November 19, 2020
By J. Scott Rupp
Ronin were Samurai warriors who had lost or left their masters, and depending on what period of feudal Japan you’re talking about, they could’ve been anything from shame-filled wanderers to criminals to mercenaries. They were certainly not highly regarded citizens in their day, but the Western perception of them is quite different—thanks to the Akira Kurosawa classic film “Seven Samurai” and, more popularly, the Hollywood remake of it, “The Magnificent Seven.”
In these films, the Ronin (gunfighters in the “Magnificent Seven,” of course) were hired by poor villagers to save their towns from marauding bandits, thereby becoming heroes. It is this perception that gives the new Ronin Operator from Springfield the cachet it deserves.
For starters, it is an exceptionally eye-catching pistol. Both slide and frame are forged, with the slide a good-looking blued carbon steel contrasting handsomely with the stainless steel frame. The two-tone look is enhanced by a pair of attractive laminated stocks.
The thumb safety is polished stainless, while the slide-lock lever, grip safety and delta-style hammer are bead blasted. A black, four-hole Generation 2 trigger completes the package.
The Ronin is available in .45, 9mm, and the recently announced 10mm, in both Government and Commander sizes, and I chose a full-size 9mm as a test sample. While I’m somewhat of a traditionalist when it comes to 1911s, more and more I’m gravitating toward the 9mm because I like shooting it better than the .45. Sacrilege, I know.
Slide-to-frame fit was well done, with only the slightest wiggle when I grabbed the top of the slide and rocked it as hard as I could. As mentioned, the slide and frame are from forgings, a hallmark of Springfield 1911s. The company uses forgings instead of castings because of the additional strength forged steel provides, as well as the machining benefits it offers.
I grew up in an area of the country where historic forges were prevalent, and as kids we were constantly being dragged to these sites on school field trips. Had I paid more attention then, I wouldn’t have to do so much research now. Forged steel, formed by heating and applying force (a hammer and anvil in the old days), is stronger than cast steel—its grain structure better aligned to handle impact forces. In the case of a 1911 slide and, especially, the frame, this means a longer service life in terms of round count.
The Ronin Operator’s slide is hot-salt-blued, the only gun in Springfield’s stable to be given this treatment. This traditional finish is a great choice because it’s just the right color to go with the stainless frame.
The rounded slide top is bead blasted—as is the dust cover—while the flats are polished. Sharp, flat-bottomed cocking serrations are located on the front and rear, and the presence of the front serrations on the forged steel slide is one of Springfield’s big selling points for this pistol.
The right side of the slide features “Springfield Armory” and the company’s cross-cannon logo, while the left features a simple “Ronin Operator.”
Now, about that Operator part of the name. When we posted an image of this gun on Facebook, an alert visitor asked why it was called an Operator when it didn’t have a rail on the frame. All of Springfield’s Operators had been railed up until now.
“The new Ronin Operator represents a new role for the Operator name,” said Mike Humphries, media relations-meister at Springfield. “With Operator being synonymous with high quality and performance, Springfield Armory chose to expand its usage beyond simply railed 1911 pistol models.”
The front sight is a red fiber optic set in a dovetail, which is nicely machined into the slide. The rear sight is a ledge type and called the Tactical Rack. It’s the same sight you’ll find on the company’s excellent Range Officer Elite 1911. This rear-sight design allows you to rack the slide against your belt or on a surface like a table edge should your non-firing hand be put out of commission.
The rear face of the trigger is serrated for a non-glare sight picture, and two white dots flank a square notch. The sight is set in a dovetail, and a small setscrew allows it to be easily drifted for windage.
The ramped five-inch stainless steel barrel is hammer forged and mated to a stainless steel bushing. The bushing is notable because today we’re seeing more 1911s, particularly those in 9mm, being built with fat or bull barrels instead of employing a bushing.
Humphries said Springfield opted for a bushing because it wanted to keep the core design of the Ronin as traditional as possible, while still offering modern touches like the forward cocking serrations and other upgrades. And in keeping with that traditional motif, the recoil spring guide is the short style originally designed by John Browning, which is certainly fine by me because I much prefer that over a full-length rod.
The forged stainless steel frame has polished flats and is bead blasted otherwise. The flat mainspring housing is checkered 20 lpi while the bead-blasted frontstrap is left smooth—a move that maintains the gun’s clean lines and also allows Springfield to offer it at a good price. Checkering costs money, you know.
The grip safety has a memory bump, and the extended thumb safety is, to me, the perfect shape and size: easy to operate and great for riding your thumb on while shooting. The magazine release is your basic serrated button, non-extended and of standard size. It drops the supplied nine-round magazine easily. The magazine well is beveled for faster, surer reloads.
The grips are a blonde/dark wood laminate and feature the cross-cannon logo on both stocks. They’re checkered on a diagonal, narrow at the top and all the way across on the bottom, the crucial part of the grip. They’re nicely set off by two stainless steel Torx attachment screws.
The Ronin Operator has a terrific trigger. It’s Springfield’s new Generation 2 Speed trigger, although internally it is no different than the Generation 1. The only change is the number of holes in the trigger shoe: five for the Generation 1, four for the Generation 2.
