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'Choosing a 1911 for Duty Use'

1313 Views 0 Replies 1 Participant Last post by  Janq
The following is an article written by gunsmith Hilton Yam of '10-8 Performance':

Choosing a 1911 for Duty Use

Which 1911 for duty? Agency policy permitting, your budget will pretty much determine what you can have in your duty holster. While a fully reworked vintage Colt with hand checkering is a very cool duty gun, let's remember that these things will ride in an exposed holster and be subjected to rain, sweat, constant handling, and the hard knock life of being around work vehicles, concrete walls, and gun lockers at the jail. Further, if you are involved in a deadly force incident, your 1911 may be held as evidence for some period of time. You may want an identical backup in the event that you are off admin leave and back on the street without your original pistol. If you are choosing for a department, this also changes things for you. Lastly, if you are a diehard 1911 aficionado, you are probably ready to accept that you could buy two to four of any other modern service pistol for the price of one 1911 that's good to go. You won't find any true bargains, nor should you be looking for one when your safety or that of your men is on the line.

First off, if you are serious about running a 1911, it needs to be a full sized 5" gun in .45 ACP. There certainly are any number of examples of Commander and other compact 1911s that work just fine, but take a look at the history of unit issue service 1911s and you won't find ANY major units that use anything other than the original Browning format gun. Why? After you field 50 or 350 guns at once and run tens of thousands of rounds through them, you'll figure it out. Spring and magazine maintenance is so critical in running the shorter guns that it amplifies the already abundant maintenance issues with the 1911. Running a 1911 as a single hobbyist or aficionado is different than running a bunch of guns for a large unit. You want to minimize your maintenance issues, not increase them. Here are the basic specifications to examine for a duty 1911:

•Full sized Government Model 1911 format with 5" barrel length and steel frame for increased reliability and durability.
•Chambered in .45 ACP, as that is the caliber in which the gun was designed and functions best. The greatest number of magazine options are available in .45 ACP.
•Standard Browning barrel without integral feed ramp. Ramped barrels typically have very steep feed ramps that don't feed well. Wide mouthed hollowpoints can also catch at the bottom of the integral ramp, creating further feeding issues.
•Standard milspec short recoil spring guide rod and plug.
•Recoil spring rating of 17-18.5 lbs to improve durability with full power duty loads.
•Availability of ambidextrous safety for left handed users.
•Type of firing pin safety system, if any. See below for further.
•Light rail or standard dust cover.

The quality of the factory components will come into play when looking for a gun to use more or less out of the box. MIM components, which have received an excess of attention in recent years, tend to vary in quality like anything else, but they can generally be expected to have a useable service life of 5,000 to 10,000 rounds. Some quality MIM components work exceedingly well, and I personally have witnessed a large number of guns with MIM small parts where service life has exceeded 20,000 rounds. However, if planning for a comprehensive rebuild, the small parts quality can be considered secondary to that of the slide and frame since most of them will be replaced.

Firing pin safeties typically fall into the Colt Series 80 pattern which are actuated by the trigger (Colt Series 80, Para Ordnance, Sig GSR) and the Swartz style safety which is actuated by the grip safety (Kimber, Smith & Wesson). Of all the firing pin safety mechanisms on the market, the original Colt Series 80 - in a Colt - is the most reliable of them all. The platforms utilizing the Swartz safety are a less than ideal choice across the board due to the inherent reliability problems of the design. The Swartz safety is extremely sensitive to the fit of the grip safety to the frame and the timing of the grip safety's trigger blocking arm. Tolerance issues can also lead to a Swartz safety that will time properly when the grip safety is depressed a certain way, and time differently when depressed a different way. This will typically be a product of loose fit of the grip safety to the frame tangs and/or loose fit of the thumb safety shaft through the grip safety. It is possible to have the grip safety timed such that the trigger will be able to release the sear well before the firing pin safety plunger has been moved far enough to clear the firing pin. Problems with improper timing of the Swartz safeties can lead to a situation where you get a "click" when you wanted a "bang." That's a serious problem. Unless department policy mandates a firing pin safety, I would choose a 1911 without a firing pin safety. It is possible to have a drop safe 1911 without the firing pin safety, and given the potential reliability problems with a poorly executed system, the perceived risk of drop safety is outweighed by the real risk of a failure to fire.

My feeling is that a duty 1911 absolutely needs a light rail interface. There are a host of choices, all which feature some variation of a Picatinny rail. As long as you use a common light such as the Surefire X200, you will have duty holster choices. The ubiquitous Safariland 6004/6280 family is available for most of the common rail guns in conjunction with the Surefire X200 and Insight M3/M6 lights.

