1911 Cult: Cracks in the Armor

9-Feb-11 – 10:49 by ToddG

A recent article about a small agency in N.C.’s Kimber problems has led to widespread discussion about the 1911 being a “hobbyist’s gun” (see, e.g., View From The Porch But it says “Custom” right on the gun! and Gun Nuts Media 1911 as a hobby gun). All of which echoes what Ken Hackathorn and Larry Vickers said in the recent pistol-training.com interview about the HK45:

“The 1911 is an enthusiast’s pistols. In order to keep that gun running you have to, it’s not optional, you have to become your own armorer to a degree. You have to be able to diagnose and fix minor problems on an end user level. If you’re not willing to sign up for that, frankly you have no business running a 1911 for anything other than occasional recreational shooting. If you’re going to put yourself in harm’s way with that gun and you’re not willing to sign up for that, then you need to avoid it.”

And across the country, the chorus of “I carry a 1911 every day you bastards!” has rung out.

I see 1911s in class all the time. Admittedly, no one is showing up to Aim Fast, Hit Fast with a Taurus or RIA. Mostly it’s Springfields or semi-custom guns (Wilson, Baer, Nighthawk) with Colts & Kimbers (often heavily ‘smithed) thrown in for good measure. Do they all work? No. Do they all break? No. Are there some common themes? Yes.

  • There is a direct correlation between IQ and 1911 reliability. I know it sounds harsh, but it’s true. The smart guys are the ones who understand the weaknesses of the system and prepare for it through proper selection, custom work, and maintenance.
  • Maintenance is key. We’re not just talking cleaning and oil. To run a 1911 well, you need to understand extractor tension. You need to understand what each of those little parts does, how it does it, and how it can go wrong.
  • You usually get what you pay for. While I’ve seen guns from the big name semi-custom shops crap out, that’s far less common than breakages or reliability problems with off-the-rack bargain 1911s. Of course, the guy who spends $3,000 on a Wilson probably also tested his gun and had any problems fixed by the manufacturer immediately. Which leads us to the final thought…
  • Folks who shoot 1911s because they shoot them well do better than folks who shoot 1911s because they think the 1911 is cool. Before class ever begins, I can usually figure out whose 1911s will run and whose won’t. The guy bragging about his 1911 will almost always (a) suck , (b) have a problem gun, or (c) both.

What this all amounts to is pretty simple:

Yes, you can get a 1911 that runs and you can keep it running. The operative word is “you.” There is a lot more you need to do when choosing the gun, running the gun, and maintaining the gun than if you bought a (Beretta Glock HK SIG S&W). That doesn’t make the 1911 a bad gun. But it does make it a hobbyist’s gun.

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

  1. 58 Responses to “1911 Cult: Cracks in the Armor”

  2. @Steve – funny you should say that you’ve put a lot of work into your Glock to make it competitive in Production. I talked to a top level Production GM about what he had in his Glock for the 2009 Bianchi Cup (which he won) and all he had done was change the sights and modify the trigger slightly to get a 4lb pull.

    By Caleb on Feb 21, 2011

  3. @Caleb @Steve

    Doesn’t Dave Sevigny* have a rep for running relatively stock Glocks?

    * As previously covered on this website, Sevigny is a cyborg.

    By commandar on Feb 21, 2011

  4. I was issued, used, or carried a 1911 daily from when I was commissioned in 1986 to January 2011 when my 1911’s were retired in favor of M&P45’s. I have been around quite a few 1911’s over the past two decades of military and LE duty, including USGI, commercial Colt, SA (Milspec, Loaded, MC Oper, Professional models), Wilson, Kimber, Nighthawk, Les Baer, and Para Ord, as well as custom pistols by folks like Bill Laughridge, Wayne Novak/Joe Bonar, Ed Brown, John Jardine, Hilton Yam, Larry Vickers, and Chuck Rogers. A properly customized 5″ steel-frame single-stack 1911 in .45 ACP is a superb, unparalleled choice for the dedicated user willing to spend a significant amount of money to get it properly initially set-up and considerable time to maintain it. It has been my experience that in general 1911 pistols in calibers other than .45 ACP and barrels shorter than 5″ induce increasingly greater problems. I personally will not use any 1911 with a Schwartz firing pin safety (like on the Kimber II pistols) as I have seen high numbers of them fail; the Colt Series 80 firing pin safety is the only one I might trust for urban LE use, but they have also been known to fail in harsh environments (particularly surf zone and high dust) so I generally prefer a standard USG style 1911 pistol w/o firing pin safety. However, I personally would not choose to carry most stock or even semi-custom 1911’s on duty without making sure they were set-up properly with reliable function, durable parts, and ergonomic execution. I firmly believe that if you want a 1911 for serious use, the minimum level of quality for a duty/carry weapon is the SA Pro model (either PC9111 or PC9111LR if you want a light rail); if you’re not willing to invest that much into the weapon system, don’t get a 1911…

