|Home - Volume 1 (2006) - Issue 1 (Summer '06) - Pistol Review: Para Ordnance Slim Hawg|
Para Ordnance Slim Hawg .45 ACP Pistol
Big noise in a small package
Reviewed by Harwood Loomis (Hawkmoon, )
A wise man once wrote that timing is everything. As usual, my timing could not have been worse. The arrival of Para-Ordnance’s new alloy-framed version of their sub-compact, single stack Hawg pistol coincided with my being in the hospital for an operation. Consequently, although I knew the gun was waiting at my FFL’s place of business, I wasn’t able to get there and look at the pistol until a couple of weeks after it had arrived. Even so, however, thanks to the magic of the Internet The M1911 Pistols Organization is able to bring this review to you before you’ll be able to read about this pistol in the firearms magazines.
When I did finally receive medical clearance to return to “light duty,” one of my first ventures was to Chris’ Indoor Shooting Range in Guilford, Connecticut, to see this latest offering from Para-Ordnance. The newest Para-Ordnance in my miniscule “collection” is an early 12.45 LDA that dates to sometime around 2000 or 2001. Para-Ordnance has been making changes since I purchased that pistol. The first thing I noticed is that the new gun arrived in a blow-molded plastic case that occupies easily twice the volume taken up by the slender plastic boxes housing my own Para-Ordnance pistols. Inside the box I found the usual stack of documents, including an instruction book and a coupon for sending the pistol to the Para repair facility for installation of night sights, as well as the obligatory gun lock. Thankfully, Para-Ordnance still ships their pistols with external, cable locks rather than incorporating some form of internal lock that must be dealt with by everyone, even though only a small percentage of purchasers will ever need to use the lock after taking possession of the pistol. The pistol itself was encased in a protective plastic bag and resting in a fitted recess in the box, next to which was the spare magazine. The magazine in the pistol as it is shipped has an extended floor plate with a contoured finger rest at the front; the spare magazine has a flush floor plate. The extended magazine holds seven rounds, while the flush magazine holds six. The magazines appeared at first glance to be standard Officers size magazines; closer inspection showed that they are shorter.
The Slim Hawg pistol itself is finished in an attractive matte/satin black “Para Kote” finish. One of the changes from my older Para single action pistols is the trigger. Where my older pistols have a solid plastic trigger, the new pistol has a black skeletonized trigger pad. The pistol is a small package, but not too small to be able to hold comfortably. An alloy-framed pistol in a sub-compact size such as this is intended as a concealed carry weapon, so I made some comparisons to other less than full-sized 1911 pistols to put this one in perspective.
This pistol weighs in at 25 ounces (710 g) with an empty magazine, and 31 ounces (881 g) fully loaded. The closest traditional 1911-type pistol to this would be a Colt Officers. I weighed a Colt M1991A1 Compact (which is the same thing as an Officers), with a steel frame, and I came up with 34 ounces (966 g) with an empty magazine, and 39 ounces (1.11 kg) fully loaded. A steel-framed Para-Ordnance 12.45 LDA (which is an Officers size double stack) weighed 33 ounces (1.02 kg) empty and 40 ounces (1.23 kg) fully loaded. To get into something more comparable in weight to our test pistol, I also weighed a couple of Colt Mustang .380s, one with an alloy frame and one all steel. The alloy Mustang Pocketlite weighed 14 ounces (431 g) empty and 16 ounces (492 g) loaded. The steel Mustang weighed 19 ounces (585 g) empty and 21 ounces (646 g) fully loaded.
The Slim Hawg is light. Accustomed as I am to all-steel 1911s, when I picked up the frame after the barrel and slide were removed, I felt like there was no weight in my hand at all. For people of smaller stature, for whom carrying an all-steel pistol for extended periods is burdensome, a light package such as this is a God-send. Likewise for women who want a .45 caliber pistol to carry in a purse without adding so much weight that they dislocate a shoulder trying to carry it around.
This pistol is also small—which adds to its appeal as a backup or concealed carry weapon. The Slim Hawg is shorter in both length and height than a Colt Officers model 1911. The length difference is not as easy to see from a spec sheet because the beavertail grip safety extends the length to the rear, but the height difference can be easily seen in the photograph of the Slim Hawg and a Colt M1991A1 Compact on a sighting in target with 1” (25.4 mm) grid squares. Para-Ordnance accomplishes the vertical shrinkage by using a mainspring housing that’s shorter than the Officers model MSH, along with an abbreviated but fully-functional grip safety.
