May 30, 2023
With the Emissary, Springfield Armory has introduced a new line of 1911s. While it’s not a “line” at the moment but just a single model, if you nose around their site, there are indications that this is just the first in the Emissary line — a full-size gun chambered in .45 ACP.
I expect 9mm models soon, with Commander and compact versions following. In fact, I’m half-surprised they went with a .45 ACP version as their first model. Sure, that’s the original and traditional chambering for the 1911, but 9mm models currently have higher sales numbers.
The Emissary is positioned — in price and features — between their basic/entry-level 1911s (Mil-Spec, Ronin) and the higher-end custom and semi-custom models Springfield offers (Loaded, TRP, Custom). The Emissary is meant to be a 1911 suitable for defensive purposes with custom features; in that goal, I think Springfield succeeded.
There are more variations of 1911s than there are stars in the sky — almost. But if you’re not willing to pay the money (and wait for months, if not years) for a full custom 1911 built exactly to your specs, you have to choose a factory 1911 with the combination of features that best meets your wants and needs. The Emissary gives you one more 1911 option. Let’s take a look at it.
First, this is a full-size, Government Model-sized 1911, which means it has a 5-inch barrel and all steel construction with an unloaded weight of 42 ounces with an empty magazine inserted (thanks in part to the accessory rail on the frame). It is supplied with two eight-round, stainless-steel magazines from Mec-Gar. This pistol is 8.4 inches long and 5.75 inches tall with the provided magazine in place. 1911s are very size-efficient (like all of John Moses Browning’s designs), so you’ll find these pistols are surprisingly thin: 1 inch or less everywhere but at the thumb safety. Weight aside, they are far more concealable than, say, a Beretta 92 or SIG P226, both of which are very thick guns.
The Emissary has a forged steel frame, slide, and barrel. Both the barrel and frame are stainless steel, and the slide has polished sides and a matte top. The slide has what Springfield calls a “Tri-Top” cut: large 45-degree angled cuts to either side of a flattened and 40 LPI serrated top. It gives the pistol a very distinctive look, as does the two-tone finish.
The blued-over-stainless is a very old-school 1911 look. Those two-tone guns existed for a very specific reason, so let me lay a little history on you. Bluing steel makes it more resistant to corrosion/sweat than bare steel, but it’s still not that good. Those guys carrying 1911s back in the day (and practicing with them regularly) soon found that their hands were wearing the bluing off the frame, and their sweat was making the steel rust.
The solution? Stainless steel, of course.
However, the stainless steels back in the 1970s and 1980s were not the same as today, and if you tried to mate a stainless frame with the slide, the pieces would not slide smoothly against each other but rather bind up — this was called galling. One solution was to hard chrome both the frame and slide, for a full silver-colored gun.
The other solution was a two-tone gun: a blued slide over a stainless-steel frame, as you see with the Emissary. The different steels would not gall, and the stainless frame did an excellent job of resisting sweat and will hardly show wear. You only saw this two-tone look on custom guns back in the day, making them stand out from the crowd.
If you actually carry the Emissary and practice your draw, you’ll find your holster will eventually wear the bluing off the edges of your slide. That’s not a problem; that’s a sign that you’ve been doing your job maintaining your skill level. People pay Cerakoters like Blowndeadline big bucks to put “battle worn” finishes on their ARs. If you have a pistol with a simple blued finish, carry it regularly, and practice your draw, you can put your own battle-worn patina on the gun (about which you should be proud) for free (other than the cost of ammo).
The Emissary sports Springfield’s U-Dot sights. The front sight sports a highly visible yellow ring around a tritium insert for excellent functionality in every light level. The rear sight has a large U-shaped notch with a white outline. The front of the rear sight is cut vertically, so you can rack the slide one-handed on a hard surface if necessary.
The Emissary sports a bushing-less bull barrel over a full-length, stainless-steel recoil spring guide rod. Bushing-less bull barrels first became popular on 1911s in the late 1980s, if I remember correctly. Technically, they reduce muzzle rise (there is more weight in the non-reciprocating barrel and less in the slide), but unless you’re shooting two otherwise identical guns side by side, you won’t be able to feel the difference.
A properly fit bull barrel is shockingly accurate and will remain tight to the slide for tens of thousands of rounds. Is the barrel on the Emissary properly fit? Oh, baby.
This is the part where I tell you lazy, feckless, spoiled millennials just how good you have it, so put your phone down and pay attention. Back when I was your age (feel free to read that in an appropriate lecturing dad voice), if you wanted a 1911 that didn’t look like a GI .45 and rattled like tin cans on a string, your only option was a custom gun — period. That was at least until Springfield Armory and Kimber began introducing what consumers wanted: factory models with custom features (Colt didn’t get that memo for at least a decade and then apparently had problems reading it).
