If you like the idea of carrying a semi-auto pistol chambered for the mighty .45 ACP but are not comfortable carrying a gun with the hammer cocked and locked, Para Ordnance might have the perfect off-duty alternative for you.
Para's Black Watch Companion is a new compact (3.5-inch barrel) .45 that boasts a number of features that make it perfect for concealed carry. Chief among these is the company's patented Light Double Action (LDA) trigger.
Rethinking the 1911
Para Ordnance's Ted Szabo first unveiled the LDA system in 1999. Szabo's ingenious design uses a drawbar to connect the trigger to the hammer mechanism. When the slide cycles, it preloads the two-piece hammer and mainspring. Pulling the trigger causes the drawbar to cam the hammer back and then releases it, allowing it to snap forward and strike the firing pin. Because the hammer and its spring are preloaded, the trigger pull is amazingly light. For those that are uncomfortable carrying a 1911 pistol in condition one (hammer cocked and thumb safety engaged) but want to carry a 1911, the LDA system is a viable option.
If you're familiar and comfortable with the 1911 and have dismissed the LDA guns as just another double-action auto like the Smith & Wessons and Berettas, you're absolutely wrong. And I was once like you.
It wasn't until I tried the LDA system that I had any interest in shooting one of the Para models outfitted with the LDA trigger. I was really impressed. It is not like any other double-action trigger that I have tried.
After about a half inch of very light take-up, the trigger breaks crisply at about 4.5 pounds. Not just for the first shot but for every shot. Because the hammer does not stay cocked after the first shot-it follows the slide home-each trigger pull is exactly the same from first to last.
This system makes Para's LDA models a joy to shoot. During rapid fire exercises, I have found that it is easy to bring the trigger back to its breaking point, quickly check the sights for alignment, and then add the extra pressure necessary to break the shot.
Szabo went to great lengths to make his LDA guns as safe as possible. The thumb safety is in the usual 1911 location, and Para uses an extended version that I like because I let my thumb ride atop it while shooting.
The safety is different on the LDA system than it is on standard 1911s. Rather than being a mechanical block to the sear, the LDA safety disconnects the trigger's drawbar when it is engaged. This means the trigger can be pulled, but the hammer won't move and the pistol won't fire. It also means that users will want to carry their LDAs loaded with a round in the chamber and the thumb safety engaged.
Para's beavertail grip safety, while in the same location as any ordinary 1911, performs the same function, in effect, but in a different way. On the Black Watch Companion, the beavertail locks the hammer, trigger, and slide. It's impossible to either pull the trigger and fire the gun or retract the slide to chamber a round unless the user depresses the grip safety.
All of the safety features on the Black Watch Companion are well considered. For example, an inertia firing pin and Series 80-style firing pin block are included on the Black Watch Companion to prevent an accidental discharge. Both features prevent the firing pin from making contact with the cartridge's primer in the event that the pistol is dropped on its muzzle.
Fit and Finish
What is really amazing is that Szabo was able to incorporate his new LDA trigger system plus the added safety features without making the pistol any wider or taller than a comparable 1911. And Para's designers didn't rest after building a gun with a different fire-control system; they also took great effort to make the Black Watch Companion an easy gun to carry.
For starters, all of the sharp edges on the gun have been lightly broken to prevent cutting of clothes, skin, or expensive holsters. The muzzle end of the slide is also heavily beveled, making it easier to re-holster the pistol.
The frame's front strap has 9 Griptor flutes designed to provide the shooter with a secure firing hold. Aiding in a comfortable grip are the ultra-thin stock panels that make the gun feel even more compact. Besides their functionality, the cocobolo wood used for the grips also adds a splash of color to the gun. Para cuts the cocking serrations on the slide to match the flutes on the frontstrap. It's an aesthetically pleasing touch, but it's also functional.[PAGEBREAK]
Both the front and rear sights on the Black Watch Companion are low profile and virtually snag proof. The rear sight is serrated on the back to reduce glare and is dramatically sloped to make it snag free. It can be drifted right or left for windage by loosening the Allen screw.
