A Nurse with a Gun

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The New Agent versus The Defender

Two of the finest carry pistols yet designed, in my opinion are the Colt Defender and the Colt New Agent. That's a pretty bold statement. Before I receive hate mail, let me explain that I am ruling out revolvers, which are not pistols. Let me also say that I believe the 1911 pistol is the finest fighting pistol ever designed. Quick, accurate, powerful. In a world of competing designs, almost a hundred years later, it remains the gold standard for the disciplined shooter, not the good enough gun for the lowest denominator.

When Colt finally decided to produce a true concealed carry 1911, they went whole hog with the Defender. Colt's new product was so different from their previous 1911s that they bestowed a new series designation on it, the Series 90.

The Colt Series 90 pistol is a three inch bushingless 1911 style pistol with a lightweight aluminum frame. They are designed for carry and self defense, not target practice. The Series 90 pistols have the Series 80 firing pin safety, but that is the only similarity.

The Colt Defender is not a particularly flashy pistol. It bears a stainless steel slide and a big rubber Hogue wrap around grip. The sights evolved from upright three dots to low profile swept back units. It has a three hole trigger, and a beavertail grip safety that morphed over time along with the sights. The Defender uses the Officer's ACP magazine, allowing for seven plus one capacity.

Where other three inch 1911 style pistols failed, the Colt Defender quickly gained a reputation for being a pistol reliable straight out of the box. Many shooters who had shied away from the smallest 1911 pistols, indeed shooters who had stated that any 1911 beneath Commander length would likely need professional gunsmithing to run reliably, were shown that reliability could come in small packages from Hartford.

The basic Defender formula was a good one, and the little pistol that could became the best kept secret of the 1911osphere. Typical of Colt's modern advertisement campaign, the pistol received little fanfare, and next to no mention in the gun rags. Across the internet though, buyers were raving about Colt's new product. They were buying it in droves and trading out the Good Year grips for slim slabs of wood.

Thus when Colt decided to produce a similar Series 90 pistol, one even more dedicated to concealed carry and self defense, they had their ear to the ground. The Colt New Agent debuted at the 2008 Shot Show and suddenly shooters were debating point shooting versus sighted fire for self defense again. The New Agent was similar to the venerable Defender, but with a significant twist. Conventional sights were absent. The top of the slide was as slick as Charlie Brown's head. Rather than dovetailed sights, the New Agent received a sighting trench, often termed a "gutter sight" along the top of the slide. The slide of the New Agent was blued, and the aluminum frame was black anodized. Other small differences abounded. The slim wooden grips that shooters were screwing on their Defenders came from the factory on the New Agent. The front strap had serrations. The slide was lightened in the front with a profile similar to the Browning Hi Power. The New Agent thumb safety was a GI style unit with a nubbin of a tab. The grip safety was reminiscent of the upturned grip safety found on some Commanders.

The reception for the New Agent, while initially enthusiastic, became more sedate as shooters contemplated the sighting system. Some preferred the black pistol to the stainless, and wished Colt had simply produced a blued Defender. Others decided to put sights on their New Agent. Over the course of a year, I purchased both pistols.

My New Agent stayed basically the same as it came from the factory. Click to enlargeMy Defender underwent some changes. Most notable was the addition of slim wooden grips, and the modification of the grip safety to achieve the spartan profile of an early Commander grip safety. I installed a Nowlin Speed Demon hammer on the Defender to complement the austere grip safety. Both pistols received trigger jobs and solid triggers.

Both pistols retained the polymer mainspring housings. While I routinely swap out the Colt polymer mainspring housing for steel, adding a heavier part just did not make sense on a pistol designed to be lightweight. The polymer housings are durable, and light. I kept them.

At the range, each pistol was stone cold reliable, and sufficiently accurate for self defense. Each pistol carried so easily in an OWB holster on a good gun belt that I forgot it was there. The real difference was in the sighting system.