But things change. Every time I pick up a new Springfield 1911, it seems they’ve figured out how to make their factory guns tighter. It only makes sense; CNC machines are getting better, tolerances are getting tighter, and new and improved manufacturing technology is getting invented all the time. The Emissary is as perfectly fit as any 1911 I’ve ever picked up, custom or factory. There was absolutely no play between slide/frame/barrel, and yet the slide moved back and forth smoothly with just a little bit of tightness right as it moved the last quarter-inch forward and mated with the bull barrel. Any tighter, and you might have to break the gun in, which in this day and age is just dumb and unnecessary and definitely not what you want on a gun meant for defensive purposes.
I mentioned how there were myriad options when it comes to 1911s. The Emissary comes with a squared triggerguard. I love it. I love both the look of squared triggerguards and the functionality, as I wrap the index finger of my support hand around the front (my custom Springfield 1911 .45 has a squared triggerguard with the front checkered for extra grip). If you don’t like it, well, this is just one 1911 model from Springfield, and all the others have rounded triggerguards, so stop your whining.
The trigger shoe is black polymer with a flat serrated face. Trigger pull on my sample was excellent: 4.25 pounds and perfectly crisp. The single-sided thumb safety moved up and down with very positive clicks.
On the frame, you’ll see Slim Line grenade-pattern grips made by VZ. The raised square patterning on the grips and the front of the frame and the steel mainspring housing are reminiscent of the World War II-era pineapple grenades, hence the name. The squares have somewhat sharp corners, and the end result is as aggressive as machine checkering but with a completely different look.
The front of the frame is widened for the three-slot MIL-STD-1913 Picatinny rail, if you want to mount a light. The magazine well opening is nicely beveled.
Springfield specifically states that this pistol is meant for and suitable for self-defense. That would include concealed carry. I carried a customized full-size Springfield 1911 .45 for over a decade, and it was the pistol with which I first made Master Class in USPSA, but most people aren’t that dedicated/crazy/willing to dress to hide such a big, heavy gun. But if you do want to carry this gun, be aware that this pistol will fit into any OWB/IWB holster made for a 1911 with a frame rail, and there are hundreds of them out there. Back in the day, I carried mine in a Kramer horsehide Vertical Scabbard and a Blade Tech Kydex belt holster, covered (usually) by Hawaiian shirts in the summer and sweatshirts in the winter.
Let’s take a brief time-out from my usual rant about carrying a 1911 for defensive purposes. I recommend it, but this is a single-action pistol; if the hammer is down, the pistol will not fire — period. If you’re going to carry a pistol for self-defense, it should be carried in such a manner that you can draw and fire it with one hand, just in case, because excrement happens. That means if you’re carrying a 1911, you should be carrying it cocked-and-locked, the hammer cocked and the thumb safety engaged.
If you don’t feel safe carrying a pistol with a cocked hammer, carry a different gun. But there’s no reason not to feel safe. That cocked hammer looks scary, but a 1911 in Condition One (cocked and locked) is inherently safer than the average striker-fired gun.
To get a cocked-and-locked 1911 to fire, you have to grip the gun firmly to deactivate the grip safety, push down the manual safety lever with your thumb, and then pull the trigger. Most striker-fired pistols have a small safety lever on their trigger, and that’s it. If something simply gets wedged inside the trigger of your Glock/M&P/whatever, it’s likely to go bang. That physically can’t happen with a 1911 as at least one safety will be engaged.
At the range, the Emissary provided no surprises. It was monotonously reliable and crazily accurate. This is a big, heavy pistol, but you’ll appreciate that weight when you start touching off .45s. I hammered my club’s steel and spent some time doing transition drills on USPSA and IDPA targets.
I have no doubt that if I locked this pistol into a Ransom Rest (or handed it to Rob Leatham), it would have been capable of close to 1-inch groups with the right ammo. Even with my aging eyes and caffeine addiction, I was able to do 2-inch groups with pretty much all the ammo I tried. That should tell you that this thing is a laser.
The MSRP for the Emissary is $1,349, putting it squarely in the middle of Springfield Armory’s 1911 offerings. For that price, you get a gun that is in every way the equal to custom guns in fit and performance, which means it is a shockingly good deal.
- Type: Single-action semiauto
- Cartridge: .45 ACP
- Capacity: 8+1 rds.
- Barrel Length: 5 in.
- Overall Length: 8.4 in.
- Height: 5.75 in.
- Width: 1.3 in.
- Weight: 42 oz. (unloaded, with magazine)
- Slide Material: Carbon steel
- Frame Material: Stainless steel
- Finish: Blued slide, natural finish frame
- Grips: VZ Slim Line, grenade pattern
- Safety: Grip safety, thumb safety, loaded chamber notch
- Sights: Springfield U-Dot day/night sights
- Trigger: 4.25 lbs. (as tested)
- Accessories: Two 8-rd. magazines, cable lock, soft case
- MSRP: $1,349
- Manufacturer: Springfield Armory; springfield-armory.com