When I was around 7 years old, my older brother decided he wanted a 1911. Up until this time he had played around with Ruger P85s, A GP100 and some other smaller El Jeffe special type throw away guns so going to a 1911 was a big deal for him. Before he made his purchase, our Dad told him. “son, if you are going to get a 45, ( Dad never calls the pistol by its model) get a Colt. Go ahead and buy quality and it will not let you down. I had one for a year in Vietnam and it never failed”. My older brother being who he is, promptly took the advice of his new “gun expert friends” and bought a Thompson Auto Ordnance. It didn’t work. At all. It was a banner day if the pistol that was made too resemble a 1911 actual fired 6 rounds from the mag without a failure. So he got rid of it and tried again with the same brand. His know it all friend who knew it all based on gun rags only and no experience assured him he just needed a few new upgrade parts. By the time my brother had all the parts in it his friend suggested, he could have bought a higher quality 199 that worked. Years later he bought another 1911, this time a Colt 1991A1 and it has worked ever since. The above story is one of probably millions that explains all you need to know about some of the bad stuff people may say to you about the 1911. A lot of people made them over the years and not all of them are worth as much as the metal a soda can is made of.
I never did forget my Dads advice because he is simply always right. A couple of years later he bought me my first 1911 for christmas. It was a WW2 surplus A1 and I shot 200 rounds through it a week until i got to be a junior in high school. At that time it was pretty much worn out. I bought a MK IV series 80 and used it until the next year when it was heavily customized with everything but a comp and a red dot sight.
I have owned a lot of 1911s over the years and have shot more rounds through the 1911 then a lot of people have fired through every gun they own. This amount of time and use will eventually lead you to be able to do a lot of impressive ( but useless ) things. I wasted a lot of ammo learning to shoot a clay pigeon out of the air with my .45 , and it won’t even impress women.
I have formed a few clear opinions of the 1911 and what it needs and doesn’t need over those years though and I am often approached locally to work on them for people and dole out advice which I sometimes do against my better judgement. I am going to talk a little bit about that now. I am no expert and what I am about to say is my opinion and it is opinion only. My opinions have formed after most of my life being spent with the 1911. You are not going to read anything revolutionary but it may help some people thinking about getting a 1911 and what features they really want to spend money on.
The first thing I am going to say is the most important. It is also the only thing I am going to urge you to take to the bank. Practice is the most important. With a reliable and reasonably accurate gun,practice will over come any slight discomfort or less then efficient part like a thumb safety that is not extended or ambi. People these days get caught up too much with looks, custom parts , you name it. With Correct practice, you can over come these things and can perform on demand with any gun handed to you if it is in reasonable working order. My philosophy over the years has developed into some specific ideas. One of those ideas is that combat accuracy , or field accuracy, that you can deliver on demand, is more important then 1/4 MOA groups. Equipment will not over come lack of practice. The most expensive well made custom gun in the world will not make you a good shot. It may give a slight edge to an already proficient shooter. But it is not going to be a substitute for practice and training done correctly.
Now that the most important thing is out of the way, I will move on to the more technical ideas I have formed.
After years of using and not using one piece guide rods I can say in my opinion they are near worthless. They really do nothing other then give people something to claim as an upgrade even though it does nothing of any help and has no advantage. Just like Magpul MOE furniture. Another thing I advise to stay away from are the rubber grips with the finger groves in them like the ones made by Hogue. A lot of people love them at first because they really don’t know not to like them. it sounds weird but its true. As you use the gun more, your firing grip will evolve into one that works best for you. Often the finger groove bumps will not match up to your more refined grip. SO people will adjust their grip to the less effective grip just so they can use the finger groove rubber grips. This is a step backwards. You are batter off with the thinnest wood grips you can find with nice aggressive checkering. Even better are the grips made by VZ or the ones like them.
A lot of time is debated about the A1 hump or the flat back strap. It does not matter. It really doesn’t. It also doesn’t matter if it is steel or plastic. Other then aesthetics its a non issue. Use whichever you like. The beveled magazine well is another thing I use to love now do not want to have anything to do with. I admit, they look cool and give the “custom look” but you can not use every magazine out there with them unless it has the bumper pad. For a carry gun or for combat, I want the mag well to take any magazine I find or have one hand. It is a real problem to get a factory base plate mag into a extended mag well without a bumper base pad or taking the time to make sure its in or risk a major cut on the palm of the hand.