Today, I decided to take both my Colt Defender and my Colt New Agent to the range and shoot them side by side. They have become remarkably similar pistols with the exception of the sights. I alternated between the pistols with each magazine, to prevent fatigue from creating the illusion one pistol was outperforming the other. At ten yards, I shot fifty rounds through each pistol into two targets, side by side, on the same frame.

Point shooting would have given similar results, so I used the sighting systems on each pistol. Click to enlargeI shot by raising the pistol from low ready to the sights, squeezing off two or three shots of sighted fire, and back to low ready. After a magazine in one pistol, I moved to the other. I did not "warm up" with another pistol, and I made certain I shot when I was hungry and full of coffee, allowing hypoglycemia and caffeine to simulate an adrenaline dump.

The results were interesting. The New Agent target is on the left. It has rounds concentrated in the lower left, usually indicative of anticipating recoil. The Defender target on the right had considerably more rounds in the ten ring, but the flyers indicate I was breaking my wrist either up or down. While it wasn't my best day at the range, it is undeniable that every shot would have been center of mass. Either pistol would be a worthy sidearm in an armed confrontation. At the end of the day, when the pistols are put to their intended use, I think whether the buyer wants a blued or stainless pistol may be more important than what is on top of the slide.

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Blogger Crucis said...

I tend to agree that for carry, I'd want a blued or dark pistol rather than a bright stainless one. I have one stainless (silver) carry pistol, a Para LDA CCO that is the same size as the Defender and New Agent and takes the same mags.

All my future carry pistols will be dark. But---I still prefer sights.

5:59 PM  
Blogger Old NFO said...

Excellent range report Xavier! I guess I'll have to break down and go look at both models... sigh... I need more money :-)

6:52 PM  
Blogger Matt G said...

Off-topic point of order:

"Before I receive hate mail, let me explain that I am ruling out revolvers, which are not pistols."

Xavier, I actually disagree with this statement. The definition of a pistol does not exclude revolvers. "A firearm designed to be held and fired with one hand." Sam Colt referred to his Patterson revolver as a "Revolving Pistol."

I know that it is popular to consider a pistol as a handgun with a chamber that is integral to the barrel, but I disagree with that definition, given that it was not the original definition, which was simply a handgun.

7:18 PM  
Blogger José Giganté said...

I can't get past the sight channel on the Agent. I handled one and it seems that the "sights" are pretty hard to acquire quickly and if anything, that shakes my confidence in the pistol. On the other hand, I'd love to find a Defender when I have the money to buy it.

7:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm pretty happy with my Colt Officer's ACP Enhanced in stainless steel. Living in South Florida where concealment can be a challenge and sweat from body contact is a constant battle, I have found the durability of the stainless platform to excel. The slight weight addition from the all steel construction is an aid in recoil management, and while the sights are so-so, I've found them more than adequate for close-in work (25 feet or so). This has been my primary carry sidearm in a Galco speed scabbard for the last 15 years. My backup (for those days when anything but a t-shirt would induce sauna-like sweating), is a S&W Model 640 stainless .357 Magnum. Both of these weapons have proven over the years to be utterly reliable and a good combination of light weight and fighting range power.

12:43 AM  
Blogger Brigid said...

Excellent write up. I love my Colt, and wouldn't mind having another one.

Nice thing about guns, they don't get jealous if you want another gun. :-)

5:38 AM  
Anonymous whirlibird said...

The Series 90 designation is not new in any way, it was used on the lamented Double Eagle pistols some 18 years ago. However Colts rendition of the old Detonics Combat Master is well worth a look in any case.

2:17 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

I didn't know that whirlibird! Learn sumptin new every day!

3:49 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

Xavier, I am new to your blog but now enjoy it daily -- thank you for your expertise.

I own a Colt 1911, having carried one through three years of Army service in the 60's, and it is a fine weapon.

I have used a Model 36 S&W since 1968 for CC and recently bought a 3" Springfield EMP to replace it.

This decision was not made lightly. The Defender and the EMP are both expensive, but I don't skimp on a sidearm that I will probably carry forever. After shooting both, I chose 'fit and finish', horsepower (.40 rather than the cannon), and range satisfaction -- subjective, I admit. Just my 2 cents.

