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Colt Government 1911 .22LR - by Umarex USA
Colt Government 1911 .22 L.R.
A new Colt in .22 LR … Return of the Ace?
Reviewed by Harwood Loomis for M1911.ORG
Over the past two or three years, probably driven by increases in the price of pistol ammunition coupled with shortages of both ammunition and components for reloading, there has been a groundswell of interest in .22LR caliber pistols and conversion kits of all kinds. In the 1911 universe, conversion kits have been flying off the shelves, and new players have entered the marketplace with versions of the venerable 1911 chambered for the ubiquitous .22LR cartridge. The M1911.ORG has previously reviewed examples of what has been coming on the market. We were exceptionally excited when, a year ago as this article is being prepared, it was announced that after a long absence from the .22LR market, there would once again be a .22LR 1911 pistol bearing the Colt name.
The announcement came, however, not from Colt’s Manufacturing Company but from Umarex USA, a company better known for high quality BB guns and blank firing replicas. A few years ago, Umarex USA (pronounced "OO' mah rex" to reflect the company's German origins, not "YOO' mah rex" as it tends to roll of this writer's tangled tongue) also began selling copies of the Colt M4 tactical carbine chambered in .22LR, bearing the Colt logo and manufactured and sold under a licensing agreement with Colt’s Manufacturing. (Previously reviewed here) In May of 2010, Umarex USA issued the following announcement:
Because I had not seen the pistols at the 2011 SHOT Show, I had no idea what to expect. It was, therefore, with a great deal of curiosity that I ventured forth to the shop at Chris’ Indoor Shooting Range when the call came that the pistol had arrived. I was forewarned that I was in for a battle. When he called, Chris told me, “It’s not going back. I want it.”
The Colt Government 1911 .22LR is a rimfire rendition of the full-size 1911 Government Model pistol, with a 5-inch barrel. Umarex offers three versions: The Government 1911 (our test pistol); a version of the Colt Rail Gun (with integral tactical light rail); and a Colt Gold Cup version with adjustable sights. The rimfires are made of metal. The alloy used is proprietary; it is heavier than aluminum, but probably not ordnance-grade steel. Whatever it is, the test pistol felt like holding a normal 1911 in terms of perceived “heft,” and the weight of 2.25 pounds (without magazine) is right on the money compared to an all steel 1911 in .45 Automatic caliber. For critical parts, however, Umarex informs us that all parts of the lockwork are made of steel. As we'll see once we peek under the hood, this only makes sense on this pistol.
The test pistol is the basic Government configuration, sporting GI-style fixed sights; a plain, solid trigger; a GI-style grip safety (no beavertail); and a conventional spur hammer. Both the Rail Gun and the Gold Cup add an upswept beavertail, elongated loop “combat” hammer, and lightened trigger pad. The Rail gun wears tapered “combat” sights, and the Gold Cup is equipped with adjustable target sights.
The finish is an eggshell black, very well executed with no runs or sags, and no machine marks showing through the finish on the exterior of the pistol. The Colt rollmark is highlighted in white on the side of the slide.
The pistol arrived in a plastic gun case, along with an instruction book, a brown envelope containing a fired case, and a small plastic bag holding a pair of open-end wrenches. The interior of the case is filled with eggcrate foam rather than having a blow-molded liner shaped to hold each specific item. The case has tabs with holes for a padlock, but the lock is not included.
The two little open-ended wrenches were unusual for a 1911-style firearm. We'll explain why they are included a bit later.
Having built my own .22LR caliber 1911 using a commercial conversion kit on a generic 1911 receiver I built up from spare parts in my basement and having previously reviewed one of the competing pistols in the new crop of .22LR caliber 1911s, I was curious about what was “under the hood.” The Colt Umarex 9mm blank firing replica is an excellent rendition of a 1911 on the exterior, but mechanically it bears no resemblance to a 1911 in any way. When I first field stripped the new pistol, therefore, I was initially dismayed and disappointed to see that it appeared to be just like the blank firing replica.
