People in the firearms media-- writers, editors, etc.-- see the same ads and press releases that the public does. However, because we see so much of it, the ads often become white noise. Sometimes it takes getting a pistol into your hand to make you realize just how neat and fun a product is. That's what happened with the Browning Black Label Medallion.
At a recent media event, a small group of writers and editors were banging steel out to 25 yards with various pistols, everything from full-size 9mms to the Browning .380. All of us found that we could shoot the Browning more accurately than any of the bigger guns. On top of that, it had the least amount of recoil, and was the best-looking gun in the bunch. Immediate editor assignment: get one to test.
Browning has been making these scaled-down 1911s chambered in .380 ACP for a number of years and currently offers 12 different models. The Black Label Medallion models are the beautiful culmination of this design, and I secured a Black Label Medallion Pro Full Size.
From a distance or in photos, these pistols look like standard "Government Model" 1911s chambered in .45 ACP because of their near-identical proportions to those larger guns. However, the Browning 1911 .380s are scaled down to 85% of the size of the original 1911. Numbers-wise, that may not seem like much of a reduction, but in the hand, you quickly realize it is a huge change.
The Black Label Medallion Pro Full Size mimics the proportions of the 5-inch barreled .45 ACP 1911, but has a 4.25-inch barrel. It is 7.5 inches long by 4.75 inches tall with a magazine inserted-- far from a pocket-sized gun, but noticeably smaller than the original 1911. Where you'll notice the biggest difference is in the weight.
Original all-steel .45 ACP 1911s start at about 36 ounces and can go all the way up to 43 ounces or so, once you add mag wells and tactical rails. The Black Label Medallion Pro has what Browning calls a "composite" frame, which everyone else will call polymer.
As great as polymer is, however, it's not strong enough (yet) to support a reciprocating slide, so inside the composite is a machined aluminum "subframe," which sports the rails on which the slide rides. The end result of this composite and aluminum construction in the frame is a pistol that weighs just 18 ounces empty.
The pistol ships with two 8-round magazines. The frame is long enough that just about everybody should be able to get his or her entire hand on the gun, which aids in shooting, but does tend to hinder concealability. Browning does make a Medallion Pro Compact, but the frame is the same size on that model, it is just the barrel that has been shortened to 3 5⁄8.
The Medallion Pro's good looks stem partly from the slide. The slide is stainless steel that has been blackened, and then the side of the slide polished. The end result is very attractive and really makes the markings on the slide, and the slide serrations, stand out.
I mentioned that there are twelve different models of the Browning 1911-380, and that number doesn't factor in the two different variations of this model-- a base model with "combat white dot" 3-dot sights, and the version I secured for testing, which comes complete with Trijicon tritium-powered night sights.
The night sights on this model feature a bar/dot sight picture. There is a tritium insert dot in the front sight. Underneath the rear sight notch, the tritium insert has been laid sideways to display a line. In low or no light, put the dot over the bar and your sights will be aligned.
I actually prefer this setup in night sights. In zero light, there is zero chance you will mistake one of your rear sight dots for your front sight, if the tritium insert in your rear sight isn't a dot. The night sights will add $80 to your MSRP, but if you're thinking of buying this pistol for self-defense, they're well worth it.
Internally is where you'll see the biggest variation from the original 1911 design. Instead of the 1911's swinging barrel link, the Browning features a locked breech tilting barrel design very reminiscent of the Browning Hi-Power. This pistol has an original-style short recoil spring guide rod, but the guide rod is constructed of a white polymer. The barrel bushing is pure 1911, albeit on a smaller scale.
This design provides a relatively low bore to begin with. Add the narrower diameter of the .380 when compared to the .45, plus the lower recoil and the fact that you can get your whole hand on the gun, and the felt recoil in this pistol is closer to that of a .22 than most .380s.
Bore height off the hand affects muzzle rise more than any other variable (this is basic lever/fulcrum physics). The Browning has a very low bore. As a result, this pistol recoils like a full-size, all-steel 1911 chambered in 9mm. Which mean...not much at all.
The slide wiggled a bit on the frame, but the barrel locked up very tight, with no play at all. It is barrel-to-slide lockup, which usually is the best indicator of potential accuracy, and I was expecting this .380 to be very accurate when it was time to head to the range. I was not disappointed.
