The search for a viable, reliable, and compact personal defense pistol that you may easily conceal has reached its zenith with the well-designed compact 1911 handgun. The Government Model 1911 is arguably the most proven of service pistols. It is reliable; accurate enough for most uses, and chambers a fight-stopping cartridge. Military pistols often become popular for civilian use. These include the Colt Single Action Army, the Colt Army Special, and the Colt 1911. Shortening the barrel made the revolvers easier to carry and conceal. During the past 70 years technology has allowed the maker to not only shorten the slide, barrel, and grip of self-loaders but also utilize durable and lightweight material in handgun construction. The 1911 is slim enough for concealed carry and by slightly abbreviating the slide and barrel the pistol is much easier to carry. While many carry lightweight revolvers such as the snubnose .38, and others rely upon ineffectual .380 ACP pistols, those with experience in interpersonal combat eschew such choices. Not only are the small handguns less powerful with limited wound potential, the smaller dimensions make them more difficult to handle quickly. In the opinion of many shooters, SIG has designed a 1911 handgun with the ideal proportions for concealed carry.
SIG C3, compact and loaded with features
The SIG C3 isn’t the smallest SIG however it is among the most compact. The C3 features an aluminum alloy receiver. The barrel and slide are of commander length—meaning a 4.25-inch barrel. The lockup utilizes a barrel bushing of the original design rather than a belled muzzle. The frame isn’t as tall as a Government Model. By shortening the handle portion of the receiver, the C3’s profile is lower. The shortened butt is less likely to protrude from concealed carry or to print against covering garments. There is some compromise inherent in a concealed carry handgun but the SIG C3 suffers the least of any 1911 compact handguns from these compromises in my opinion.
There are shorter versions of the 1911. However, to convince the shorter guns to operate reliably, the barrel bushing is eliminated and the barrel must tilt at a greater angle and recoil proportionately further to the rear than the C3 or a full-size Government Model. As a result, reliability may be compromised. The C3 has a shorter sight radius than the Government Model and still shoots well. In a properly designed concealment holster, the C3’s slide may be concealed while the butt protrudes little. The operating design is the original 1911-type Browning tilt barrel system of locked breech operation, complete with the original swinging link design. Beginning at the aft position, the pistol fits most hands well. The grips are well checkered for good adhesion when firing. They are slightly thinner than most, but just the same are comfortable and well suited to concealed carry use. The slide is of the same basic design as any other 1911 with intentional differences. SIG Sauer wished to be certain that the pistol has a SIG appearance that makes it instantly recognizable. When you look in a showcase filled with 1911 handguns, it takes concentration to identify the maker. Many are similar. The SIG stands apart. The slide, designed to be distinctive, is similar in outline to the P Series pistol slide. The slide flats extend more than other 1911s. This design renders the SIG unique, however, it also makes it more difficult to holster. Many, but not all, holster makers are up and running with SIG specific holsters. The more tightly fitted the greater the problem. Be certain to specify your 1911 is a SIG when ordering a holster! The C3 illustrated has been carried in a Galco Summer Comfort. Well-made of good material, the Galco features a holstering welt for easy insertion and re-holstering after drawing the piece. The design assures that the handgun and holster remain stable when carrying the handgun between the shirt and trousers. The C3 was a tight fit and the holster after a few dozen draws, speed was excellent. Galco offers a number of first-class concealed carry holsters. The balance of speed and retention is excellent and the preferred dual belt loops are ideal for concealed carry.
The SIG C3 features Novak low mount sights. These sights are the premier sighting system for handguns and offer a crisp sight picture. A shooter who understands sight alignment and sight picture will make the most of these sights. When firing the pistol, abrasion from the checkered mainspring housing keeps the palm in place. The front strap, also checkered, keeps the gun secure even with a hand that is cold or sweaty. The trigger is the long type but thankfully without lightening cuts. The pistol is a 1911 in design with two modern features. The C3 features a positive firing pin block or drop safety. This safety keeps the firing pin locked until the trigger is pressed completely to the rear. The other improvement is the proven SIG external extractor.
The SIG C3 features a beavertail grip safety. This design features an enlarged section that assures that the shooter properly depresses the grip safety with a less than perfect hold. Those of us that use the thumbs forward grip-style sometimes raise the palm from the grip safety. This activates the safety and locks the trigger. The beavertail safety design is an aid in this regard. The slide lock safety is well designed, locking into place with a positive indent. Trigger compression is smooth enough at about six pounds. The stainless slide is natural finish. This presents a pleasing contrast to the black frame. When examining and disassembling the pistol prior to the firing test, the fit, finish, and workmanship was deemed excellent. There was no tool marks apparent in the slide, on the frame, or the barrel. Barrel to slide fit could not be faulted. The heft of the pistol is excellent. While difficult to qualify, this balance makes the handgun fast from leather and fast handling once drawn. The supplied magazines are nominal seven-round units. The pistol will accept standard seven- and eight-round 1911 magazine, the lower portion simply hangs from the frame. The original short frame 1911 magazines short frame versions held six rounds. The consensus has been that the six-round magazines are most reliable. At no time did we experience any magazine related problems. The pistol has never failed to feed, chamber, fire, or eject.
Ammunition and performance
I have used service-grade ammunition to test the pistol as well as a good quantity of my personal handloads. Handloads are essential for economy and those who wish to remain self-sufficient and require a supply of ammunition to maintain proficiency should invest in the necessary equipment and education to handload. By the same token, I am discriminating when it comes to personal defense handguns and perhaps even more so when it comes to ammunition. Use reliable practice ammunition, however, case mouth and primer seal is less important with practice ammunition. Ammunition integrity is important with personal defense loads. I have used a substantial quantity of SIG Sauer Elite ammunition for practice duties. The 230-grain FMJ load is accurate, reliable, and affordable in 50-round boxes. The 230-grain FMJ is the traditional loading. I have confidence in this load. Feed reliability is never a question, accuracy is good, and wound potential is proven. It is good to have an expanding bullet that maximizes wound potential, and the 230-grain .45 has momentum, bullet weight, and caliber. I have tested the 185-grain, 200-grain and 230-grain JHP with good results. Each has merit. The 200-grain load recoils less than the 230-grain JHP V Crown with similar performance and is presently the duty load. While the C3 is not uncomfortable to fire and it remains controllable despite its light weight, there is more push than with a heavier handgun. As a result of testing with various loads, I cannot recommend a +P for defense use in this handgun. While they may maximize a 5-inch barrel handgun with steel frame, these heavy loads are simply on the edge of control with the C3.
When all is said and done, the SIG C3 represents first class personal protection. Light but controllable, accurate and reliable, the C 3 is a premier defensive handgun well worth your time and effort to master.
SIG C3 Specifications
Caliber | 45 ACP
Action Type | Single action
Trigger Pull SA | 5 lbs
Overall Length | 7.7 in
Overall Height | 4.8 in
Overall Width | 1.4 in
Barrel Length | 4.2 in
Sight Radius | 5.7 in
Weight w/Mag | 29.5 oz
Mag Capacity | 7 Rounds
Sights | Novak
Grips | Slim Profile Custom Rosewood Grips as issued
Frame Finish | Black Hard Anodized
Slide Finish | Stainless
Features | Novak® night sights, checkered front strap
MSRP | $1,200.00
Have you had the opportunity to shoot the SIG c3? What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comment section.
Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice, and is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills, and others. He is a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications also. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.