Para Ordnance GI Expert Pistol

By R.K. Campbell

Para Ordnance began life as a Canadian company but after a recent move is now a foursquare American outfit located in North Carolina. This innovative company offered the first high capacity 1911 and later the double light double action (LDA) pistol, both startling innovations that have proven highly popular. Now known as Para USA, the company also offers 1911 pistols in the traditional single stack magazine single action trigger or original style. The market for such pistols is simply too large to ignore and Para USA offers a number of well thought out variations. Para USA offers several quality 1911 pistols in the single action configuration, including the 7.45 and others. But there is a huge market for a quality 1911 pistol that is more affordable. Family obligations and essentials take precedent over expensive handguns in these trying economic times. There is some truth to the fact that the expensive options such as beavertail grip safeties, speed safeties and forward cocking serrations are not necessary in a general use handgun. After all, the great feats of the past were accomplished with GI issue 1911 pistols. The truth is that while such elevated features are convenient and result in better handling and perhaps greater speed, the only option that makes for greater accuracy potential is superior barrel fitting. The fit of the barrel to the slide and barrel bushing makes for greater accuracy potential far more than any other single component of a custom grade handgun.

Para USA’s GI Expert is designed to compete with the less expensive foreign pistols and also the Remington R1 and Springfield GI pistol, among others. The handgun might well be termed a consensus gun after the type popularized by Colonel Jeff Cooper. Cooper felt that a good trigger, good sights and perhaps a speed safety were the only improvements the military pistol needed for effective personal defense. The GI Expert features improved sights, a good trigger action out of the box and a slide lock safety that while not of the custom gas pedal type is larger than the GI type. The pistol also features a scalloped or lowered ejection port. The trigger action on the test pistol is unusually good for a factory pistol in this price range. Trigger compression is a smooth and crisp four and one half pounds with no discernible creep. The grip panels are plastic but they fit the frame well and support the plunger tube properly. The slide lock safety is positive in operation and indents sharply with a satisfying click. The slide lock works as designed and the magazine release is tight and firm as it should be. The beavertail grip safety releases the trigger about half way into deployment as designed. Overall, the fit and final operations are respectable in what must be called a service grade pistol. A number of the less expensive pistols use cast frames and slide; the Para USA pistol features forged parts. Inexpensive 1911 handguns are sometimes best termed recreational pistols. The GI Expert is a service pistol.

The sights are especially well designed with a high rear sight and a front post that is solidly dovetailed in place. The majority of pistols in this price range use a staked front sight. I have lost count of the hard use 1911 handguns I have seen with a front sight that has taken flight during a firing string. While it is true many of these were aftermarket units, the fact is the dovetailed sight is far superior and should be chosen when possible. The rear sight seems devoid of sharp edges, making it highly desirable for concealed carry use. The trigger is crisp as noted and the trigger is complimented by a speed hammer. This hammer is designed to speed up lock time and apparently it does so, falling quickly but with sufficient mass to always crack the primer. The pistol also incorporates a positive firing pin block or drop safety. The pistol does not incorporate a full length guide rod as many view the full length guide rod as a complication. The GI Expert is definitely easier to field strip and maintain due to the deletion of the guide rod. There are those that swear by the guide rod for sound reason and if you desire one may be added. As issued, the service grade GI Expert is a simple pistol to field strip, maintain and service. The barrel seems well fitted, tight enough for good accuracy but not so tight as to impede function when dirty. The two halves of the feed ramp exhibited the requisite 1/32 inch gap between the feed ramps that ensures good reliability. The more the pistol is examined the better it looks.

A firing test was undertaken after lubricating the long bearing surfaces, the cocking block and the barrel bushing and barrel hood. The 1911 design was intended to run well lubricated. Modest lubrication is needed for carry use when only a few rounds may be fired but more extensive use of lubricant is demanded for extensive range testing. The pistol was taken to the range and fired with several hundred rounds of ammunition over the course of a number of weeks. This was no weekend project and the pistol was tested by experienced raters and the author’s novice grandson as well. The handgun never failed to feed, chamber fire or eject. The pistol did not demand the archetypical 1911 break in period. A 1911 pistol will often demand a modest break in. The break in seems to work out burrs or flat spots and a hundred round break in period with full power ammunition was once regarded as SOP for the type, although most 1911 handguns seem to come out of the box running these days.

