Review: Rock River 1911A1 NM Hardball

posted on September 24, 2018

Full disclosure: there are few things I like better in this world than a nice 1911. From the hold to the operation, the gun just feels natural in the hand (and for good reason, my grandfather’s WWII-era 1911s were the first pistols I ever shot.) The Rock River 1911A1 NM Hardball .45 ACP is unsurprisingly, no exception.

Rock River 1911A1 NM Hardball
The gun is simple yet elegant, and most importantly shoots like a dream

This gun is a work of art. The grips are walnut in the classic style, and the mainspring housing is available in 20, 25 or 30 LPI checkering. Moving upward, the barrel is 5-inches long, tucked into a rear serrated slide riding on a forged National Match frame; the finish is blued.

Rock River 1911A1 NM Hardball barrel
The throated NM KART barrel is tucked tightly into an NM bushing

With the exception of the sights (the rear is a low mount hidden leaf adjustable sight, and the front has been profiled to the radius of the slide), the NM Hardball is the quintessential slab side, from the thumb safety to the beavertail. Appearance, however, is where the similarities to the government models I grew up with end.

1911A1 NM Hardball Trigger
The aluminum speed trigger is as inconspicuous as it is effective

The trigger is an RRA Match aluminum speed trigger, and breaks consistently at 4-pounds with glass-shattering cleanliness. The ejection port has been lowered and flared, paired with an extended, tuned and polished extractor. A polished feed ramp leads into the throated NM KART barrel, replete with a tight NM bushing. Seriously, don’t try to spin this thing with a thumb like it shows in the field manual. A bushing wrench, Allen, and a rubber hammer will be required for any disassembly and cleaning. Speaking of tight, while the safety comes down easily enough, it is thumb-snapping difficult to engage. Though I worked it back and forth quite a bit, this remained just as true at the end of my test as it did at the beginning. All this combines to make a gun that epitomizes “match-quality” right out of the box, and is guaranteed to shoot sub 3-inch groups at 50 yards with 230-grain Match Ball, a claim reinforced by the test target they sent along with the gun.

On the Range
In an attempt to be true to the “match-from-the-box” premise, I did no more than a visual inspection of the pistol before taking it to the range. I was not disappointed. The gun settles into the hand with a natural point of aim, locked in by the well-checkered grips. A little weighty at 39.15 ounces (unloaded), those unaccustomed to match guns may find it a tad challenging to keep aloft for timed fire, but it more than makes up for this in recoil absorption; the pistol is an absolute delight to shoot. The precision of the trigger allows even a solidly average shooter like myself to feel world-class, forgiving the occasional “slap” with its lack of take-up. What’s more, the targets seemed to agree. After a few rounds to get used to the pistol, I affixed a 25-yard NRA B-16 slow fire precision (bullseye) pistol target, and landed seven out of 10 rounds from 20 yards in the 10-ring, with the three that slipped into the nine ring not the fault of the gun. From there, I was definitely hooked—and resolved to really put the gun through its paces.

Rock River 1911A1 NM Hardball rear sight
The fully adjustable low mount hidden leaf rear sight rests naturally in the standard 1911A1 slot

During training in West Virginia, I brought the pistol along in the hopes of a chance to shoot it at a longer range. Sure enough, on the final day, the instructor took us over to one of the rifle ranges and set up steel silhouettes. It seemed the perfect time to break out the match gun to see what it could do. Though far from a test of precision, the slab-side rang steel from 100 and 200 yards consistently. It even hit at 300, though I cannot say my skills allowed it to do so with any manner of dependability.

Rock River 1911A1 NM Hardball Groups
Left, fifty yards, six shots, eights or better. Middle, widest group: 1.893". Right, narrowest group: .701"; average group: 1.297"

Thoroughly impressed, I brought it back to our range for some serious testing of its intended purpose: precision bullseye. As the pistol’s accuracy is billed by Rock River using 230-grain Match Ball, I decided that 230-grain Federal Gold Match would provide a good standard for my test. I first went to 25 yards, intending to fire the gun from a competition distance. My first few rounds however, included a number of oddly-placed fliers. Suspecting user error, I moved forward to the 15, with the same result. Thoroughly confused, I pulled out my sandbag rest for a final test, only to realize that the forward rear-sight pin had begun to work its way out of the hole. Annoyed I had missed such an obvious and common malfunction, I quickly tapped the pin back into place and re-peened the opening. For what it’s worth, it appeared the factory did try to stake it—they just did so a tad too light.

Rock River 1911A1 NM Hardball
Front pin has walked several millimeters out of the rear sight. Annoying, but easily fixable with just a couple taps of a punch

I should probably pause here to point out that, in the approximately 600 rounds I put through this pistol (with a field-strip and cleaning at 400 rounds), this was the only malfunction I experienced. The pistol never failed to feed or fire, performing flawlessly on every round. If the worst thing that happens is a little pin-walk at about round 560, that’s pretty good in my book.

After re-zeroing (once the pin was repositioned, the pistol was firing about 18 inches low at 7 o’clock), I was a little light on ammunition, and so elected to conduct my bench-rest-test from where I was at 15 yards. Five shots off a sandbag resulted in the group pictured previously, with that fifth-shot flier being entirely the fault of your humble author. Discounting that outlier, the group was just under 1.893 inches at its widest point, measured center-to-center, and .701 inches at its narrowest, resulting in an average group size of 1.297 inches.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Rock River 1911A1 NM Hardball. The gun is simple yet elegant, and most importantly shoots like a dream. Though I barely even noticed its existence before shooting the pistol, I ended up a big fan of the raised pad on the grip safety, as it provided a secondary indexing point to ensure my grip was firm and consistent between every hold. Small details like this are what set the Rock River a cut above the rest.

While for myself I would call this a genuine out-from-the-box match pistol, seasoned bullseye competitors will most likely at least opt for a trigger job. Though I cannot fathom how the break could be improved upon, I imagine the 4-pound weight is probably a little heavy for some, who may want that number shaved in half.

For the rest of us, the $2,600 NM Hardball is an excellent option for a buy-and-shoot match pistol that’s CMP-legal. Pick one up today and shoot it at a match tomorrow—no gunsmithing required.

Rock River 1911A1 NM Hardball


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