PS: "A revolver is not a pistol"?? In 1972, my S&W imitated one very well, and saved my life.

Thanks again for your fine efforts. Cheers ...

9:04 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

I have to say that everything you have done to the Defender is a fine improvement. I especially like your handcrafted grip safety.

The new agent does nothing for me though, I like actual sights on my firearms, and a trough milled out of the slide just doesn't cut it.

1:13 AM  
Blogger JPG said...

Excellent post, Zave’ - -
Merely from the standpoint of personal preferences, our opinions frequently differ, but I enjoy reading your reasons. In this case, though, you did to your Defender exactly what I’d do if I had one.

It is beyond me why Colt’s would take a well-conceived handgun -- always assuming the short little thang will function with the abbreviated barrel -- and then do a couple of things that ALMOST ruin it for the purpose. If the hammer and grip safety are properly matched , there is no logical reason to extend the length of the unit by a half-inch with the ski jump tang. And why add considerable bulk AND weight by installing those gross rubber stocks in place of the trim, comfortable standard type?

Finally, many of this type pistol will be carried in an inside waistband holster, or a pocket holster, or **horrors** even dropped into a pocket or tucked into a waistband, sans holster. Why not round off some of the sharp corners, especially at the front and rear of the slide? And on the hammer spur? This would save wear and tear on clothing AND uncomfortable skin abrasions.

Anyway, I’m interested to see how you modified your Defender, improving it immensely. In fact, but for color, it is very similar to my treatment of the first Colt Officer’s ACP lightweight I got my hands on, back in 1990 or so. That was early enough that it took me a while to realize how lucky I was to buy one that was extremely reliable with factory 230 gr. Ammo.

As to the New Agent - - I like the dark color but can take or leave the gutter sight.

10:25 AM  
Anonymous greg tag said...

The solution I arrived at was a Colt Officers ACP .45 with a Robar NP3 coated steel frame, and black RoGuard slide.

It looks cool but this was not done for looks. The black slide provides the best background for the Wilson sights, and the silver grey frame with white antler grips doesnt "shine" through the tucked in button down business shirt that hides it. ( A "black" or dark colored gun or grips will shine through a white shirt).

NP3 and Roguard have proven to be excellent finishes, and have protected the steel pistol through 12 years of 12 hour a day wear in Central Texas where the arm is sometimes dripping with sweat.

My Officers Model, after some tweaking, has proven to be reliable and VERY accurate. Apparently Colt is on to a good thing with the Defender, but I wish they would bring the Officers Model back.

11:48 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Hey!! Colt and the New Agent will be the subject of an American Rifleman article soon!

I just received this in an email:

Semper Fi,

9:17 PM  
Anonymous Ernie said...

When Colt finally decided to produce a true concealed carry 1911, they decided to copy the Kimber Ultra Carry.

9:14 AM  
Blogger Brambor said...

For the Colt New Agent's sight channel, wouldn't an added benefit be that it would be easier to draw out of concealment? The sights won't get caught on a piece cloth. I suppose this argument could be amplified if one wore a knitted sweather. :-)

1:54 PM  
Blogger Crucis said...

I've carried an Officer sized 1911 (3 1/2" Para CCO) and I've never had a sight snag, front or rear. To me, it seems to be a solution in want of a purpose.

3:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Ernie said...
When Colt finally decided to produce a true concealed carry 1911, they decided to copy the Kimber Ultra Carry."

No, when KIMBER decided to produce a concealed carry 1911 KIMBER copied the Colt Officers model...The Colt Officers model was around before MIMber was in business...

4:24 PM  
Anonymous Alex said...

Such a great article it was in which e finest carry pistols yet designed, in my opinion are the Colt Defender and the Colt New Agent. In which 1911 pistol is the finest fighting pistol ever designed. Quick, accurate, powerful. Thanks for sharing article.

12:05 PM  
Blogger Chuck Reynolds said...

Excellent report. When you spend that kind of money for a handgun, you can call it anything you desire! I will call mine "Old Reliable"!!!

8:23 AM  

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