The Colt Government 1911 .22LR, field stripped
The Colt Government 1911 9mm Blank Firing Replica, field stripped
In other words, the barrel is not a separate part, but an integral part of the frame, sitting above the rails on a cast-in riser. Field stripping the top end from the receiver follows the same procedure as the blank-firing replica. "This is not like a 1911," I thought. Of course, none of the .22LR conversion kits are truly 1911 in function, either. One of the key points that makes a 1911 ... well, a 1911, is the locking barrel with the swinging link to accomplish unlocking the breech when cycling the action. The traditional .22LR conversion kits all operate as direct blow-back actions, with the barrel firmly anchored to the frame by the slide stop pin. Therefore, a few moments of reflection brought the realization that this isn't all that different from the conversion kits after all, except that the barrel can't be removed from the frame.
Further investigation revealed that internally the Colt/Umarex Government .22 is not at all like the Colt/Umarex blank-firing replica. The blank pistol does not have a functional grip safety, and it does not have a removable mainspring housing. The firing mechanism is completely different from that of the M1911. The Government .22, on the other hand, has a completely "1911-compliant" firing mechanism, complete with a functional grip safety and removable mainspring housing. Essentially it appears that the clever folks at Umarex (or Carl Walther, whichever was responsible for engineering this pistol) started with the blank-firing replica as a base and re-engineered it to make the lower receiver into a 1911 mechanism. This can be seen clearly in the exploded parts diagram from the instruction book:
Schematic drawing of the Government 1911 .22LR
Combining this with Umarex's statements on their web site that the lockwork is all steel, we are left with the realization that the internal parts are standard 1911 parts and can be tuned (or replaced) just like a centerfire 1911 pistol. Umarex USA informed us that the following parts are standard 1911 and can be interchanged with parts for any 1911: thumb safety; grip safety; disconnector; hammer and strut; sear; mainspring housing (and internal parts); sear spring; grips and grip screws; magazine catch; trigger; and hammer, sear and mainspring housing retainer pins.
We borrowed a set of aftermarket 1911 grips from the pegboard in the range's shop and tried them on the test pistol. Perfect fit. So, regardless of how strange the riser-mounted barrel initially appears, under the hood the Government .22 seems to be true to its M1911 heritage in most mechanical respects.
The slide stop appears to be just like those found on the M1911A1
The pistol ships with one 12-round magazine (or 10-round in jurisdictions where anything with a 12-round magazine is an "assault weapon"). We found that loading the magazine was easy, even without using the included mag loader, due to the button on the side. Using a thumb or finger to depress the follower with the button ahead of the rounds allows fresh rounds to be easily dropped into the magazine. Loading most .22LR magazines is a nuisance, especially for people with larger hands, and after a few magazines worth of trying to depress the follower while stuffing rounds into that tiny slot it isn't unusual to suffer several painful instances of pinched finger. This is simply not a problem with the Government 1911 .22LR magazine.
A view of the business end looks very much like any standard M1911A1, except for the small diameter of the hole in the end of the barrel:
Unlike most .22LR renditions of the 1911, the Government 1911 .22LR does not have an external extractor visible on the outside of the slide:
Both the front and rear sights are mounted in dovetails. The rear sight is adjustable for windage by drifting. The front sight is secured with a tiny set screw.
The grip safety on the test pistol follows the pattern of a standard M1911A1 (military) grip safety. The thumb safety is not ambidextrous, but the shape is of the teardrop profile, like those on many of Colt's current production models, rather than the small tab style used on the military pistols.
The grips are black, in a traditional double-diamond checkered pattern. There's nothing fancy or flashy here, but the use of the traditional checkering pattern clearly emphasizes the pistol's heritage. The author happens to like the double-diamond pattern very much. Thus, while we found that aftermarket grips will fit, there doesn't appear to be any urgent need to immediately replace the factory grips, since they are both subtly attractive and completely functional.
