A Classic Returns

The Detonics Combat Master


by William Bell

February 4th, 2006




Some guns you just never quite forget and that applies to the Detonics Combat Master .45 ACP semi-automatic pistol.  I have followed the “gun rags” from the days of my youth and often haunted the gun shops looking for that new model I saw in a firearms journal.  Such was the case when I was a youthful deputy sheriff in 1979 and walked into one of the local gun emporiums one day and spied a small, bright metal pistol that resembled a scaled-down 1911 with a chunk missing out of the rear of the slide.  Wow, a Detonics Combat Master!  Of course I had seen pictures in magazines, but here was one for real, a miniaturized .45 auto with all the “bells and whistles” right from the factory.  It was about the same size as the Smith & Wesson Model 36 I had that moment riding under my loose-fitting Hawaiian shirt, but was all stainless steel and carried seven big .45 caliber cartridges as opposed to the 5 .38 Special rounds in my little Chief’s Special.  I checked it out and tried to think of ways to justify the purchase to my new wife (like I could afford it anyway), but the reality was, it went back in the case and I went home.  About 10 years later the Combat Master went out of production and I never did get to add one to my battery.

Now here it is 2006, and I have a brand new Detonics Combat Master, almost exactly like the one I fondled over 25 years ago.  Resurrected as Detonics USA, the company president is Jerry Ahern, which some of you will recognize as a  gun scribe and author of THE SURVIVALIST series of paperback novels.  Jerry was very much into Detonics pistols back then and the hero of his books, John Rourke, carried a brace of stainless Detonics pistols during his escapades.  This mini-1911 was also a hit in Hollywood and appeared on movies like Terminator 2 and TV shows like Miami Vice.  The Detonics Combat Master was truly radical back in those days when your typical 1911 was a full-size Colt Government Model or slightly smaller Commander.  To get the standard features found on the Combat Master added to your Colt usually required a trip to a custom pistol smith accompanied by the added expense and requisite wait for the work to be completed.  Here was a factory pistol with a “reverse cone” type barrel that required no bushing, 3-dot combat sights, lowered ejection port, concentric recoil spring with a guide rod, chopped hammer spur, plus a shortened and deactivated grip safety.  Plus it was a pioneer stainless steel self-loader in the days when stainless steel guns were plagued with “galling” that interfered with reliable functioning.

Besides the size, the thing that got the most notice was the “chunk” taken out of the upper-rear surface of the slide.  This gently sloping surface was meant to facilitate thumb-cocking of the weapon as it allowed more exposure for the stubby hammer spur.  The inch or so that this decreased from the sight radius had little effect on what was essentially a “belly gun” designed to be carried concealed and used “up close and personal.”   Of course if one wished to do so the pistol could be carried in “Condition One” as Col. Cooper calls it with a round in the chamber, the hammer cocked and the safety applied.  Personally, that is the way I would carry this pistol as I find it too difficult to cock with the shooting hand and although it is pretty fast if you cock it with the support hand thumb, it also mandates that you use both hands.  It could be that the support hand is out of action or occupied fending off a knife strike.

The re-issue of the Detonics Combat Master looks very much like the vintage model form the late 1970’s, the most obvious difference being the new model does not have the 3 white dots on the sights.  Instead the sights on the test model were very robust, the front blade a full 1/8” wide and serrated, while the rear sight notch allowed plenty of light to be seen on both side of the front sight.  Both sights are mounted in dovetail cuts in the slide and can be moved right or left for windage adjustment.  My sample was well put together with obvious care in the fit and finish of the pistol.  The matte stainless steel was attractive and non-reflective as befits a combat weapon and I could find no external flaws.  The 6-round magazine is also matte stainless and when fully loaded a small tab projects from the bottom rear of the floor plate.  The attractive grip panels (also a departure from the original design) are made of rosewood and have a traditional diamond pattern at the grip screws and the Detonics logo within a circle in the center, all of which is surrounded by cut checkering.

