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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Special Edition- Which 1911 for a duty gun?

I visit several internet firearms discussion boards, and one of the participants recently inquired which 1911 would be suitable for a duty gun with "minimal mods." He added that he had carried Sigs and Glocks previously. He also related that he wished to keep his investment around a thousand dollars, he wanted a lightweight frame, and that he was looking for "reliability, ruggedness and some longevity." He went on to thank everyone for answering, in advance.

This is a very good question, and one that needs answering. My reply to him follows:

This comes from one old cop to another, although you may not be old. It is almost certainly going to piss some people off. Sorry. I put my first 1911, an issued Series 70 Colt, in a duty holster in 1982. Several of them have come and gone since then. I also spent about 11 years as a firearms instructor, for two departments that had liberal firearms policies. What I am about to say is based on experience, and a genuine desire that you do not get into a fight with a gun that won't work. It comes from seeing dozens and dozens of 1911-pattern guns either work or fail, during qualifications.

Get a steel gun, and learn to live with the weight. Do not buy anything smaller than an honest-to-Colt Commander, meaning a 4 ¼” barrel and conventional bushing- and without a full-length guide rod. Given the poor quality control evident in 1911's made today, by EVERY manufacturer, you are going to have to shoot the heck out of it, with the ammo you are going to carry in it, before you even remotely consider it reliable. The alloy-framed guns are not amenable to this kind of treatment.

This isn't Sigs and Glocks we're talking about here, where you can count on them to at least work when they leave the factory. Current manufacturers of 1911's are making them to SELL, not fight wars with. All of them are guilty of this. In addition, there is no Army Ordnance Department to hold them to strict manufacturing specifications, check what they are shoving out the doors, and give them hell when they send out a bad batch- along with a returned shipment. These are the conditions that resulted in the 1911's reputation for superb reliability under adverse circumstances. Unfortunately they do not exist anymore, and you have to be your own "Ordnance Department." This will require that you have a sound working knowledge of what you are paying for, before you buy it. Get a copy of Kuhnhausen’s “The Colt .45 Automatic-A Shop Manual”- Volume One. Study it like your life depended on it. It does.

Be prepared to purchase copious amounts of ammunition to prove your new gun. While you are doing this, zero your sights precisely for 50 yards, with your duty ammunition. You will also probably have to buy a duty rig to accommodate your new cornsheller, and of course it will have to meet the requirements of your department’s firearms policy. This is getting expensive already, isn’t it? -and we haven’t even bought a gun yet. Buy yourself a half-dozen blue Metalform 7-shot mags with the rounded follower, and welded baseplate. They will stay together if you drop them on the street and they are as reliable as anything on the market. I won’t carry anything else with a 1911 duty gun.

Which gun? You can buy it, build or rebuild it, or have it built. Brand won’t matter as long as the frame and slide are in-spec. Aside from the frame, and the grip safety and other incidental parts, you want nothing but forged or barstock parts. This is particularly critical with the sear, hammer and strut, disconnector, extractor, ejector, firing pin and stop, etc. These are parts that are stressed under firing. MIM sucks. Think of “particle board” metal, and you get the picture. You do not want it in a gun you are betting your life on, and unfortunately practically everyone is using it- remember, they are making them to sell.

Avoid any gun with the “Schwartz” safety like the plague. This includes any S&W or Kimber Series “II” 1911 pistol. There is a reason why elite military units have specified that their guns do not have it. There is a reason why Kimber’s “Warrior” series does not have it. They are prone to breakage and problems during re-assembly. If you must have a firing-pin-block safety, get a Colt Series 80. They are much more dependable in operation, and are well proven over the past 25 years. If you learn the manual of arms for the 1911 and commit it to memory- until it becomes second nature- you will not need any of them. Safety rests between the ears of the person operating the gun.

