Match Grade Pistols for Carry and Home Defense

Gun News

Many of us use a match grade pistol—the IDPA gun or the IPSC gun—for home defense. The reasons are simple. The pistol is accurate, easy to use well, and one that we are likely most familiar with. The pistol may have fired many thousands of rounds without a failure. When it has needed new guns springs, or a magazine has failed, it has been at a high round count, demonstrating reliability. But then you read that the authorities on personal defense say you should never carry a modified gun for personal defense.

Maggie Reese competes for Colt with a 1911 that is not very different from the author’s holster guns.

On many points I agree, because I have seen so many handguns butchered by 10-thumbed gunsmiths, which seems to be about half of the pistol smiths I have encountered. However, there are many factory match grade guns, some with all of the alternations you need, they are not modified handguns. I have seen pistols rendered useless and unreliable, even dangerous, by the gun butchers but modern, match grade handguns are reliable and accurate straight from the factory.

A good set of sights and a decent trigger action from the factory removes the fear of a modified gun making one look like a person too eager for a fight, I suppose, or to be labeled ‘gun happy.’ Don’t laugh, it is a common phrase. If you have safely used the handgun on the range and in a match, then perhaps it is the best choice for the high stress of combat.

I have been mulling over these considerations recently as I have fired and tested a number of match-grade handguns. In fact, it caused me to break out handguns I have not fired in many months as a comparison. I am reminded of the match-grade guns I carried on duty many years ago. The Colt National Match was originally a very tight and very good 1911 with high visibility match grade sights. Later modifications to the trigger and fragile sights moved it to the match category and made it less of a combat gun.

Ruger .357 revolver silver right profile

Ruger’s target grade .357 revolver might make a fine all around Magnum for hard use.

My personal 1911 with Bomar sights and a well fitted National Match barrel is a match winner and an excellent service pistol. The tight fit reduces eccentric wear and the piece has never failed. In revolvers, the Smith and Wesson Combat Masterpiece revolver was among the finest four-inch barrel target .38 revolvers ever manufactured and a fine service revolver with a high hit probability due to those high visibility sights.

I have recently come to own the Witness Match .45 and the Colt Competition 1911 .45. The ergonomics and accuracy of each are excellent. With a slide that runs inside the frame, the Witness has a lot of bearing surface for accuracy. The Colt is a proven design. The Witness has a 10-round magazine capacity, and it is very easy to use well with its 3.8 pound factory trigger.

Then there is the Glock 35 that shoots so well. Competition-type handguns may be long and heavy, but they absorb recoil well and with some types, concealed carry isn’t out of the question. For home defense, no handgun is too large and the Witness Match is a comfort beside the bed. It is perfectly zeroed for the SIG Sauer Elite 230-grain V Crown duty load and handles very quickly. When hiking or camping, a handgun with a long sight radius is more accurate. And, they are clearly powerful enough for more than paper cutting. Let’s look at the pros and cons of the match handgun for personal defense.

Springfield Range Officer left quartering

The Springfield Range Officer will win a match or save your life.


Weight is good to soak up recoil and bad to carry on the hip. A handgun over 30 ounces is more than many are willing to attempt to conceal, and most target-grade .45s go over 40 ounces loaded. The Witness Match is over 40 ounces unloaded. You may find that a proper holster will allow you to comfortably conceal the larger gun, but in many cases and body types, it isn’t possible to conceal this size handgun. The Government Model .45 is about the limit for a dedicated shooter using the best designed holsters.


Handguns are not fired by feel although some have a better natural point than others. They are held in the hand and aimed. The sights are lined properly and the trigger is pressed. High profile sights make seeing the sights and getting hits easier. The new generation of fiber optic sights makes for excellent hit probability. There are good sights, but in this case, the personal defense handgun should have night sights. So, that is one divergence from the competition pistol.

Trigger Press

Competition guns often have an advantage in design. A single-action trigger may be very smooth. Most factory 1911 handguns, match grade or not, have a useful trigger for personal defense at 5-6 pounds compression. I would not wish to consider a trigger compression less than 4.5 pounds for personal defense. The Ruger Security 9 is right at 4.5 to 4.8 pounds. The Colt Competition 1911 is around 5 pounds. The Glock factory trigger comes in at 5.5 pounds, and the Glock competition trigger is often set at 3.5 pounds.

SIG Sauer Elite ammunition

You do not need match grade loads for match grade accuracy—SIG Elite ammunition provides!

The Witness Match has one of the nicest triggers I have ever fired in a factory gun at 3.8 pounds. Light and short is not always what we want in a personal defense handgun. We need a little take up. Much depends on the shooter’s ability to control this trigger, and if you have used the handgun in matches, you have a good expectation of your ability. At this point, we might say that we do not need to go below 4.5 pounds trigger compression.

The Match/Competition handgun has many advantages. It is easy to shoot well, reliable, accurate in the mechanical sense, and recoil is modest due to its weight. The grip is well designed to help the shooter direct the handgun. The sights and trigger are excellent. Let it be a standard by which you judge other handguns.

Perhaps, the best all-around handgun is still the service-grade handgun with rugged, adjustable, high visibility sights and a good, but not light, trigger. That means the Springfield Range Officer to some, to others the Colt Competition pistol. Give it some thought and be certain your ability matches that of the handgun.

Would you consider, or do you use, a match grade handgun for home defense? Share your answer 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. Bob 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. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also 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. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

View all articles by Bob Campbell

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The mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!’s blog, “The Shooter’s Log,” is to provide information-not opinions-to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

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