The Detonics Combat Master comes with a flat mainspring housing which is deeply serrated and mates right into what would be the grip safety on a standard 1911, but on the Detonics is deactivated and reduced in size with a rounded rear surface.  I was concerned that there might be some hammer bite when firing this gun, but the cut-down “Commander” hammer-spur never touched the web of my hand.  The trigger has an over-travel adjustment screw on the face and is serrated, but is otherwise fairly standard with a pull weight of around 5 pounds with the usual take-up found on the 1911-style handguns.  This gun also has the standard commercial type safety lever, slide release lever and magazine release button, which reduces the things that might catch on clothing during a rapid draw.  Other features include a beveled magazine well, a heavy-duty firing pin spring, and the slide contains a brawny “torsion spring” internal extractor for positive ejection of empty cartridge cases, especially with the lowered and beveled ejection port.  Of course the top of the magazine well and barrel throat are mirror polished for reliable feeding of ammunition.  Each gun comes in a lockable, black plastic case with a foam-rubber lining, a gun lock, owners manual and a small tube of Militec-1 synthetic weapons lubricant.

The disassembly drill with the Detonics Combat Master is a bit different than on the 1911 due to the fact that it does not have a barrel bushing that must be removed and the recoil cap attached with a screw into the guide rod on which the multiple, concentric recoil springs ride.  I won’t belabor you with the disassembly details here, but suffice to say if you buy one of these guns then be sure to RTFM for the proper take-down instructions and other pertinent information.  One thing Detonics likes to “crow” about in their literature is the fact that all parts on the Detonics pistols are manufactured from the highest quality stainless steel, with no metal injection molded or plastic parts, and each and every gun is produced right here in the USA!  The factory has very high standards and even included a test target affirming the accuracy of the handgun.   

Now for the shooting.  I had brought this sample Detonics Combat Master with me to the 2005 Shootists Holiday at the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, New Mexico, with the avowed purpose of giving it a good “wringing out.”  I went through my ammo locker and pulled out every box of factory cartridges marked with a big blue ‘P’ which signifies to me that it is a partial box.  A number of these were in .45 ACP and earmarked for use in testing the Detonics reliability.  I had 3 factory magazines, so I was able to keep up a barrage while shooting on the Hunter Pistol animal silhouette target range.  When I did my part, the steel Javelina targets at 50 meters were no match for the mini .45 and I only had a few “hiccups” with some Cor-Bon loads that featured a sharp-nosed, truncated HP bullet, which sometimes caused a failure to feed.  None of the more rounded JHP cartridges posed any problems in the little handgun.

With the Detonics “loosened-up” a bit, it was time to do some paper-punching.  Out of all the .45 ACP ammo I had on hand I selected some 230 gr. “Ball” from Black Hills, 230 gr. JHP +P from Cor-Bon, 200 gr. JHP +P moly-coated cartridges from Norma, 185 gr. JHP by Federal, and 155 gr. frangible bullet loads from International Cartridge Corporation.  My first order of business was to see what kind of velocities I would get out of the 3-1/2” barrel on the Detonics pistol.  Five rounds of each ammo brand were fired over my Oehler Model 35P chronograph to obtain an average velocity.  Next, I put up targets at a distance of 30 feet and did some accuracy testing using a bench rest and sandbag.  My best 5-shot group measured 1.16” and was made using the Black Hills “Ball” ammo, which I am told is used by Detonics to test shoot their handguns.  A very close second place went to the International Frangible loads with a cluster measuring 1.17” and the third spot went to Federal, with my dial calipers giving a group measurement of 1.48.”  Group averages for all the test loads, velocity and muzzle energy figures are shown in the chart below:

Detonics Combat Master .45 ACP Performance Table

Cartridge Average Velocity (FPS) Muzzle Energy (FPE) Group Average (inches)
Black Hills 230 gr. FMJ 739 278 2.28"
Cor-Bon 230 gr. JHP +P 836 357 2.59"
Federal 185 gr. JHP 848 295 1.99"
International 155 gr. Frangible 1054 458 2.32"
Norma 200 gr. JHP +P Moly 927 381 2.66"

NOTE:  Velocities average 5 rounds over Oehler Model 35P chronograph; group average of four 5-shot groups at 30’ from a rest.  FPE (Ft. Lbs. Energy) FPS (Feet per Second) FMJ (Full Metal Jacket) JHP (Jacketed Hollow Point).


