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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Colt's "New Rollmark" 1991A1 Government Model

This is a brand new, still-in-the-factory-grease Colt Model 01991. Serial number is in the 28138XX range, and in late 2005 it was purchased new by a friend who graciously agreed to let me 'test-drive' it and write it up for our 1911 section. The owner is an attorney, and former commissioned officer with an Army Reserve Unit; his MOS was Field Artillery- a "cannon cocker" if you will. Tom got his first taste of 'Old Slabsides' in ROTC Summer Camp. As with so many of us, the big Colt left a lasting impression on him, and his purchase of this pistol was the manifestation of those indelible memories.

The 01991 is Colt's most recent iteration of the "1991A1" series, and it is the standard 5" Government Model in blue finish, with 'double-diamond' grips and high visibility three-dot sights of the traditional pattern. It uses a standard GM-style hammer, grip safety and thumb safety. The gun uses Colt's well-proven firing pin safety introduced with the "Series 80" guns, and in the author's opinion this is the only one of its type worth having. Unlike the Swartz, it does not inhibit easy reassembly or reliability of operation. The 1991A1's are the lowest priced Colts in the line, and this is in evidence with the use of plastic for the long trigger and flat mainspring housing. While these things do not warm the heart of traditionalists, they do make the gun lighter and they are easily replaced if you are so inclined. There is no shortage of quality (spelled "Ed Brown") aftermarket parts for the 1911. Otherwise, recent Colts use forged or barstock parts where the competition often uses MIM; so this lessens the number of internal parts which are typically candidates for replacement anyhow.

These pistols are made to be used, and not fawned over. Yet Colt has made "using them hard" just a little harder, with recent cosmetic changes that made them much prettier. Gone are the huge rollmarks, black plastic grips and thick, matte blue. This newest version has a respectable finish, nice wooden grips and the famous "Prancing Pony" is back on the slide. There are, thank goodness, no 'beavertails', ski-ramp sights or front serrations present. For once, Tacticality got told to "Go fly a kite!" I for one couldn't be happier.

I field-stripped the gun before firing it, and gave it a good inspection in it's "as shipped" state. It is exceptional in almost every regard. The flats of the gun are polished just enough for a little shine, and the blue is flawless. The underside of the slide is finished better than the slide flats of many competing models. The feed ramp was slick as a whistle, and the extractor tension was right on the money. The rosewood diamond-pattern grips are dark, glossy and beautiful. The trigger was surprisingly light, and almost creep-free.

There were only two things which were different than I would have liked them. The slide stop's crosspin provides the index point for the barrel's lower lugs, and this consequently affects accuracy. The furnished part's crosspin miked at .197 inches; I have had best accuracy from those at the full blueprint dimension of .200 inches. Full-dimension replacements are easily available and reasonably priced. My only other complaint with the gun is entirely subjective. It has huge, bright white dots on the sights, and I do not shoot my best with these- as they tend to distract the eye from focusing on the outline of the front sight. This condition is exacerbated by bright sunlight, and the fact that the white paint over-runs the sights receptacles just a tad. Still, they are excellent for low light shooting up close, where defensive action with the handgun typically occurs. By logical extension, 'up close' is also where a lot of defensive handgun practice takes place as well. These sights are no hindrance for CQB work with the Colt.

The barrel is the heart of these workhorses, and as such it is worthy of independent examination. The 01991's barrel uses the later, narrow hood found on the "Enhanced" Colts. The exterior finish is perfect, as are its outer dimensions. It mikes precisely .580" at muzzle, and for .375" behind. Barrel diameter then reduces to .573" for the remainder of the tube. This barrel profile allows ample operational clearance for reliable function with a 'match bushing' should owner choose to install one. The bore itself is flawless, with sharp, uniform rifling and a mirror finish. This barrel features the new 'dimple' feedramp, which reportedly enhances function with hollow-point ammunition.

Standard “Wadcutter” throat on the left; new Colt “dimple” throat on right

I have had perfect results with the conventional throat, so I personally saw no need for this modification- but I know savvy '1911 men' who swear that this new version is reliable.

The barrel bushing furnished with the gun cams easily into the slide, and since the GI recoil spring guide is used, disassembly is easily accomplished without special tools. Its ID mikes on the high side of .583". In light of the barrel's .580" muzzle, this is significant. Years of building and rebuilding these guns have taught me that .003" barrel/bushing clearance is an ideal compromise for both excellent accuracy, and reliable function.

This superior finish and attention to "details that matter" is the essence of Colt, as opposed to the "Crank 'em out & spray paint 'em!" makers. In addition to getting a prettier gun, there's a difference you can feel and in my experience, they run better and shoot as well as anything out there. The pride of ownership matters, too.

