Some forum members think I carry a single-action 1911 because I have about 35 years experience with them. Actually, just the opposite is true. I took up serious handgun shooting in the early 1970’s, looked at all the types of handguns and triggers generally available and made the no-brainer decision that single action pistols trumped everything else. (There wasn't much else in the early 1970s! --ed.) So, I started with the best single-action (SA) pistol I could find and have seen nothing to change my mind over the last 35 years.
Why single-action? I figured early on that I didn’t have all the answers so I looked at what serious shooters in pursuit of maximum accuracy were using. I noticed that practically all successful target shooters and hunters used handguns that could be fired with short, crisp single action triggers (and they still do). The reason is pretty much self-evident when you look at the anatomy of a fired shot.
Your brain instructs your body to line up a handgun’s sights on the target. When your brain senses a correct alignment it tells your body to fire the gun. Two things have considerable effect on the body’s ability to execute a successful firing action.
First, your body cannot hold itself perfectly still and the sights of a gun being held in one or two hands wander around and across the target, no matter what you do. Shooters instinctively often try to use a solid rest because they know that canceling out as much body motion as possible improves accuracy.
Second (and directly related), the more time that passes between the instant your brain says, “Fire!” and the gun actually goes off the more the sights move around and the less likely you are to hit the target. It is a simple and self-evident truth that when all other aspects are the same, the shorter and lighter the trigger pull of a handgun or rifle, the more accurately virtually anyone with a fully-functioning body can shoot it.
Let’s look at how the term “lighter” applies to trigger pull where accuracy is concerned. When you hold a handgun and pull the trigger there is a tendency to move more than just your trigger finger. Depending on whether you control the trigger with the pad of your finger or its first joint, your trigger pulling effort may also squeeze and roll your other fingers to the right or left enough to rotate your whole hand and perhaps tilt it downward as well. This moves the gun’s muzzle and the bullet’s point of impact left, right, down or in some combination of the three. The longer and the harder the trigger pull, the greater your tendency to pull the sights off-target as you pull the trigger.
I think a trigger can also be too light for a carry gun, but I disagree with many as to where the acceptable limit lies. I find a 2-1/2 to 3 pound pull just perfect.
Triggers that “stack” as you pull them (get gradually harder and/or softer in perceptible steps during the pull) can present the worst problems because they can cause multiple types of hand/muzzle motion before they finally fire the gun. Triggers with a coarse, gritty pull act much like triggers that stack.
I like a short, smooth, single-action trigger that breaks crisply with no detectable overtravel, and I’m not alone. I wish I had 10% of the money that is paid to gunsmiths by hunters, target shooters and carry-gun owners in search of just such triggers.
For the sake of maintaining consistent accuracy under the widest spread of shooting conditions I also want a trigger that feels exactly the same every time I pull it. This absolutely ruled out pistols with traditional double-action (TDA) for me. I never even considered choosing a double-action–only (DAO) pistol because they have perhaps the longest, heaviest and poorest pulls of any trigger type. Striker-fired (SF) pistols have consistent pulls, but I find them consistently bad. When compared to a good single-action trigger even SF triggers that aren’t gritty or too heavy still need too much travel in order to do their job. They are not short, crisp or free of overtravel. So, even if SF triggers had been around back when I was choosing a self-defense/carry gun I would have passed on them. The same can be said for single-action-only (SAO) versions of TDA pistols--they feel like their TDA siblings with the DA component removed. I find their pulls to be long and indefinite, and made even longer by unnecessary overtravel. (note--technically the 1911 is a single-action-only, but here the author is speaking of what are normally TDAs like the SIG P220 which are offered with the DA trigger component removed--ed.)
The whole idea of any gun, especially a self-defense/carry gun, is to put the bullet where you want it to go. Once I saw that no type of trigger did that as inherently well as an SA trigger, my next task was selecting a handgun that combined SA with a shooting platform that was safe, reliable and that agreed with me, physiologically speaking.
I was looking for a semi-auto pistol because I already knew a revolver wouldn’t work. As a teenager I was introduced to shooting centerfire handguns with an old Colt Police Positive revolver in .38 Special. Later, in my 20’s, I bought a Colt Python from a co-worker. These and other revolvers owned by friends were fun to shoot but I quickly discovered that I almost never fired them double-action and neither did anyone else I went shooting with, including new shooters I introduced to my revolvers. We all fired them single action because we wanted to knock over the can or pop the plastic water jug before the other guy did and for all the afore-mentioned reasons that was most likely to happen if we cocked the hammer before pulling the trigger.
I could see that in an emergency the first shot with these revolvers would have to be fired double-action as would any quick follow-up shots and that kicked them out of my consideration for self-defense/carry. And, since I lack the time and money to attempt to become another Jerry Miculek with a revolver, I still rule them out.
The two biggest SA contenders I found back then were the 1911 and the Browning High Power. I bought both, the Browning first. I ended up selling the High Power because the grip felt square and uncomfortable, the SA trigger function was too long, and I considered its 9mm caliber to be just another pocket pistol round, not something I would bet my life on. I don’t feel that way about the caliber anymore as new bullet technology has raised the 9mm to a round I consider to be above the bare minimum for everyday, self-defense carry.
When I finally got around to trying a Colt 1911 my search ended. It fit my hand perfectly and by that I mean I could tell if it was positioned correctly for shooting just by the feel of the grip, and when I brought it up to address a target the sights lined up automatically with no additional tilting, tipping or turning required. I wasn’t sure what options I would want or need but there was not another pistol on the market with more accessories and custom parts available for it, so no worries there.
