With the 1911, you can understand the popularity. The design has a rich tradition as a combat sidearm; and, when properly executed, no other semiauto pistol has a better trigger.
There are parts and accessories in abundance for it. As a result, it is an easy gun to customize and make truly your own, exactly the way you want it. And for a hard-knocks gun that saw early duty in the muddy trenches, some of the modern examples are absolutely beautiful. No one ever accused a polymer pistol of being a “work of art.”
Is it worth it for you to own one nice 1911 for the price of three or four polymer pistols? The late Jeff Cooper said that a good handgun should last a lifetime. So, you might as well make it a nice one—a gun with some pride of ownership. The trouble is that many top-end 1911s have doubled in price over the last few years.
Roberts Defense is a small company in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, that began operation in 2011. The company produces several 1911 pistols, still giving you—pardon the pun—bang for your buck. They’re not inexpensive; putting in the necessary hands-on attention to detail is never cheap. But the result is that this manufacturer’s pistols are wonderfully made of good materials to exacting tolerances.
For this review, I requested the company’s Dark Ops in the 5-inch barrel configuration—formerly named the PRO model. It’s not a frilly, ornate “barbecue” model or a flashy race gun. Everything about it stares you in the eye without blinking and says, “Serious business.”
There are no injection-molded parts in this American-made gun. The frame and slide are forged from stainless steel bar stock and then given a matte-black nitride treatment (as tested) for supreme corrosion and wear resistance. It now comes standard with a Cerakote finish. The front strap is finely checkered.
All the internal parts receive hands-on treatment. The frame rails are hand lapped to create what Roberts Defense calls a “riding-on-glass feel.” The slide is hand fit to the frame. The barrel bushing is hand fit, as is the barrel hood to the slide. The hammer, sear and disconnector are all machined parts that are then hand polished. The same is true for the trigger, grip safety and thumb safety.
There’s a small notch at the top of the chamber that serves as a visual loaded-chamber indicator. The company redesigned the ledge on the slide stop lever, but it’s not elongated. That’s a good thing. An extended slide stop lever can sometimes lead to slide lock during firing if your support hand thumb presses against it. There’s also an installation slot so you don’t mar the frame when installing the slide stop lever.
The Dark Ops features widened, ambidextrous thumb safeties. That’s a plus, even for right-handed shooters who might be faced with the necessity of shooting left-handed … because gunfights rarely play out as rehearsed
This model is fitted with textured Black Desert Sand VZ Operator II G10 grip panels. They are attractive, yes, but they are also light and durable. Together with the front strap checkering on the frame, they provide a no-slip hold on the gun that is second only to Super Glue. An extended mag well is added to the bottom of the grip frame to help funnel magazines into the pistol.
The Dark Ops comes with Heine tritium night sights. The rear sight is held in the dovetail with two set screws. Loosening them allows you an easy way to slide the sight left or right to adjust for windage. The face of the sight is serrated to reduce glare. The configuration of these sights is two tritium dots— one front, one rear—for a dot-on-dot sight picture that’s fast to acquire with unmistakable alignment in low light.
The rear sight features a ledge. Should you have to work your pistol’s action one-handed when things begin to unravel in a gunfight, you can catch that sight ledge on your holster, belt, boot heel or other object to retract the slide. Two eight-round magazines with witness holes are included.
With good semiauto pistols intended for defensive use, there always has to be balance between accuracy and reliability. Tighten the tolerances, and you can achieve better accuracy. But too much can affect reliability, and you can’t have that in a gun you’ll carry into harm’s way. If the parts fit too loosely, you might compromise accuracy to the point at which you don’t have confidence in taking that head shot when necessary.
The Roberts Defense team got it right when it produced the Dark Ops. The slide-to-frame fit is excellent—but not so tight you have to put the gun in a vise to work the slide. All the parts work together smoothly and precisely. The thumb safeties click securely into the “safe” position and disengage smoothly, but without the worry that they’ll slide off accidentally.
I drew the pistol from a Fobus paddle holster especially designed for 1911 pistols with accessory rails. If you establish a proper hold right from the holster, the textured grips keep the pistol from shifting as you bring that front sight onto the target. Target acquisition is quick; the wide notch (.156 inch) in the rear sight is partially responsible for this. The Heine sights are an excellent choice for this pistol. I’m thinking of putting them on some of my other guns.
This is a Series 70 type of 1911, meaning there is no internal firing pin safety to complicate the trigger. After a small amount of takeup, the trigger broke crisply. I measured it at 3.5 pounds.
I shot four different loads through the pistol: two full metal jacket training loads and two defense loads. There were no malfunctions. Empties were ejected with vigor—most landed about 10 feet away.
From the bench, five-shot groups at 25 yards measured around 1.5 inches. When I lost concentration and became impatient, groups opened up, and that inflated some of the final figures.
I dread shooting from the bench and see little point in it, beyond sighting-in a gun for a particular load. You’re better served using up your ammo and practicing more realistic defensive drills. A better, more methodical shooter could have done much better, I’m sure. The bottom line is that this gun is more than accurate enough for any defensive or tactical use.
The Dark Ops 5-inch lives up to its former name, Dark Ops Pro, with professional grade performance.The weight of the gun aids in controlling it through body armor drills (two to the chest, one to the head) and in transitions between multiple targets and shooting one-handed. Shooting at rubber balls, golf balls and soup cans — something I usually integrate at the end of each training session—kept things fun.
When I was younger, I owned several beat-up used cars that got me from point A to point B … most of the time. But there was no pride of ownership in having a truly excellent ride. I’d never want to drive any of them again.
After shooting this Roberts Defense Dark Ops, I admit I am spoiled. It’s accurate, reliable and well made. It’s classy without being flashy. None of the other handguns in my safe seem quite as satisfactory now. I’m thinking it’s better to have fewer guns of high quality than an eclectic collection of this and that— guns I don’t shoot often enough to get good with them.
Yes, I’ll have to trade away several of my other guns and still come up with a bit of cash in order to buy a Defense Dark Ops, with its nearly $2,000 price tag. But Cooper was right: A good handgun should last a lifetime. And this Roberts Defense 1911 has a transferable lifetime warranty.
So, where’s the risk? I think I’m about to trade up.
Just prior to this issue of Gun World going to press, Roberts Defense simplified the names of its lineup. The tested model was the DARK OPS PRO model, and it was also offered in CUSTOM and CARRY models. Now, these three names are no longer used, and it is just the DARK OPS. But it is offered in 5-inch (formerly PRO) and 4.25-inch (formerly CUSTOM). Also, black nitride was the standard finish; but, due to popularity, Cerakote is now standard, which decreases build time by three to four weeks. Black nitride is still offered as a $350 option.
A version of this article first appeared in the January 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.