January 03, 2023
It seems I can’t turn around without Springfield Armory springing another surprise on me. And us. What makes it fun is that every surprise so far has been an improvement, an advance, a resurrection, or a refinement. So far, they have been pretty much what I would have thought of Springfield, had I enough time to sit back and mull over “What could Springfield Armory do next?” I have to admit, the SA35 was a really, really, pleasant surprise.
But the Prodigy? To be precise, the 1911 DS Prodigy? With the DS Prodigy, (as in double-stack) Springfield Armory has upset the applecart, turned the apples into applesauce, canned it, and elbowed all the other applesauce vendors off of the corner. The Prodigy is an earthquake in competition circles. What is it, exactly? It is a hi-cap 1911 pistol in 9mm, with a polymer frame attached to steel frame rails, and a full-equipped slide on top that ticks all the items on your “I want it” list. Yes, and it is exactly the pistol you have been looking at before in gun shops, in magazines, and on web pages, but couldn’t bring yourself to (if you’ll pardon the pun) pull the trigger. We originally called it the STI. Well, that’s all over now.
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Let’s first look at the difference in manufacturing and assembly/design of the Prodigy, before we go over the arm’s-length list of details, specs and goodies. The Prodigy is not a polymer-frame pistol. Well, there’s polymer in there, but it’s not the frame. The polymer is just the part you hold, the part that secures the magazines in place. The actual frame is steel, with steel rails, and steel support for the internals, such as the hammer and sear pins, the safety lever, etc. And as such, the steel portion is the part that has the serial number stamped into it. Below that, and holding the magazine, the magazine button and the trigger track, is a polymer shell that is bolted to the steel portion. Let’s be clear on this: the attachment is meant to be permanent or semi-permanent.
You do not separate the two at any time in normal maintenance, cleaning or inspection. If the two need to come part, this is a task either for Springfield, or the high-end pistolsmith who is doing additional work on the frame, work that requires the polymer part be separated. One such task would be re-bluing a hard-run frame. Or plating it, if anyone does things like hard-chrome plating any more. Since the polymer won’t survive a trip through those various chemical baths involved, it has to be removed. But that’s not something you will ever do. Ultrasonics? Oh, no problem. The polymer shrugs off the usual chemicals used in ultrasonic cleaning. Now, if you have some secret formula that you and a buddy have dreamed up, for super-aggressive cleaning of parts, Springfield can’t be held responsible for your untutored chemistry experiments.
In the course of getting the inside info on the Prodigy, I asked my contact at Springfield Armory, Mike Humphries, what the lower part is made of. I sent a list, including “alien-derived carbon fiber nanofoam, stolen from Area 51” as a choice. His prosaic reply was “Glass-filled nylon, with metal inserts.” Spoilsport. Let me have my dreams, can’t you? Now, let’s get to the details of the Prodigy. Both of them, in fact, since Springfield Armory sent me a pair, one a five-inch and one 4.25-inch barrel model.
Early IPSC Pistols
The very early years of IPSC competition were still part of what I call the “inflationary expansion” period of competition. You couldn’t build a gun to beat the competition without showing up at a match and finding someone else had either beaten you to it or leapfrogged your advance. The late Chip McCormick offered us a gift from the gods; a hi-cap 1911 frame. Before the other polymer-to-steel 1911s, there was Chip’s frame. And that’s all it was. A frame, for something like three times the cost of a single-stack frame, that you would then build your gun on. The original grip area of the 2011/STI pistols (left) was blocky, because that was what a pistol was supposed to look like back in the early 1990s. Springfield Armory decided (wisely) that their Prodigy needed to be a 21st century pistol, so it comes already ergonomically sculpted. Overnight, single-stack 1911 Open guns got demoted to Steel Challenge guns, because we were all going to be building double-stack Supers for Open. Overnight, every other hi-cap pistol got shelved for competition, later looked at again for whatever advantage they might have wrung out of them. Overnight, field courses in major competitions had to be re-designed, because a 22-round stage, that might have previously called for two reloads, now didn’t need any at all. Competition was never the same, and it has not changed back since.