During initial testing the piece was fired extensively with Fiocchi USA 230 grain ball ammunition. While often found at a fair price, Fiocchi is top quality rather than budget grade ammunition and demonstrated excellent results. The GI Expert was carried in a Milt Sparks Mirage belt slide during the range evaluation. This is a very good range holster that is a handy trick for range work. The pistol proved to be fast into action, quick on target and accurate. The natural point of the 1911 is an advantage. The low bore axis limits muzzle flip and the straight to the rear trigger compression aids in controllability. The excellent trigger and good sights aided our good results. The full power 230 grain loads were controllable in rapid fire. Results on man sized silhouette targets were credible. I feel that firing at small targets at known and unknown ranges are a greater test of the pistol and the marksman than firing at paper. The GI Expert proved up to the task. The sights are well regulated for 230 grain loads, firing a bit high at close range and closer to the point of aim at 25 yards, about ideal for all around use. A few rounds of the 230 grain Extrema load were fired along with the inexpensive ball loads. This loading uses an expanding bullet that has demonstrated an excellent balance of penetration and expansion, expanding to a star fish like profile with excellent consistency. The Hornady XTP (Extreme Terminal Performance) is a good bullet choice for personal defense. The handgun and the ammunition are good enough to ride with.

After the initial range session with the Fiocchi loads the pistol was fired with several types of ammunition including lead bullet handloads using the Oregon Trail 200 grain SWC and Titegroup powder for 900 fps. The pistol proved generally accurate and always feed reliable. A couple of comments were made concerning the pistol’s performance that are related to the price point the pistol competes at. The Para Kote finish has not proven particularly durable, with noticeable wear on the muzzle and high contact points - but there is no corrosion, simply wear. At least the finish is low reflective. The combination of plastic grips and smooth front strap allowed movement in the hand with sweaty hands. The pistol was tested during a hot and humid July in the southern United States, so this is a valid concern. The pistol was fitted with a set of custom grips from Zippsgrips.com, by Chris Lavezzare. The appearance of the piece was considerably improved and the grips seemed to offer a better fit and feel than the factory produce. In any case, a 1911 is a personal firearm to many of us and a set of dazzling grips set the pistol off. The GI Expert was tested with a variety of loads and benchrested at twenty five yards. Twenty five yards is a long distance for personal defense but we wish not to limit our options. It is better to have real accuracy than to be helpless in the face of an active shooter or an adversary armed with a rifle. The good sights and trigger action of the GI Expert allowed trained shooters to coax good accuracy from the pistol. If you are able to produce a four inch group at 75 feet then the bullet should impact within two inches of the point of aim on demand. As a point of interest, I was able to test a new loading from Barnes Bullets. Barnes has branched into producing quality defense oriented ammunition using their own remarkable X bullet. This ammunition represents a good addition in a market that is often catch as catch can to upgrade the ammunition supply. Per limited testing the ammunition seems accurate, reliable and with good quality control.

For general concealed carry use with this size pistol a quality inside the waistband holster is indicated. The 1911 is long but flat and heavy but well balanced. A holster that rides inside of the waistband may be concealed by a covering garment that only reaches just past the belt line while a standard belt holster would require a much longer drape. The Milt Sparks Summer Special is a classic design that allows the carry of a serious defensive handgun under light covering garments. The Summer Special features a strong reinforced spine to prevent the pistol from moving when worn. The Summer Special also features a built in sight track and a dual belt loops. The advantage of the Summer Special is found in the reinforced holster mouth. Without this reinforced steel lined welt the holster would collapse after the pistol is drawn and the trousers would have to be unbuckled to allow reholstering. The Milt Sparks Summer Special has become a classic because it works and has stood the test of time.

The Para Ordnance GI Expert is a reliable handgun that is accurate enough for most uses and affordable. For those who practice, this 1911 .45 offers a high level of potential. For more information contact Parausa.com

Accuracy results, 25 yards, benchrested with the average of three five shot groups recorded.

Load/Average group size
Fiocchi 230 grain FMJ: 3.8 inches
Fiocchi 230 grain JHP: 3.6 inches
Fiocchi 230 grain EXTREMA JHP: 3.25 inches
Wolf 230 grain FMJ: 4.0 inches
Wolf 185 grain JHP: 4.25 inches
Barnes 185 grain +P: 3.67 inches
Wilson Combat 200 grain XTP: 3.45 inches
Oregon Trail 200 gr. SWC Titegroup 900 fps: 4.1 inches
Oregon Trail 225 gr. FP WW 231 860 fps: 3.8 inches

This article first appeared in SmallArmsReview.com on January 3, 2014


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