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A matter of choice: apart from sizes and calibers, the 1911 user has other selections to make.

As the Centennial year of the 1911 pistol approaches its end, we'll have more people than ever using them, Some out of nostalgia, like the old guy here--who always had a soft spot for 'em, but has spent an inordinate percentage of time carrying them in celebration of the anniversary--and some who have finally decided to buy their first, to determine for themselves what all the fuss is about.

There is much to decide. Mainspring housing configuration? Full-length guide rod or not? How big a mag well? Big or small thumb safety, single-side or ambidextrous? Trigger length? Grip safety style?

Mainspring Housing

The flat-back mainspring housing of the original 1911 pistol, the US Army Ordnance Board determined after WWI, might have been a culprit in the gun often shooting low in combat. (Apparently, desperately jerking the trigger to keep from being killed didn't rank high as a factor in their analysis.) An arched housing was created for the 1911A1 to drive the muzzle upward, and it remained on the Colt pistol through most of the 20th Century. By the 1950s, though, serious shooters often found they preferred the flat housing, and it's all but standard today. A few years ago Ed Brown created the Bobtail, which proved to work so well that other manufacturers have gone to it since as an option: Dan Wesson, Kimber, and S&W come to mind. Which is best?


When I was young, I thought the standard gun writer statement of "try 'em all, and pick the one that fits you best" was a huge cop-out. Decades of experience taught me; in this case at least, it was the correct answer.

Some consider the Full-Length Guide Rod for the recoil spring the mark of the professional 1911 user, though fewer did in the past. I know masters of the 1911 who feel it's an essential feature for accuracy and reliability, and others who wouldn't have it in their guns. Slightly over 50 years of owning and shooting 1911 pistols has swayed me toward the latter side of the argument. I honestly can't see an improvement in either accuracy or reliability with the FLGR.


On the down side, the FLGR is a minor to major pain in the butt for fieldstripping and a huge liability for fieldstripping in (duh) the field. I've seen the 2-piece ones fail and tie up the gun as well. I own 1911 s that have 1-piece FLGRs and work fine. They came with it installed, and it wasn't a deal breaker. I promise myself that one day, though, I'll find time to get a bunch of standard recoil spring systems and swap 'em into every dang one of those pistols....


My first 1911 was a Colt produced for the US military circa 1917. (No, I didn't get it new, I just look that old.) It had that little tiny nubbin of a safety lever on the left side only. I got used to it. What tore me up, literally, was the short little grip safety that dug into the web of my hand, and allowed the flesh there to be pinched between it and the hammer. The spade-shaped grip safety created by Jim Hoag, and the duckbill style that followed it, were a Godsend for comfort, and the duckbill's upswept tang helped guide the reaching hand into grasping position for a faster, surer draw under stress. Duckbills are on all the 1911s I regularly use now along with the raised bottom edge that I call a speed bump, which some call a memory groove. It's there to guarantee the grip safety and is depressed if you shoot with a straight or high thumb, which pulls the web of the hand away from the center of the grip safety.

Should the thumb safety be standard size or wider, and what is standard size today? The "gas pedal" safeties of the 1980s wiped off a little too easily, especially in ambidextrous mode, giving rise to folks who wouldn't have an ambi on their gun because their forearm would wipe the outside lever down into fire position when it bumped the gun as they walked down the street. Personally, I like an ambi in case I need to use the gun with my non-dominant hand, or lend it to a lefty (something we instructors are more likely to have to do), and I don't like it to extend too far from the gun. Each of us have to make our own choices on that, based on carry position, body shape, lifestyle, etc. Not having an ambi isn't a deal breaker when this righty buys a 1911, but for me personally, an ambi is a definite plus.


Mag Wells

Jeff Cooper pointed out in the 1950s that beveling the magazine well would make the reload faster and surer. He was so right about it that the mag wells got bigger. Today, we have some large enough that if you turn the gun upside-down, you can use it as a flowerpot. I personally think the ideal is one that doesn't extend the butt, being swaged outward by a master pistolsmith. It's expensive; I only own two, both Colts, one by Mark Morris and the other by Richard Heinie, and wish I could afford to have all my 1911s made that way. If I need maximum concealment, I go with the light bevel and a flat-bottom magazine; otherwise, a small add-on mag well does me just fine. Each of us has our own set of needs and priorities.

Bottom line? There is no more "customizable" pistol with more accessories available than the 1911. Get it your way and you'll be more happy with your 1911.
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Title Annotation:HANDGUNS
Author:Ayoob, Massad
Publication:Guns Magazine
Date:Oct 4, 2011
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