On top we have the expected forged steel slide, but with extras. The sights on the ones sent were able to co-witness through the Hex Dragonfly sight that was secured in the optics slot. The front sight is fiber optic, the rear the Springfield Armory squared front for one-handed slide racking, although the optic sight makes that detail more than a tad superfluous. If you need to work the slide by shoving the pistol, one-handed, against an object, the Hex sight is going to work much better than the rear sight, which you can’t reach for that anyway. If you opt for the non-optics model, it will come with the rear sight and filler plate attached to the slide. Optics-equipped models will have that plate in the box. The slide profile is almost full-length, as the dust cover relief cuts on the front end are as minimal as Springfield Armory can make them, and still provide a bit of narrowing for re-holstering. There are cocking serrations front and rear, and they are large, flat-bottom slots milled at an angle to the bore axis.
The ejection port is large, and inside there’s a forged stainless steel bull barrel, chambered in 9mm. Yes, 9mm, because the great majority of pistols these days are 9mm. That’s what people buy, and that’s what manufacturers make. The barrel is fully ramped, to provide maximum case support. This wasn’t such a big deal back in the old days, because there wasn’t the emphasis on max-pressure 9mm ammo that there is today. Well, there was +P and +P+ ammo to be had, but most people shooting the 9mm were looking for “regular” ammunition. Things were different in 38 Super competitionland. All Open guns were built with ramped barrels, because to make Major back then you had to push the Super past 9mm +P territory. Now, with 9mm being the default caliber for pretty much everything, those who carry 9mm look more to the top end of performance. A fully supported chamber, an integrally ramped design, gives more support to the case, and it also provides a uniform feed angle to the bullet, which helps.
The extractor and other internals are pure 1911/1911A1, with the extractor made the same way 1911 extractors have been made since, oh, 1911. The barrel links down with the same historical heritage, and the recoil system, well, that is different. No, it isn’t, I almost had you there. Since the barrel is a bull barrel, the recoil spring retainer has to be a “reverse” retainer. That is, it isn’t held in by the bushing, since there isn’t a bushing. On assembly it goes into the slide from the direction of the breechface. The recoil spring, a single-strand, single-spring design, rides on a full-length guide rod that is in two pieces. The front end is socketed for an allen wrench, and that’s how you take the Prodigy apart, when you get there. Both the five-inch and 4.25-inch models arrived here with a Hex Dragonfly mounted on the adapter plate. The adapter plate also has the dovetail at the rear for the iron sight, so you can drift the rear sight, should you need to, without changing the adapter plate itself. The standard rear sight, mounted in the filler plate, also came with each pistol.
Why Doublestack Mags?
Why does a Prodigy 9mm have magazines that are so fat? With side grooves to squeeze them in? Because in the very early 1990s, when the originating design came out, real men who carried guns for a living were still enamored of the .45 (some of us still are.) If you were going to offer a new pistol that was state-of-the-art, it had darned well be able to hold .45 ACP. And it was also long enough, front-to-back, to hold the .38 Super, making the competition crowd very happy. That defined the external dimensions of the magazine tube. To make the .45-sized tubes work with 9mm/Super, and also the then-hot .40, the tubes were crimped with grooves in the sides to bring the internal dimensions down for proper stacking geometry for each of those rounds. The early magazines were pretty dodgy. To make them fit, function and be reliable, they had to be “tuned.” Dawson Precision and Grams Engineering each did a brisk business tuning magazines and adjusting them to the proper specs. Today, that isn’t needed. You can get the Prodigy magazines, for not a lot of money, relatively speaking, and they are good to go. Or, if you are re-magging an old STI frame, MBX offers mags that are more costly, but you have more options there as well.
The frame is an almost full-length frame, with the front end a tad short of the muzzle, and angled back, to make re-holstering a bit easier. The dustcover is an accessory rail, with plenty of cross slots to locate gear where you want them to be. The dustcover width is kept full width from the rear to the front, so there’s plenty of extra weight out there, not that the 9mm needs a lot of extra to tame the “recoil.” It does make the slide stop pin end almost flush with the frame a detail that we can sometimes pay a lot of money to a custom pistolsmith to arrange.
All the metal parts of the Prodigy are given a black Cerakote finish before assembly. Behind the slide stop is the ambidextrous thumb safety. The left-hand paddle is large, the right-hand one smaller but still plenty big enough to be used by lefties, and the grip safety on the back is the usual top-notch Springfield Armory part, scalloped, with a speed bump on the bottom, so it both lets your hand get high, and still gets properly pressed when you grip the Prodigy.