Some practical shooting was done using B-27 type silhouette targets and a 30-round combat qualification course I shoot regularly on the job.  I strapped on a Bianchi Black Widow holster and loaded up my magazines with the International cartridges.  Shooting was done at 3, then 7 and 15 yards, using a variety of exercises such as strong hand only firing, double taps, body armor drill, and barricade usage.  The Detonics Combat Master performed exceptionally and although this is not the target I use for qualifications, I scored a 292/10X out of 300 possible points, giving myself 10 points for the two head shots.  There were no malfunctions during the course and all magazines ejected with aplomb during the mandatory combat reloads.  Those big, chunky sights were easy to pick up for fast repeat shots at 7 and 15 yards where their use was allowed.

One thing I did note was that sharp edge on the bottom rear of the butt caused by the flat mainspring housing.  After a lot of fast shooting it tends to gouge the palm a bit, and a rounded edge would make extended shooting sessions more comfortable if you are not using shooting gloves.  The heavy-duty recoil spring can also cause problems for weaker shooters when they have to retract the slide, however, there is a good article on the Detonics web site that addresses that and is a “must read.”  The Militec-1 lubricant was used exclusively and it kept the Combat Master perking along famously.

If your needs and desires point towards a compact 1911-type pistol then I would recommend the Detonics Combat Master to your attention.  The factory literature points out and I agree that it is…”not a bargain alternative to the traditional 1911-style semi-automatic, Detonics is the logical refinement.”

William Bell

Detonics Combat Master Specifications

Semi-automatic 1911-type compact pistol
Chambered for .45 ACP (also available in 9mm, .357 SIG, .40 S&W)
6+1 capacity (.45)
All stainless steel construction, matte finish
Checkered rosewood gr ip panels
Empty weight 32 oz.
Overall Length 6-7/8”
Width 1-1/4”
Height from top of slide to lowest position on grip 4-7/16”
Fixed sights, windage adjustable
Manual safety lever w/ deactivated grip safety
MSRP $1200

Product Information

Detonics USA LLC

115 Enterprise Dr., Suite B

Pendergrass, GA  30567




Bianchi International (Black Widow Holster)

27969 Jefferson Ave.

Temecula, CA  92590




MILITEC, Inc. (Militec-1 Lubricant)

11828 Pika Dr.

Waldorf, MD  20602




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Click pictures for a larger version.


The Detonics Combat Master was the first of the factory mini-1911’s when it was introduced in 1979.  It was set up as a concealed-carry gun for cops and legally armed citizens, offering 7 rounds of .45 ACP power in a small package. (Photo by Doug Taylor)



Although a full-caliber .45 semi-automatic, the Combat Master was closer in size to smaller caliber handguns like the SIG P-230 and the Smith & Wesson M-42 seen above and below it. (Photo by Doug Taylor)



Disassembled, you can see the barrel and recoil spring/guide, which were two items that made this such an innovative pistol when it was introduced.  The Militec-1 lubricant was furnish by the factory with the test pistol. (Author Photo)



In the foreground you can see the 5 brands of .45 ACP ammo the author used to test the Detonics Combat Master.  In the background, the Combat Master rides in a Bianchi Black Widow holster. (Author Photo)



These bulls-eye targets were shot from a distance of 30 feet using the Combat Master and the test ammo.  Bench rest accuracy was more than sufficient for use in the field as these groups illustrate. (Author Photo)



The Combat Master proved itself more than capable during the combat shooting phase of the evaluation.  Ranges went from 3-15 yards and included several shooting stances; the author scored a 292/10X out of 300 possible on this target. (Author Photo)