The pull is excellent, breaking at four pounds, one ounce on average with no creep and no overtravel. The reset is short and positive.
Accuracy at 25 yards was decent, as you can see in the accompanying chart. I’m the first to admit I am not a good bench pistol shooter. I did manage to get several groups at or under the two-inch mark—including a 1.3-incher with Hornady Critical Defense—but I’d always get one poor group out of the four, which I can blame only on the shooter.
Away from the bench the Ronin Operator was a real peach. I said earlier I like shooting 9mm 1911s better than I do .45 1911s, and the Springfield did not disappoint. I’ve gotten accustomed to checkered frontstraps, and I was suspicious of the smooth frontstrap on this gun, but in practice it was fine. The pistol never felt like it was squirming around, and certainly the checkered mainspring housing and to a lesser extent the checkering on the laminated grips contributed to solid control.
The excellent trigger break and great reset put first-shot hits out of the holster and follow-up shots right on the money. The thumb safety was easy to deactivate, and the width made riding it with my firing hand thumb a breeze. I did muff the grip safety a couple of times over 200 or so draws, but those were due to overly sloppy technique. The memory bump does exactly what it’s supposed to when you get your firing grip reasonably correct.
You’re presented with quite a sight picture, especially on a sunny day. The white dots really stand out against the serrated face, and the fiber optic glows like the sun itself. Frankly, if I were going to use this as a “let’s go have some fun” gun or a competition gun—which it would excel at, I think—I’d be tempted to black out those white dots. However, if I had an idea of using it as a defensive tool where low-light environments were a given, I’d leave the rear sight just the way it is.
The Ronin Operator was 100 percent reliable right out of the gate, even from the bench. If you’re going to get failures to feed, it’s been my experience that’s where you’re going to see them most often, especially early on.
Magazines dropped free just fine, although I wasn’t able to do any reload drills because the gun comes with just a single nine-round magazine. It features a bumper pad and eight unnumbered witness holes. As much as I hate to agree with Jim Tarr on anything, I too gripe about semiautos that come with only one magazine. So it was only fair to give Humphries a chance to defend the company’s decision.
“We decided to go with one magazine to allow more expense and effort to be put into the core gun,” he said. “For example, getting cut forward cocking serrations in a forged steel slide.”
I knew he’d say something like that, because of course he’s right from a sales perspective. Suggested retail is only $849, which puts it close to “budget” 1911 territory, which is incredible for everything you get. For that kind of money, I’d just pony up and buy the aftermarket mags of my choice.
While I couldn’t do reload drills, I did practice racking the slide through use of the Tactical Rack rear sight—with the gun completely empty, of course. It worked great when racked against a gun belt and a table edge, and while I hope I never have to execute that skill due to my hand being injured in a gunfight, it’s good to know I can do it with this sight.
So where does the Ronin Operator fit in the pantheon of today’s 1911s? “The pistol was designed to combine unyielding strength with reliability and old-school quality,” Humphries said. “It combines a legacy of service with the features modern shooters demand.”
Nothing in my experience with the pistol would refute any of what he said. Certainly the gun has strength going for it, thanks to the forgings it uses for the slide and frame. And certainly if any company can, Springfield has earned the right to claim a legacy of service for its 1911 pistols.
There’s also no denying the Ronin Operator provides features today’s shooters expect: forward cocking serrations, fiber-optic front sight, good trigger and a memory bump on the grip safety. And it delivers all this at a great price.
In fact, the Ronin Operator is almost in a class by itself in that regard. There aren’t a lot of full-size 1911s on the market today with a suggested retail under $900, and many if not most of these are basic or classic versions of John Browning’s design.
I can think of only three that offer a few bells and whistles and might be considered direct competition for the Ronin Operator: Kimber’s Two-Tone Custom II at $857; and Rock Island Armory’s Rock Ultra FS at $722 and Tac Ultra FS (which is not offered in 9mm) at $775.
That’s pretty much it. I’m head over heels for the looks of the Springfield, and you can accuse me of being shallow, but I’d pick it over both Rock Island pistols on appearance alone. Like the Ronin Operator, the Kimber also features a blued slide over a stainless frame, but it has three-dot sights, not fiber optic, no memory bump on the grip safety and has a full-length guide rod—a feature I don’t care for. The Springfield’s feature set wins me over here.
All in all, the Ronin Operator has what I want in a 1911: It’s a looker, it shoots well, it’s reliable, and it’s a gun that will likely still be going strong long after I’m gone.
Springfield Armory Ronin Operator Specs
- Type: Government (tested), Commander size 1911
- Caliber: 9mm (tested), .45 ACP, 10mm
- Capacity: 9+1
- Barrel: 5 in. stainless hammer-forged
- OAL/Height: 8.6/5.5 in.
- Weight: 41 oz.
- Construction: hot-salt-blue forged carbon steel slide; forged stainless steel frame
- Sights: Tactical Rack two-dot rear; red fiber-optic front
- Grips: checkered laminate
- Safety: grip w/memory bump, extended thumb
- Price: $849
- Manufacturer: Springfield Armory, springfield-armory.com
Springfield Armory Ronin Operator Accuracy Results