I had my first opportunity to meet with Rob Unger, the owner of Roberts Defense, at the annual SHOT Show in Las Vegas about a year ago. It was one of those informal conversations where an associate introduced us. So, we steered ourselves over to a small wall table where Rob pulled out one of his 1911 creations from a carry case for me to examine.
After years of working as a custom gunsmith, Rob set out in 2011 to launch his own line of high-quality 1911 pistols constructed in the United States using only the best American-made components. Despite the market being crowded with several makes and models of single-action .45s, his pistols have garnered a reputation for a level of quality, reliability and accuracy that exceeds their price tags. The example of his work that I looked over that day certainly piqued my interest, so we lined one up for a review.
The pistol tested was the full-size frame Desert Ops Custom model. The company offers both 5" and 4.25" barrel configurations. Shaving the barrel down by ¾" makes for a better-balanced 1911 in my hands, so I opted for the shorter version. The pistol is constructed of 416 stainless steel, including the slide, barrel bushing, barrel and frame. Most of the pistol has been treated with a non-reflective Cerakote finish. The slide and controls are black while the frame magazine well are a Flat Dark Earth color. The hammer, barrel and barrel bushing retain a natural stainless steel finish that matches the silver color of the skeletonized aluminum trigger.
The traditional rounded slide is grooved along the top to reduce glare, and features rear cocking serrations. The sight system is a set of Heinie 1911 LEDGE Straight Eight night sights that come standard with the pistol. The serrated Tritium front sight is dovetailed into the slide. The rear sight is also serrated with a single Tritium lamp located below the square notch. The front edge of the rear sight is a flat surface designed for single-handed cocking against a holster or a table ledge. This sight system proved to be quick to acquire and easy to see.
The linked match-grade barrel is held in place by a tightly fitted barrel bushing and a Browning style recoil assembly consisting of a round wire recoil spring supported by a short guide rod and recoil spring plug. The controls are typical of the 1911 format and can be found in their usual locations. The ambidextrous safety is low profile for duty and concealed carry. The magazine release button is checkered for improved function. The memory bump beavertail grip safety is paired with a combat style skeletonized hammer. The aluminum trigger features an over-travel adjustment screw.
The frame has a traditional rounded trigger guard and a milled-in 2" accessory rail for lights and lasers. The front of the grip frame and the main spring housing are checkered, which markedly improves the handling qualities of the pistol for shooters with smaller hands.
The tough G10 grip panels are the Operator II configuration provided by VZ Grips. Held in place with black hex head screws, the blend of deep circular and straight cuts in the two-tone layers of the G10 material provides one of the most visually interesting and aggressive textured grips on the market. Combined with the checkering, the grips can become abrasive to the hands during extended practice sessions. But for situations involving inclement weather or gloved hands, it's hard to beat. This particular model accepts standard 1911 magazines and arrived with two 8-round blued steel magazines with polymer base plates that were compatible with the beveled magazine well.
Taking the custom Desert Ops pistol to the shooting range proved to be a real treat. The overall fit and finish of the gun was excellent. The movement of the slide was glassy smooth with no tangible shake or side-to-side movement. When the slide and frame are formed at the factory, they are just a little too tight to fit together, so the gunsmiths at Roberts Defense hand lap them until they get the perfect fit. All of the controls operated properly and the trigger was exemplary of what makes a custom .45 worth the investment. It was smooth and crisp requiring just 2-lbs 14-oz of pressure to cycle.
The Desert Ops' integral accessory rail provided a good opportunity to try out the Crimson Trace Rail Master Pro (CMR-205) red laser and light module. This particular unit has been designed to work with just about any modern firearm fitted with a M1913 Picatinny or Weaver-style accessory rail. The tough aluminum chassis houses a 5mW red laser diode and a 100 Lumen white light LED which provides up to 2-hours of run time using a single CR2 Lithium battery. The left and right activation switches, placed so as to be in reach of the trigger finger, can be pressed simultaneously to cycle the module through its various settings. It was easy to install and the laser held true to where it was sighted in throughout the inform function and accuracy testing.
It's not uncommon for an all steel semi-auto pistol to need a break in period of 200-rounds to smooth everything out. In the case of the Desert Ops, it ran reliably right out of the box. It was tested with a mix of factory ammunition that included practice-grade ball, defensive hollow points, and match grade ammunition. The pistol fed, fired, and ejected everything it was given without any malfunctions. The magazines provided with the pistol performed as expected, as did additional magazines from Ruger, E-Lander, and Wilson Combat.
In the course of bench rested accuracy testing at 25-yards using the factory iron sights, this pistol kept all of the 5-shot groups under 3", which is impressive when I'm the one pulling the trigger. The ASYM Precision Practical Match 230-gr. round, which is loaded at 750 FPS for low recoil, produced the best single 5-shot group of 2.27" with the best average of 2.51". Black Hills 230-gr. jacketed hollow points averaged 2.68", followed by Winchester Win1911 230-gr. full metal jacket load at 2.75".
If there is one type of handgun in the U.S. which is not in short supply, it's the 1911 semi-auto. If you are in the mood for a basic, off-the-shelf slab side for under $1,000, then there are plenty to choose from. If you are looking to pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $3,000 or more for a custom 1911, there are companies that will also be happy to accommodate you. What sets Roberts Defense apart from the crowd is a series of pistols priced in between the two extremes that provide a level craftsmanship and features on par with models that can cost much more. Because these American-made pistols are hand fitted, plan on 4-6 weeks for delivery. It's well worth the wait.