Still KING of the hill...Recently I began experimenting with a Smith & Wesson Model 4566 that I wanted to carry concealed. I got it into my head that with a little work it would make a great carry gun and I spent considerable time and (more importantly) money to try and make it into a better carry gun. I did. But despite the money, time and effort that I put into this pistol it is still not as good for concealed carry as the 1911 design is and it never will be no matter how much money I spend. After all of the time and effort involved I still ended up with a .45 Auto that offers no real advantages over my 1911 but is also heavier, bulkier, harder to carry and harder to make consistent hits with. What I got for my efforts was certainly no bargain, but I guess even us old gun guys are entitled to make foolish mistakes on occasion. Instead of spending my hard earned money on things that couldn't be "fixed" I could have saved myself a lot of trouble if I had only remembered the lesson that my main carry gun over the last several years should have already taught me, that you cannot beat the 1911 platform if you want to carry a full sized gun concealed.
I fired my first Colt .45 Automatic in 1978, I bought my first one in 1991, and I have never been without once since. I consider the basic 1911 design to be about as perfect as a semi-auto handgun design can get. Perfection? No, not really. But as I said as close as anyone is probably ever going to get to it. For those of us that train with and carry a "cocked & locked" .45 what we get for our efforts is a powerful and manageable package that is also relatively easy to conceal and to make consistent hits with. Despite nearly a hundred years of "progress" in semi-auto handgun design the 1911 pattern is still the high water mark that all others are measured to, "Old Ugly" is still king of the hill.
When I first shot my Dad's pistol all those years ago there really wasn't much of a choice in .45 Autos. Yes you did have some choice, you could choose between either a new Colt or maybe a used one that hopefully some amateur "gunsmith" hadn't decided to "improve". Or you could take your chances with some thrashed out ex-military gun that more often than not had been rebuilt, reworked or put back together with substandard parts and might or might not work as advertised when you really needed it to. Some choices! That has all completely changed in the last 30 years, now not only do you have countless manufacturers producing the basic 1911 design in every price range but they can also be ordered with all the conceivable bells and whistles and any custom features that a potential .45 Auto buyer could dream of. And that doesn't even take into consideration the large aftermarket parts supply where a buyer can modify their own gun or the custom 1911 gunsmiths that will make you any gun that you could possibly want or afford. Nowadays, whatever features you can pay for you can have and unfortunately that has both a good side and bad.
Do you carry a model 1911? I do, and that's what this article is really about. Not about souped up competition guns or pampered guns that might occasionally go to the target range and otherwise only see the inside of a closet or gun safe. What I'm talking about here is working guns, guns that are actually carried and used on a daily basis and might actually be called upon to protect their owner's life someday. As far as this discussion is concerned they are the only type of gun that matters. I currently own 10 .45 Autos, all Colts, all but three "Pre 70 Series", all basically stock. I would feel comfortable carrying anyone of them and using it for my own protection. There are some that I wouldn't want to carry because doing so would decrease the monetary value of it, the collector's value, but if I had to I could carry any of them, they have all been tried and all are reliable and trustworthy. I have owned quite a few .45s over the years, the lion's share being from Colt with a few Springfield Armory and Para Ordnance pistols thrown in for good measure, all were the same basic 1911 design without many add-ons. I pretty much like my .45 automatics basic and without many frills, they seem better to me that way, more purposeful. Thru years of personal shooting experience and trial and error I have found what works for me. Yes, I like my .45s basic, I have never owned an "operator" pistol or a "tactical" model. I have never had a .45 Auto with an ambidextrous safety, full-length guide rod, or a "beavertail". What I have had is straightforward, no frills .45 Auto's that were well made and reliable, and most importantly able to put eight fat .45 slugs downrange and into the black any and every time that I needed it to.
Most of the modifications that 1911 owners perform on their guns seem pointless and frivolous to me. I've tried guns before that had some of the above modifications and none seemed worth the extra cost. They seemed to be guns that were "fixed" not because they really needed it but because their owners thought they needed it. Many modifications appear to be nothing more than one-upmanship encouraged by handgun and parts makers, gun magazine writers and custom 1911 gunsmiths. Some changes do make sense, if you need better sights to hit the target, fine, if you are experiencing "hammer bite", okay, but how many people that actually carry a 1911 pistol need an extended slide stop, a titanium firing pin or a barrel bushing so tight that it can't be removed without a special wrench.
