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SIG C3 Compact 1911 .45

By R.K. Campbell

The search for a viable, reliable and compact personal defense pistol that may be easily concealed has reached its zenith with the well designed compact 1911 handgun. The Government Model 1911 is arguably the most proven of service pistols. It is reliable; accurate enough for most uses, and chambers a fight stopping cartridge. Military pistols often become popular for civilian use. These include the Colt Single Action Army, the Colt Army Special and the Colt 1911. The revolvers were made easier to carry and conceal by shortening the barrel. During the past seventy years technology has allowed the maker to not only shorten the slide, barrel and grip of self loaders but to utilize durable and lightweight material in handgun construction. The 1911 is slim enough for concealed carry and by slightly abbreviating the slide and barrel the pistol is made much easier to carry. While many carry lightweight revolvers such as the snubnose .38 and others rely upon ineffectual .380 ACP pistols, those with experience in interpersonal combat eschew such choices. Not only are the small handguns less powerful with limited wound potential, the smaller dimensions make them more difficult to handle quickly. In the opinion of many shooters, SIG has designed a 1911 handgun with the ideal proportions for concealed carry.

The SIG C3 isn’t the smallest SIG but it is among the most compact. The C3 features an aluminum alloy receiver. The barrel and slide are of Commander length – meaning a 4.25 inch barrel. The lockup utilizes a barrel bushing of the original design rather than a belled muzzle. The frame isn’t as tall as a Government Model. By shortening the handle portion of the receiver the C3’s profile is made lower. The shortened butt is less likely to protrude from concealed carry or to print against covering garments. There is some compromise inherent in a concealed carry handgun but the SIG C3 suffers the least of any 1911 compact handguns from these compromises in this author’s opinion.

There are shorter versions of the 1911. However, to convince the shorter guns to operate reliability the barrel bushing is eliminated and the barrel must tilt at a greater angle and recoil proportionately further to the rear than the C3 or a full size Government Model. As a result, reliability may be compromised. The C3 has a shorter sight radius than the Government Model but good shooting may be done with the C3. In a properly designed concealment holster the C3’s slide may be concealed while the butt protrudes little. The operating design is the original 1911 type Browning tilt barrel system of locked breech operation, complete with the original swinging link design. Beginning at the aft position the pistol fits most hands well. The grips are well checkered for good adhesion when firing. They are slightly thinner than most but just the same are comfortable and well suited to concealed carry use. The slide is of the same basic design as any other 1911 but there are differences that are intentional. SIG wished to be certain that the pistol has a SIG appearance that makes it instantly recognizable. When you look into a showcase filled with 1911 handguns it takes concentration to identify the maker. Many are similar. The SIG stands apart. The slide is designed to be distinctive and is similar in outline to the P Series pistol slide. The slide flats extend more than other 1911s. This design renders the SIG unique, however, it also makes it more difficult to holster. Many, but not all, holster makers are up and running with SIG specific holsters. The more tightly fitted the greater the problem. Be certain to specify your 1911 is a SIG when ordering a holster!

The C3 illustrated has been carried in a Ross leather holster from South Africa. Well made of good material the Ross features a holstering welt for easy insertion and reholstering after the piece is drawn. The design assures that the handgun and holster remain stable when carrying the handgun between the shirt and trousers. The C3 was a tight fit but the holster, molded for a Colt Commander, accommodated the SIG. Once this accommodation has been reached the holster will fit the Colt loosely. Always specify that the pistol is a SIG, however, in some cases the holster will adapt to the slide design. offers a number of exceptional quality holsters.

The SIG C3 features Novak low mount sights. These sights are the premier sighting system for handguns and offer a crisp sight picture. A shooter that understands sight alignment and sight picture will make the most of these sights. When firing the pistol, abrasion from the checkered mainspring housing keeps the palm in place. The front strap is also checkered. This keeps the gun secure even with a hand that is cold or sweaty. The trigger is the long type but thankfully without lightening cuts. The pistol is a 1911 in design with two modern features. The pistol features a positive firing pin block or drop safety. This safety keeps the firing pin locked until the trigger is pressed completely to the rear. The other improvement is the proven SIG external extractor.

The SIG features a beavertail grip safety. This design features an enlarged section that assures that the shooter properly depresses the grip safety with a less than perfect hold. Those of us that use the thumbs forward grip style sometimes raise the palm from the grip safety. This activates the safety and locks the trigger. The beavertail safety design is an aid in this regard. The slide lock safety is well designed. It locks into place with a positive indent. Trigger compression is smooth enough at about six pounds. The stainless slide is left in natural finish. This presents a pleasing contrast to the black frame. When examining and disassembling the pistol prior to the firing test, the fit, finish and workmanship were deemed excellent. There were no tool marks apparent in the slide, on the frame or on the barrel. Barrel to slide fit could not be faulted. The heft of the pistol is excellent. While difficult to qualify, this balance makes the handgun fast from leather and fast handling once drawn. The supplied magazines are nominally seven round units. The pistol will accept standard seven and eight round 1911 magazine, the lower portion simply hangs from the frame. The original short frame 1911 magazines short frame versions held six rounds. The consensus has been that the six round magazines are most reliable. At no time did we experience any magazine related problems. The pistol has never failed to feed, chamber, fire or eject.

Service grade ammunition was used to test the pistol and also a good quantity of my personal hand loads. Hand loads are essential for economy and those that wish to remain self sufficient that require a supply of ammunition to maintain proficiency should invest in the necessary equipment and education to hand load. By the same token, I am discriminating when it comes to personal defense handguns and perhaps even more so when it comes to ammunition. Practice ammunition should be reliable but case mouth and primer seal is less important with practice ammunition. Ammunition integrity is important with personal defense loads. I have used a substantial quantity of Black Hills Ammunition practice loads in the C3. These include the 200 grain lead semi wadcutter, a mild and accurate practice loading. I believe that it is intended to be used in pistol matches. I have used the 230 grain RNL loading. This one is accurate and the point of impact corresponds closely to the point of aim. It is especially useful for practice when the duty load is the 230 grain JHP. I have also used the 230 grain FMJ. The 230 grain FMJ is the traditional loading. I have confidence in this loading. Feed reliability is never a question, accuracy is good, and wound potential is proven. It is good to have an expanding bullet that maximizes wound potential but the 230 grain .45 has momentum, bullet weight, and caliber.

While the C3 is not uncomfortable to fire and it remains controllable despite its light weight, there is more push than with a heavier handgun. As a result of testing with various loads, I cannot recommend a 230 grain JHP +P for defense use in this handgun. While they may maximize a 5 inch barrel handgun with steel frame, these heavy loads are simply on the edge of control with the C3. A good alternative is the Black Hills 185 grain +P TAC load. Using the Barnes all copper bullet this loading exhibits an excellent balance of expansion and penetration.

When all is said and done the C3 and its close variants represent first class personal protection. Light but controllable, accurate and reliable, the C 3 is a premier defensive handgun well worth your time and effort to master.

SIG C3 specifications

Action type: Single action
Trigger Pull SA: 5 pounds
Overall length: 7.7 inches
Overall height: 4.8 inches
Overall width: 1.4 inches
Barrel length: 4.2 inches
Sight radius: 5.7 inches
Weight w/mag: 29.5 oz.
Mag capacity: 7 rounds
Sights: Novak Night Sights
Grips: Slim profile custom rosewood grips as issued
Frame finish: Black hard anodized
Slide finish: Stainless


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