The real action is in the grip part of the frame. This is a polymer shell dedicated to holding the magazines, providing a slot for the trigger to move in, and locating the mainspring housing in space to drive the hammer. That was the beauty of the original design, and the big step up. The grip only has to be strong enough to hold things in place, not distort under pressure, and not later over time and heat. (The reason for the glass-filled nylon and metal inserts, to keep things stiff and strong.) Now, the original grip structure was blockier and squarer than anything you see today. Why? Because that was what was expected. Shooters then were deeply suspicious of things polymer. To make sure they were comfortable with it, the original design was made much thicker than it needed to be. Well, that didn’t last long. It wasn’t but a short time before shooters were attacking the grip with belt sanders, files, rasps, dremel tools and God-knows-what, to change the contours in order to better-fit their hands. It wasn’t long before having an un-altered grip identified you as either a newbie or a Neanderthal.
Springfield Armory jumped past all that and made the grip contoured right from the get-go, with the front strap lifted and applied an aggressive non-slip texture on all three sides. (The fourth side is the mainspring housing, which is grooved.) The end result is amazingly comfortable for a pistol with such capacity. The earliest 1911 hi-caps, the ParaOrdnance pistols, were a big leap forward, but 2x4s compared to the STI that soon followed. Well, the Prodigy is as much of an advance over that as the STI was over the Para. I know, because I’ve got some old STI-framed pistols on hand, and I can readily tell the difference. I haven’t gone the belt-sander route on them because they are as much historical artifacts as capable tools.
DS Prodigy Magazines
Barrel Length & Mags
This is an opportunity to compare barrel length and velocity, as the barrels came from the same source, and I could chrono the same ammo lots on the same day, minutes apart. What did we find? The velocity loss, lopping three-quarters of an inch off the barrel was small. The largest drop was my 9x12 reload, which lost 6.7%. The smallest change was the Armscor, which only lost 1.7% velocity. The others were 5.4%, 4.9% and a pair at 3.5% velocity loss. Put in graphical terms, the losses range from 24 fps per inch, up to 98 fps per inch of barrel. But, that clearly isn’t linear, as taking a 98 fps per inch rate down to one inch of barrel would leave us with 704 fps, which it would clearly not be able to produce. Oh, and those who obsess over standard deviations, give it a rest. The large spread (4.8 to 58.8) did not correlate in any way to accuracy.
OK, the 17-round magazines are flush-fit with the frame, and as a result don’t look different from others. The next mags up are the 20-round magazines, and they extend out of the frame. The 26-round magazines are really long, and they really stick out. Here’s the deal; I don’t have a USPSA magazine gauge on hand (thoughtless of me, I know) but the 20-round magazines measure a smidge less than the max length allowed for Limited Division. And the 26-round mags are also a smidge shorter than the max allowed for Open. This means you can use them in USPSA competition. Why 140mm and 170mm, as the lengths specified by the rules? That’s a tale too long, gory and stupid to go into right now. Oh, and if you use the Prodigy in Limited, with the 20-round magazine, you will be shooting 9mm at Minor. So, you’ll have to shoot fast, but you’ll have more rounds than the competitors who are shooting Major, since they have to use 40 or larger. Make your plans to take advantage of that extra capacity.
A self-loading pistol is only as good as the magazines that feed them, and the original STIs were, well, spotty. It wasn’t uncommon to have to buy a bunch of mags, or tubes, and then test, and find the ones that worked in your gun. Or send them all off to Dave Dawson or Beven Grams to have them tuned. Well, those days are over. It is easy to get 100% magazines for STI-pattern pistols now, but Springfield Armory has gone one better. The Prodigy mags are made by Duramag (it says so right on the tube) and the cost is going to be in the $50 range. You’ll have a choice of 17, 20 and 26 round capacities, but I don’t know if all three will all have the same price. Some of you just spit coffee out onto the pages of this issue of Firearms News because the regular price for 17-round magazines, before this, was $125 and up. Sometimes really up. When I learned that, I told Mike at Springfield Armory that they were going to sell a lot of magazines. “We’re ready” was his reply. Me, I was looking at the followers in those Duramag magazines. If I could just score a fistful of those, I could probably make all my legacy STI mags work properly….