Of course "pretty" ain't worth a hill of beans if they won't run & shoot, and it was time to find out. I loaded a couple of mags with Winchester USA 230 FMJ, and took the new 91A1 for a test drive. Since this was to be a test of the guns' fit, function and accuracy I started at 25 yards. One of the most important aspects of any handgun's 'shootability' and one that gets almost no attention from today's buyer, is this- Is the gun "zeroed" from the factory? Does it "Shoot where it looks?" I order to answer this question, I stapled a Champion "25 Yard Pistol Slowfire" target up at that distance, rested one elbow the fender of the Chevy and fired 5 rounds, using six o'clock hold. These are not large targets by centerfire pistol standards, measuring 11 inches across. The Colt acquitted itself admirably, with three of the five cutting the 1 ½" red center, and another but an inch above it. I still managed to lose one out of the black at nine o'clock- but the gun's fixed "3-dot" sights were perfectly zeroed for offhand shooting. I have seen guys at public ranges burn boxes of ammo trying to adjust the sights on their "match guns", and fail to get them any closer than this Colt came, right from the box:
Since that little exercise went well, I decided to concentrate a little more using the Champion's red center dot for an aiming point; I generally shoot smaller groups with a smaller target. Since I was shooting for a group this time, I was unconcerned that the group might be outside the black, with the center hold. Another target was hung, and another attempt made, again using the fender for a rest. Winchester USA 230 FMJ is decent ammo, but it has never been what I'd call 'really accurate'- before today. Five more rounds of it were fired, with a resulting group just under 2 ½ inches. Four of those stayed inside 1 ¾ inches.
I began to note a tendency to shoot a little left from rested positions, which may have been the combination of 50 year-old eyes and those big, bright dots on the sights. This would be easily corrected by tapping the rear sight over a tad, but that decision will ultimately rest with the owner. My guess is that he will shoot it, and be quite happy with the current setting.

I fired a few more rounds standing, using a Weaver stance and the original six o'clock hold. As long as I applied the basics of marksmanship, it was almost difficult to shoot outside the 5 ½" black bull. Not only was this gun a "shooter", but it was also easy to shoot well. The combination of good sights, a decent trigger, grips of just the right texture, and Colt's inherent smoothness all blended together to produce excellent results on target.

The gun had shown fine potential at 25 yards, so following day I decided to double the distance. Unfortunately other obligations kept me off my range that morning, when the light is good and our local bumper-crop of sweat bees are sleeping in. When I finally did get to shoot, the sun was just past its apex in front of me, and the bees were landing on me, and my sights while I was shooting the gun. I was also fresh out of B6 targets, so I substituted Champion's "100 Yard Smallbore Rifle" target instead. If there were ever a raft of excuses for poor shooting available, today would be the day.

I have found Winchester's 230 grain 'USA' JHP load to be a fine shooter in a number of .45's, so I tried that load first. The gun's tendency to shoot left in my hands was of course doubled at 50 yards but I resisted the urge to hammer on somebody else's sights, and stuck with the six o'clock hold. The sun was glistening off the white dots something fierce, and five shots produced a vertically strung group of 7", crowding the left edge of the paper. Four of those were inside 4", and I'm blaming the flyer on the danged bee that I kept having to blow out of the rear sight notch!
Since my time with this gun was limited I fired another five shots, this time using the Winchester 230 FMJ load. True to its military heritage, this gun actually preferred the FMJ load and it plunked four of them inside 3 ¾"! Now I have looked and looked at this next target- and unless you can find a 'double' I'm just gonna have to admit to losing one off the left edge of the paper. The cardboard backer in that location was already full of .45 holes, so it was pointless to try and determine which one was the stray- but any 1911 that will put four rounds of generic hardball in a group this size, is a fine shooter by any standards.

I might have been satisfied with that- but of course I wasn't. Conditions were better the following morning, so I headed back to the range. I had to know if this gun would actually shoot consistent, five-round groups as good as the 'four-rounder' pictured above. But this time, I stapled one of the 25 yard targets to a piece of Styrofoam artboard, big enough to capture the group wherever it landed. I figured "smaller aiming point- smaller group."

The smaller bullseye corrected my propensity to shoot left with this gun, by forcing me to hold closer to the center of the paper. I fired again at 50 yards, using the rangebag as an improvised rest. The gun shot a little high, but it immediately planted five rounds of WW/USA hardball into a 3 7/8" group. I knew then that this gun would flat shoot- and that the first 'four-round' hardball group was no fluke. If I hadn't tossed one of these to the left, this group would have been 3 1/4".