My recommendations, which follow below, are not meant to be a comprehensive examination of all the industry offerings, but rather my particular thoughts on certain 1911s based on my experience.

The Kimber Warrior is a leading option here, with a street price of around $1100. It is a straight up Browning 1911 design - internal extractor and no added firing pin safeties. The gun is set up for duty use without much in the way of major modifications, and many samples are ready to go right out of the box. The Warrior is configured such that it is improved dramatically with only a tune up of the existing factory components, no drastic parts replacement is immediately needed. With its smooth front strap, it would also be a viable choice for a more extensive rework where custom front strap texturing is desired.

If you want to bridge the gap between a full blown custom and a production 1911, the Springfield Professional is a good bet. I've seen a lot of these guns and have a few myself. Statistically, there are more of the Professional Models out in real street service than any other factory custom 1911, so the quirks are pretty well worked out. They have consistently improved since the original run of guns, and overall are very nicely done. They offer cleanly executed checkering (some of the best on a production type gun), a nice beavertail fit, a blended S&A mag well, premium grade components, real Novak sights with Trijicon inserts, and excellent accuracy from the match fit Nowlin barrel. These guns tend to work pretty well out of the box, but can still benefit from a little bit of gunsmith massaging to improve function and extend the service cycle. I feel that this is a better value than similar "semi-custom" or "production custom" contenders in the same price range. It is available in a standard dust cover format (PC9111) and with the shortened Operator light rail frame (PC9111LR).

If you must have a Colt, your options include the new production 1991A1, Series 70 reproduction, XSE Government, and Colt Gunsite Pistols (CGP). The CGP seems to be out of production, but you'll still find them floating around. The first three are available in both stainless and blue. If policy dictates that you need a firing pin safety, then choose a 1991A1 or XSE. The Colts have great small parts quality, but their main issues include ridiculously sharp edges and poor assembly. Note that the Colts do not feature an integral light rail, and your most viable options for an attached light are the addition of a Dawson Rail Adapter or the use of a Surefire MR07 light mount.

The Springfield MC Operator, which is the "Loaded" grade gun with a green and black paint job, is an acceptable option. However, a combination of small parts quality variances and minimized hand fitting means that these guns will need more work up front before being ready to go. The TRP Operator, which features a cone barrel, full length guide rod, and full dust cover rail, is not to be considered an ideal option for duty use. You'll pay for a lot of stuff you'll either need to correct or replace. The parkerized Loaded model is also an acceptable duty gun in a normal dust cover format, with the same caveats above. Note that all of the fixed sight Springfield Loaded guns tend to shoot anywhere from 6-12" low at 25 yds with the factory sights, necessitating the immediate replacement of the rear Novak sight with a taller unit (the Novak Officer's rear sight is the most immediate solution).

What are the main pitfalls of running a 1911 for duty? Weapon maintenance and end user responsibility are the two big issues. The end user needs to be dialed in to the gun's quirks to be able to run it effectively. The day of handing out rack grade 1911s to the masses and using them for duty are pretty much over. A unit, team, or department that is looking at running 1911s needs to seriously consider having the following:
1) Two 1911s issued to each user, to allow for continuity when one weapon goes down for service.
2) Dedicated and skilled armorer support. Being able to maintain the weapon is key, and it requires more than a one day armorer school to learn how to effectively change parts in this gun.
3) Transition training for the end users so that they may learn the unique manual of arms and proper maintenance of the 1911.

Magazines are a big issue, and users need to try not to become married to a set of magazines. When they stop falling out, stop locking back, or the first time they stop working, they need to either be addressed or replaced. The mags are the weak link, so get over it and throw them out when they give up on you.

Extractor tension is another problem, and stovepipes and double feed (Type 2 and 3) malfunctions are not to be tolerated. Replace the extractor when these start to occur, as retensioning the existing unit is only a temporary fix. I expect only a 5,000 round service cycle on a standard Browning format extractor. They'll easily last 10,000 or even 15,000 rounds without incident, but I start looking hard at them at 5,000. If you can, replace them every 5,000 rounds and you probably won't have too many headaches. A properly designed external extractor would solve the extractor related problems, but the choices are currently limited to the Smith & Wesson and Kimber, both platforms which feature the Swartz safety (see above).

The 1911 is an aficionado's weapon, and still has a place in the modern arsenal for those who are dedicated to it. With proper setup and maintenance, the 1911 can perform like no other weapon.

Good shopping and good hunting.


The article can be found at

- Janq
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