    As has been stated before by others of greater wit than I, if you are a gentleman with a touch of gray in your hair and you were raised on 1911’s, then by all means keep using them. However, as much as I love 1911’s, for someone new to the game there is no way I can in good conscience recommend starting down the 1911 path when there are currently equally efficacious duty weapons that are much easier to service and that are far more cost effective. For folks who want a .45 ACP pistol, but don’t want to invest the funds and effort into getting a good 1911, they would be better served with the S&W M&P45, HK45c, or even a G21sf. For the price of one high quality 1911, you can purchase an M&P45 w/Apex Duty Kit, 1000+ rounds of ammunition, and a good pistol training course.

    By DocGKR on Feb 22, 2011

  5. @commandar – that’s who I was talking about, but straight-up name dropping seemed ungentlemanly.

    Now, the other day I was having dinner with the Ghost of John Moses Browning, and he told me that if he had access to polymer when he was alive the 1911 would have been a double stack striker fired 9mm.

    By Caleb on Feb 22, 2011

  6. I think its fair to say I have had a significant amount of experience with 1911’s, even on this board. For many years USMC issued but also Baer’s, Wilsons, and others. I’ve had super tight Baers that were very reliable so i don’t buy the “too tight” argument if done right. There was a time when I would have only shot 1911’s/.45. But I’m just fine these days with a Glock in 9 and see no reason to fuss with 1911’s anymore. I’ve said that on forums before and gotten replies very much like the one i quoted from Todd below. I about blew my morning coffee through my nose laughing when I read this.

    “And across the country, the chorus of “I carry a 1911 every day you bastards!” has rung out.”

    I’ve also been told I “didn’t know how to run it”. Allrighty then.

    By Terry on Feb 24, 2011

  7. One other thing, I don’t like seeing people with 1911’s if they don’t know how to handle one safely. Many don’t.

    By Terry on Feb 24, 2011

  8. I carry a 1911 just about daily, and I can tell you this.

    I should’ve bought an M&9 with a Thumb Safety, P30S or an Glock 17.

    Hahaha, 1911’s are nice, but, they’re finicky, and when lives are at stake, I’d take something that’s less accurate (and I say less very hesitantly, maybe I should’ve thrown in an “very slightly”) that doesn’t have the hang ups with magazines, extractor tension, more expensive ammo, etc.

    I’m saving to retire my 1911 to safe duty. It will be fighting dust bunnies and rust mostly as funds allow. I like the gun, just too high maintenance for me. I’ve had parts breakages, magazine issues, finish issues, etc., and it’s a Dan Wesson.

    To each his own though, if lives are on the line and you absolutely need/want that bleeding edge accuracy and can maintain the 1911 consistently to the degree you want, then I’d say it’s still a good gun for you.

    That’s really the problem in the gun community, people can’t seem to get a hold of the “For you.” It all depends on perspective.

    By Brandon on Mar 5, 2011

  9. ToddG, thanks for saying “the emperor has no clothes.”

    I bought a M1911 as my first pistol. Everyone had said how wonderful M1911s were and I believed them. Mine jammed and was not particularly accurate. I tried different ammo and different magazines to no avail. How frustrating it was.

    My understanding is that M1911s require more investment and work to achieve similar practical results as other pistols (Glock, Sig, HK, S&W). The M1911 aficionados usually do not make this clear before leading a newbie down the primrose path.

    Many would be better served by something other than a M1911. They should be given the information to make an informed decision. Your post helps in that regard. Thanks again.

    By Joel on Apr 15, 2011

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