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The Chuck Taylor Combat Special.

A no-nonsense self-defense carry .45 for a reasonable price

Herbert W McBride was perhaps one of the most penetrating military writers in history. A country boy" from Indiana who grew up hunting and shooting, he resigned his commission as a Captain in the Indiana National Guard when World War I broke out and went to Canada. There, he enlisted as a private and, as a rifleman, "went to war."

There in the trenches of France, he became something of a legend in his own time, garnering in accolades from his commanders as being nearly the perfect soldier--unselfish, courageous and skilled. He was also instrumental in shaping emerging U.S. philosophies toward sniping and the use of the machine gun. His greatest contribution, however, came in an unexpected form. In 1935, McBride published his masterpiece, a work destined to exert profound influence years later upon many shooters and soldiers.

His book, titled A Rifleman Went To War, was a personal commentary on combat from a personal perspective. In it is a very special chapter subtitled "The Pistol In War," in which the mission and use of the handgun is explained as only a warrior can explain it. From that chapter is the following story about his use of the Colt M1911 .45 pistol:

"We all heard them and saw them. They were scouting right along our wire and between us and our own line. Well, that was fine and dandy, if we had had any previous understanding as to what we would do in such a case--but we had never even thought of anything like that. They would probably have passed our position without seeing us had it not been for one of our crowd who shall be nameless. This individual squirmed around and threw a bomb [grenade - CT] at the head of the German procession. It so happened that he was at the very left of our line: I was the right-hand man, and Taylor was next to me. We all had grenades--six apiece--but Hugh and I had agreed that we would see what we could with the French bayonets as persuaders, and our [M1911 - CT] pistols, if it came to a showdown.

"Well, then things began to-happen The kid who threw the bomb used his head to the extent that he held it a bit, a pulling the pin and releasing the lever, so that it burst at the instant it hit the ground. It probably got a German but it also get himself (the thrower) and the man next to him. That left Taylor and me with six or sever Heinies to look after.

"Those Dutchmen [a euphemism for the Germans popularly used during WW1 - CT] were well-trained. I remember taking one long jump, over into another big crater and felt Hughie landing on top of me when there came the terrific blasts of the boms that the other fellows had burled at us. I think we each threw back at least one-possibly two and then, finding that we were not hurt, started out to 'get' someone. It was pretty much an individual matter from that time on. I hunted around at my back until I found my pistol-just in time to use it on a big bulk of a German who was trying to find the way home. I think I fired three shots--at ranges all the way up to four or five feet!"

Further describing the value of the handgun in general and the M1911 in particular, he also commented:

"During my war experience, which extended from September, 1915 to February, 1917 and included innumerable little 'contacts' with the enemy and several major battles, I fired exactly seven shots at an enemy with my pistol. Seven--count 'em... but brother, those were seven badly needed shots. There may be a moral in this: I don't know. If so, figure it out for yourself.

"But there is no doubt in my mind that the mere possession of q reliable pistol--and the knowledge how to use it--is a tower of strength for the soldier who goes up against any enemy..."

Though McBride's piercing and often crusty commentary deals primarily with the M1911 in wartime, the "flavor" of the action he describes is timeless and by no means limited to the military theater of operations. As one who has "shot for blood" with a handgun on seven occasions and in a variety of socio-cultural environments (military and civilian), I've found that at the "moment of truth" and for the next 10 seconds or so that follow, what must be done to remain alive is exactly the same, regardless of your profession.

To this end, most expert agree--though some grudgingly--that the M1911 .45 ACP is the greatest fighting handgun of the 20th century and one of the top two or three fighting handguns of all time. It achieved a worldwide reputation for accuracy, ruggedness and stopping' power unequaled by any other handgun and, though it's nearly 90 years old, remains in large-scale production today by no less than 13 different manufacturers.

Still, it isn't perfect and there exists a plethora of gunsmiths who specialize in modifying and improving "Old Ugly," as it's affectionately known by the veterans of two world wars and innumerable "police actions" and "low-intensity conflicts." These days it isn't uncommon to find a dozen or more advertisements for custom .45 autos based on the M191 1 pistol in virtually any magazine. In addition, most of them are not only priced somewhat on the expensive side, but are based on competition shooting or gadget-oriented philosophies.

This is not to say that guns of this type are automatically worthless; they're just based on concepts with no validity from a self-defense standpoint. However, it is to say that the fellow who's looking for an efficient M1911-based self-defense gun for a fair price has his job cut out for him. In other words, most of the commercial offerings these days are aimed more toward collectors, target shooters or recreational gun enthusiasts, rather than the self-defense shooter.