One obsession of "45 Experts" that I find especially worrying is the opening up of the ejection port, a modification that is not to be taken lightly and ALWAYS left to experts if it is to be tried at all! You see the original type ejection port has worked fine for decades without a problem and doesn't really need to be "fixed". Yes, I know that your brass is going to get dinged up, and yes you might even get bopped on the head by the occasional empty, but it was designed that way for a reason! You see when you open up the ejection port you are only increasing the chances of crud jamming up your gun at the worst possible moment! You are asking, begging your gun to fail!
Accuracy is another matter that is given a lot of attention, but at what price? Accuracy is good, without a doubt, but how much do you need for a carry gun? And more importantly how much will it cost you in other areas of the gun's performance? You can only tighten up the action of a 1911 pistol so far before you begin jeopardizing reliability; it is an inescapable truth. If your gun has been modified to the point that it will shoot one hole groups but won't run through two or three magazines without a malfunction what good is it? Old military .45s had a "rattle" they were so loose. I like my guns to be a little loose too. Why? Because even with the best conditions carry guns get dirty, they get crud up in them, their crevices fill up with lint, dust and gunk, it can't be avoided. And that is under the best of circumstances! God forbid that you ever have to use your gun in a up close life or death struggle where it might be drenched in more failure inducing substances like mud, grit or even blood. Yes, loose (to a degree) is good. I need to know that my gun is going to work even if I didn't have a chance to clean it that day. I need to know that even under the worst of circumstances it will still perform as needed, when needed, every time. My carry 1911 doesn't need to be nearly as accurate as a target gun, just so long as it meets my standards for carry accuracy. What standards? I believe my standards are pretty reasonable really; all that I ask of my carry .45 is at a minimum to be able to keep all of the shots in the center of a man's chest, a 5-inch circle will do, and most importantly do it with complete reliability. I don't think that's asking too much.
For several years my main carry gun has been a beat up old 1953 made Colt Government Model. It's nearly bone stock except for a few modifications that I believe improved it for carrying, lets go over the extensive list of modifications:
1) Trigger job 2) Polished feed ramp 3) Replacement wood grips.
As you can see I don't believe in spending money where it isn't necessary. Now that I have reached middle age I'll probably get a little better sights for my aging eyes but that's about as "custom" as this gun is ever going to get. I am sure that some "name" 1911 pistolsmiths that make a living building up "SUPER DUPER CUSTOM TACTICAL OPERATOR" 45s would cringe at my list but my gun meets my carry needs very well and it didn't cost me the price of a fairly good used car either.
Do I look down on those that extensively modify their guns? I don't think so; I am just giving my opinion here. I can understand that many modifications that 1911 owners make on their guns are for legitimate needs or concerns that they have about their gun's performance. On the other hand I suspect that a lot (if not a majority) of these modifications are not the result of actual problems experienced with their guns but what some "45 Expert" told them their gun needed, or more likely the latest super wiz bang .45 that they read about in the latest issue of SUPER WIZ BANG .45 MAGAZINE.
The 1911 design is a rather straightforward and simple. Hell even I can completely disassemble one and put it back together again without much effort and I am no mechanical genius, I certainly can't say that about other guns that I own. The 1911s simplicity is one of its greatest assets and many try to overcomplicate it for no real reason. I guess what I am trying to advocate here is a more sensible approach to the 1911 pistol. An approach where owners actually use and carry their guns and make decisions to meet their real world needs, not what they've read in a magazine or information they got from some "expert" at a gun shop, on a website, or even what some .45 "guru" tells them. If you carry or want to carry a 1911 pistol and only take one thing away from what I have written I hope it is this; JUST SHOOT THE DAMN THING, SHOOT IT AND SHOOT IT AND SHOOT IT AND SHOOT IT. AND THEN GO OUT AND SHOOT IT SOME MORE. Soon enough you'll know what actually works and what doesn't and then you'll truly be in a place where you can make experienced and thoughtful choices about what you need in a 1911 pistol and what really works best for you.