Since the manual of arms for this pistol is slightly different from that of a centerfire 1911 with regard to field stripping for cleaning, we thought it worth showing how it's done. It isn't difficult and the take-down is well explained in the owner's manual that comes with the pistol, but Umarex USA has an excellent video showing how to take the pistol down, clean and lubricate it, and reassemble. With permission from Umarex USA, we include the video here:
At the beginning of this article, we mentioned that the case included a pair of small, open-end wrenches. After a bit of head scratching, we realized that (as shown in the schematic, exploded view) the tip of the barrel is a removable, protective cover. The wrenches are for removing this cover, which reveals that the muzzle end is threaded to accept an adapter for mounting an imitation (or real, if you have the necessary paperwork) silencer.
However, there is no silencer (real or fake) listed with these pistols on the Umarex USA web site. It took a bit of sleuthing but we were able to determine that the barrel thread is M8x.75. This is the thread used by Carl Walther for the faux silencer offered for the Walther P22 pistol. That silencer is a direct fit for the Colt/Umarex 1911 .22LR models. Other fake silencers can be used but would require an adapter, which does not appear to be available from Umarex USA.
All that is interesting background but, for most prospective buyers, the appeal of the Colt/Umarex Government .22 is not going to be as a collector piece but as a platform for getting in more range time for less money by shooting (comparatively) affordable .22LR ammunition. So, with that in mind ...
How does it shoot?
Very well indeed, since you asked. (I know you were wondering.) Out of the box, the trigger pull measured 6 pounds using an RCBS analog trigger pull scale. Initial take-up was about the same as most production 1911s, and the break was just a little gritty/creepy. The sights on our test pistol were the basic GI-style upright rear sight and blade front sight, all black. The front blade is wide enough to see easily and the notch in the rear sight leaves enough space on either side to make it easy to pick up and center the front blade in the notch.
After some generic plinking to be sure the pistol worked, we moved directly into the accuracy portion of our evaluation. Returning readers may recall that we recently decided to stop reporting velocities on our gun tests because that's more a function of the ammunition than of the gun. Since we now have extra space on our results table, I decided to borrow a page from some of the printed magazines. Our gun tests here have always reported the single best group fired. Some print magazines report an average of several groups. I honestly don't know which way is more representative of a pistol's potential, so beginning with this test I intend to report both the single best group (measured based on the best four out of five shots for each group), and also the average of the best three groups. We shot more than that in this test, but I think taking the best three makes for a decent representation of the pistol's accuracy potential, so that's what you'll be seeing.
This pistol has a 5-inch barrel, so in keeping with M1911.ORG's protocol, we fired the accuracy tests at a distance of 75 feet. Chris, the owner of the range, told me I was crazy to be testing the pistol at that distance. He pointed out that indoor NRA bullseye competitions are shot at 50 feet. (Of course, he neglected to mention that outdoor bullseye matches are shot at 50 yards.) He candidly admitted that he almost never shoots at distances greater than 25 feet and that he didn't even know how he might do at 75 feet. Nonetheless, our protocol here at The M1911 Pistols Organization calls for testing 5-inch pistols at a distance of 75 feet, and this pistol has a 5-inch barrel. Sooo ... it was "game on" at the maximum distance offered in the crypt.
Here is the "tale of the tape":
Both Remington loads shot pretty much to point of aim at both 25 feet and 75 feet. At 75 feet, the CCI Mini-Mags grouped approximately 2 inches high, and the Winchester and Federal loads both grouped approximately 3 inches above point-of-aim. The accuracy of this pistol was outstanding, in this writer's opinion. What's more, while shooting I was acutely conscious that the trigger pull was not completely uniform from one shot to the next. Due to both the 6-pound pull and the slight grittiness, the break was not the same on every shot. As well as the pistol shot, I believe that with just a modicum of trigger "clean-up" and lubrication (or maybe just some lubrication and a few hundred more rounds down range), the trigger would become more consistent and the accuracy would be even better.