Can you imagine how well this gun would shoot with a .200 crosspin, a .001-over barrel bushing fitted precisely to the slide and plain, black sights? I'd guess the groups would halve, say 2" with match ammo? Add a trigger with an over-travel stop, and you would have a gun capable of worrying the daylights out of full-blown match guns. The Colt's barrel shot as good as it looked- but this came as no surprise to this old '1911 crank'. In my experience, recent-production Colt barrels always shoots this well. I have had top-name aftermarket barrels that wouldn't shoot a bit better than this stock Colt barrel did, given a .003 clearance bushing, fitted loosely in the slide. I also had a bone-stock 1991A1 Commander a few years ago, that would plant five, 230 grain Federal HydraShoks inside 3 1/2 " at 50 yards- with the factory barrel and bushing. It also ran for 3500 rounds without a single malfunction. There were no malfunctions with this gun, either.

Hell, I'll just go ahead and say it- replacing the barrel in a recent Colt auto is probably a waste of money which would be far better spent on a case of ammo.

Do I sound impressed? I am. Colt's entry-level 1991A1's have been this well-built for at least 12 years that I know of, and this newest version only reinforces my high opinion of them. I have carried them in harm's way almost twice that long, and have done so with complete confidence. The fact that Colt still produces them with such precision, speaks well of the outfit that has supplied this marvelous weapon for close to 100 years.

My little wife (an excellent shot and diehard 1911 fan herself) also handled and shot this gun. She was duly impressed with its beauty, accuracy and smoothness of function. She immediately wanted to sell her other carry gun, an "ugly old Springfield XD" and get herself a Colt. Peggi's a pretty (and) smart girl, and you can bet this is one time she won't get any argument from me...but I am gonna have her try a Commander first.

Whichever one she chooses, one thing is for certain- "Quality Makes it a COLT."

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Back to Marksmanship Basics-“Offhand” Shooting

If you’re bored with your shooting routine, here’s a little something that’ll make you stretch your legs a bit- classic, one-hand pistol shooting from the “bullseye stance”. The gun I used for this exercise is a mildly-accurized Auto Ordnance 1911-A1 “WWII Model” but you can do this with whatever you have.

Please understand that I am not a “bullseye ace” by any means; but offhand shooting has always intrigued me. I have shot with guys who could keep a 10-round string on a baseball at 25 yards- over and over again. The gun is held at arm’s length in the strong hand, and brought to slightly above eye level; it is then allowed to settle onto the target. This stance, while not perfect, conveys the basic idea:

A six o’clock sight picture is typically used. It should look like this:

Figure 2-4c. Proper. Control alignment is precise. Focus limited to front sight only, renders the sights distinct and target indistinct and sight relationship can be controlled constantly. Reference:
From "Chapter Two of the Army Marksmanship Training Guide"
This page is rich with information, and if you are interested in shooting well with a handgun, in any discipline, you really should have a look at it.

When the sight picture is right, the ‘press’ begins. Steady, increasing straight-back pressure is applied to the trigger until the gun surprises you by going off. This is the only way to trigger the shot without disturbing the gun and pulling the shot. Since you don’t know exactly when the gun is going to fire, it recoils a little higher than normal. This is of no consequence. You maintain pressure on the trigger after the shot, and release the trigger only after the gun starts back down. Note the trigger is still depressed in the following photo, and my eyes are still on the target. This is called "Follow-Through" and it is added insurance that you don't throw away a shot that started with a perfect sight picture. Dig that fired case in the air! (circled)

Now I know there is probably a 'serious' bullseye shooter out there somewhere, reading this. I don’t mind if you have a laugh at the following, as long as you’ll offer some pointers in exchange. *

Results at 25 yards, from 10 rounds slowfire, and 5 rapid. I should have quit with the slowfire- I had a decent group going with the first ten.

And now for the killer-50 yard shooting. I could live with the ones just outside the black, but that ‘stinker’ above the first red “W” was the one that hurt.

Anyhow I thought it would be interesting to try this with my fixed-sight carry gun, using the load I carry in it every day. It's just your basic GI-style 1911A1, zeroed for 230’s, and with a pretty stock 4.5 pound trigger that breaks clean. The trigger itself is GI surplus with no overtravel stop.

I can tell you one thing for sure- shooting offhand from the bullseye stance will really bring you back to the basics of marksmanship. And the next time you shoot falling plates from 15 yards, don’t be surprised if you hit them so easy that you don’t even have to hurry to smoke the guy on the other rack. The fact is that the essential marksmanship fundamentals learned in offhand shooting, are easily transferred into the other "two-handed" shooting disciplines like IDPA, and IPSC. They are also absolutely invaluable in the defensive application of the handun. The old adage is true: "You can't miss fast enough to win."

For more on bullseye and the basics of marksmanship, see the “Encyclopedia of Bullseye” at

Be safe, and have fun. This stuff can be downright addictive.

* And as it turns out, there WAS a 'bullseye ace' who read it- and you can benefit from his notes on this subject, at 'Tony's Bullseye Blog'.

Thanks, Tony!