As for sight visibility, it's excellent. The front sight is tall enough to be seen easily. And there are two white dots on the rear sight and one white dot on the front sight for quick alignment.
Both the frames and slides on all of Para's Companion models are machined from stainless steel. And the pistols are available in a natural silver stainless finish or in the special Black Watch finish.
As law enforcement officers, you will probably want the Black Watch Companion. Its name was inspired by the Scottish 42nd Royal Highland Regiment. Known as the "Watchers over the Highlands," this legendary fighting force was known for its black and green tartans. Not coincidentally the Black Watch model of Para's Companion has a tactical black slide and a green frame.
Para coats the stainless steel with matte, non-reflective Para Kote, a thermally cured, self-lubricious finish. Not only is this coating impervious to sweat and corrosion, it also will stand up to immersion in a number of solvents and even jet fuel. Cosmetically the finish is flawless, and I like the way the matte black slide contrasts with the olive drab frame.
Unlike traditional 1911 pistols, the Black Watch Companion does not use a standard barrel bushing but instead uses a cone-shaped stainless steel 3.5-inch barrel for lock-up at the muzzle end of the slide. Like all other Para guns the Black Watch Companion boasts a fully supported ramped barrel, and its feedramp is polished bright for flawless feeding. Para uses a dual recoil spring setup on the Companion pistols, and the extra spring mass makes the little gun extremely comfortable to shoot.
The ejection port of the slide is scalloped on both sides. The forward scallop is so that lives rounds can be ejected through the port while the rear relief allows empty cases to be ejected without interference. It's little details like this that really make the Black Watch Companion a great carry gun.
One weak point of the venerable 1911 is the extractor. Last year Szabo tried to rectify this by improving on Browning's original design. The result is a pivoting claw that has 50 percent more contact on the cartridge's rim for controlled feeding from the magazine into the chamber. Para calls this feature the Power Extractor.
On the Range
I've been shooting 1911s my entire adult life and have trained with, carried, and competed with many different custom and production guns from nearly every manufacturer. I was worried that the LDA system would present a problem for me, as I am so used to the manual of arms for the 1911.
It turned out to be a non-issue. The drawstroke of the pistol is exactly like that of any other compact 1911. Its thumb safety disengages as it comes up on target and it's only the extra bit of take-up that differentiates the LDA trigger from the traditional single-action trigger. Because the magazine release, thumb safety, and slide release are all located in the same areas, there's not really anything new that needs to be learned. All that's needed is some range time for familiarization.
Even with its diminutive size, the Black Watch Companion feels as though it shoots softer than a full-size gun. I credit this smooth operation to the dual recoil spring setup that Para uses on this pistol.
I set up a steel target at 15 yards and practiced draw-and-fire exercises from a belt slide holster. What I discovered was that my splits-the time between shots-were almost exactly the same with the LDA gun as they were with a single-action Officers model. That just goes to show that nothing is sacrificed by using Para's Light Double Action.
Accuracy isn't sacrificed either. Five-shot groups at 15 yards measured between 1.35 inches and 1.95 inches with potent defense ammunition. That's more than plenty for a gun that is designed to be carried as a backup or off-duty piece.
Match the Leather
To accommodate the pivoting trigger, Para moved the front of the trigger guard forward about one-eighth of an inch, compared to a conventional single-action 1911. Such differences mean that you have to be careful with holster selection.
Most holsters that work with 1911s will often work with the Para LDA guns unless they are finely boned or crafted from Kydex. Check for fit before loading the gun and inserting it into the holster.
For most of my testing, I carried the gun in a nondescript belt slide holster and had absolutely no problems with retention or presentation.
I'm impressed with the Para Black Watch Companion. It's a dream to carry, shoots accurately, and was 100-percent reliable during my testing. If a conventional compact 1911 doesn't meet your off-duty needs the Para LDA system may be a viable option.
Mike Detty is an NRA-certified rifle, pistol, and shotgun instructor. A certified rangemaster and competition shooter, Detty served as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps and holds a degree in criminal justice from the University of Arizona.