Saturday, January 15, 2011

Review: Rock Island Armory CS Tactical, .45ACP

Back story:
This review of the Rock Island Armory CS Tactical is a difficult one.  I would like to preface the review with this: I do not think that my experience is indicative of the typical quality and experiences others have enjoyed with Rock Island Armory.  I can only honestly report based on my experiences.  I know that my experiences are so abnormal compared to others that it seems borderline absurd at best, and potentially troll-like at worst.  Please take this review as my honest and unbiased opinion of the experience I had with the product and company.

This particular RIA is a factory replacement for the first RIA CS Tac I purchased on the 5th of December, 2010.  A couple of quick trips to the range and 350 rounds downrange revealed there were several moderately serious issues with the pistol that the Armscor service department in Pahrump, NV  deemed severe enough to warrant a new replacement.  As a sort of consolation for the difficulties I experienced with their product, the replacement has also been given a reliability tune.  Let's see how it shakes out, shall we?

Unpacking and Features:
The pistol quickly arrived via FedEx ground, taking only 3 days to travel from Nevada to my home.  The pistol was packed in a lockable foam-lined plastic case with a single ACT 7-round magazine, a 15-page user's manual for the 1911-style pistols, a four page printout detailing the CS, and several flyers regarding firearms safety, membership benefit info for and a flyer on the Youth Handgun Safety Act.

The CS Tactical is a 3.5" bull-barreled 1911 chambered in .45Auto.  It is equipped with Novak-style dovetailed sights, albeit without 3-dot markings or serrations on the ramp of the front sight.  Some difficulty in quickly obtaining a proper sight picture in certain lighting conditions can be experienced due to glare.  Some en-vogue modern options are included such as a lowered and flared ejection port,  Commander-style slotted hammer, speedbump beavertail grip safety, medium length lightweight trigger (no provisions for overtravel adjustment), a flat serrated mainspring housing and a full-length guiderod.

The front strap and underside of the trigger guard are plain with no checkering or stippling.  Likewise, the factory grips are smooth wood with no checkering.  This combination makes for a slippery pistol, forcing me to install a set of VZ Gatorback grips to assist in obtaining a solid hold while firing the CS Tac.  The thumb safety is of standard design, while the slide stop is checkered and of standard length.  The safety has been dimpled for positive disengagement, and the slide stop has been notched to help alleviate accidental locking of the slide during the course of fire.

Field stripping the CS Tactical is a simple affair, assisted by a paperclip inserted into the full-length guide rod to capture the reverse recoil spring plug.  To do this, clear the weapon and immediate work area of all ammunition.  Lock back the slide and insert a paperclip that has been modified (aka bent) into the hole at the 12-o'clock position of the FLGR.  Gently ride the slide forward and remove the slide stop as you normally would during the disassembly of a 1911, pushing the stop from the right to the left when the disassembly notch is in the appropriate location.  Fully remove the slide stop, and remove the slide from the frame.  Push the captive recoil spring, plug and rod towards the back of the slide, being careful to not knock the paperclip from the hole.  Now push the barrel's link forward and slide it forward and out of the slide.

I know that most people just love reading about a pistol's trigger in reviews, but there's not much for me to write about here.  There was a considerable amount of trigger take-up, slightly more than 1/16".  The break is clean with no overtravel and a short reset of less than 1/32".  I have no trigger pull gauge, but I will hazard a guess at around 5lbs.

Since this pistol had the reliability tune done to it, the feed ramp and barrel throat were much more highly polished than the previous CS Tactical.  Also noted was the polished breechface on the slide along with some work done on the extractor, namely some radius and angle changes.  There were some nicks on the right hand side of the barrel's throat that looked similar to overzealous file work, possibly while the barrel's hood was being fitted to the slide.  The extractor's hook seemed to lack the polish one would expect, especially if that extractor has had reliability work done.

I also noted some issues with parts fitment.  As with my first RIA CS Tactical the thumb safety had a sharp edge on its backside that chews into the first knuckle of my thumb.  Likewise, the grip safety was fitted low as compared to the tang of the frame, and the gap combined with the sharp edges is supremely adept at the task of chewing up the web of my hand between the thumb and index finger.  Personal gripes to be sure, but valid ones to be aware of if you're looking into one of these pistols, especially if you're going to fire any hot self-defense loads from the stubby barrel.

Range Time:
The range test consisted of 200 rounds of 230gr Federal FMJ factory ammo, along with 25 rounds each of 185gr Remington Golden Saber +P and Winchester RA45T Ranger T 230gr FMJ defense loads.  Recoil with the Federal loads proved to be manageable regardless of the pistol's abbreviated barrel and grip profile.  The defensive rounds proved to be a handful, with a loud report and significantly more pronounced muzzle flip and recoil.

The pistol and I fought one-another, and I experienced the same higher than POA grouping as I had with the first CS Tactical, though it was not as high as before.  Since I had no way to test the pistol from a rest, I cannot speak with authority whether it was a fault of the pistol or my own.  I will say that groupings were consistent until I had begun to experience fatigue from the high round count and started unconsciously flinching from the recoil.

