S&W Performance Center 1911 Range Report and Comparison


My most recent acquisition is a S&W Performance Center 1911.  This post won’t go into detail about the firearm itself; see my previous blog post for that information.  However, since today was my first day at the range with this pistol I thought an account of how it performed would be appropriate.  Just for fun, I also brought my Kimber Custom Classic Target along for a “head to head” shootoff as well to see if more $$ = better performance.  Note:  my Kimber is pre-1998 which many claim, true or not, was a time of more attention to detail and fitting in Kimber’s manufacturing.

I shot a mixture of ammo, including:

  • 200 gr LCSWC Reloads
  • 185 gr LCSWC Reloads
  • 230 gr USGI Ball Ammo (true older USGI surplus)

Most of my shooting was conducted from a Weaver stance at a distance of 50 ft.  However, I did some limited shooting at 25 yards and at 7 yards.  I also shot one group from each pistol using the bench at 50 ft as well.  Since 50 ft is generally the maximum distance I shoot, that’s where I did 90% of my work.

First, I’ll just show you some sample pics of targets from today’s session (these are not all the targets, just a few I selected to post).  All were 5-shot groups from both pistols using the same ammo/stance/distance/etc.  Essentially, I tried as best as possible to make the pistol the only changing variable.  I also alternated the order in which I shot each in every “head to head” matchup to reduce the variable of eye fatigue.  I’ll let you draw your own conclusions and then will jump into the data and detailed observations.

First, here’s four targets from 50 ft.  The fourth is from the bench; the first three were from a Weaver stance (unsupported, of course).  If you can read my chicken scratches, you’ll see the group sizes (rounded to the nearest 1/8″ increment) as well as various notes regarding ammo, distance, etc. Kimber target is on the left, S&W on the right:





Here’s a set I shot from the bench at 25 yards.  Again, Kimber left, S&W right (note: the hole on the bottom of the left target is from pulling a staple out of the target, not from a bullet):


Finally, here’s a couple sets from 7 yards, Weaver stance.  This time, the S&W results are on the left, Kimber is on the right:


So, for all you data nerds, here’s some more quantifiable results from all 14 sets of groups I shot in today’s session:

  • The S&W shot the smaller group in 11 of the 14 sets.  The S&W was clearly the better shooter in my hands.  However, how much better is up for debate.
  • Below is a chart showing just “how much” better the S&W was than the Kimber at all distances (and methods of support).  This data was created by averaging the group sizes for each distance and method, and subtracting the S&W’s average group size in each category from the Kimber’s (the S&W was always the smaller group size).


As you can see, while the S&W was always better, the Kimber ran pretty close in many respects.  Note that bench results will (of course) show less variance due to taking many of my sub-par human characteristics out of the equation.

Other observations include:

  • The S&W NEVER hiccupped in reliably feeding any rounds, including the SWC loads with their distinct shoulders.  The Kimber choked on the SWC loads almost 50% of the time, but did reliably feed the ball ammunition.
  • My Kimber has an awesome trigger that’s “just right” for me… it’s a short Cylinder & Slide version that breaks cleanly at 3 lbs.  The S&W has a nice crisp break right at 3 1/2 lbs., but comes stock with a standard size trigger. While not necessarily uncomfortable, the S&W trigger (combined with the noticeably thicker grips on the S&W) created more of a reach for my short digits.  My finger sits at an angle on the S&W trigger but is pretty much perpendicular on the Kimber’s.  This isn’t an issue with the S&W, but just an observation that the Kimber’s trigger reach fits me better.
  • The S&W felt a little “smoother” in operation.  It’s hard to describe, but it felt more refined.  However, it could also be due to the larger grip panels that create more of a “secure” feel of control vs. the Kimber’s thinner panels.
  • Unrelated to the pistols, I was surprised at how well the USGI ball ammo shot in comparison to my handloads.  I expected the handloads to be head and shoulders above the USGI ammo in accuracy, but it just wasn’t the case.

In conclusion, the S&W performed flawlessly, ate everything it was fed, and bested the Kimber in every accuracy measurement.  If both were available to me for free and I could only have one, the S&W would clearly be the choice.  However, to use a football analogy, this wasn’t a blowout win but rather more of a victory won by a few field goals.  The question I now have to ask myself is this:  do field goal wins justify the significant expense of keeping the S&W (which will require me to sell other firearms to pay for the Smith), or do I release this wonderful pistol to another lucky shooter to enjoy?

Part II:  The Morning After

So, here I am looking again at the S&W 1911.  It really is a fine piece of workmanship and the more I look, the more I think it’s a keeper.  Here’s some additional observations:

  • I brought my trigger pull gauge back out and measured the S&W.  After yesterday’s range session, the S&W trigger now breaks at 3.25 lbs., down .25 lbs from “brand new” condition.  Apparently, some parts “smoothed up” during initial break-in.
  • I swapped the grips off my Kimber and put them on the S&W.  That definitely changes the feel, and the Smith is now a little less of a handfull.  I won’t be keeping these grips on long term as they don’t have the ambi safety cut, but I may end up getting some thinner grips for the Smith. Not sure if I’ll stay with a natural wood look or more of a synthetic material, but I am partial to cocobolo and rosewood.  Pics of the Smith with my Kimber’s aftermarket cocobolo grips are below.
  • The trigger still seems like it’s a tad long for me.  I may end up swapping it out for a Cylinder & Slide or Greider short solid trigger (just as I have done on my other two 1911s).  I may go with the serrated trigger face on this gun, though, vs. the smooth face on my others.



About martowski

Garden-variety professional with one too many hobbies.
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