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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Colt New Agent 45 acp 1911: American Gun Review

Ok, so in recent years I have published in various places maybe a dozen reviews of books dealing in some way or another with American Gun Culture.  Maybe it's about time to start reviewing American Guns.  So here is the first of a series.

In all cases I will review guns having primarily social applications, mainly handguns.  My reviews will be practical and useful. I am not a shill for any company. No one pays me to advertise.  And I will not simply repeat the cant and truisms that one sees echoed in so many reviews of guns.   If I review it, this means that I have used it.

This was my Spring 2014 firearm purchase:

45 acp Colt New Agent, 3 inch barrel. (The guitar pick is for scale.) 

The pistol was equipped with two 7 rd. Colt magazines.  Its most interesting feature, beside small size and light weight, is perhaps its trench sight.   Never having before used such a sight, I was anxious to try it and did so more or less immediately.  

8 yards, one handed, fast shooting, WW ball ammo from Walmart

As you can see, it works.  It works well.

The shots to the lower left occurred when I jerked the trigger.  (Incidentally the target was posted upside down, so you are seeing it as I did.)   I found only one aspect of the New Agent distracting, although "odd" might be a better word. Opposed to my usual style/habit of sighting, by peering through the trench sight I had a tendency to see very clearly the X.  This is contrary to habit. I am used to focusing on the sights rather than the target. With the positive iron sight picture that I am used to, I always focus on the front sight, which at this close range essentially covers the X, and then print a group about the size of a half dollar with any 1911 that I own.  The New Agent may require some adjustment on my part.  And maybe I haven' yet properly learned how to use the trench sight.  Now, despite any need for adjustment on my part, the Colt New Agent shoots exactly where you aim it.  Some shooters perhaps won't like this feature because they won't be able to blame the gun or the ammunition for their inability to shoot.   

I am not one of those idiots who is compelled to completely disassemble a gun before shooting it.  My only preparation for shooting the New Agent consisted in putting a few drops of oil on the slide rails, the barrel shroud and the barrel bushing. That's it. If a gun won't shoot as it comes out the of the box from the factory, I have no use for it.  Also, I do not believe in unnecessarily messing with parts and springs.  Especially on social guns. (Target guns are different.) Most so-called gunsmiths in my experience are nothing of the sort and you should hesitate before you trust your social guns to them. One probably needs to be a machinist before one can become a gunsmith, and as these people are not machinists, so they are not gunsmiths, either.  To the contrary, the people at Colt and at Smith & Wesson know well their own business.  Only once or twice in the last 40 years have I encountered a factory handgun that did not shoot far better than virtually any human could hold. And I have fired hundreds. They work well. Even the most ancient Military and Police S&W 38 Special revolver will fire dime-sized groups at 8 to 10 yards with virtually any ammunition. Learn to use them properly. Blame yourself before you blame the gun. 

Right out of the box, I fired about 50 rds. of WW ball without hitch, including trying a full size Colt magazine, which extend below the grip, but which also functioned flawlessly.  I prefer ball and use it for all my social guns. This is partly a function of my"rules" of armed social engagement:
  1. Have a gun.
  2. Avoid gun fighting if at all possible. If this is not possible, call in an airstrike or otherwise evade. 
  3. If you must fire, take care: remember that you cannot call that bullet back. 
  4. The gun must go "Bang." 
  5. Fire one accurate Zen shot. More only if needed. 
  6. Call an attorney. 
Additionally, on a whim I tried some WW 230 grain hollow points in the New Agent and fired two magazines of 7 round each, with a stoppage near the end of the second magazine.  It was caused by the blunt end of the big open cavity coming up against the feed ramp. It cleared easily enough. But that was enough for me.  Ball, henceforth (See rule 4 above).   The hollow points seemed to have more "oomph" than the ball, judged by recoil. I don't care, however, and won't be using them.  If you cannot stop it with ball, then you probably shouldn't be messing with it.  Don't depend on high-priced fancy ammunition.  Depend on accuracy. 

The 3 inch barreled New Agent is slightly snappier recoil-wise than a full size 1911, and also more than the 4.25 inchers that I typically carry (I have S&W 1911-SCs and a Wiley Colt Commander, all excellent, accurate and TOTALLY reliable pistols, through which I have fired many many rounds.)  The New Agent's recoil is acceptable, and certainly not vicious or uncomfortable. Next time I teach a CPL class, I will ask some of the women shooters if they would care to try it and see what they think. 

I especially like the tang of the grip safety which extends perhaps 3/8 to 1/2 inch beyond the rear of the frame and which  is only maybe 1/4 in width, no wider than it needs to be.  This may seem small, but the projection helps it snuggle down into my rather meaty hand, and helps assure that the grip safety is properly depressed. It works quite well when trying to operate the pistol in a hurry. Occasionally I find a 1911 with one of those exaggerated grip safety configurations that seems to do the opposite of what was intended--namely keeping my hand away from the grip and requiring a conscious adjustment of my grip before I could fire the pistol. Not so with the New Agent.    

