For a long time the 1911 universe was pretty easy: You bought or built a full-featured, full-size pistol for competition. Then you bought a plain-Jane beater for daily carry. The competition gun was tricked out with all the features. It was brilliantly accurate, all-steel and won matches for you. The carry 1911 was worn, gray, a lightweight aluminum frame and it was often rattly loose. If it was better than “minute of felon” accurate, we were happy. Oh, and they were both chambered in .45 ACP.
Springfield Armory changed that a few years ago with the Range Officer. It is a plain 1911 built to competition specs in fitting and delivers like a match gun. No extras, no cosmetics, but all the performance of a competition gun without the big price tag and the long lead times for custom work.
Now Springfield has unveiled its new Range Officer Elite lines, four guns available in both 9mm Luger and .45 ACP. The two full-size ones are made with steel frames, and the two smaller ones are made with aluminum frames. The Elite Target has an adjustable rear sight, while the rest have fixed sights.
The sample I received was the 1911 Range Officer Elite Compact in 9mm. The Elite Compact comes with a four-inch barrel and a slide to match. The barrel is stainless steel, match grade, with an integral feed ramp for better case support. If you are in the habit of using +P or +P+ ammunition, the supported chamber of the Elite Compact will serve you well. For the rest of us, it simply means the brass is better supported and thus less hammered in use. Resizing it for reloading will be easier.
The Elite Compact does not use a barrel bushing. Instead, the front of the barrel is turned to a large-enough diameter that it will lock onto the front of the slide without a bushing. Behind the lockup area, the barrel is sculpted on the top surface to provide clearance for slide movement.
While this design eliminates the need to machine and fit a bushing, it does require the recoil spring retainer be of the “reverse” design—installing from the breech end, not the muzzle end. The retainer rides on a full-length guide rod, which is itself surrounded by the recoil spring. On the Elite Compact the recoil spring is a flat-wire captive design for longer service life and also because a flat spring takes up less room. That allowed the Springfield designers get more spring in the same space, which is good for both service life and reliability.