Accuracy was on par with my expectations for a short barreled 1911.  I am out of practice with 1911's, so do not judge the pistol harshly for my own poor performance in the following picture.  All rounds were fired offhand at 7 yards, point of aim was the red square, one magazine per target:

The CS Tactical's reliability job did allow the pistol to feed all rounds without hesitation, even when I mixed rounds in the same magazine in an attempt to get it to choke on different bullet nose profiles.  It did not fail, which speaks highly of the feed ramp, barrel throat and breechface polishing that was done.

All was not fun and games, however.  At rounds #5, 9 and 134 (all Federal), the CS Tactical had managed to lose control of the spent brass during extraction.  These FTE's were also the last round in the magazine, which caused the extractor to drop the spent brass between the feed lips of the now empty magazine.  The extractor would slip off the rim, causing the ejection port to collide with the mouth of the empty brass, smashing it and forcing it the brass further backwards into the feed lips until the slide engaged the slide stop.  This stoppage required that you either try to yank the brass out of the feed lips through the ejection port, or to push the front of the brass down far enough to let the pistol chamber the brass again just to allow the mag to eject from the pistol.  Racking the slide with the magazine out allowed you to finish clearing the malfunction.  This same failure also occurred at round #214, which happened to be a Winchester Ranger T JHP.  I fully suspect the extractor for these failures, and believe that a high-quality aftermarket extractor would fix it right up.

To add insult to injury, the last round fired at the range ejected squarely into the middle of my forehead.  Ouch.  I get it pistol, you just don't like me.

Bottom Line:
I applaud their effort at trying to make things right, but unfortunately this pistol still falls short of expectations.  While the pistol represents an outstanding value at its price point, the quality of the products coming out of Armscor in the Philippines as of late leaves me feeling a bit worried about the reliability of the pistols being produced from here on out.  It is my firm belief that even though the factory seems to be falling behind on quality, the good folks in Nevada are busting their tails trying to make things right.

Unfortunately, a review must be objective and present all the facts, especially ones relevant to the target audience.  I believe the target audience for RIA pistols are new owners or folks looking for a fairly-priced 1911 that doesn't have the markup associated with a name on the slide.  However, once you factor in the cost of sending the pistol back to NV for warranty repair (and in this pistol's case the cost of an aftermarket extractor and reliability tune), you're looking at the purchase price of a much more expensive pistol.  An improperly tuned extractor is just as liable for causing FTF's and FTE's as one that hasn't been adjusted at all, and the type of malfunctions experienced are not acceptable, especially on a pistol that had a $75 reliability tune done to it.  As this pistol sits, it's a $619 investment if you take shipping, a new extractor and the tune into consideration.  A lack of reliability at that price point is a sad disappointment, and a severe one if you were looking into using the pistol for defensive purposes.


  1. Thanks for the review. I just bought one of these it appears I'll be needing to send it to a Gunsmith. I live in the four corners region of Colorado and there are no reliable GSs around here. Could you recommend a GS?

  2. Interesting assessment and honestly surprising. My first 1911 was a Colt, .38 Super, GI purchased in 1965. In those days, Colt was still at the top of their game. Roll forward to 2010 when I invested in a Para USA, 5", Stainless, .45 Caliber. Personally impressed with the quality of their products and for months considered a 2nd Para purchase. Browsing the web auctions I came across a "High Standard" (Armscor), 5", 1911, GI with a starting price of $379. After months of haggling, the Seller agreed to a price under $300. Added Hogue Molded Grips and Fusion Night Sights and have run 1500+ rounds without any type of malfunction. So impressed with their firearm, I recently bought the same 1911 frame / Novak style sights reviewed here but in the 9mm version at just over $400. Same changes with a Hogue, Molded Grip but this time a Fusion White Dot Rear and Red Fiber Optic Front. Not a flaw with 600+ rounds fired.

    Don't believe in Trigger Jobs or Cock & Lock on any firearm intended for carry. Have one in the Chamber and pull the Hammer back only when it becomes necessary. The trigger pull on my two RIA (Armscor) products is about 5#, crisp and smooth. I'm a convert to RIA products. Nothing but good things to say.

    Hope your experience is just as positive.

    1. I understand my review is surprising, since it runs counter to most people's experiences with these pistols. However, it is as I stated, no matter how much I wanted this pistol to be flawless out of the box.

      My project RIA Gov't 9mm 1911 has been pretty good to me, however. I believe I'll post about it in the coming days to show everyone where I'm at in my progress. Thanks for reading!

  3. Mine has had over 1000 round down the pipe and not one problem ! I would definitely by another !

  4. And thats anything from 230 fmg to lead 180 g swc

  5. Well, that's the reputation that they typically have. Mine, however, didn't want to conform to the standards set forth by its brethren. :D

    I do have a 5" Gov't model RIA in 9mm that I've been tinkering with as a project gun, and it's been very tolerant of my constant tinkering. RIA's a good brand, but I'm glad that they've got the boys in Pahrump, NV to back them up!