One feature not found on the Slim Hawg that has been seen on most of Para’s compact pistols recently is the Griptor® grooves machined into the front strap. Kerby Smith, Para-Ordnance Director of Marketing and a competitive shooter, has tried to convince me that these grooves enhance the grip on a small frame. My own limited experience did not suggest this to be the case … the grooves were spaced too closely together to do much for holding the pistol, but they were effective in aggravating a pressure sensitivity problem I experience in the palms and fingers of my hands. Accordingly, I was elated to find that the test pistol had a smooth front strap, and I was ever happier when the factory confirmed that this was not a pre-production sample, that all the Slim Hawgs will ship without the Griptor® grooves. It also appeared that the grip panels are thinner than the typical 1911 grip panels, making the small frame easier to grasp firmly. I suspect, however, that shooters with exceptionally large hands may have difficulty finding enough gun to wrap their fingers around. This is where the extended floor plate on one of the two included magazines comes into play. The forward portion of the molded floor plate provides a welcome bit of additional real estate for the third finger of the gripping hand. The spare magazine has a conventional, flush floor plate, allowing for a very inconspicuous profile when the pistol is to be carried concealed beneath light clothing.
It has become virtually axiomatic that small (meaning short barrel and short slide) 1911 pistols are less reliable than their Government model progenitors. As a result, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this pistol functioned reliably right out of the box. One of the keys to reliable function in a 1911 is selection of the appropriate weight for the recoil spring. Or springs—plural. Colt, for example, uses a dual recoil spring in their Officers and M1991A1 Compact models with 3½” (89 mm) barrel. The Para-Ordnance Slim Hawg is even shorter, with a 3” (76 mm) barrel. The recoil system for the Slim Hawg is a unitized, encapsulated dual spring assembly that allows the factory to achieve a 24-pound (11 kg) recoil spring rating without having to resort to unworkably heavy individual springs. The recoil assembly is compact and lightweight. Users should be aware, however, that it is serviced as an assembly. That is, you don’t just buy a replacement spring and install it with the original guide rod and recoil spring plug. The entire assembly is sold as a unit. According to the factory, it should be replaced approximately every 800 to 1,000 rounds. This is more often than the replacement interval for a full-sized Government model 1911, but 800 rounds between recoil springs is about the normal interval for compact 1911s with 3” or 3½” barrels.
Because the recoil spring assembly is a preassembled unit that incorporates a full-length guide rod, field stripping the pistol departs from the traditional 1911 manual of arms in that it is not possible to relieve tension on the recoil spring prior to removing the slide stop. Instead, the slide must be moved back to align the take-down notch and held in that position against spring pressure while the slide stop is pressed out. Once the slide stop has been removed, the slide and barrel are removed from the frame together, after which the recoil spring assembly, then the reverse recoil spring plug, and finally the barrel are removed from the slide. Assembly is simply the reverse. The only difficult part is holding the slide against spring pressure with the take-down notch perfectly aligned while reinserting the slide stop. None of this will seem unusual to pistoleros who already own 1911s with full-length guide rods, but for the traditionalists among us, it takes a bit of practice to do it easily.
As with all Para-Ordnance pistols, the Slim Hawg incorporates a Colt-style firing pin safety. This caused no issues during our testing. It requires attention only upon reassembly after field stripping—the frame-mounted plunger lever must be depressed to allow the slide to be reinstalled on the frame.
Another feature contributing to the pistol's reliability is that, like all current Para-Ordnance pistols, it is equipped with Para's proprietary Power Extractor. The Power Extractor uses coil springs rather than the bend in the extractor arm to control extractor tension, resulting in more uniform control. In addition, the extractor claw itself is significantly larger than conventional 1911 extractors. The combination results in more reliable extraction.
Trigger pull measured 51/4 pounds (2.4 kg) on an RCBS analog trigger pull scale, and felt lighter than it measured. The trigger has a slight amount of take-up, breaks cleanly, and does not have an objectionable amount of overtravel. The skeletonized, lightweight trigger is equipped with an adjustable overtravel screw, which was set properly from the factory and which was not touched during our testing.
Despite the recoil spring assembly having a rating of 24 pounds when compressed, I found the slide surprisingly easy to rack by hand. I am not certain this is the case, but I suspect that the dual encapsulated spring assembly functions as a variable rate spring, allowing a lower amount of force to start the slide moving to the rear and increasing at full compression, rather than compressing at a linear rate and requiring massive effort to rack the tiny slide by hand.
How does it shoot?
Testing was conducted at Chris’ Indoor Shooting Range in Guilford, Connecticut. This is an indoor, underground facility located in a suburb of New Haven and used by a number of area gun clubs and local police departments. Although the range offers distances up to 75 feet, due to the type of pistol being tested we did not use the maximum distance in these tests. More on that later.