During the accuracy testing, we experienced a few failures to return to battery shooting off the rest. This happened once or twice with all of the test ammo selections, but by far most frequently with the Remington Subsonic -- which, of course, was also the round with the least muzzle energy, by a considerable factor. It should also be noted that we were firing the pistol straight out of the box, without adding any lubrication. Curiously (or not?), all the malfunctions were failures to return to battery, and they all occurred when shooting from the rest. Chris, the owner of the range, happily joined me for the general plinking, and neither of us experienced any hang-ups or bobbles when firing the Government .22 off-hand. Considering that a .22 has a very light action (recoil) spring anyway, I am inclined to think that keeping the pistol "wet" would eliminate any vestiges of hesitation to chamber the next round.
The mainspring also appears to be well matched to the pistol. Remington Thunderbolt is notorious for dud rounds and, after firing hundreds of rounds of the stuff, I have found that it is rare to run a full magazine through my home-built 1911 .22LR conversion or my Ruger .22/45 or my Marlin carbine without at least one round failing to fire. After an entire afternoon spent shooting the Government .22, I experienced exactly one round that didn't fire on the first strike (Remington Thunderbolt, of course) -- and that round fired when the hammer was cocked manually and fired a second time. I was impressed.
There was another surprise encountered in shooting this pistol, too: The slide locks open when the magazine is empty. That was not something we expected to find in a .22 caliber 1911-style pistol, but it's something that true 1911 aficionados regard as important for practicing with a pistol that follows the M1911 manual of arms.
I have to confess that it took my reptilian brain awhile to overcome my initial impression (and the disappointment based on same) that the Colt/Umarex Government 1911 .22LR was nothing but a .22 caliber rehash of the Umarex 9mm blank-firing replica. Not that there is anything inherently bad about the 9mm replica -- in fact, it is very well made and far superior in every conceivable way to a superficially similar blank-firing replica from another manufacturer. But the blank gun doesn't function like a 1911. It took some time for the realization to filter in that the Government 1911 .22LR does function like a 1911.
More importantly, it shoots like a dream and produces excellent accuracy, seemingly with almost any ammunition. The range portion of this evaluation was nothing other than pure enjoyment. With many tests, it's a struggle to produce test groups that are representative of what we believe (sometimes for no good reason) to be the pistol's potential. That was not the case with the Colt/Umarex Government 1911 .22LR. The lack of recoil when shooting an all-metal 1911 in .22LR certainly helped with that, but poor accuracy and having to fight the gun so as not to feel that we weren't being "fair" to it can take all the fun out of a day on the firing line. The results with this pistol were, in fact, deceptive. While shooting, I had the distinct impression that the accuracy with the Federal ammunition was significantly worse than any of the others. In my head, I was already composing a paragraph to remind readers that .22 firearms are traditionally regarded as "picky" about ammunition, and I was all set to write that this pistol simply didn't like the Federal load.
Then I got the targets home, discarded the flier out of each group, and measured. The results surprised me; the actual tally for the Federal was not nearly as bad as I had thought. And I felt that the accuracy at 75-feet was as good as or better than any other .22 semi-automatic handgun I have shot. And this was a brand new pistol, being fired straight out of the box, with no preliminary lubrication and no "tuning."
Overall, we liked this pistol very much. For anyone seeking a rimfire pistol that shoots (and looks) like a 1911, the Colt/Umarex Government 1911 .22LR (or its brethren, the Rail Gun and the Gold Cup) would be an excellent choice. According to Umarex USA, the Government and Rail Gun models are currently shipping to distributors, with hopes of increasing the supply during the summer. The Gold Cup model will be available later in the year.
The Government 1911 .22LR isn't the Ace reborn. But it wears the name "Colt" proudly on the side, it shoots like a Colt should shoot, and considering the problems inherent in the Ace's floating chamber, the new rimfire just may be more reliable and more fun to shoot.
Please go to this thread on the M1911 Pistols Organization discussion forum to discuss this pistol and this review: http://forum.m1911.org/showthread.php?t=93765
Umarex USA Incorporated
7700 Chad Colley Boulevard
Fort Smith, AR 72916
Web Site: www.umarexusa.com and www.colt22rimfire.com
Chris’ Indoor Shooting Range
2458 Boston Post Road
Guilford, CT 06437
Last edited by John; 5th October 2011 at 11:55.
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