The front of the frame is checkered, as is the aluminum mainspring housing. The checkering is not very aggressive, but it doesn't need to be. The pistol seems perfectly sized in the hand, and recoil was very controllable.
This pistol has a very thin width. The original 1911 was called Ol' Slabsides for a reason-- for a pretty big gun, the original 1911 in .45 ACP was rather flat, and this one is 15% smaller. John Moses Browning made all of his designs very size-efficient. Scale that same design down to a .380 ACP, and the Browning is just darn thin. But not so thin you can't get a good shooting grip on it. In case you're wondering, the Browning's slide is just .775" wide. The wood grips at their fattest are 1.1" thick.
Speaking of the wood grips, they are just as attractive as the slide. They are rosewood, with a gold Buckmark inlay. There is checkering and some curlicue designs as well, making this gun almost too pretty to shoot. Almost. Grips are held in place with hex head grip screws.
Trigger pull on my sample was 4.75 lbs. The two-hole aluminum trigger on this pistol mimics the long triggers on full-size 1911s, but because this pistol is smaller, the reach to the trigger isn't very far at all. I found I ended up working the trigger almost with the tip of my finger.
The features on this pistol aren't there just for looks, they are all functional, from the beavertail grip safety to the ambidextrous thumb safety. The pistol has an extended slide release as well.
One word of caution-- that bump at the bottom of modern beavertail grip safeties exists for the same reason that competition shooters often pin down their grip safeties. Sometimes, some people have issues deactivating grip safeties due to the shape or size of their hands.
That bump at the bottom of the grip safety (I think Ed Brown invented it) helps you depress it enough to deactivate it. I have somewhat flat hands and have always had issues deactivating grip safeties on full-size 1911s, so I'm not surprised I was having issues with the Browning as well. If you're in a similar situation, I don't advocate deactivating the grip safety on a 1911, simply because adjusting how far it sticks out and needs to be depressed to be deactivated is an easy 10-minute hand-file job for any gunsmith.
I shoot all 1911s with a thumb-high hold (thumb over the top of the safety), as both God and Jeff Cooper intended. Between the small size of this pistol and the extended slide stop, the slide wouldn't lock back for me on an empty magazine. I don't consider this a deal breaker, just something of which prospective buyers should be aware.
One thing both Jeff Cooper wouldn't like is the magazine disconnect safety with which the lawyers at Browning have saddled this pistol-- and I'm sure that God doesn't like it. I can see the argument for a magazine disconnect safety in the exposed duty pistol of a uniformed law enforcement officer, but only there. On a pistol that is obviously marketed as an option for concealed carry, there is absolutely no place for a magazine disconnect safety.
The magazine disconnect safety actually works in conjunction with the magazine release, which means that it doesn't affect the trigger-pull quality (unlike the magazine disconnect safety on the Browning Hi-Power). I discovered you can actually drop the hammer without the magazine in place if you push in on the magazine release.
One thing I want to remind readers of is the single-action nature of the 1911. If the hammer is down, this pistol will not fire no matter how hard you press the trigger. If you're going to carry a 1911 for self-defense, carry it cocked and locked (hammer cocked, thumb safety engaged). You can disengage (and ride) the thumb safety as a natural part of acquiring your grip and drawing.
The Browning's thumb safety is steel, extended, and bilateral. It is actually large enough to disengage as part of acquiring your grip, even in stressful situations, something that can't be said about most of the mini 1911 .380s on the market. This means the Browning Black Label Medallion Pro is actually suitable for its main intended purpose: concealed carry.
Here's my rant for the day: between the grip and thumb safeties, that cocked hammer on a 1911 is perfectly safe, even if it looks dangerous. (FYI, it's more inherently safe than most striker-fired guns that are cocked internally but don't have grip or thumb safeties.) If, for whatever reason, you don't want to carry a 1911 with the hammer cocked, and plan to cock the hammer after you draw the gun, DON'T. Buy and carry a different type of handgun. Carrying a 1911 with the hammer down is, at best, nonsensical, when there are so many other firearm designs on the market that don't feature "dangerous-looking" cocked hammers. Choosing to carry a pistol that isn't ready to fire, or can't be made ready to fire just by gripping it, is simply and indefensibly STUPID, if you take defense of self and loved ones seriously. Might as well just carry a pistol with a trigger lock attached.
Here endeth the rant.