Our test pistol was brand new, coming to us directly off the assembly line. Accordingly, before embarking on accuracy testing we ran a number of rounds through it for break-in. The break-in ammunition was a mix of Winchester USA 230-grain FMJ and Independence 230-grain FMJ. 110 rounds later, using both of the supplied Para-Ordnance magazines as well as two Colt Officers magazines, the pistol had not malfunctioned once. During break-in, in addition to the author the pistol was tried by a woman attorney who is a novice shooter, and by a member of the range staff who is an experienced competition shooter. Both shooters remarked at how accurate and how controllable the little pistol was.
I returned to the range on another day to conduct accuracy testing. Unfortunately (for both me and the pistol), the day was a hot, sunny day immediately following several days of heavy rains. The humidity in the facility was palpable. Although I was very satisfied with how the Slim Hawg shot, I was less than satisfied with how I shot. Between perspiration dripping off my forehead and fog forming on my shooting glasses, it was a bit of a struggle to see the sights. Accordingly, readers should be assured that in my opinion the pistol is capable of producing better results than I obtained. For what it’s worth, however, the following are the results. All accuracy testing as at a distance of 30 feet, which I felt to be a realistic distance for a small pistol whose role is concealed carry and back-up duty rather than bullseye competition. Shooting was hand-held, braced on a bench but not using a rest.
Some groups included the proverbial “called flyer,” but thankfully I was able to obtain at least one “clean” group with each type of ammunition and, curiously (or not), that group was consistently the best. Taking out the called flyers, the overall average of all groups fired was 27/8”. This is certainly better than necessary to achieve center-of-mass hits in a self-defense situation.
During the accuracy testing, just as during break-in, the little pistol was boringly reliable. There was not a single bobble of any kind. I expected to encounter problems with the Ultramax lead semi-wadcutters, but even those fed and shot reliably (although I was surprised to find that they were not especially accurate out of this gun). The first round of one magazine of the Ultramax caught a bit in feeding, but I caused that by “riding” the slide part of the way forward rather than pulling it fully to the rear and releasing it cleanly. Even then, the round chambered and fired without any intervention on my part.
I should note, also, that I intentionally did not clean the pistol between the break-in and the accuracy testing, because I wanted to get a sense of reliability. My experiment failed—I didn’t succeed in inducing any malfunctions whatsoever. In short … whatever Para-Ordnance is doing to their pistols these days, they are doing it right.
The Para-Ordnance Slim Hawg .45 ACP is a lightweight, very compact pistol intended for concealed carry. In this writer’s opinion, it is perfect for the intended task. It is small enough to be easily concealed, light enough to carry for extended periods, very accurate for its diminutive size, and flawlessly reliable. Everyone at the range/gunshop who saw it or handled it fell in love with it.
Para-Ordnance has been so well-known for double stack pistols that I suspect a lot of folks are just waking up to the fact that the company is now also building single stack pistols. In terms of comparable products, this pistol is in the same general category (of subcompact 1911 single action pistols) as the Colt Defender, and the Kimber Ultra-Carry II. In my opinion, the Para-Ordnance Slim Hawg lacks nothing compared to those other pistols, and the unique and proprietary Para Power Extractor is something that sets this gun apart from the rest of the crop of 3" subcompact 1911s.
I have in the past expressed to Para-Ordnance that my preferences are toward basic, functional guns without too many bells and whistles. I much prefer my decade-old Para-Ordnance pistols to some of the competition-oriented models in their current catalog. Perhaps they listened. The new Slim Hawg is an attractive, back-to-basics self-defense pistol that does what it needs to do, and doesn’t have any unnecessary “glitz” to detract from its attractive, purposeful appearance. It is, in fact, a pistol that I wouldn’t mind carrying. This pistol is highly recommended. With a suggested list price of $910, it is priced competitively with comparable pistols and should merit serious consideration.
In closing (for the moment), I would be remiss not to mention that Competitive Edge Dynamics (CED) has generously made available to The M1911 Pistols Organization one of their shooting chronographs, and it was our hope to use it to generate muzzle velocities with this test pistol. Because the test facility is underground and illuminated only with strips of artificial light, the chrono will not function using the available light. CED has also provided a supplemental infra-red light source to address that problem. Unfortunately, the arrival of the package from CED corresponded with my being hospitalized. The chrono requires a light-tight box in order to function with the infra-red source, and my recuperation has not been sufficient to allow me to construct the enclosure.
Please bear with us, and we will post the muzzle velocities as soon as we can run the chrono tests. One of the advantages of publishing reviews such as this is that the format allows us to bring you the important information in a timely fashion, with the flexibility to come back and “fill in the blanks” later.
If you want to discuss or comment on this test, please use the following thread in our Forums Site:
Competitive Edge Dynamics USA
Orders: (1) 888-628-3233
Chris Indoor Shooting Range
Phone: (203) 453-1570
|Home - Volume 1 (2006) - Issue 1 (Summer '06) - Pistol Review: Para Ordnance Slim Hawg|