Also admirable is the simple so-called 1918 manual safety button.  Minimalism pays off in these matters. The manual safety is small and stays out of the way.  I distrust those elaborate ambidextrous, great winged safeties that appear on so many 1911s these days, because they are too easy to accidentally disengage. The only time I want that safety to click off. is when I push it down with the ball of my thumb when about to fire the pistol.  On a target pistol, this doesn't matter so much, because the only time, probably, that the pistol is even loaded is on the range when the range is hot. A social pistol is a different matter, however. A social 1911 is properly carried hot and locked concealed in a suitable holster. By a suitable holster I mean one that covers and protects the trigger.  The grip safety goes down when the pistol is grasped. The manual safety button is pushed off (down) by the thumb when the pistol is extended, and only after that does the trigger finger come into the trigger guard, when a shot is intended or imminent.  As a right-handed shooter I see no reason for an ambidextrous safety because, as I have verified, I can if need be, firing with my left hand, easily bring my left thumb around while the pistol is gripped in my left hand to disengage the safety, still keeping my left index-trigger finger out of the trigger guard and away from the trigger. Left-handers may view this matter differently and might prefer other accommodations.  But for the right-handed social pistol carrier, this minimalistic safety design is ideal. Less is more. 

The New Agent features the Colt 80 series trigger block to avoid inertia type accidental discharges if somehow the pistol is dropped.  In other words, the firing pin is blocked unless the trigger is pulled back to its rearward position in order to unblock it.   This is a good idea.  I like it. Safety rules.   Some purists complain about the 80 series trigger, claiming that it makes achieving a good crisp trigger pull difficult  I don't find this to be true,however, not with other Series 80 guns I have fired and not with the New Agent, either.  The New Agent trigger pull is about 3.5 to 4 pound range, better than any Glock. And it breaks clean. This is not a 50-yard bullseye slow fire gun, in any case. 

My sole reservation about the Series 80 design is that it somewhat complicates the mechanism.  How does it affect function?  I have another Colt Series 80 that I had fired many hundreds of rounds, many of them lead bullet reloads, without cleaning, at which point the gun would go into battery, but the trigger would not break/release. After this happened several times on the same day at the range I investigated. A bit of crud, powder residue it seemed, had interfered with the little lever that pushes the firing pin block out of the way. This little bit of crud defeated the whole system. The gun would not go BANG. I cleaned the gun and it has worked perfectly since.  The lesson here is don't carry or depend on a pistol that is dirty. Especially maybe a Series 80.  But I would never actually carry a gun that was so incredibly dirty. The 70 series, without the block, has the virtue of simplicity. But the 80 series seems safer. Remember Rule 3 above.          
I intend to shoot this gun more before I start to carry it to accustom myself to the sights --or their lack or difference.  But it works and works well.  Right out of the box. A small pistol with 7 + 1 rounds of hardball can be a good and true friend. It also has slim grips and a flat mainspring housing that fit well in the hand and reduce the width and print of the pistol.  
My plan is to order a Kramer holster for the New Agent and also to fire a few hundred rounds of ball through it at various ranges, even 25 yards or more.  While the pistol seems intended for typical ranges at which self defense encounters tend to occur, I will be very surprised if it does not shoot acceptably at longer ranges. I will even try 50 yards, although that is certainly stretching it with the no-profile trench sight. 

My judgement?  Money well spent.  Colt New Agent is everything it needs to be and no more.   You remember what Goldilocks said..."Just right." 

John Moses Browning?  He's now my patron saint. And Colt is his Agent on Earth. 

Post Script 

As promised, I did in fact order a Kramer Holster and have fired at least 100 more rounds of ball ammo through the New Agent. It has performed without a hiccup. It carries well and comfortably. I even cleaned it. 

After getting more accustomed to the trench sight,  I find no difficulty in printing groups at 8 yards as shown below.  These are one-handed unsupported fire at rapid cadences--maybe 5-10 seconds.  I moved back to 25, however, and although I can keep all the rounds on the target, the vertical dispersion in the group is large--maybe 16 inches.  The trench sight seem very sensitive to changes in light conditions.   I will continue to experiment.  But the little bugger shoots reliably and has a very good trigger. 

I tried a couple of other holsters and was (1) not satisfied in one case and (2) alarmed in the other.   The first was a name brand outside or inside the waistband holster.   Cost me about 40-50 bucks.  It was bulky, unnecessarily so. The second was an extremely well made, comfortable inside-the-waistband holster that  had been recommended to me by a firearm instructor I had met at the NRA annual meeting in Indianapolis in April.  

Here is the alarming part, in experimenting by shifting around and trying to carry the gun in an optimal spot, somehow, apparently, the comfortable back-panel tuned off the manual safety. I certainly didn't do it.  I will NEVER carry with that holster. Not ever.  I am oh-so-happy that I found this flaw early and not later. My belief is that the holster is inherently dangerous for a 1911, which my recommender doesn't carry, but the design may work very well with pistols that do not have an exposed manual safety on the left side. My Colt New Agent takes a very solid push to turn off the safety, so the fact that it got turned off is more alarming yet. The lesson: don't just assume your holster is safe because it's beautiful and someone credible sold it to you. Check, recheck and experiment. 

As firearms instructor Chris Cerrano said last summer when I took the FASTER training for armed response by teachers against schools shooters. "All  of us have a bushel basket of holsters at  home that didn't work."  Mine now contains about $110 more of unsatisfactory holsters.  

The Kramer shown below with the pistol carries well, comfortably and safely.    

Colt New Agent 45 acp, Kramer holster, 8-yard, 7 rd. rapid fire group with Federal 230 grain ball