Well, we now have an alternative. In March, 1997, I received an inquiry from a young gunsmith named Shawn Herman, owner of Shawn's Tactical Specialty (Dept. GAH, 5169 Thompson Ln., Delaware, OH 43015; (614) 881-6685). A pleasant fellow, he advised me that he wanted to produce a serious "package" .45 auto for the self-defense shooter--a good, solid carry gun for a reasonable price--and that he wanted to put my name on it; he would call it the "Chuck Taylor Combat Special."

I was hesitant because, to be frank, I receive calls like this all the time. But when I start to ask questions, it quickly becomes clear that the gunsmith's perspective on the subject of defensive pistolcraft differs vastly from my own. As a result, what he really wants is to produce a pistol incorporating his favorite characteristics, but with the implied endorsement and resulting enhanced commercial appeal of having my name attached to it.

Please don't misunderstand. There are many competent gunsmiths around the country who offer well-consummated "package" pistols. It's the concept upon which they're based with which I often disagree. These days, there are more things that must be considered when building a fighting handgun than there were 10, 15 or 20 years ago.

For example, back then only the elements thought to enhance the weapon's capability as a fighting weapon were an issue. However, today sufficient data has been accumulated to make obsolete many of the ideas that were considered to be state-of-the-art at the time. Adjustable target sights, "accuracy jobs," ambidextrous slide-release levers, full-length recoil spring guide rods, match barrel bushings, heavy checkering or stippling and other such items actually do little to make the pistol more efficient.

In fact, in many cases they actually make it less efficient--and less functionally reliable--than it was when it first came from the box. I once knew a gunsmith who claimed that his pistols were mechanically superior because he set them up to feed empty cartridge cases. Yep, you guessed it--though they did indeed feed empty brass flawlessly, they wouldn't function with any type of loaded ammo, to include roundnose FMJ "hardball." Apparently, he felt that if the gun would cycle empty cases, it would cycle anything; and he based the guns he built on this concept. But such is untrue. Imagine how you'd feel during the last few seconds of your life as you discovered the folly of his ideas "the hard way."

Moreover, as we approach the new millennium, we find that civil liability concerns--a non-issue 20 years ago--are at their highest level ever. In short, the fancier the pistol, the more likely it is to get you in serious civil liability trouble. Civil attorneys wait their whole life to get their hands on such a case, so unless you're prepared to lose everything you have as a result, you should avoid "tricked-out" guns like the plague.

However, from the outset, it was clear that Shawn was different. Instead of telling me what he was going to do, he instead asked what features I wanted incorporated into the package, a most refreshing change from the norm. Still, I learned a long time ago the dangers of putting my name on something, so I advised him of my feelings on the subject. I told him that my idea of a fighting M1911 was simple, utilizing only those modifications that truly did improve handling and shooting performance.

These included: (1) high visibility fixed sights; (2) a short trigger in conjunction with an arched steel mainspring housing to provide the best grip index and resulting "pointability" for a wider spectrum of shooters; (3) a good, crisp trigger of between four and 5.5 pounds pull weight; (4) the removal of all sharp edges in contact with the shooter's hands; and (5) a rugged finish to prevent corrosion and wear.

Herman listened intently, then responded with the following package, which was to be based on the Colt M1991A1 or Springfield M19ll:

1. Trigger job-four to 5.5 pounds-with a trigger.

2. A Brown extended tactical thumb safety.

3. Novak low-mounted high-visibility fixed sights.

4. A Mansen steel arched mainspring housing.

5. A Reliability job-feedway "throated" and polished.

6. A gun that is fully "dehorned," where the shooter touches it.

7. A hammer that is "bobbed" 1/4 inch to prevent "hammer bite," skin abrasion and snagging in concealment clothing.

8. Checkered wood stocks.

9. Metalife SS Chromium M finish as standard, with NP3 and Roguard as optional finishes.

As well, he wanted to offer 3-dot horizontal and bar dot low-light sight options, and he wanted to offer the package using a new M1991A1 as its primarily basis. However, he also wanted to make the conversion available using the customer's gun, as long as it was a Colt Government, Colt Commander, Springfield 1911Al or Champion Model pistol.

It all sounded great to me; but grimacing to myself, I asked him his price for such a package, fully expecting it to be prohibitive. Shawn responded that it would be in the $1,100.00 range, including the price of the gun used as the basis for the package.