So, who is this meant for? Who are the expected buyers? As Mike put it “People who want a top-quality 1911, but with the capacity of a 9mm double-stack, and all the modern upgrades like optics.” It is hard to argue with that. As nice as all the details are, and the fitting of same, what really matters is how it performs. (One day I’ll convince our editor to let me regale you with the tale of “The Ugly Gun.”) In the case of both of the Prodigy pistols, the performance can be described as best. They both chewed through all the 9mm ammo I had on hand, and once I had them broken in (the test would not have been fair otherwise) I tested them with my Pin Shoot reloads, Blue Bullet coated bullets loaded to Minor, or just barely Minor. Yep, they both worked with those, as well. And the magazines locked open after the last shot was fired, something the STI mags are notorious for not doing, even after being tuned.
Competition vs. Carry
As far as accuracy goes, both of the Prodigy pistols were superb. In fact, combined with the Hex Dragonfly sights, they can shoot better than I can, and I’m working pretty much at my accuracy limits here. Short of a dedicated campaign with a specific pistol (I test something different every week, sometimes two or three times) I don’t know that I can do much better than an inch and a quarter at 25 yards, over sandbags. I’m sure there are shooters who can, but I don’t know that even they could find the limits of these pistols. There’s also the matter of recoil. A full-sized double stack pistol, if it isn’t too large for your hands, is the perfect recoil-soaking platform. Add in the weight, and the felt recoil of any of these loads was minimal. I’m still restocking my supply of +P and +P+ ammo which is why I didn’t test any, but even then the felt recoil would be hardly noticeable.
So, which one of these (unless you opt for both, this is America, after all) should you opt for? Well, if you were going to shoot competitively, I’d say the five-inch. Even with the red dot (if you use it in a division that permits use of optics) you are going to find greater accuracy and softer shooting. If you go with the iron sights, then even more potential accuracy, with the longer sight radius. So, in USPSA, you’d go with iron sights and shoot in Limited Division.
At The Pin Shoot, the Prodigy with iron sights and eight shots in the mag would be great for the 9 Mil Main Stock Gun Event, and then re-install the red-dot, and shoot 9 Mil Main Spacegun. With the irons back on, and magazines loaded to the gills, it would be just smoking in the 9x12 Optional Event.
I did not use the Prodigys at The Pin Shoot this year for a good reason: they were still so secret I wasn’t allowed to show them to anyone. I wish I could have used them. Now, if you want a carry gun, then you go for the 4.25-inch barrel Prodigy, and it will still be a great choice for competition. But as a carry gun it will be easier to pack with the shorter barrel, and you are not giving up any capacity. Just with the magazines it is shipped with, you walk out your front door with 38 rounds of 9mm on your person. And they can be +P loads if you wish, the Prodigy doesn’t care. I’ve save the best for last. (“It gets better than this? Oh my.”) You will get all of this goodness, with a 17- and a 20-round magazine, case, lock, ready for a red-dot optic, for $1,499. If you wanted a Hex Dragonfly like the ones mounted on the two samples sent here, those would run you an extra $249. Lest you think this spendy, the base price of the Springfield Armory DS Prodigy 1911 is a full grand less than the best price I could find on a comparable pistol. I swear, at this rate, if Springfield Armory announces they are going to be making cars, I’m buying one.
Springfield Armory DS Prodigy Specs
- Type: Hammer-fired, semiautomatic
- Caliber: 9mm
- Capacity: 17+1 rds. (20- &26-rd. mags available)
- Barrel: 5 in.
- Overall Length: 8.5 in.
- Height: 5.5 in.
- Width: 1.4 in.
- Weight: 33 oz.
- Finish: Black Cerakote, polymer
- Sights: Nothch rear, fiber optic blade front
- Trigger: 3 lbs., 15 oz.
- MSRP: $1,499
- Manufacturer: Springfield Armory
About the Author
Patrick Sweeney is a life-long shooter, with more than half a century of trigger time, four decades of reloading, 25 years of competition (4 IPSC World Shoots, 50 USPSA Nationals, 500+ club matches, and 18 Pin Shoots, as well as Masters, Steel Challenge and Handgunner Shootoff entries). He spent two decades as a professional gunsmith, and two decades as the President of his gun club. A State-Certified law Enforcement Firearms Instructor, he is also a Court-recognized Expert Witness.
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