The first 1911 I actually bought was a high-capacity .45 ACP.
I have this thing about pursuing the latest and best versions of everything (when I can afford it), and I figured that a Para-Ordnance styled 1911 was excellent value as far as 1911’s went.
I wasn’t disappointed!
The NP44 wasn’t faithful to the original Browning design, of course. It had an extended slide release, ambidextrous safety levers, a full-length recoil spring guide rod and the baseball-grip handle that characterizes high-capacity 1911’s. For all that, I truly believe it’s a worthy descendant of the legendary Yankee Fist.
Its best feature, to me, was a magazine that held 14 rounds of potent, fight-stopping .45 ACP ammunition. You could pre-load another cartridge in the chamber, for a total of 15 rounds.
Norinco did its best to trim down the circumference of the grip on this particular gun. Instead of normal 1911 furniture, it employed very thin plastic grip panels to slim down the handle.
It also comes with a slew of little touches that would cost extra, had they been added on as aftermarket accessories.
To start with, the pistol features an extended beaver tail, plus a skeletonized hammer and trigger. The slide release has also been extended, to make it easier to release the slide. Finally, it incorporates an ambidextrous safety with extended levers. This makes it a breeze to flick the safety on and off.
Like most Norinco firearms, the quality of materials used, and the craftsmanship that went into producing this pistol, leaves little else to be desired.
The steel used is durable and extremely hard. I know this from first-hand experience, because I had to do a bit of gunsmithing on the gun’s slide, to install my aftermarket Tritium night sights.
Slide-to-frame fit may not be as tight as an STI or a custom build, but there is no perceptible side-to-side movement when the pistol is in lock-up. The barrel shows no sign of oscillation, and the trigger action is crisp and decisive.
The control levers move with the correct amount of resistance; the grip safety is so soft you hardly know you’re depressing it.
I believe that the major components (slide, barrel, and frame) are all hand-fitted, and even the two high-capacity magazines appear to have been individually matched with the gun.
The only item I have had to replace so far is the recoil spring, which naturally wears out after you have fired 2,000 rounds in this type of sidearm.
Actually, I don’t believe that any defensive 1911 pistol should be built tighter than the NP44 is. After all, John Browning’s original 1911 design was for a combat pistol, a fighting gun that would have to function reliably under less-than-optimal conditions. The design criteria postulates a firearm with nominal tolerances, which should enable it to function reliably in spite of dirt, powder residue, and even mud.
It is definitely true that a 1911’s accuracy can be improved by tightening the gun’s lock-up. In today’s custom shops, this is achieved by carefully machining the gun’s individual components, so that they fit very closely together. The less play between the parts, the better; such creations are purpose-built to dominate shooting competitions, and they excel at it.
Because of their incredibly tight tolerances, however, they tend to be finicky about the ammunition they use and the way that you treat them. When you forget to clean and lubricate them, they may fail to function; a slight bit of rust can make it impossible to retract the slide. They may also require more ammunition to break them in, compared to regular 1911 pistols.
If you have large hands, you’ll love the NP44’s ergonomics. You will probably end up believing that the big grips on high-capacity 1911’s were designed specifically for you.
If you have medium-sized hands like I do, on the other hand, the gun occupies your hands with a distinct sense of fullness. When you pick up the gun, you instinctively recognize the need to hang on to it, and that feeling actually helps improve your shooting. You grip it tighter, and you gain better control over the pistol. This improves your ability to handle the gun’s recoil, making it easier for you to hit what you’re shooting at—several times in rapid succession, if necessary.
The NP44 isn’t that difficult to get used to, even if you have smaller hands. If you were to use it exclusively, however, I would recommend that you have the fore grip area checkered, to give you better purchase on the gun. Alternatively, a bit of skateboard tape in front of the pistol’s grip can also improve traction tremendously.
Regardless of hand size, however, you will find the slide release and the ambidextrous safeties on the NP44 well within reach. Dropping the magazine may require you to shift your hold on the gun slightly, but the operation can be performed very quickly with a bit of practice.
I would argue that an aftermarket magazine well isn’t really necessary on a high-capacity 1911 like this, unless you actually intend to use it for competitive sports shooting. Because it uses a double-stack magazine, the opening at the bottom of the grip is almost cavernous, compared to the original 1911 pistol.
Likewise, since the double-stack magazines that the gun uses are tapered at the top, it’s a cinch to funnel them into the handgun’s grip. This is one advantage that high-capacity pistols generally enjoy over their single-stack counterparts.
Shooting the NP44
Even if you’ve never handled a 1911 before, you are likely to find that this high-capacity variant is a pleasure to shoot.
In spite of the power that a .45 ACP cartridge dishes out, the recoil is quite easy to handle. Part of the reason is the pistol’s weight—the NP44’s all-steel frame has a delightful propensity for soaking up recoil. After you fire, your front sight drops back to the target quickly, making repeat shots fast and easy.
Like every other Norinco I’ve owned, this pistol comes from the factory with its sights pre-zeroed. It shoots where you point it, printing tight groups right on top of the front sight.
With normal factory hardball like Magtech, the NP44 is perfectly capable of delivering 3-inch groups at 25 meters, and I suspect that it can do the same at 50 meters with proper match ammunition.
The gun exhibits no ammo preferences. It has cycled and fired every brand of hollow-point cartridge I have run through it. It has digested military hardball and doesn’t mind club reloads, even those topped with moly-coated lead projectiles.
Quite naturally, its accuracy varies according to the type and brand of ammo you use in it. The important thing is that it will handle everything that you are apt to run through it without any dramas, like a good military pistol is supposed to do.
Fit for Carry?
If I were a special operator about to go into harm’s way, I would have no second thoughts about carrying this pistol. It is well-built, extremely reliable, and it can deliver more accuracy than I am capable of extracting from it.
It is not fussy about ammunition, and I like its ergonomics.
Carrying it concealed 10 hours a day, 365 days a year might give me pause, however.
The very things that make the Norinco NP44 perfect for combat, are the very same elements that disqualify it from concealed carry, in my book, at least.
High capacity in a full-size steel handgun spells w-e-i-g-h-t, and the NP44 has a good helping of it. Enough to give anyone who carries it for a while, grave second thoughts.
The empty gun weighs 42.3 ounces, and you need to add the weight of fifteen .45ACP cartridges to that. If you carry spare magazines, you need to consider the weight of those, too.
The NP44 is not overly large, but is is more difficult to conceal than today’s breed of compact- and micro-sized pistols. It is a gun that was intended to be carried openly—in an external holster. I seriously doubt whether soldiers actually tuck it into the waistband.
Such factors as weight and size are acceptable when you head out on occasional sorties. You can use any type of external holster you consider comfortable. You know that if and when you get back, you can shed all that extra gear and extra weight.
To be burdened with that weight every waking hour of the day, is a different matter altogether. I could probably do it if I had no other option. In fact, I truly admire those who pack this type of pistol for everyday carry.
I have, however, discovered less burdensome alternatives, and I usually compromise by using one of them, for everyday protection.
So now the NP44 is a bedside handgun, serving a role in which it doesn’t have to hang from my waist 10 hours a day. Whenever I get any warning that shit is about to hit the fan, however, it still becomes my go-to fighting handgun.