The experts of the day said 1911’s could be finicky and anyone choosing to depend on one needed to get to know it. I shot a lot of old, crappy, reloaded-too-many-times practice ammo and learned how to quickly cure all common failures to feed, fire and eject. Next, I found an excellent gunsmith who specialized in 1911 work and had him eliminate these and other reliability problems that seemed to be built into the Colt 1911s of the day. It would feed and function with any ammo when I got it back (today you can bypass this step and save money by buying a 1911 clone from Kimber, S&W or Springfield). Next, I started shooting IPSC competition (and IDPA when it appeared) in order to get a handle on the reliability problems that were apparently built into me.
My criteria for the best handgun for self-defense/carry have not changed in almost 40 years. My life hasn’t become less valuable to me and I still consider any compromise in potential accuracy unacceptable. I realize that if the ability to get the best possible mechanical accuracy out of a gun is within me I will never see it because I can’t afford to practice enough. Like 99.9% of other shooters, no matter what my skill level I will still shoot a single action pistol more accurately than any other type and it seems counterproductive and just plain silly to me to dilute my accuracy potential by attempting to acquire a taste for a plastic or metal pistol with a lesser trigger.
So, what’s with all this harping about accuracy and what kind of accuracy improvement do I think SA inherently offers? I’m talking realistically here about the average to slightly above average serious shooter, not someone who shoots professionally and fires hundreds of practice rounds a week. I’m talking about people like most of us who can only get to a range once a week at most and two or three times a month on average, and I’m describing what I’ve seen over the last four decades. I believe that if one of these shooters can pop off groups the size of a dinner plate at X number of yards with a TDA/SF/Whatever type of trigger, he could shrink those groups to the size of a soft ball just by spending the same amount of practice time with an SA trigger. If he shoots groups the size of a baseball at X yards with one of the “other” triggers he would quickly be shooting groups closer to the size of a golf ball just by switching to SA and continuing his regular practice regimen. Everyone is different and while I think some would see more improvement and some less, I firmly believe everyone in this group would see improvement.
Is that kind of difference in accuracy important in self-defense shooting? That’s up to you. Speaking for myself, by starting with all the accuracy I can get I hope to end up with enough to save my butt even after the detractions and deductions that will undoubtedly occur during the most horrible moments of my life.
Why do I think all this single action trigger stuff is true, am I nuts? Opinions vary on that, but I base this thinking on the same reasoning hunters and competitive rifle and pistol shooters follow when spending money on trigger jobs to reduce the size of their groups. I have seen switching to a better trigger cut average group sizes in half! Once again, by a “better” pull I mean cleaner, smoother, and shorter (including overtravel) with a crisper break-over and as light a pull as possible while still being safe.
Occasionally I hear silliness about 1911s being unsafe to carry cocked and locked. If it gives you the willies, don’t do it, but realize that one of the top gun designers to walk this planet designed 1911s to be safely carried that way.
I have heard some people who don’t think 1911s are safe wax eloquent about “safe-action” Glocks. I require a safety on a pistol I'm carrying that prevents the trigger from being pulled accidentally, and a Glock doesn’t have one. I don’t see how any accidental occurrence could pull a Glock's trigger without also depressing that little finger-chewing dingus in the middle of the trigger at the same time. So, I personally wouldn’t carry one.
When it comes to a piece of machinery, I think form should follow function. How well something works should be concern number one, and how it looks, how popular or new and neat other people consider it and all other factors should appear farther down the list. TDA and DAO pistols and revolvers depend on their double action’s long-hard pull for safety. This is the same trigger pull that reduces accuracy! So, in my view, these guns are built to sacrifice accuracy for safety. Sorry folks, but I consider that an unacceptable concept and design flaw.
Does all this mean I think people are dopes for carrying pistols with other types of triggers and actions? Of course I do, that’s why I wrote this!
Er, wait a minute, just kidding…
Nope, if a person has the desire, time and money to practice enough to overcome the shortcomings of the other trigger types, the types of handguns that come with them can serve him well. Look at Jerry Miculek! Or, you can look closer to home. We have shooters here on this forum that can shoot TDA and SF pistols more accurately than I can shoot my favorite SA pistol. Jerry, Kim, and although it pains me to admit it, probably Mark, are the first three I'd put on that list. Guys who now have or have had in the past jobs that can call for accurate shooting just to reach retirement age offer great incentive to spend the time and money to become accurate with any gun their departments or agencies require them to carry. Guys with a competitive bent who have Glock matches held in their neighborhoods might want to master one of those black, ugly things to do well in local shoots, or they may just plain like them. While it may endanger my credibility as self-appointed Official Acting Forum (OAF) 1911 curmudgeon, I will even admit that some people seem to take to Glocks (and other guns just as strange in different ways) eventually learning to shoot them well.
Unfortunately, a whole list of duties and interests beyond shooting have kept me from applying more than a small part of my time and money to any one activity, including pistol shooting, and I don’t think I’m alone in that boat. Thanks to watching Dirty Harry movies I know my limitations and they steer me toward keeping things simple and logical, and going with what feels natural and instinctive rather than propping up unnecessary roadblocks in my own way. I have owned SIGs and Glocks and shooting just a few hundred rounds through them showed me they have nothing to offer that beats what I already get from my 1911s.
So, don’t take all the gushing you see about how great all this weird, modern stuff is without at least taking a look back at John Browning’s invention. Who knows, you might catch a glimpse of some of the many reasons it has endured for almost a century while maintaining a following of shooters and cottage industry accessory makers second only to (and perhaps only barely second to) today’s modern black sporting rifle platform. (25Mar09)