As the QC evident in mass-produced 1911’s goes down the toilet, I am becoming more prone to build my own, checking every part along the way, and double-checking it’s proper installation and function. At least when I’m done, I know that its reliable, how it was built, and what it is capable of. I am right now, horror of horrors, about to pronounce a totally-rebuilt Auto Ordnance WWII model as “duty worthy.” The frame and slide are perfectly in spec, and the junk parts are nearly all gone. It is becoming exactly what those Ordnance Inspected 1911-A1's once were. It could have been a Colt, Springfield, Essex or Caspian, or anyone else's basic GI 1911. As I mentioned before, brand doesn’t matter. What matters is that the gun follows the original blueprint specifications as closely as possible. It can be relatively loose, and still shoot very well. It cannot be extremely tight, and be reliable under adverse conditions.

If I were going out to buy a new 1911 to stick in my holster, I would do one of two things. I’d go find a good clean Colt 1991A1, and look it over like the wares of a used-watch salesman. You will at least be getting mostly forged parts. Buy it as cheap as you can, and shoot the devil out of it until you are confident that it is reliable. It may be perfect right from the box- I have seen several that were, including Commanders. If questions or problems arise, send it to someone who understands the workings of the 1911, and ask them if it need anything- particularly cast or MIM parts that need replacing. When you get it back, shoot it some more. It has to be proven once again. Option Two is to just pony-up and spend the money for an Ed Brown, or similar example from one of the other “custom houses”. I mention Ed because I know that he makes an exceptional gun. He also makes and markets the best parts in the industry, if you are building a gun.

There is another option, and one you should consider. Keep carrying your current duty gun, and go out and get yourself a basic 1911 by a major manufacturer, to try out for awhile. As long as it has a quality, in-spec frame and slide, you can always use it build a gun ON.Good luck, and God bless you for standing in the gap. Don’t try it with a weapon that hasn’t been proven, regardless of the manufacturer or design.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The “Perfect Carry Gun” and other notions

First things first- In last week’s column I mentioned several of the older sixgun discussion boards, including John Taffin’s old Campfire board. What I neglected to do was credit the man behind those boards; their webmaster, Mr. Jim Taylor, of southwest Missouri. Taylor is one of the reasons that these places were a virtual oasis on the web, for old sixgun cranks like myself. It is a shame that many of them no longer exist. There are still some good ones around, and you can take a look at our “links” page for a list. We will be updating this soon.

On many of these boards, I see much discussion as to what constitutes the “perfect” carry gun. The debate on this subject is endless, mostly because many of the participants feel compelled to convince everyone else that their choice is “the answer.” Too often this based on ego, or what was on the cover of last month’s Extreme Tactical Ultimate Weapons.

Selecting a proper handgun is an individual choice, based on individual needs or wants. It is no more complicated than that.

We have long held that once you establish what you intend to accomplish with a handgun, you can usually waltz into a nearby gun shop and walk out with a near-perfect solution. All it requires us that you educate yourself on the subject matter, think logically, and refuse to be swayed by fads in the marketplace.

If you are capable of understanding the mechanism of your handgun and possess basic mechanical aptitude, you can often bring it up to its full potential. My long and sometimes expensive education on this subject has established a few absolutes, which have come to govern my decision making on this subject. You might save a buck and some headaches if you look over them.

  1. NEVER deactivate a safety or attempt any modification that makes a handgun less safe, or easier to have an accident with. If you don’t like ALL the safeties on a particular gun, don’t buy it. If you’re not a bull’s-eye shooter, you do NOT need a trigger pull of less than four pounds- and a bull’s-eye shooter will still clean your clock with a five-pound trigger.
  2. Don’t attempt modifications that add nothing to the handling qualities, accuracy or ‘shootability’ of the gun. Issues with the gun’s finish should be resolved at the time of purchase- if you don’t like the way it looks, don’t buy it.*
  3. Don’t attempt modifications beyond the capabilities of your knowledge, skill or equipment. Certain jobs should be left to professional gunsmiths. It will be cheaper in the long run.
  4. STOP when the gun is absolutely reliable and shoots acceptable groups exactly to the sights with your chosen load, at the maximum range you are likely to use it.
  5. Make whatever “shootability” changes (grips, etc.) you intend to make at this point- because once the gun is ‘zeroed’, hitting with it is up to YOU.