As far as the grip goes, I feel the scallop under the trigger is something that is worth having. If you are going to get work done or you can choose it on a new pistol, it is worth it, It lets you get a higher grip on the gun just like the up turned grip safety. Both are worthwhile on a gun if its offered on the model. I would never turn down those features if I had the choice and have a pistol altered for them or added.
A lot of people will say not to get a ambi safety. I could not disagree more. If it is a gun for carry or fighting. Get it. Find one you like and get it. The single side safety if perfectly workable if you are right handed and can be over come if you are a lefty, but not easy. My issue is, if you suddenly have your strong hand made out of action, the ambi safety makes things a lot more easy for you when it counts. To me, it is absolutely insane not to have an ambi safety on a fighting gun if you ever really believe you may need one.
Triggers are one of those things people love to debate. I always suggest going with the short A1 trigger if you do not know what you need. Even for longer hands, it can be controlled easily and it is never a mistake. The gun does not need a light trigger either. And the series 80 trigger is fine. It harms nothing, it does not make the trigger feel worse and it will not cause the gun to explode.
Stay away from shok buffers. During heavy use they will get hot, chewed up and fall apart. If you have a fighting gun with the looser tolerances the 1911 was meant to have, it will still work. But a buffer that has fell to pieces will stop the tighter guns up.
On that note. I do not like hard fit or tight guns. Do not be afraid of rattle. All of those unreliable 1911s you hear about are hard fit tight guns. I had to send a gun back to Colt back in 2009 after I screwed up something on it. While it was having my mistake corrected, I asked that gun gun be “loosened up a bit”. I wanted the fit to be as generous as Browning intended. A gun made to the original fit using decent ammo is as reliable as any tool that has ever been made and better then some. It will not shoot 1 inch groups at 50 yards. It will keep a 4 inch group at 50 yards with ball, but it works every time and it is combat accurate. I can make a 15 yard head shot and I can keep them in a mans chest out to 100. It rattles and friends who know nothing of the 1911 and fighting handguns laugh and turn their noses up. But it works no matter how dirty it gets or what I shoot through it. An effective fighting tool needs to work every time. As long as a handgun is capable of keeping its shot within the kill zone, everything else academic other then your ability and how much you practice.
I use to love the Bomar type adjustable sights. I stay away from them now after tearing my hands up and seeing friends cut by them. After realizing they are never really used in their adjustable role, I stick to fixed sights, The Novak low mount is my favorite. A nice high fixed iron sight that you can see is all you can really ask for. Of course, night sights are always a worthy upgrade, but not a must.
As I have said before, the most important thing about using the 1911 is to use it! Like anything, you have to practice and train. A lot of changes can be made to the 1911 and it is forgiving of these changes if done by some one by at least two brain cells. But the truth is, almost any thing on the gun you may think is not just right, can be over come with training with the thing. Smaller sights, smaller safety, no beveled mag well , all are not really the issue. the time spent shooting and the mindset needed to win the fight is the most important. The 1911, in my opinion is the finest fighting handgun for serious use that has ever been made. Everything after it, owes its existence to the 1911. It was born perfect. Features can be changed, but none of those changes alter the way it works. the original caliber of .45 Automatic Colt Pistol is also the premiere choice for stopping a threat in my opinion. A lot of people will say that bullet tech has advanced to the point that the 9mm is now as good as anything, but the truth is, the advancements that benefited the 9mm has been applied to the 45 as well. 45 ACP bullet design did not stop at 1987. If you can have the same high performance bullet in a bullet that is bigger, common sense tells me that the 45 will always have the edge in size. Eeven the worst performing HP in a 45 that fails to open, will still make a hole that is .45. The 1911 is the perfect to me. I have used the classic for so long that locally if you say my name to anyone who knows me, the 1st thing they think of is the 1911. Picking it up always feels like shaking hands with an old friend for me and I will always have the 1911 on my side.