun in place in your hand.
Now we all have our favorites in the gun world and the 1911 vs. Glock debate will never die. But I like the 1911 because I grew up shooting one and it points wonderfully for me; which in reality is much more of an important issue than what design it is. And this did not disappoint in how easily it lined up on target when I pushed out into my firing stance.
So how did it shoot? Really well. The recoil is smooth and there is no readily noticeable slamming of the slide on the frame. I took a newer shooter with much smaller hands than myself with me and met with one of my friends that works at my local gun store of choice and they both liked the way it shot. Even with her smaller hands my new shooter friend did better than she does with her FNP-9, and now she wants to try one of the RIA single stack 1911’s. Both also had issues with the rough edges like I did, but were very impressed with how smoothly the gun shoots and how well it points onto the target.
The other issue I found was really minor, getting the mags out during range time is a bit slow because the mags fit flush with the extended mag well. During reloads the mag well makes the process really smooth and fast and if I was on a dirt range or self-defense situation I would have flicked the mag well towards the center line to eject the mag and make for a faster reload. But on an indoor range I did not want to risk the mag falling in front of the firing line for the obvious safety reasons. So I will remedy this issue by putting extended base plates on the range mags (any base plate for the Para mags will work as the gun feed from my Para mags just fine). A simple fix, but a good issue to be aware of none the less.
I am very pleased with the Tac Ultra Series! This will become my next project gun and probably my preferred daily carry, but I am like that; I have to customize everything it seems and I will do an article on those changes in an upcoming article. But for an out of the box for a reliable, accurate and well-made firearm, I could not be more pleased with it and can recommend it for a self-defense gun or just a pleasant to shoot addition to your collection.