I met him in a relatively quiet corner at some industry show. SHOT, maybe. Or NRA. Honestly, I can’t recall. The impression stayed with me, though. Rob Unger seemed a straight-forward guy, but soft-spoken, not brusque. Obviously proud of his pistols, this young man insisted he was eager to hear what I thought of them. Clearly, I concluded, he’d fail as a politician or a custom gunmaker.
But he was a custom gunmaker.
“When did you start building these 1911’s?” I’d lifted one from its case. It had glommed onto my hand like a puppy hungry for a home.
“A hundred years too late to get in on the ground floor,” he grinned.
In 2011? Yep. Just a couple of seasons back. But he assured me he’d been on shop floors “a few years before that.” In fact, Rob had built several worthy guns before trotting out a series under the shingle of Roberts Defense, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Why the 1911?
He didn’t have much of an answer for that. He could have said, “Why not?” Or, “I can build them better than anyone else.” Or “There’s not another that looks quite like mine.”
Instead he said, if memory serves. “I like ‘em.”
As do I. So, for the next half-hour, I fondled every one he pulled out.
Roberts Defense catalogs only 1911 pistols, all .45’s. There are three versions, with some common and some distinguishing features.
The Roberts Defense Super Grade Custom has a
standard Commander-length 4 ¼” barrel.
Mirror polish on the ramp helps this beautifully finished
1911 chamber a wide variety of bullets.
The Recon, with its frame of 7076 alloy, is the lightweight champ. “It’s nearly 20 percent lighter than our steel-frame guns,” Rob pointed out. The 5″ Recon Pro weighs in at 31.3 ounces, the 4 ¼” Recon Custom at 29.1. A bull-barreled 3 ½” Recon Carry scales 26.3. Fitted with VZ grips “because we’ve found them uniformly excellent,” the frame is anodized, then given two coats of Teflon. The slide, of stainless steel, wears a black nitride finish. A red fiber optic front sight settles into a serrated black rear notch. The Recon has a left-side safety only.
Rob Unger is justifiably proud of his steel- and alloy-frame
1911’s. The slide stop is forged, machined.
Clean, precise machine work on the lapped rails — actually,
everywhere — is a hallmark of this series.
Rob Unger’s Super Grade pistol features a stainless frame in natural satin finish. Its stainless slide comes in matching hue or in black-nitride. Like the Recon, the Super Grade has three iterations: 5″, 4 ¼” and 3 ½” (Pro, Custom and Carry). They weigh 36.8, 36.4 and 34.6 ounces. The tritium front sight and two-dot tritium rear pair up nicely for quick aim in dim light. They’re not adjustable, other than with a drift punch. The single-side safety is identical to that of the Recon. At $1,549 the Super Grade costs $50 more than the Recon.
The barrel starts as 416 stainless bar stock, Rockwell 40C.
The bore is air-gauged to .0002″.
Components show care in manufacture and finish. They slip
together smoothly, and rattle-free.
Super Grade Sights: tritium front and tritium two-dot rear.
Black sights appear on other RD 1911s
It’s a bit of a misnomer to call the Roberts Defense Operator top-of-the-line, as all three models are built to the same high standards. But at $1,649 the Operator is the most expensive. Like the Super Grade, it has a stainless frame and slide; but these forged frames feature a 1913 Picatinny rail. “You can get both frame and slide in black nitride finish,” says Rob. “Or pair a black nitride frame with a tan nitride slide.” Those are dubbed Dark Ops and Desert Ops pistols, each available in the Pro, Custom and Carry versions. All have black combat sights and — unlike other Roberts Defense pistols — an ambidextrous safety.
Common to all these .45’s are things you can’t see, but which distinguish exceptional 1911’s. “Our hammers, sears and disconnectors are of D7 tool steel,” Rob told me. I nodded as if I knew what that was. It no doubt means more to shooters with a background in metallurgy. But it was clear Unger considered it the best steel for the purpose. “Slide stops are forged, then machined. The triggers are of Videcki design, with a steel bow and an alloy shoe. You can choose three-hole or open-K design.”
Barrels on Roberts Defense pistols are machined from 416 stainless bar stock, finished to 40C on the Rockwell scale. “We air-gauge them to assure bore and groove uniformity,” Rob said. “They’re good to a tolerance of .0002″.” That’s precision enough for 1,000-yard match rifles!
All the stainless steel used in frames and slides is bead-blasted. “Then the frame and slide of each pistol are hand-lapped to mate perfectly — so the slide moves silkily but with no perceptible play.” Mirror polish on the ramp ensures hitch-free feeding, even with big-mouth hollowpoints.
While Rob Unger doesn’t offer it as a standard feature, he does accommodate orders for Cerakote metal finish, your choice of color. Yep, you’ll pay a tad more.
