Range Officer Elite Operator
June 27th, 2020
7 minute read
A few years ago, Springfield Armory came out with their Range Officer series, which I liked so much I bought the test sample. It became my duty gun for my last three years on the police department, and the .45 I most often used to teach private classes with. A bunch of friends and students bought them on my recommendation, in the initial .45 ACP chambering and the subsequent 9mm alike, and without exception were happy with them. Thus, I was eager to get my hands on the latest iteration of the series, the Elite Operator.
Marked “OPERATOR” on the left side of the slide and “RO ELITE” on the right, it came in a handy zipper bag with two flush-bottom, 7-round magazines, their floorplates drilled for bumper pads. It’s a rail gun, the light rail’s a bit slimmer and less protuberant than on most railed 1911s, which seems to be a good thing, but still keeps the pistol from fitting most standard 1911 holsters.
Configuration is otherwise 5″ barrel, square butt “Government-style.” Historically, a 5″ Government 1911 has averaged 39.5 ounces unloaded weight in all-steel construction; the rail integral to the dust cover brings this one up to 41 ounces. The finish is corrosion-resistant Black-T. Slide operation felt a bit rough compared to other Springfield 1911s owned by the test team, but it turned out not to be problematic.
Like the original Range Officer, this one has a checkered mainspring housing and smooth front of frame, the easy to strip original John M. Browning barrel bushing with short guide rod and beavertail grip safety. What else does the Elite bring to the table? The features mentioned above, plus a well-adjusted and -shaped beavertail grip safety (standard on the RO series) and very slim G10 grip panels. That pleased this writer, because the original comes with handsome Cocobolo grips. What’s not to like? Only this: the first time I found I needed to carry my Range Officer against bare skin (IWB, under an un-tucked shirt) I had a 1911 grip-shaped skin rash by the end of the day. Seems I’m one of those folks who is allergic to Cocobolo. I swapped on the nearest pair of walnut panels, which had Colt medallions, leaving my Springfield Range Officer looking like a blue steel and walnut personification of multiple personality disorder.
The Elite’s slim grips permit a bit more trigger reach that allowed me to get my finger in deeper on the medium-length adjustable trigger, affording more leverage: another good thing. On my Lyman digital scale, this trigger averaged 5 lbs., 1.3 oz., well within “safe street trigger” spec for a 1911.
Sights are fixed, high profile rear with a front ledge to allow the user to rack the slide against belt or holster if circumstances should require one-handed emergency operation, and a red fiber optic front sight. A couple of non-luminous white dots on the rear sight combine with the bright red orb of the fiber optic, allowing the three-dot sight picture many shooters prefer for fast work, and which any of us can appreciate under certain lighting conditions and with certain target colors.
Fellow tester Steve Denney noted, “It seems to have a heavy mainspring, but I didn’t notice it in shooting. The sights were easy to see. It’s certainly accurate, and very controllable with full power hardball. No sharp edges chewing on my hands.” I concur.
On the Bench
Accuracy testing was done two-handed from a Caldwell Matrix rest on a concrete bench at a measured 25 yards. Federal HST 230-grain +P is rated for 950 feet per second from a 5″ barrel such as the Elite’s, and may just be the most dynamic conventional .45 ACP load available. The test Springfield put five of these rounds in 1.65”. The bottom two were in a very tight vertical double. The best three were in a cluster just above the double that measured 1.00” center to center.
Speer Blazer Brass was chosen to represent the most popular .45 ACP training round, 230-grain full metal jacket. This load delivered a 1.55” group with all five shots, the best three once again in exactly one inch. (What are the odds of that?)
Remington’s 185-grain Express load is a classic cup-and-core jacketed hollow point with a long history of feeding in any 1911 .45 that will work with hardball, and in the RO Elite it plunked five shots into 2.35 inches, with the best three in barely more than half of that, 1.20 inches. All measurements were taken center to center between the farthest-flung of the hits being measured, to the nearest 0.05”.
Let’s analyze that a bit. The 230-grain is by far the most popular bullet weight in .45 ACP, and the two such loads tested were within a tenth of an inch of each other in five-shot measurements, and identical in “best three” measurements. That is consistency. Best-three measurements with all three rounds in both bullet weights averaged 1.07”.
Springfield Armory advertises the Range Officer Elite Operator as having a match grade barrel. The gun proved to this writer’s satisfaction that it lived up to its advertising. By the way, that “best three” measurement is done because we’ve found over the decades that hand-held from a bench, it eliminates enough unnoticed shooter error to furnish a very good approximation of what the gun and load will do for all five from a machine rest. Most readers don’t have access to a machine rest, but are a lot more likely to be able to find a solid bench rest to compare their sample of the gun and load to ours.
On the Hip
I carried the Range Officer Elite for a couple of days in a fast, comfortable Green Force Tactical scabbard (http://www.greenforcetactical.com/). I couldn’t detect any difference due to the couple of ounces of extra weight created by the rail configuration, and there were no sharp edges that snagged gun or holster or dug into the wearer’s body. If you’re comfortable carrying an all-steel Government-size 1911, you should be equally comfortable carrying this one.
On the Timer
With a defense gun suitable for “combat competition” you want to find some way to shoot it under stress and time pressure to really get an idea of its ergonomics relevant to its intended task. No suitable matches intersected with my schedule, so I ran it on the “Five-Yard Roundup” drill created by retired Marine combat vet and rising star in tactical writing circles, Justin Dyal. I was introduced to it at Tom Givens’ Rangemaster Tactical Conference in Little Rock in early 2018. You are allowed only 2.5 seconds for each of four tasks, all done from five yards on the NRA B8 Timed and Rapid Fire Bulls-eye target. First, you draw from concealment and fire one shot. The next three stages are all done from low ready: four shots free style, three shots dominant hand only, and finally two shots non-dominant hand only.
I got off to a crappy start by going too fast on the draw-to-the-shot, and pulled the bullet down to 7 o’clock just outside the black, losing two points off the bat. That was a wake-up call, and I was able to tighten up from there on, only putting my last weak-hand shot into the “9” ring (rushing again, dammit). The rest of the ten rounds were in the roughly 3″ diameter “10” ring for a 97 out of 100. A new gun that lets an old fart score 97% on a deceptively tough drill cold is a gun that has some awfully good ergonomics. The red fiber optic up front was a big help in getting a fast sight picture on an all-black mark.
When the original Springfield Range Officer came out a few years ago, I liked it so much I bought it, and have used it heavily since, carrying it for the police department and on my own time and occasionally winning a shooting contest with it. Because I recommend it as perhaps the best buy in a sub-$1000 all-around 1911 .45, a lot of my students have bought them. They report the same extremely high reliability I’ve experienced. In this On Target test, the Elite version of the Range Officer lived up to expectation in that respect, with several hundred rounds through many hands and no malfunctions save for one failure to lock open on a magazine that wouldn’t lock any other 1911’s slide back when empty, either.
For the money, I’d have liked to see a low-profile magazine chute for faster reloading, not just the radiused edges of the mag well found on the test gun. This is the one addition I made to my otherwise still box-stock, first-year Range Officer, when I happened to be visiting Springfield Armory in Geneseo, IL, and it definitely slicks up one’s reloads with little loss of concealability.
The subject of this article, the Elite Operator, runs $1,145. Featured with rail, ambi safety, and Black-T finish, I consider a “best buy.”
Editor’s Note: This article was written by Massad Ayoob and shared with us by On Target Magazine. It can be seen here. The Range Officer Elite Operator is now offered exclusively in 10mm.
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