    * #2 of course does not apply to “Barbeque Guns” which are more expressions of individual taste and character. Artistic or not, they still need to be as reliable and accurate as you would expect of any other gun. Most of the people who will make such an effort already understand this.

    Buying new or used is often a matter of budget. Selecting a used gun in perfect operating condition can often result in acquiring a superb handgun for substantially less money than a new one would have cost. Buying used is also the only way to acquire certain models which are discontinued by the manufacturer.

    The advantages to buying new guns are that you usually get a warranty, and that many of today’s offerings include, as standard features, improvements that were custom gunsmith propositions a few years ago. You also avoid the unseen efforts of kitchen-table gun butchers- but buying new is not without its pitfalls. I am sorry to report that the quality control evident in many new guns is nothing short of pitiful- regardless of maker or price. Sig-Sauer (SIGArms) seems to be about the only maker who achieves near 100% QC. Credible reports of second-rate products from Sig are almost non-existent. WELL, except for their 1911 clone, as I was just reminded by "OD", an old and trusted compadre from the Frontier Sixshooter Community. Even Sig seems to have trouble when it comes to making John Browning's wonderchild. Might they have strayed too far from the original blueprint?

    Buying a new gun is also good for the industry, and the national economy. “Buying American” helps even more.

    So do us all a favor, and stop by a gun shop on your lunch break. You might find a bargain in there, just waiting for a new home. Just remember- whether buying new or used, the time to find problems with a prospective purchase is before you write the check, or plunk your money on the counter. Look 'em over good & hard before taking them home.

    See you next week.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Those of you who know me through various internet gun forums, already know me pretty well. For everyone else, I am “Sarge” on the various spinoff’s of John Taffin’s old Campfire board. In places where that handle was taken, I am usually “SargeMO” or “invssgt”, which is the root of an e-mail address I have used since I first stepped onto the information superhighway.

The web forums I frequent vary according to my interests, their longevity, and whether or not the participants are allowed to act like poorly-raised 3rd graders in the middle of a snowball fight. We see more and more of this abhorrent conduct as time progresses, which is sad. I blame the Clinton administration, reality TV, and Oprah, in no particular order. It actually goes back much further than that, but these people are still around to boycott, and talk bad about.

Clinton demonstrated that anybody really could be president- and that “anybody” could include bald-faced liars and cruds. Reality TV encourages our youth to be jackasses; in fact one of the more popular reality shows, aimed at youth, was called just that. Oprah has promoted brainlessness among our women, and generally championed left-wing celebrities and causes. The entertainment industry and media in general thinks she’s wonderful- but they loved Clinton, too. This would be the same entertainment industry that just awarded four Golden Globes to a queer cowboy movie.

Roy Rogers and TR would not be amused, and neither am I. Since Roy and the rest of us appreciate a good gun, we can be thankful that we are still free enough to enjoy such diversions- and enjoy them every chance we get. Lets work hard at keeping it that way.

Sad news from AP-

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- U.S. Repeating Arms said Tuesday it will close its Winchester firearm factory, threatening the future of a rifle that pioneers toted into the Wild West and John Wayne hoisted onto the big screen.

The Winchester Model 94 and Model 70 rifles will no longer be produced. The 94 was introduced before TR & the Roughriders went to Cuba, and remained available until the present. It is the eternal “Thirty-Thirty” that so many of us fired as our first “big game” rifle. It is as distinctly American as any rifle I can think of. The Model 70 was introduced in 1936, and embodied the quintessential American sporting rifle. Perhaps the only subject, upon which Elmer Keith and Jack O’Connor agreed, was that the Model 70 was a superb rifle.

The Winchester name is owned by Olin Corporation, and we can hope that they will keep this American tradition alive. Our sincere hope is to report some good news on that front soon.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Welcome To Sarge’s Roll Call

Welcome to Sarge's Roll Call! We are well on our way to having our website back on the web at the same capacity as last year! Thanks for stopping in!