Impressed, but still wary, I told him to build me a test prototype and send it along. And, about three weeks later, the final product of our discussion appeared. Visual inspection of the piece by myself and several of my Senior Instructors (also Combat Master qualified) was favorable. Still, to be certain, a sizable quantity of various types of ammo was broken out; and off to the range we went.

By the end of the day's testing, it was obvious that Shawn knew his stuff-the gun performed without any kind of mishap. In fact, comments were extremely favorable, especially from American Small Arms Academy (ASAA) Senior Instructor Greg Nordyke, who announced that someday, somehow, this was going to be his gun! Nordyke, not one impressed easily, was clearly in love with the piece; but it seemed like everyone else was, too. Everyone who worked with the Chuck Taylor Combat Special (CTCS) pronounced it a fine piece, worth its price and more.

In a Ransom Rest, the CTCS shot into less than two inches at 25 meters; but with some ammo, naturally, it did even better. The Performance Chart included with this text provides the appropriate data on this, as well as what velocities and extreme spreads were produced. Two-inch accuracy more than satisfies any self-defense need and is considerably better than even the best shooter can produce under serious stress.

I then took the gun to an upcoming ASAA Advanced Defensive Handgun Course I was teaching, knowing that there would be a number of highly skilled, highly experienced shooters in the class. I'd let them examine the gun and see what they thought about it. As luck would have it, Sgt. Duane Hufstedtler of the Taylor County, Texas, Sheriff's Department was on hand. Duane is an avid proponent of the M191 1 and has been carrying one as both a duty and off-duty gun for over 20 years. More importantly, he possesses the skill and mind-set to properly evaluate a gun such as the CTCS--he's tactical all the way!

So, on the first day of the class, I handed Duane the CTCS, briefed him on the relevant information about it and asked him to use in for the duration of the course and tell me what he though about it. He took one look at the weapon, grinned and placed it in his holster, saying, "You bet!"

Though weather conditions were relatively sunny and warm, it was somewhat dusty and, at my request, the gun was not cleaned for the duration of the course. By its conclusion, no stoppages had been experienced and the CTCS's featured characteristics had more than won Duane over. Despite firing 1,000 rounds without cleaning, hundreds of presentations from a holster and exposure to considerable dust and grit, the gun still looked like new.

With a broad grin, he pronounced it to be an excellent weapon, reliable, accurate and rugged. The rest of the class, themselves equally enthusiastic M191 1 aficionados and having seen Duane's performance with the CTCS during the class, unreservedly agreed. And, when I told him the price, his smile spread even further.

I now had all the data I needed. It was clear that we had a winner here, a gun that I could in good conscience put my name upon. Upon returning to my office after the course, I called Mssr. Herman and advised him of our findings and authorized him to use my name on the package.

So, here is the Chuck Taylor Combat Special, a fighting M19 1 .45 auto that features all the necessary features to obtain maximum real-world performance--and maximum civil liability protection--for a very reasonable price. Herman has pledged to maintain quality and reasonable turnover times, and keep the price of the CTCS as close as possible to current levels. One cannot ask for more than this, and I don't think you'll be sorry.

Guns like the CTCS are not common these days, so I recommend that you contact Shawn's Tactical Specialty and get one "in the works." But you'd better act quickly--if it's half as successful as I think it'll be, the demand for it will indeed be intense.
                             SHOOTING RESULTS

COR-BON                        JHP    185     1,133         528
WINCHESTER-WESTERN             JHP    185     876           315
FEDERAL                        JHP    185 [*] 901           334
REMINGTON-PETERS               JHP    185 [*] 914           343
REMINGTON-PETERS [right aero]P JHP    185     1,118         516
SUPER VEL                      JHP    190 [*] 1,025         443
CCI-SPEER                      JHP    200 [*] 1,010         453
COR-BON                        JHP    200     1,034         475
COR-BON                        JHP    230     943           454
FEDERAL HYDRA-SHOK             JHP    230     840           360
WINCHESTER BLK TIN             JHP    230 [*] 924           436
REMINGTON-PETERS               FMJ    230     797           324
WINCHESTER-WESTERN             FMJ    230 [*] 800           327
FEDERAL                        FMJ    230 [*] 801           328
WCC-62 MIL BALL                FMJ    230 [*] 799           326

Test gun: Colt Model 1911A1 CTCS with 5.0-inch barrel.
(*.)Ransom Rest 3-shot group accuracy of 1.5 inches or better at 25 meters.
Chronograph: Oehler Model 35P w/printer. Temperature: 67 degrees F.
Humidity: 48% Barometer: 29.89 Altitude: 4,896 ft. ASL
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Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 1999
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