Each Roberts Defense .45 comes in a “tactical” soft case, with a lifetime transferrable warranty. I figure any pistolsmith who believes enough in his product to deliver that probably makes a good gun.
Fore-strap and heel checkering is crisp, even. And sharp!
The pistol won’t slip even a little in recoil!
Galco’s Silhouette High Ride holster fits the RD Super
Grade like a well-worn glove. A fine choice!
Furnished magazines have a well-contoured bumper. Note precise
strap and panel checkering.
The Test Gun
“Can I try one?”
“Sure. We generally deliver in a few weeks. What do you want?”
I throttled my impulse to blurt “One of each!” and said a Commander-length Super Grade would be just fine.
My sample gun exuded the same high quality which drew me to Unger’s show samples. Disassembled, it showed the fine finish promised. Solid in hand, it pointed naturally. The loop-style hammer and extended beavertail, standard on all versions, felt and looked good. Checkering on fore- and back-strap was wonderfully crisp and even, and sharp enough to wear well! Diamonds on grip panels, checkered cleanly to the edge, were uniform and neither blunt nor prickly. The .45’s slide cycled with the alacrity of an automobile piston. The trigger broke at exactly 4 pounds after .1″ of light take-up and almost no creep. Even the magazine impressed me. Glass-smooth and deeply blued, the box had cartridge windows and a hard bumper extension. Magazine capacity of all Roberts Defense pistols: eight.
I didn’t expect any hiccups from this 1911 — and didn’t get any when at last I stacked some new Win3Gun ammunition atop the follower and test fired it. Alas, the weather proved less accommodating. After a dry, frigid winter driving frost deep enough to chill oil, February whipped one storm after another across the Cascades. When skies did clear, the wind seemed to ratchet up a notch. After waiting in vain for a good day, I set up alongside a row of poplars that broke the 20-mph gusts about like a hayfork over your head turns rain. With a two-hand hold over the Midway bag, I watched the wind bump the sights to 3-o’clock, then throttle back suddenly, sucking them to 9. Not a lot of movement. But enough.
A couple of magazines later, I was close to tears. This pistol wanted to shoot into one hole with both 200 and 230-grain bullets! Trios of holes touched. Then the wind would have its way, opening the group laterally. At 25 yards, this Super Grade will surely cut golf-ball-size groups. Vertical dispersion of my best series measured little over an inch. But I wasn’t solid enough to counter the blasts barreling down from the mountains. So I gathered up the stack of boxes from Black Hills, Federal, Hornady, Remington, Speer and Winchester
I’ll ‘fess up. Not every day since has put whitecaps on the Columbia. While extended calm hasn’t descended on the basin at this writing, I’ve had windows of still air. But after punching a few truly snug groups, I’d feel compelled to ask Rob about returning this pistol.
And it’s a puppy that likes its new home just fine.
Magazines are ported, polished, deeply blued. They enter and
eject smoothly, feed flawlessly.
Galco’s High Ride properly snaps snugly around the hammer or,
“cocked and locked”, the slide.
The RD wanted to tear one hole; gusty wind strung Wayne’s
first 25-yard groups to 3 and 9 o’clock.
Fiddle or fire?
Adjustable sights add precision. While groups get no tighter with an adjustable rear sight, you can easily nudge them to center. A transverse dovetail imposes one elevation setting. As for windage, drifting that sight too much loosens it. Fixed sights have advantages, of course: modest cost, low profile, smooth travel from holster through clothing. Greater reliability too, at least in theory. Adjustable sights are more readily moved by accident.
That’s why on dangerous-game rifles I prefer a fixed steel open sight with a shallow V filed to the load. And it’s why fixed sights seem appropriate on pistols, other than those for hunting and competition.
Still, all those bullseye rifle matches in my youth have had their effect. I don’t like to see holes a hand-span from point of aim. That’s what happened with the first shots from my Roberts Defense pistol. The encapsulated 230-grain lead bullets at 800 fps (Win3Gun) struck well up to 11 o’clock. I switched to a lighter, faster recipe: Hornady 200-grain TAP-FPDs at 1,055. Predictably, they hit lower. Friskier loads spend less time in the bore and exit sooner as the barrel lifts in recoil. (Other factors take control in rifles, which put slow bullets lower on the target.) No doubt a 185-grain load in this pistol would depress point of impact still more, and I can nudge the sight a bit to the right.
While I like the sleek profile, well-proportioned notch and blade, and tritium dots of the Roberts Defense Super Grade, I’m as easy to please with crisp clicks on windage and elevation screws. Low, no-nonsense combat sights suit most 1911s. So too a notch that instantly does your bidding.
By Wayne van Zwoll
For more info: www.americanhandgunner.com/index