Umarex and Colt have collaborated on a faithful recreation of an American classic: The Colt Commander. This BB gun version is a spot-on homage to the original. But before I break it down, I want to provide a bit of context.
The original centerfire Colt Commanders are interesting 1911s. The original guns were an attempt to downsize the 5” frame on the original John Moses Browning design into something lighter. This isn’t an easy task. That 5” frame provides a solid platform for the balance of the American-sized .45 ACP, but it also allows for some space inside containing a well-balanced set of springs.
The .45 ACP produces significant recoil, especially with hot loads or heavy bullets. The springs are tuned to absorb that recoil and return the gun to battery. This process can’t happen too fast, as extractors mangle the rims of shell casings. It can’t happen too slowly, either. If it lacks just enough power, spent casings won’t clear during ejection, and new rounds won’t feed. And no one needs a gun that won’t work.
So you can’t just lop off a section of spring, trim the barrel, cut down the slide and call it good. But 1911 fanatics have been trying to do so for years. 5” guns evolved into 4.25” guns, 4” and even 3” versions—all in the name of concealability and ease of carry.
The Colt Commander had the added task of chambering other rounds. Browning had already mastered the .25 ACP and the .380, even the .38 Super. Yet there was a push for an effective caliber that wasn’t as punishing as some perceived the .45 ACP to be. Enter the 9mm.
All of this may be a bit academic. If you are a gun-nut like me, the history is entertaining reading. I’m a 1911 junkie, and I personally considered the Commander to be one of the most unusual bits of bureaucracy ever evinced in firearm form. What practical purpose is served by trimming .75” off of the length of a 1911. There’s not a human on the planet that can conceal a 4.25” Commander who couldn’t conceal a 5” 1911 A1. But that is how our government works, sometimes.
The real benefit came from experiments with aluminum frames. The new guns were supposed to be smaller and lighter, too. Aluminum isn’t steel, but it doesn’t weigh as much either.
In the end, the Commander was chambered in 9×19mm Parabellum, .45 ACP, .38 Super, and .30 Luger.
The post-WWII trial for which the gun was designed specified that the entrants couldn’t weigh more than 25 ounces. They couldn’t be more than 7” long. The Commander weighed in at 27 ounces. The gun came in with a 7.75” overall length. Close enough.
Still, the 1911 A1 weighed in at 39 ounces and had an overall length of 8.25”. So the Commander was, on paper at least, an improvement.
And the 9mm held 9 rounds, which gave it a leg up by some practical estimations. Wars have been won and lost because of round counts.
History aside, we’re here to talk about a different chambering of the Commander. This one is an air gun, and it spits out BBs right on target.
The Commander has a great trigger for an air gun pistol. It has the most realistic hammer fall of all the air gun versions of the 1911 I’ve ever shot. It is a very good stand-in for an original.
Like the originals, this one is sporting some traditional diamond checked grips.
The magazines are large enough to hold CO2 cartridges. Loading the BBs is not easy. They’re smaller than a .45 ACP and require some dexterity. I only mention that because many die-hard fans of the Colt Commander, like me, aren’t getting any younger.
Accuracy is rock solid. The gun has a decently loud report, a mix between a pop and a crack. It is loud indoors, but still hearing safe. Outdoors, I don’t notice the noise at all. When the mag runs dry, the report deepens just a bit. The slide will lock back when the magazine itself is empty.
For those looking for a solid air gun with which to practice your skills, the Colt Commander is a great choice. It is shorter than a 5” 1911, but not so much so that it would be noticed. It is a faithful recreation of the actual Commander length guns. If you’re lucky enough to have a Commander, this addition would be a no brainer.
David Higginbotham is a writer and educator who lives in Arkansas. After years of writing and consulting in the firearms industry, he's coming back to his roots with air guns.