At the range, the Browning was just plain fun to shoot. At the media event I mentioned, we were banging steel plates at 25 yards. The Browning .380 is not exactly a target gun, and yet, between the good sights and sight radius and the single-action triggerâ€”plus the fact that the bullets were going exactly where the sights wereâ€”the Browning made it look easy.
Most .380s designed for concealed carry are equipped with double-action-only trigger pulls, which means rapid fire, and occasionally even accurate fire, is difficult, if not impossible. Between the crisp, single-action trigger and 53â„8" sight radius, this pistol handled far better than perhaps any other .380 ACP I've ever shot. To be honest, at 18 ounces, this pistol is only slightly heavier than many "pocket" .380s, but it is so much easier to shoot fast and accurately, that a comparison isn't even fair.
Admittedly, it is one of, if not the largest .380 I've ever shot, but because the gun is so flat, in a good IWB holster, this pistol will just disappear.
The magazine well in the polymer frame has been slightly beveled. This means this pistol is still not as quick to reload as a full-size 9mm or .45, but much quicker than most pocket guns.
Browning has a video on its website of a guy in the requisite khaki tactical pants and "instructor" web belt running high-speed defensive shooting drills out of a Kydex holster with this pistol. At first, it almost seems like you're watching a parody (search 'Tiny Guns' on YouTube), but I believe the point of the video is that you can run the Black Label like a full-size gun (unlike many .380s) because it has all the same controls and good trigger of a full-size 1911, and is comfortable to shoot.
Your choices in premium .380 ACP defensive ammo have never been better. And, to be honest, Ruger is responsible for much of that. Its LCP, which might be the most successful .380 in history, caused a huge resurgence in this cartridge, and ammunition manufacturers followed by offering serious defensive loads in this caliber.
I tested loads with bullets ranging from 60 to 99 grains, copper solids to traditional lead core hollowpoints, and really only brought out a sampling of what I had in the ammo bunker (otherwise known as the .380 section of one shelf in my basement). The .380 ACP is not exactly a defensive powerhouse, but with the Browning, it is very easy for even an average shooter at traditional defensive distances to park an entire magazine in a palm-sized circle as fast as he or she can pull the trigger. The old saying, "A hit with a .22 is better than a miss with a .45 applies here; even inexperienced shooters will be able to hit the target with alacrity using the Browning.
The great thing is this: because, for a .380, the Browning's barrel is unusually long, the velocities I obtained with almost every type of ammo tested were much faster than advertised. Not quite to 9mm velocities with the same weight bullets, but closer than you might expect.
Personally, I'm intrigued by the Black Hills Honey Badger ammo, which features a copper solid bullet not designed to expand at all, but rather with flutes meant to cause increased hydraulic displacement (and therefore a larger temporary wound cavity) in bad guys. In the Browning, these 60-grain bullets screamed out of the muzzle at 1265 fps, and the recoil was the same or less than the other rounds tested.
Just about every person I've been around when first seeing these pistols-- whether it was my fiance, teenage son, jaded editors, or combat vets-- has called them cute. But cute isn't necessarily a four-letter word. The Browning Black Label Medallion Pro doesn't just look good, it shoots.
I actually think this pistol would be a great carry gun for women for a number of reasons, none of which
involve its appearance, as long as they're comfortable with Condition One (cocked and locked) carry. It is light, fits small hands, conceals well, and shoots even better. The fact that it is attractive is just a bonus.
Unlike most modern .380s, I don't think the Black Label is meant to be a purely defensive pocket gun, despite the tacticool videos on the pistol's Browning web page. That said, detailing exactly what kind of pistol this is meant to be might confuse some people. But every pistol doesn't have to be squarely aimed at a specific market segment. This is a beautiful gun that is fun to shoot-- shouldn't that be enough?
For those of you who need more, here's this: due to its single-action trigger and size, it is shoot-able enough to target shoot or plink. While the .380 ACP is no powerhouse, it is acceptably powerful enough to be considered a cartridge suitable for self-defense, and the Browning holds 8+1 rounds. Provided you can live with the unnecessary magazine disconnect safety, the pistol is more than light and compact enough for concealed carry. As a finishing touch, the Black Label Medallion Pro comes with night sights to extend its versatility.
James Tarr is a longtime contributor to Firearms News and other firearms publications. He is also the author of several books, including CARNIVORE, which was featured on The O'Reilly Factor. His current novel, WHORL, is available now through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
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